View RSS Feed

The 626

Rediscover Disney's Discovery Island

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 02-11-2012 at 09:52 PM
[CENTER][IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/discoverylogo.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]

Disney's Animal Kingdom, though still relatively new, is one of the most popular Walt Disney theme parks in the world today. The exciting prospect of being able to get up close and personal with some of the world's most exotic animals is a fantastic opportunity that many guests do not want to miss.

But Animal Kingdom is not the first time the Walt Disney Company allowed guests to see wild animals in a realistic recreation of their natural habitat. In fact, years before Animal Kingdom even existed, there was another park that afforded guests a similar experience.
[CENTER]
[/CENTER]

[CENTER][IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/tphoto.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]

When Walt was first seeking out the perfect place for Walt Disney World, he flew over some parcels of land to get a feel for the area from above. Rumor has it that on one of these many "fly bys", Walt fell in love with a tranquil, 11 acre island located in the middle of Bay Lake; so much so that Walt decided that this was the perfect area to build his new kingdom on the East Coast.

The island has a colorful history. From around 1900 to 1937, it was known as Raz Island, named after the family that lived and farmed on it. Not long after, Delmar Nicholson purchased the island for the paltry sum of $800 as a home for his family.

Delmar, also known as "Radio Nick", was Florida's first radio DJ, as well as a botanist and avid outdoorsman. Delmar renamed the island Idle Bay Isle, and lived there with his wife and their pet sand hill crane. The Nicholson family grew a wide variety of fruit and plant life, which they sold to local markets. After living there for almost 20 years, Delmar's declining health forced him to sell the island to a group of local businessmen as a hunting retreat. The property was again renamed, this time to Riles Island. It wasn't until 1965 that Disney bought the island.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/tmap.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]


Walt had big plans for this little getaway, and renamed it Blackbeard's Island. However, when Walt Disney World was opened in 1971, the island still sat unused. It wasn't until 1974 that construction began to turn the island into a new attraction.

When the island opened in April 1974, it was given the new name of Treasure Island. In the spirit of the original name that Walt had given it, the island had the fictitious distinction of being a pirate's hideaway, complete with shipwrecks and buried treasure hidden throughout. It also borrowed some elements from the live action Disney film of the same name.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/tbrochure.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]

Treasure Island remained this way for quite some time, until a major renovation closed it in early 1976. This transformation of the island caused it to lose much of its pirate theming. Close to 50,000 cubic yards of soil were brought to help expand its size. Flowers, trees, and plants from all over the world were added to change the island into a tropical paradise. When it was reopened in April 1976, it had a new name: Discovery Island.

The island was now home to Avian Way, a walk-through attraction that featured exotic birds from all over the world. It even had its own snack bar, The Thirsty Perch. To visit Discovery Island, you had to take a boat from either the Contemporary or Polynesian Resorts, and it required a "Special Adventure" ticket to gain entry. Extremely educational in nature, it wasn't a big hit with the crowds. In an effort to draw more attendance to the island, Disney added other forms of wildlife to its makeshift habitat. In June 1978, new exhibits based on American alligators and Galapagos tortoises were introduced.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/tbook.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]

Despite being an overlooked attraction, Discovery Island was also an important exercise in wildlife conservation. Disney was awarded several special honors for their work in preservation and breeding of many exotic animals on Discovery Island. In fact, they were the first in the world to breed a Toco toucan, an extremely rare form of toucan, in captivity. At one point, more than 140 difference species of animals (ranging from beautiful butterflies to the fierce bald eagle and even a few primates!) and over 250 species of plants inhabited the island, many of which were on the verge of extinction.

For example, it was the home of the last remaining Dusky Seaside Sparrow before it died in 1987. Because of their work in educating the public, and their success in conservation, Disney was granted accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association in 1979.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/logo.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]

Aside from its educational purposes, Discovery Island also had its share of Disney magic. The most notable was a 1977 promotion for the animated film [I]The Rescuers[/I]. Ten families had a chance to win a Walt Disney World vacation and the opportunity to find a diamond worth $25,000 hidden on the island. Disney also installed a scavenger hunt on the island to make learning about its tropical inhabitants more fun for its smaller guests. Completed answer sheets for the hunt could be traded in for a Jiminy Cricket Environment Awareness button.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/pin.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]

Legal troubles in 1989 marked the beginning of the end for Discovery Island. Disney came under scrutiny when the Island's director and four employees were charged with mishandling some wild birds and vultures. They were also accused of shooting falcons and hawks, known predators to some of the island's inhabitants, and destroying their nests. Disney argued that the employees were merely trying to relocate the animals, but with disastrous results. They soon settled the case and updated their policies on animal care, but things just weren't the same after that.

When Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, it further hurt Discovery Island's status. Animal Kingdom and Discovery Island shared the similar theme of bringing the wildlife of the world to guest's feet. Animal Kingdom had the advantage of being much more easily accessible than Discovery Island, and had a wider variety of things to do. Discovery Island's attendance rates were already low, but they suffered a greater hit with Animal Kingdom now open.
[CENTER] [IMG]http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/micechat/The 626/map.jpg[/IMG]
[/CENTER]

Disney officials closed Discovery Island a year later, feeling that it had run its course. However, this was not the end! Rumors swirled for years about what was going to become of the island. It was once thought that the island would return to being a tropical hideaway, a safe haven for guests who wanted to live on their own private paradise when visiting Walt Disney World.

For a time in the late 90's, Disney toyed with bring the successful Myst video game to life on Discovery Island. Guests would have been transported to the island to explore and solve the riddles of Myst for themselves. But, by 1999, the expense and practicality of turning Discovery Island into a highly detailed and special effects laden experience for a small group of guests ultimately sunk that concept.

In early 2008, plans were forming to transform the island into a nighttime entertainment spot to fill the gap that Pleasure Island left after it closed. In September 2008, those plans were dropped, and another idea brought the island back to its "discovery" theme. Disney wanted to turn it into a hands-on interaction between guests and the animals. These new plans included places for guests to swim with dolphins, help feed hippos, and even travel down a zip line from the top of a tall tree! With the recent recession of the economy, these plans hit a snag and were recently put on hold due to the high price tag.

The island remains mostly empty. Its only inhabitants are a few birds who took up residence since everyone else left. Other than a few "[URL="http://shaneperez.blogspot.com/2009/12/discovery-island.html"]urban explorers[/URL]", there are no visitors. However, with its prime location in the middle of Bay Lake, and its gorgeous surroundings, it won't be long before people are once again visiting Discovery Island.

So tell me, MiceChat readers...have you ever been to Discovery Island? I'd love to hear what you thought of it. What do you think Disney should do, if anything, with the island now that it sits empty?
[SIZE=3][FONT=verdana]
[/FONT][/SIZE][HR][/HR][SIZE=2][FONT=verdana][B][I]by Jeff Heimbuch[/I][/B]

If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [EMAIL="[email protected]"][email protected][/EMAIL] or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: [URL="http://www.twitter.com/jeffheimbuch"]www.twitter.com/jeffheimbuch[/URL]
FRIEND ME ON FACEBOOK: [URL="http://www.facebook.com/jeffheimbuch"]www.facebook.com/jeffheimbuch[/URL][/FONT][/SIZE]

Submit "Rediscover Disney's Discovery Island" to Digg Submit "Rediscover Disney's Discovery Island" to del.icio.us Submit "Rediscover Disney's Discovery Island" to StumbleUpon Submit "Rediscover Disney's Discovery Island" to Google

Updated 02-11-2012 at 11:54 PM by Dustysage

Categories
Uncategorized

Comments

  1. steve2wdw's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    This was truly one of our favorite diversions at WDW. From 1992 until the Island closed, we visited every year. Our daughters (born in '90 and '92) really appreciated the wildlife and we would linger there for hours. The girls really enjoyed the "shows", one featuring birds, and the other showcasing snakes, spiders, and other surprises. The Galapogas Turtles were also a must see....they still are when we're in the Animal Kingdom. I remember one particularly windy day in February of '97, when one of the smaller of the explorer launches was unable to dock. The captain tried for a good 10 minutes, but eventually gave up. We ended up having to wait for the larger of the boats to pick us up. We would always combine a visit to Discovery Island with a stop at Ft Wilderness to visit the horses. Making a "day of it", a visit to these WDW treasures made us feel like we were really on vacation. There was no rushing from attraction to attraction....just a great day enjoying nature and family. Sadly, it's getting harder to find a relaxing day like this, at WDW anymore, and we're so glad that we took advantage of visiting the island when it was open.
  2. okerry's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Hogwarts
  3. DisWedWay's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Joe Rhode just finished Aulani Resort on an island with great success. Perhaps he can do another on Discovery Island with elements from the Adventure's Club which will complement Animal Kingdom. Pd
  4. WorldLover71's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    We visited for a few hours in the summer of 1990 and I thought it was a lovely change of pace. As soon as they announced Animal Kingdom though, I knew the island's days were numbered. I am rather surprised that such a piece of prime real estate has sat vacant so long. Maybe it could be turned into unusual hotel rooms connected to the Wilderness Lodge Villas like the treehouses are connected to Saratoga Springs. Put a dozen large villas there and I bet Disney could charge a bundle for them.
  5. Brian Gens's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I was able to go to Discovery Island one time when I was a kid and really enjoyed it. I understand the issues involved today with bringing this back to life, but I do have an idea of what they should do with it that would be wildly popular.

    I think they should take it back to what Walt had originally thought of, a "pirate" island. This time obviously they have the entire POTC franchise to get ideas from. Why not create their own Tortuga port right here at Walt Disney World? Minimally they could have a dinner show, and use an actual pirate ship to transport guests from whatever resort (or the TTC) to the island for the evening. There could be any number of smaller attractions or shows etc that guests could enjoy.
  6. count_justin's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    yes i went once, it was awesome. then i woke up from that amazing dream :D
  7. kindagoofy's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    We put our son on the Pirate Adventure in 2006 which made a stop on Discovery Island. I wonder if they still do that?
  8. stellemarie's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I've always been sort of obsessed with the place. It closed right around the time my family and I started going to WDW so I doubt we even knew it existed. But I like that everyone calls it "a change of pace" because now that I've been visiting for so many years, it would be nice to have a similar opportunity sometime in the future.
  9. SpectroMan's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I did go in either 1996 or 1998 and found it very charming. I loved how NON high-tech it was and what a peaceful place it was for it's full time inhabitants. Would love to see it brought back to life.
  10. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I'm glad you guys enjoyed the article. And thanks so much for sharing your memories of the place!

    Steve2WDW - I've never been, but I have to agree with you...there is definitely a lack of "relaxing" stuff to do now. This was such an out of the way place, and really invited you to take the time to explore every inch of it, as opposed to running from one attraction to the next!

    DisWedWay - Adventurer's Island? Count me in!

    Worldlover71 - Interesting idea! I think that the zoning of the island may prevent them from putting rooms/villas there. They might need to look at their construction permits again before trying something like that. But having an island to stay on would definitely provide for an unique Disney trip!

    Brian Gems - Having it turn back into a Pirate themed land would be a lovely idea! But then again, Pirates seemed to have invaded a LOT of stuff at WDW, so maybe having one more would over saturate the market!

    CountJustin - Haha, sounds just like MY visit!

    KindaGoofy - Good question! I'm not sure! I'll have to look that up now!

    StelleMarie - I'm really obsessed with it too. It just sits there, vacant. They definitely need a nice, low key attraction to put there.

    SpectroMan - agreed!
  11. SoCalUW's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I have fond memories of Discovery Island from the early-80's. It was the first place I remember getting "up close & personal" with exotic birds. I specifically remember how "cool" I thought it was that they put a macaw on my arm. And seeing animals and birds moving aroudn seemingly "uncaged". Specifically remember a little "deer" like animal running in front of me in a path in the wooded area and being really excited by it (hey, i was a 6 year old kids from the suburbs).
    The island sure seems like it holds alot of potential. Fine by me if WDW wants to sit back and figure out exactly what the best thing to go there is. I like the idea of additional lodging, if it doesn't reduce the amount of vegetation there (keep it lush!)
  12. dlpostcardguy's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    Thanks so much for the interesting article. I never knew the full back history of the island. I got to visit in 1987 and again the mid 90's. When I went in 87 I really loved the place. It was so peaceful. I have pictures of me and my sister out by that abandoned ship--when there was a quiet beach there. (Last year when I was at WDW we sailed by it and it was still there but you could hardly see it, it was so overgrown with foliage! The beach was completely gone.) I would love to see them bring it back. I kind of like the Pirates idea mentioned above. There are so many neat things they could do with that idea. Maybe even put a pirate themed mini golf course on the island as one of the many 'adventures' you could experience.
  13. Dadoo's Avatar
    • |
    • permalink
    I say they leave it abandoned and use it as a study of how nature reclaims and takes over abandoned civilizations. It could be quite interesting in 10, 20, or 50 years. It would also be interesting to see what plants and trees they transplanted to the island survived.