Remebering Disney’s River Country

By Keith Mahne

Disney’s River Country was the first water park at Walt Disney World. It opened on June 20, 1976 and ceased operations on September 30th, 2001. On January 20, 2005, The Walt Disney Company announced that River Country would remain closed permanently. Along with Discovery Island, it is one of only two Disney parks in history to close permanently. Both parks were abandoned rather than demolished. Join us as we take a look back at Walt Disney World’s very first water park…

Positioned on the shore of Bay Lake, near Discovery Island in Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando, Florida, River Country featured a rustic wilderness theming, complete with rocks and man-made boulders. It was described as an “old-fashioned swimming hole” with “a twist of Huckleberry Finn”. The original working title was “Pop’s Willow Grove”.
River Country was featured in a musical number from the 1977 The Wonderful World of Disney episode “The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World”, which included a song titled “River Country” and featured the then-current Mouseketeer lineup from the late 70s incarnation of The Mickey Mouse Club enjoying the attractions at the park. You can watch that wonderful episode in its entirety below:

Here’s how the 1976 Annual Report to the shareholders of Walt Disney Productions described River Country:

Six Acres of aquatic fun await visitors to River Country, which opened at Walt Disney World’s Ft. Wilderness Campgrounds last June. As many as 4,700 guests per day have already enjoyed its Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole, white water rapids, raft rides, rope swings, beaches or a plunge down a 260-foot, 2,000 gallon a minute water slide called Whoop ‘N Holler Hollow.

The park featured a sandy bottom and unique water filtering system using confluent water from adjacent Bay Lake, which was dammed off creating a natural-looking man-made lagoon. But even with the filtration system, the water from the lake was not completely purified. In 1980, an 11 year old boy contracted a deadly amoeba, which is found in warm bodies of fresh water, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and hot springs. After entering the body through the nasal passages, the disease, primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, attacks the nervous system and brain. Although this occurs rarely, such an infection nearly always results in the death of the victim.

In 1989, Disney opened a new water park, Typhoon Lagoon. It had much more parking, many more slides, newer amenities, and was a much larger water park. In 1995, Disney opened their third water park, Blizzard Beach. River Country was much smaller than the other two water parks, yet the park remained, surviving the competition.

As it did every year, River Country closed at the end of the warm-weather season (the park closed on September 30th, 2001), with the expectation that the water park would reopen in the spring of 2002. But after the 9/11 attacks, the decline in business for all Disney parks and hotels prompted Disney to halt the reopening of River Country. On April 11, 2002, the Orlando Sentinel reported, “Walt Disney World’s first water park, River Country, has closed and may not reopen.” The report concluded with this line: “Disney World spokesman Bill Warren said that River Country could be reopened if ‘there’s enough guest demand.’” The attraction may also have been affected by a change in Florida laws, which prohibited non-chlorinated natural water bodies from being used for water park attractions. River Country never reopened.

Attractions included:
  • Upstream Plunge, a kidney shaped clean-water pool.
  • Slippery Slide Falls, two water slides that emptied into Upstream Plunge.
  • Kiddie Cove, a kids zone with two large water slides and a cove. This area was targeted toward preteens.
  • Barrel Bridge, a bumpy bridge with barrels under it, similar to the one at Tom Sawyer Island.
  • White Water Rapids, a 330 foot (100 m) long inner tube river.
  • Bay Cove, a half-acre (2,000 m²) sand-bottom lake which featured a tire swing, boom swing, rope climb, and T-bar drop.
    • Boom Swing
    • Cable Ride
    • Tire Swing
  • Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow, two water slides, 260 ft (79 m) and 160 ft (49 m) long, that emptied into Bay Cove.
  • Bay Bridge
  • Indian Springs, a very small splash zone with fountains spraying kids. This area was mainly designed for guests under age 8.
  • Cypress Point Nature Trail, a trail among trees beside Bay Lake.
  • Pony Rides
  • Mercury WaterMouse Rental
  • Here is some home footage of Disney’s River Country from 1981:


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