River Country, a long-forgotten Walt Disney World water park that has been closed for almost two decades, will soon become a new resort hotel, The Orlando Sentinel is reporting.
Opening in 1976, just five years after Walt Disney World opened, River Country was widely considered to be the first true water park – although the definition of “water park” is, er, fluid, and many different places could theoretically lay claim to that title, according to Entertainment Designer.
Meant to evoke an old-fashioned “swimmin’ hole” such as where Tom Sawyer might have cooled off on those hot Missouri summer days – Walt Disney lived in Missouri for a few years in his childhood – the park differed from modern water parks in that it almost seamlessly integrated into its natural environment.
“It felt like jumping into a pond from childhood.”
In 1980, an 11-year-old boy contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba in the park’s waters. The park remained open, however – that is, until Disney built two bigger, flashier, and more modern water parks – Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995.
Still, River Country remained open until Disney cut their losses and closed the park permanently in 2001.
For over two decades, the park has sat, abandoned and deteriorating, and has become a target of urban explorers who brave the “No Trespassing” signs to get a glimpse of the decaying attractions.
Now after having sat derelict for over 20 years, the site of the park will be transformed into a new resort hotel.
The Walt Disney Company, for its part, isn’t saying much, other than a terse statement that says there are always things happening at the company’s theme parks.
“At any given time we have numerous projects in varied stages of development across the (Walt Disney World) resort.”
However, GrowthSpotter reports that the company is planning a “large-scale themed hotel and timeshare resort.”
Sitting on the shores of Bay Lake – the same lake on which Disney’s Contemporary Resort is situated – the new resort will almost certainly be, like the Contemporary, a high-dollar, deluxe resort. Similarly, it will almost certainly offer direct transportation to the Magic Kingdom via water taxi, in the same way that Contemporary guests have access to the theme park.
Walt Disney World is in the midst of a major growth phase. Two new “lands” – Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – are integrating into the Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in the next few months, while a Star Wars-themed resort hotel will soon be built right up against the theme park. Similarly, the Florida resort is building a gondola system to shuttle guests between some hotels and theme parks, and the Epcot theme park will be getting a much-needed upgrade.