Disney’s River Country opened in Orlando, Florida, USA in 1976 as part of the Walt Disney World complex, the first water park built at the resort. River Country was themed around a rustic wilderness old-fashioned swimming hole similar next to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Its theme was tied to Thunder Mountain and Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom and elements of the Wild West ran through both.
The water park was located on the shore of Bay Lake, near Discovery Island which is also now abandoned. The Magic Kingdom had opened 5 years earlier, in 1971, and Disney’s River Country was part of the early phase of growth at the resort. It was the first time the Disney Imagineers had a water park to build and revelled in weaving the flumes and slides through man-made rocks and boulders.
The park had a sandy bottom to its pools and used water pumped into a lagoon from the adjacent Bay Lake. It was at a higher level to prevent water from the lake entering the pools in the park.
In 1980, an 11-year-old boy was killed by a deadly infection caused by a bacterial infection, with high levels of naegleria fowleri in the water used in the park. Swimming is now forbidden in the lakes surrounding the old water park as a result of possible infection. Two more deaths occurred in Bay Cove when lifeguards failed to see the drowning boys as a result of the murky pool water. Creating a water park which resembled nature a little too closely seemed to be its downfall.
The second water park in Walt Disney World, Typhoon Lagoon, opened in 1989. It was much larger, had more attractions and utilised a fresh water filtration system. A third water park, Blizzard Beach, opened in 1995. Guests flocked to these newer water parks and visitor numbers at River Country declined. The park closed in 2001 as a result of low attendance and general disinterest, according to official sources. This was after the downturn experienced following the September 11th attacks. Initially said to be a temporary measure, it was announced in 2005 that the park would not be reopening and it was left abandoned for many years.
There were various plans mooted for the park to re-themed and reopened with various Disney properties such as Peter Pan and Pirates Of The Caribbean mooted as possible franchises on which the new water park would be based. This amounted to nothing and the site lay abandoned until 2019. The overgrown, dishevelled site was finally demolished to make way for the 900 room Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge. The new resort will have rooms based on characters seldom seen throughout Walt Disney World including Bambi, The Fox and The Hound, Brother Bear and Pocahontas. A restaurant based on The Princess and the Frog will also be part of the new development. They’re both scheduled to open in 2022.
The following is a list of attractions in the park before its closure –
- Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow, two water slides, 260 ft (79 m) and 160 ft (49 m) long that emptied into Bay Cove
- Bay Cove, a half-acre (2,000 m²) sand-bottom lake which featured a tire swing, boom swing, rope climb, and T-bar drop.
- Slippery Slide Falls, two water slides that emptied into Upstream Plunge, a 330,000 US gallon (1,250 m³) clear-water pool.
- White Water Rapids, a 330 foot (100 m) long inner tube river.
- Cypress Point Nature Trail, a trail among trees beside Bay Lake.
- Indian Springs, A very small splash zone with fountains spraying kids. This area mainly attracted guest under age 8.
- Barrel Bridge, A bumpy bridge with barrels under it. Similar to the one at Tom Sawyer Island.
- Kiddie Cove, A kids zone with two large water slides and a cove. This area was targeted toward preteens.