What Happened to Disney World’s First Water Park?

River Country

It’s hard to believe a time before Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon ever existed at Walt Disney World. But there was…

River Country Water Park


Credit: Disney

Opened in 1976, Disney’s River Country Water Park was the first water Park at Disney World. It quickly became a beloved destination and a popular attraction for families seeking a fun day in the sun. However, after operating for over 25 years, River Country closed its doors in 2001 and has been abandoned.

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The Park was designed to look like a rustic swimming hole with a sandy bottom and wooden docks. The Park’s main feature was the 330,000-gallon swimming area. It was fed by natural water from nearby Bay Lake and featured two water slides, an inner tube river, a rope swing, and a sandy beach area. There were also smaller pools and attractions, such as the Barrel Bridge and Kiddie Cove.

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Despite its popularity, the Park faced numerous challenges during its operation. One of the biggest was the quality of the water, which was often murky and unclean due to the natural water source. The Park’s location on Bay Lake also led to concerns about potential alligator attacks. These issues, combined with the rising popularity of Disney’s other water parks, led to the decision to close River Country in 2001.

River Country

Credit: Disney

Closed for Business

Since its closure, the Park has remained abandoned and slowly deteriorating. The once-bustling swimming area is now filled with stagnant water, and the wooden structures are rotting and covered in vegetation. Despite being off-limits to visitors, River Country has become a popular destination for urban explorers and photographers seeking to capture the eerie beauty of the abandoned Park.

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Future of the Land

Over the years, there have been various rumors about what will become of River Country. In 2018, Disney filed permits for a new area over the former River Country site. It was rumored to be a nature-themed Resort featuring characters such as Bambi and Pocahontas and a lakeside restaurant themed to The Princess and the Frog (2009).

Princess and Frog Characters

Credit: Disney

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However, many construction plans at Walt Disney World were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the new Resort hotel.

WDW COVID-face-mask-guests

Credit: Disney

Regardless of the future of River Country, it remains a haunting reminder of a bygone era at Walt Disney World. Its decaying structures and overgrown landscape starkly contrast the popular, clean, and modern look of modern water parks. Yet, for many Disney fans, the abandoned Park holds a special place in their memories of childhood vacations and lazy summer days spent splashing in the calm waters of Bay Cove.

About Steven Wilk

Steven has a complicated relationship with Disney. As a child, he visited Walt Disney World every few years with his family. But he never understood why kids his age (and older) were so scared of Snow White or Alien Encounter. He is a former participant of the Disney College Program (left early…long story), and he also previously worked in Children’s publishing, where he adapted multiple Disney movies and TV shows. He has many controversial opinions about Disney…like having a positive view of Michael Eisner, believing Return of the Jedi is superior to The Empire Strikes Back, and that Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge should have never been built (at least not at Hollywood Studios). Every year for the past two decades, Steven has visited either Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani or went on a Disney Cruise. He’s happy to share any and all knowledge of the Disney destinations (and he likes using parenthesis a lot…as well as ellipses…)