Disney World mysteriously closed an island 20 years ago and left it in ruins. Take a look inside.

Discovery Island is located in Bay Lake. Sam Howzit/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Disney World once had a separate theme park on a private island called Discovery Island that was focused on birds and fauna. It closed in 1999.
  • Today, the abandoned park remains guarded and no one is allowed on. But a few people have snuck on to capture video of the decaying park.
  • The pictures and videos show a decrepit snack bar, a ruined animal hospital, and an eerily quiet loading dock.

Disney World is marketed as a place of wonder, excitement, and magic. But, there’s a secret side of Disney the company doesn’t want you to see.

On the official map of Disney World, there is a blank green mass in the middle of Bay Lake in Orlando, Florida. The mysterious island is not labelled and no one is allowed to enter – not Disney World guests and not even Disney World employees. But two decades ago this unlabeled island was actually another Disney amusement park called Discovery Island. It mysteriously closed in 1999.

For nearly 20 years, Discovery Island has remained under lock and key, people banned from stepping foot inside. But a few years ago, YouTuber Matt Sonswa snuck onto the island to capture the park in ruins.

This is what he saw.

Discovery Island originally opened in 1974 under its original name, Treasure Island.

Discovery Island in Bay Lake. Bright Sun Films/ Getty

The island was pirate-themed and was inspired by the Disney film “Treasure Island.”

In 1976, the park was renamed Discovery Island and was meant to be a relaxing destination to view exotic birds and fauna.

Walking through Discovery Island in its early days. Bright Sun Films/ YouTube

The park was marketed as an alternative for families who needed a break from the main Disney World attractions.

The park was known for its wide species of exotic birds that came from all over the world.

Guests on Discovery Island in its early days. Bright Sun Films/ YouTube

The park’s main attraction was its 150 birds.

From flamingos to cockatoos, the island was designed to be an avian paradise.

Waterfront of Discovery Island. Bright Sun Films/ YouTube

You’d have to take a boat from the mainland to arrive at Discovery Island and experience the wild birds.

In 1999, Animal Kingdom opened, diminishing the number of guests at Discovery Island.

Waterfront of Discovery Island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Eventually, the birds were relocated to the new Animal Kingdom, leaving Discovery Island completely abandoned.

Today, the island lies in ruins, completely overrun by nature. The main loading dock, for example, where guests would disembark from boats and officially enter Discovery Island, still stands today.

Loading dock on Discovery Island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

You can still see the small stand where someone would check your admission tickets in Sonswa’s footage.

You can imagine the number of people who stood in this waiting area to board boats back to the main part of Disney World.

Boarding area. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Instead of being crowded with people, this boarding area is overrun with leaves and nature.

The first building you encounter is the Thirsty Perch, which was a concession stand at the entrance of the island.

Thirsty Perch on Discovery Island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

The Thirsty Perch was located in the hub of the island, making it a focal point for most visitors.

Some of the quirky decor on the Thirsty Perch still clings to the building’s exterior.

Decor on the Thirst Perch. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Some aspects of the island have withstood the force of nature and even hurricanes, according to Sonswa’s video.

A small walk leads to one of the biggest buildings on the island, an animal hospital and nursery, which still stands decades later.

Animal hospital on the island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

The animal hospital also acted as the island’s headquarters, making it the largest building on Discovery Island.

Inside the hospital is a cooler that still holds some medications and supplies for the animals.

Cooler in the animal hospital. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Sonswa has snuck his way onto the island a couple of times and each time he updates his viewers on the contents of this cooler.

Other parts of the building haven’t remained as fully intact, however.

Room in the animal hospital. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

With entire walls collapsing and nature growing inside buildings, it’s easy to see how this island has been left uninhabited for decades.

Even the bathroom has become overrun by Mother Nature.

Bathroom in the headquarters. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Sonswa captured every corner of this island on camera to show the world what happened to the forgotten Discovery Island.

An incubator still stands in an otherwise empty room inside the hospital.

Inside the animal hospital. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Today at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the park’s wellness center can perform veterinary services like surgical procedures, administer emergency medicine, and even help oversee pregnancies and births.

Near the animal hospital is a public restroom, which no longer has a roof, allowing for nature to take its toll.

Public bathroom for guests. Bright Sun Films/ YouTube

Today, there are 27 restrooms just in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom …

The island’s main attraction was Avian Way, which guests entered through this door.

Entrance to Avian Way. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Though now covered in overgrown fauna, this entrance brought you to the South American Aviary.

The doorway would lead to an elevated walkway which was covered in an overhead canopy.

Walkway of Avian Way. Bright Sun Films/ YouTube

For the most part, the structural foundation of the walkway remains intact.

Some of the canopies also remain intact but most are weighed down with leaves.

Collapsed canopy on Avian Way. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

The Avian walkway was supposed to be a great way to witness the rare birds of Discovery Island.

In other parts of the island, trees have fallen onto the walkway, destroying the site entirely.

Collapsed tress on Avian Way. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Not everything fared well in the decades of abandonment.

It’s difficult to imagine that this decrepit walkway was once filled with families on vacation.

Destroyed Avian Way. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

While poor attendance likely contributed to the island’s downfall, Animal Kingdom saw 12.5 million people in 2017.

The island also has a service and maintenance area that was used by Disney’s cast members.

Service area on Discovery Island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Although no one has worked at Discovery Island for decades, about 70,000 people work as Disney World cast members today.

On the ground, there is a pile of signs that were most likely taken down when the island was closing for good.

Pile of signs on Discovery Island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

The signs were originally used to help guests find their way around the 11-acre island.

Walking down the abandoned path is eerie, imagining the past employees who worked to keep this place running up until its demise.

Maintenance area on Discovery Island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Now workers are employed to guard the island from intruders. In fact, Seph Lawless – another person who snuck on the island – said you’re not supposed to get closer than 50 feet.

“When you’re on Bay Lake you’re almost chaperoned,” he told the BBC. “They have several security people on boats that watch you. If you get too close to the island they push you away. They will yell at you, they’re constantly watching you.”

Even the ice machine still stands today.

Ice machine to the left of the maintenance area. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Lawless, the photographer who snuck on the island, is disappointed that the Disney company has not done anything with the island.

“There was old attractions decaying, which was overgrown with weeds, trash scattered around,” he told INSIDER. “I was shocked that a billion dollar company like the Disney Corporation would just leave part of their property like this. No billion dollar company should be powerful enough not to clean up their mess.”

Other dilapidated structures can be found all over the island, like the cages that animals were once held in but now are covered in branches and leaves.

Cages that likely held animals. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

The entire island is a mix of perfectly preserved remnants of the island’s past and completely rotted structures that point to the park’s untimely demise.

As the island continues to rot, Disney’s plans for the future of the island remain unclear.

The remains of dead animals can be found on the island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

Some say it will be turned into villas for Disney vacationers, while others think it will continue to stay in its current state. One Disney employee said the company will never touch it because of pollution from nightly fireworks. Others say the waters surrounding the island are infected with bacteria after a boy died in 1980, according to the BBC.

Either way, the fate of Disney’s secluded and abandoned island remains a mystery.