Lost Trek: Discovery River Boats

When you think river boats and Discovery Island, you might be reminded of the island off of Bay Lake. But this week’s Monday Mouse Memories, we are looking back at an attraction in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. From its opening day, it experienced poor guest reviews and became the shortest-lived attraction in the park. Don’t remember the Discovery River Boats? The attraction lasted a little more than a year and in that time-frame, it experienced several theming overhauls.

The Discovery River Boats were an opening day attraction on April 22, 1998. Guests boarded at the Safari Village on Discovery Island. From there, they experienced several sights and sensations such as the underwater vibrations of a sea serpent, a cave dwelling fire breathing dragon and Hamabe Village shooting geysers. The return trip to Safari Village offered a much more scenic view of Asia. Guests could see the Banteng cattle and were able to spy on a lost audio-animatronic Iguanodon by the Countdown to Extinction (now Dinosaur) at the Dino Institute.

Discovery Island Dragon

Just a boat ride

With colorful boat names like The Darting Dragonfly, Otter Nonsense, Leaping Lizard, Crocodile Belle and Hasty Hippo, guests expected a more Jungle Cruise-like atmosphere to the experience. Never meant to be an attraction, the boats were touted as a transportation source between Discovery Island to Asia. Despite this, guests lined up for a chance to cruise down the river. Wait times for the River Boats were frequently over an hour long. The 9-minute ride left many guests sorely disappointed. For a newly opened park banking on guests experiencing animal encounters, this led to a huge problem.

Disney rebranded the Discovery River Boats to the Discovery Island Water Taxis in August 1998. The renaming was in an effort to alleviate confusion among park guests. Guests needed to be aware the Water Taxis primarily were a means of transportation. To incorporate an animal element, presenters also started to make an appearance aboard the boats. They would often carry a small animal and discuss details of the creature. Guests still felt limited satisfaction with the attraction and problems continued to exist.

March 1999 led to another makeover of the boats. Repainted and renamed, the Water Taxis were now known as the Radio Disney River Cruise. The onboard narration featured spiels from Disney DJs Just Plain Mark and Zippy, who broadcasted “live” from the top of the Tree of Life.  The new theming saw the elimination of the animal presentations. The boats also stopped all boarding at Asia. Even with the changes, park guests were still not happy with the attraction.

Discovery Island Boat Dock

With all of the efforts to redesign the attraction and it still did not change the public perception. The slow boats around Discovery Island saw their end on August 21, 1999.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Today, the Discovery Island boat docks host meet and greet experiences with Winnie the Pooh and friends. The former Asia dock (now known as Upcountry Landing) also hosts a meet and greet with the characters from The Jungle Book. The river boats had been used as floating stages for characters and other entertainment but with the upcoming Rivers of Light spectacular debuting soon, their future remains unclear.

The short-lived Discovery River Boats proved to Disney that low guest satisfaction will sink a tour quicker than an angry hippo in a jungle cruise.


As with last week, enjoy an audio clip from the lost voyage of the Discovery River Boats.


Mouse Memories is a weekly series that looks back at the lost history and unknown facts of Walt Disney World.

Theresa Carlson

Theresa has been a life-long Disney fan since she first visited the Magic Kingdom in 1985 at the age of 3. According to her mother, she squealed with excitement when she saw Winnie the Pooh and Chip n' Dale for the first time. That love for Disney has not died as she grew up. She continues to be fascinated with the history of EPCOT Center and maintains the radio station, Kungaloosh Radio on TuneIn Radio.

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