Disney World has two water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. But you may not know about River Country, Disney’s Abandoned Water Park of the past.

Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are extremely popular these days. Blizzard Beach opened at Walt Disney World in 1995. According to the storyline, Blizzard Beach was originally supposed to be a ski resort, but unfortunately, snow never happens in central Florida. The snow quickly melted which resulted in a lot of water falling down large ski hills, so instead, Disney decided to turn this “ski resort” into a water park. Blizzard Beach’s Summit Plummet water slide is the fastest free-fall slide in the whole world!

Typhoon Lagoon opened at Walt Disney World in 1989. Legend has it that Typhoon Lagoon is the result of a massive hurricane which led to pools, lazy rivers, slides, and most famously–Miss Tilly; a shipwreck on top of the highest peak at Typhoon Lagoon. Typhoon Lagoon may be the oldest operating Disney World water park, but it was definitely not the first.

River Country opened on June 20, 1976. It was the very first water park at Walt Disney World and was the first-ever themed water park in Florida. In fact, it opened only about six months before the next Florida water park – Wet ‘n’ Wild.

River Country when operating pre-2001

During this time, the Walt Disney World Resort only had Magic Kingdom Park, plus two resort hotels and a campground. The main goal behind building River Country was to give guests a reason to stay longer at the Disney World Resort. At first, the park was going to be called Pop’s Willow Grove, until eventually Imagineers and executives decided on River Country.

River Country was located on the shores of Bay Lake. It was inspired and designed after what Imagineers envisioned an old-fashioned swimming hole would be like from the works of Mark Twain. Some of the advertising after its opening even said “Huckleberry Finn himself would be jealous.” It was designed with logs, wood, rocks, and freshwater from Bay Lake. Because it was supposed to be old-fashioned and “natural,” River Country was a little rough around the edges. The slides and playgrounds were not very smooth, and some guests reported getting injured at the water park.

Aerial view of River Country on Google Earth

River Country was small, especially by today’s standards. The water park had a guest capacity of only around 5,000 people. For comparison, more people ride Pirates of the Caribbean in about an hour than could fit in River Country all day! Needless to say, River Country often reached maximum capacity and guests were turned away at the gates. On the bright side though, entrance to the water park only cost a small fee; factoring for inflation, it was around $17 per person per day.

From an outside perspective, River Country looked like a natural extension of Bay Lake. However, Disney Magic made it a little bit safer than that. River Country was set up slightly higher than the water levels of Bay Lake. While the freshwater for River Country did come from Bay Lake, it was thoroughly filtered before going into the guest area. That way, clean water could travel back to Bay Lake, but the unfiltered Bay Lake water could not get into the River Country pools. This was supposed to prevent any bacteria or unwanted creatures, such as Florida alligators, into the water park.

The main pool at River Country

River Country closed its gates on November 2, 2001. At first, the plan was to reopen the water park in 2002. It was not until 2005, a whole three years later, that The Walt Disney Company announced River Country would never reopen to the public.

Since then, many have tried to understand why the popular water park had closed so suddenly. Even though The Walt Disney Company has never officially confirmed the reason behind the closure, there are a couple of theories.

The Deaths:

In the 25 years that River Country was open, there were three child deaths. Since the freshwater was more murky than traditional pool water, it was difficult for the lifeguards to see any drowning victims. There were two drownings at River Country. The third death was due to the presence of amoeba in the water. A young boy dove into the pool and the bacteria travelled up his nose and into his brain, which led to his death.

The Other Water Parks:

Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach were both much larger, more popular, cleaner, and much safer than River Country. River Country also had such a small guest capacity that it likely made a lot of sense to close it and make Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach the main water parks at Disney.