In the middle of Bay Lake, deep within the heart of the Walt Disney World property, lies Discovery Island. It is a former wildlife attraction/sanctuary that was closed in 1999 and has been left to run wild since. This is the story of my trip there quite a few years ago when I lived in FL. In the time since, I’ve learned a few disturbing facts about the lake and as such would not recommend that anyone attempt to re-trace our footsteps. I’ve heard from more than a few people that there are actually alligators that live in the lake, something I hadn’t even thought of, assuming this was just some other Disney attraction. Even more alarming, I’ve also heard that the main reason Disney closed the adjacent water park is because of the presence of Naegleria Fowleri bacteria in the water which can infect human nervous systems and nearly always results in death.
I’d heard about the island from some Orlando locals. They told us that there were rumors that there were bunches of animals still left running wild on the island. They hadn’t visited it themselves but told us that it was about 100 feet off the shore of the also abandoned River Country water park and that boat traffic was infrequent on the lake. We arrived with a plan involving an inflatable boat, 150 feet of clothesline(to pull the boat back across for other people), a large hand pump, and a few oars. After an ordeal smuggling the suspicious supplies into the Fort Wilderness campground via the Disney Shuttle buses, we finally made our way through the abandoned Water Park and got to the shore. To our dismay, we discovered that the island was in fact at least 300 feet away and that passenger ferries crossed between the island and shore every 5-10 minutes. It would make paddling across virtually impossible. We left defeated and I vowed to return and conquer the island some day.
It would be nearly a year before I returned. This time, we ditched the boat plan, it was too cumbersome, obvious, and slow. The plan this time was to swim for it. We loaded up some waterproof bags with equipment and headed out to the park.
After making our way past some old water slides, we followed a path around the shore. Disney seems to like keeping all the lights on even in their abandoned properties in order to give the impression that they are still functional. A bit eerie, but we continued anyways.
We finally made it to the shore and could see our target. We would head for a beacon of light on the shore of the island. We’d arrived late enough that the ferries had stopped running and the only thing to worry about would be occasional lake patrols by Disney security. We put our clothes into the waterproof bags and waded into the still lake water.