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Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
It had been three years since my family had last gone on a vacation to Florida, something we did annually before the recession hit. Since we now had enough money, my parents decided (under the popular demand of my sister and I) that we go to Walt Disney World, again. We were both teenagers, and our parents kind of saw this as a bit juvenile, but decided it would be fun anyway. I could not wait to finally go back, and neither could my sister. Being avid theme park goers as well, we were especially attracted to the creativity and the, well, “magic” as one would say about the rides there. They never got old, and had their share of nostalgia and excitement. However, there was one other reason I wanted to go.
You normally associate Disney World with words such as excitement, fun, and happiness, but with these characterizations, come counterbalances. After scrolling through OMG Facts one night, I came across a rather interesting fact. It was about an abandoned water park in WDW, apparently named “River Country.” I was absolutely appalled by this, since I had previously thought of Disney in a more idealistic and perfect way. The water park was directly on the shores of Bay Lake, being that huge, stagnant body of water adjacent to the Magic Kingdom. River Country was, and still is, on the same side as the theme park just mentioned, but right next to a resort called Walt Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Surrounding the water park on the resort side is a large, green wall, with signs dotting it
The place opened in 1976, and used water from Bay Lake in most of the park’s attractions. It was very rustic and wilderness based in design, and contained artificial rocks that resembled those used on another attraction, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There was a dam present to keep chunks of dirt and mud from getting into the water too, so guests did not have to worry about swimming in an artificial bog created by water from the lake. It was open for 25 years, closing its doors in 2001, and in 2005, a statement released by Disney said that the park would be closed for good.
So, for about 11 years, River Country has been sitting abandoned. Nature is in its advanced stages of reclaiming the area, but the slides remain, and so do the artificial rocks, and the small pond (now a swamp) that was used for swimming. Many urban explorers have infiltrated the area, jumping over the walls to get footage of the abandoned water park. One of the most controversial things about the park nowadays, is why it closed, which is what I was destined to find out.
I wanted to see some real footage of the area before it closed as well, since from what I heard, it was very joyous and bustling with tourists, compared to its ghost town status today. I was without internet at the time, so, about two days before we were planning to leave, I went to the local library, which archived many old videos that people in my community had dug up in their attics and donated to the library to be part of a small historical society. Hoping that I might find some good footage, I asked the librarian if they happened to carry any videos concerning family vacations. She nodded, and brought me to a small section, containing many old VCR cassettes, and a few DVDs here and there. After about half an hour of searching, I finally came across a cassette with the words “The Old Fashioned Swimming Hole” inscribed on the top of it. This was a term used to describe River Country during its glory days, so I took it, almost certain that it was the footage I was looking for. I asked the librarian if I could sign it out, but she told me that the historical videos had to stay in the library. I could, however, watch the video in a small conference room behind the front desk.
The librarian led me into the windowless room, and I took a seat in front of the television. She left the room and closed the door so that the audio would not disturb any of the other library patrons. I popped the cassette into the VCR under the TV, and turned the lights off so I could see the video better. I was expecting the quality to be low anyway.
For about half of a minute or so, the screen was grey, and was accompanied with a loud beeping noise, typical for old VCR cassettes. The grey soon disappeared, showing footage of two individuals in front of the entrance to River Country. They were both men, and it was either very late at night, or very early in the morning, as nobody else was in the park. Very few of the water park’s lights were on either. On the bottom left corner of the screen, the date “ November 1, 2001” was displayed. This was significant because the water park closed for good the very next day, on November second.
The two men were talking about how they had been denied entrance to the park in the morning, since it had reached its guest capacity limit. They also stated that at only these hours of night could they get passed the park security. The two walked up to the bigger water slides in the park, which led directly into the pond, supplied by the green water of Bay Lake. Once they both got to the top of the slide, which was encircled by artificial, orange rocks, one man prepared to slide down. The two laughed over what seemed to be an inside joke, and finally, the cameraman ended up pushing his friend down. I heard him scream in delight as he descended to the pond. The cameraman then proceeded back the way they came to get to the slides, and across a bridge that traversed the small lagoon. He ended up back at the pond’s shore where the sound of a splash was heard.
This is when the video started to… unsettle me a little. After waiting at the shore of the pond for about three minutes, nobody surfaced. The cameraman began to cry his friend’s name frantically, and started to run back to get help at the Fort Wilderness Resort. He stopped abruptly though at what seemed to be the kiddie area, a small, shallow pond, on hearing a faint cough. He instantly turned around, and saw a barely visible shadow about ten or so feet behind him. Relieved, the cameraman started to approach his friend, glad that he was okay, but again, he abruptly halted.
The friend’s head was hanging down, and he slowly inched it up. The cameraman started to hyperventilate, as the features of the other man’s face began to show. Crimson, dry blood was caked around his mouth, and some was even dripping off his chin. He was missing all the hair on his head as well, but, one of the most disturbing parts of this image, was that…there were patches of skin missing that revealed parts of the man’s skull and jaw bone, and he was even missing his right eye, leaving an empty socket. I became severely nauseous at the sight of this, to the point where I was swallowing my own vomit. My heart also began to race as fear started to settle in my body. As the last minutes of the film approached, the horrendous figure muttered something , something that sounded like “there is no hope under the water”. With that, the cameraman ran for his life, wheezing and panicking throughout his ordeal.
I wanted to turn the television off and run myself, so I bolted to the door leading out of the room. I reached for the doorknob, but paused. The television was giving off the sound of an old furnace found in the basement of a home, just in a softer tone. This tone, for some unknown reason, kept me from moving anywhere. I was just staring blankly at the television.
The cameraman was still sprinting, but did not seem to be making any progress. He had ended up back at the large pond where the slide had dumped his friend. You could hear him sobbing softly, fearing for his life. Suddenly, the tape began to gradually slow down, as the man frantically looked from side to side. The audio volume, along with the furnace sound, went up as the video lagged. Haltingly, the cameraman turned all the way around, and shrieked at the sight of his friend. The video paused on this frame, exposing the caked blood all over the other man’s face. The top of his skull bone was now completely exposed, his right eye still missing. His mouth was wide open, and coming from it, was what looked like a combination of the water from Bay Lake, and bile. This stayed on the screen for about ten seconds, and switched to a black screen, displaying one single message:
The epidemic begins today.
Instantly, the power went out, and I was left alone in the darkness of the conference room. I became so terrified, as I could not see a thing, and I could not see the door either. I began to shake in absolute fear. River Country had closed because of this, and it was obvious. Walt Disney World had been keeping a disgusting secret. I rushed to the other side of the room, disoriented…
But all I felt was warm breath seeping down my neck, and the smell of bile….
Publisher’s Note: River Country is an actual abandoned water park that has been sitting dormant in Walt Disney World for over a decade. Oddly, the lights are still on within the area, and the music still plays as well. Many theories have come up about its closing, but one of the most plausible ones, and one that has been confirmed by WDW employees, is that a deadly type of amoeba was found within the water of Bay Lake, which was used to supply many parts of the theme park. This amoeba can cause severe illness or death, so as a precautionary measure, Disney closed the park for good…