Discovery Island: Disney World’s Lost Enclave

July 19, 2023 | Samantha Henman

Discovery Island: Disney World’s Lost Enclave

Though Walt Disney World covers 25,000 acres, only half of that has been used by the park—and then, of course, there are the areas that are abandoned, the most intriguing of which is Discovery Island.

In the mid-60s, Walt Disney began acquiring land in Florida around Bay Lake, using dummy corporations so as to not attract attention. One of the properties that he bought was a small island in the lake which, at the time, went by the name “Riles Island”. Though Walt Disney World opened in 1971, the island—which was to become Treasure Island—didn’t open until 1974. 

DI%20internal.jpgYoutube, Matt Sonswa

Treasure Island, which was later renamed to Discovery Island, featured a variety of wildlife that visitors to the park could observe, including Capuchin monkeys, lemurs, tortoises, alligators, flamingos, and a variety of other exotic birds. However, in the 90s, as Disney made plans to build a new attraction called Animal Kingdom—and after an investigation that involved 16 counts of animal cruelty—it became clear that Discovery Island was not long for this world. 

Disney began to move Discovery Island’s animals to Animal Kingdom before eventually closing the area in 1999. Though it was not the first time that an attraction closed, what was remarkable was that Disney essentially abandoned Discovery Island. They left buildings and other structures behind untouched for the past 24 years—but just because it’s non-operational doesn’t mean that it’s been completely deserted. 

A number of “urban explorer” types have visited the island in the decades since it’s been closed—perhaps most notably, a Youtuber who took up residence on the island in 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Richard J McGuire, 42, told law enforcement officers that the island looked like “a tropical paradise”—but McGuire had also filmed videos of himself covering himself with leaves to hide from authorities. McGuire later took a plea deal, paid a $100 fine, and accepted a lifetime ban from Disney World. 

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