Remembering the Magic: Treasure Island / Discovery Island

by Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer

In this edition we will do something a little different. Instead of looking back on a particular ride, let's remember the original Discovery Island. Many of you now know Discovery Island as a section of Disney's Animal Kingdom. However, there was another Discovery Island that was similar in some ways, but very different in others.

Treasure Island (April 8, 1974 - April 1978)

Note: There is a history previous to the Walt Disney Company's ownership. For more details on the island's early history, see Rod Wheaton's article, "A Look Back at Discovery Island." This article will start at the beginning of the island's Disney ownership.

After purchasing the natural island in the middle of Bay Lake, Disney eventually added to the existing island to make it 11.5 acres, as well as adding more trees, plants, flowers, etc. The island had a pirate theme, including a shipwreck, and was named Treasure Island (original plans had it called Blackbeard's Island, but that was scrapped in favor of Treasure Island). Since this was a natural island, it was only accessible by boat. Disney had a narrated boat ride that took guests to the island as well as other Bay Lake locations named Walt Disney World Cruise. There was also a regular ferry that was not narrated. Both boats required payment to take, with the narrated one being slightly more. Treasure Island was a separately ticketed adventure.

The dock at the island was called Jolly Roger Wharf. The first exhibit they encountered (starting at the right side and going counter-clockwise) was Cap'n Flint's Perch. This area had various parrots and macaws. A little further inward was Buccaneer's Cove. In this area, a Cast Member dressed as a pirate would present birds. As guests continued on, they crossed the North Inlet over a wooden bridge to get to Lookout Point.

Birds of all kinds could be seen throughout the tour. Continuing on, guests crossed over another wooden bridge named Black Dog Bridge, on to Doubloon Lagoon, Mutineer Falls, Dead Man's Island, and Skeleton Island where various water fowl made their homes. The next stop was Skeleton Lair, where vultures perched in the trees, followed by Buccaneer's Roost.

If guests went right at a fork in the path, they would go past Black Dog Swamp, through Cape of the Woods, and finally, out to the beach where the remains of the shipwreck of "The Walrus" lay on the beach. This area was known as Scavenger Beach, where guests could dig for treasure. Continuing on past the beach (and alternatively if you made a left at the fork), guests would encounter Flamingo Lagoon. Nearing the end of the tour, guests would then go past Rum Point, Toucan Cage, the Mizzen Mast, and then finally the Mates and Maidens restrooms before landing back on the beach at the Jolly Roger Wharf.

Discovery Island (April 1978 - April 8, 1999)

Disney began to wipe away the pirate theme of Treasure Island and instead, focused on the ecology. With the majority of the pirate theme gone, the island was renamed to Discovery Island in April 1978. In addition to the changing of the theme and the renaming, some other changes were made including a 320-foot by 120-foot by 40-foot high walk-through aviary, a flamingo pool, The CooCoo Cabana (where the Jose Carioca Flyers show was performed), Turtle Beach, "Thirsty Perch" snack bar, Turtle Beach, and a new Scavenger Hunt. Discovery Island had about 140 species of animals, including flamingos, eagles, deer, rabbits, peacocks, swans, and alligators, as well as 250 species of plants.

Direct-launch tickets to Discovery Island had been $1.50 per adult and $0.75 per child. The World Cruise price was $2.50 per adult and $1.25 per child. Guests could also purchase a Discovery Island and River Country combo ticket for $5.75 per adult or $4.25 per child.

Entering Discovery Island at the Discovery Island Dock, guests would first encounter the Thirsty Perch, where they could buy refreshments, snacks, rent lockers, etc. Continuing on the pathway to the right, guests would encounter the CooCoo Cabana, then The Jose Carioca Flyers, Bird's Eye View, Trumpeter Springs, Bedrock Falls, Swan's Neck, and Vulture's Haunt. At this point, guests could follow the path to the right, which would lead them on a long wooden bridge walkway around the left side of the island (past the ship wreck). Otherwise, taking the path on the left would take the guests further into the island to another series of areas named for what could be found inside: Toucan Corner, Crane's Roost, Avian Walk, Bird Walk, Rainbow Rookery, Pelican Bay, Flamingo Lagoon, Turtle Beach, Gator Gulch, and Eagle's Watch.

By 1989, some changes had been made. CooCoo Cabana was renamed Parrot's Perch. The Jose Carioca Flyers show was renamed Discovery Island Bird Show. Monkey Colony was added to the North Inlet area (near the previous Bird's Eye View tower). Other areas had their names changed as well.

The final countdown for Discovery island began when Disney's Animal Kingdom opened on April 1, 1998. Just slightly over one year later, Discovery Island would be closed forever. The former Safari Village area in Disney's Animal Kingdom was renamed to Discovery Island to honor the closed area.

You can still see Discovery Island in Bay Lake. You can rent personal watercraft and cruise around it. However, it is off-limits to guests. Over the years, some people have recorded videos of them sneaking onto the island and looking around, but that is considered trespassing. It is also very dangerous, as there is no telling what animals or other safety hazards are around.

My verdict: revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?

This is a tough one for me to decide. Disney's Animal Kingdom really takes the spirit of Discovery Island and "plusses" it by adding rides, shows, and other entertainment. However, the idea of a small island in the middle of Bay Lake, accessible only by boat, without gigantic parking lots in front of it is appealing to me. However, I think there are other things Disney could do with the island, such as build an exclusive type of resort or campground or use it for some other general public purpose where they could essentially get extra admission (although nowhere near the current admission prices for the other parks). I hate to see this once enjoyable piece of land forgotten about, so I'd like to see them re-imagine it to some sort of useful purpose.



  1. By danyoung

    The current state of Discovery Island has always fascinated me. Having all that infrastructure just sitting there unused is amazing. While going on the island is indeed trespassing, I don't think there's any fear that a roaming wild animal is going to cause personal injury, though.

  2. By jheigl

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    The current state of Discovery Island has always fascinated me. Having all that infrastructure just sitting there unused is amazing. While going on the island is indeed trespassing, I don't think there's any fear that a roaming wild animal is going to cause personal injury, though.

    It is indeed very intriguing! Regarding wild animals, it is unknown what could be there. Gators, snakes, etc, could all be there, not to mention poisonous plant life.

  3. By mkelm44

    Discovery Island and River Country are always fascinating to me, if for no other reason than I like urban exploration. It must be nice for Disney to have so much land that they can basically discard in place.

    The first thing Disney would have to do is to do a certain amount of "urban biology" i.e. removing hazardous vegitation and pests from the property. Once they've done that though, I think it could be a very interesting area to do some sort of "thrill experience." At night time, with some actors and animatronics it would make an absolutely terrifying role-play location. With a small group at any given time you could be given a mystery/adventure mission that would require the guests to solve in order to get off the island (whahahahahahahahaha)

    Okay, so t hat might be a little out of Disney's norm. But it would be super exciting.

  4. By carolinakid

    Great place for Mickey's VERY Scary Halloween Party!

  5. By jimthedj

    In the spirit of bringing back something classic, this would be perfect.

    It is rumored that the original Treasure Island was suppose to be much more elaborate and an interactive version of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland at the time. This makes sense because Pirates of the Caribbean at WDW was not one of the original attraction at opening.

    Also the newest thing in the parks are interactive activities for kids. Why not make Treasure Island the ultimate in interactivity and make it a real treasure hunt. It would start anywhere at any of the MK resorts, and the clues would lead you to a boat to go to "Treasure Island" for a real treasure hunt, ending even on the beach, where the now re-insalled shipwreck on the beach would be. This could be one of the most amazing interactive experiences in the work, and with things like escape rooms the rage now, very popular.

    I do know that the island is still used every so often for special events.

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