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Disney Dish with Jim Hill Ep 473: Do you remember WDW’s Treasure Island

Today’s episode is brought to you by Cirque Du Soleil: Drawn to Life , and TouringPlans. 


Normal Open: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, April 1, 2024.


On the show today: News! Lots and lots of news. Then in our main segment, Jim tells us how Disney World’s Treasure Island became Discovery Island.


Let’s get started by bringing in the man who’s an honorary citizen of Rhythm Nation. It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?


iTunes:  Thanks to everyone who subscribes to the show over at including Nathanael West-Rosenthal, Michael Galasso, Sean Moore, Bob Boyd, Dana Snyder, and Jana Whalen. Jim, these are the Disney caterers helping Tiana set up her party inside the new Tiana’s Bayou Attraction in Frontierland. They say they enjoy the parts of the job that are absolutely essential but not glamorous, like scheduling deliveries and buying decorations, and reminding the alligators that their arms are simply not long enough to put tablecloths on the tables, but they are true geniuses when it comes to party music. True story.


The news is sponsored by TouringPlans helps you save time and money at theme parks like Walt Disney World.  Check us out at



  • Every show should begin with a round of self-congratulations
  • Back at our November live show at MIT we said that behind-the-scenes discussions were happening between Disney and the Florida legislature around ending their fight over the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
  • Last week Disney and the Central Florida Oversight Board announced a truce of sorts in their ongoing legal war:
  • The media are reporting this as a settlement. It’s not. I really think it’s a truce.
  • Disney agrees to drop the developer agreement and restrictive covenants that RCID approved before the takeover, and the changes made in January
  • Disney agrees to drop the changes to the comprehensive plans and land development agreements that the old RCID put in place in February 2023.
  • The starting point now is the 2020 Comprehensive Plan
  • The district agrees to review and possibly amend that 2020 plan, including consulting Disney and other parties
  • Disney and the state agree to dismiss and not re-file their state lawsuits, including those seeking public records requests
  • Disney gets ownership of long-term environmental impact mitigation credits, and the district agrees not to interfere in their use
  • Disney’s federal court case, currently on appeal, will be deferred while both sides negotiate a new long-term developer deal.
  • Both sides agree not to sue over actions taken before a specific date (which wasn’t made public), with some exceptions around settlements and defenses for the federal lawsuit.
  • In practice, this is a classic compromise in which both sides get a little of what they want in the short term, nobody immediately gets everything they want for the long term, and both sides have to commit to working together for that long term.
  • The calendar had a lot to do with this
  • We’ve been saying for over a year that Imagineering had to hire people to create the ideas that would get the board to approve specific projects for its $17B-over-10-years-in-Florida project
  • That hiring should largely be done by summer. So if you’re a project manager and you’re looking a few steps ahead, getting construction permits, environmental impacts done, etc., will be on your critical path soon. And the CFTOB could’ve slow-walked all of that to death.
  • Disney’s facing a shareholder vote next month about future leadership. They don’t want this RCID thing to come up as part of the vote.  
  • Institutional investors care about revenue, not the constitution.
  • Even if Disney thinks it’s right and can win the federal case, the state can drag this on longer than shareholders would be willing to support management fighting it.
  • Likewise, it’s an election year. While the governor isn’t up for election, a lot of state legislators are.
  • Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, is on record saying Florida’s fight with Disney was a political stunt that failed, and said DeSantis got beat by Disney over it.
  • So you’d expect this fight to come up as a topic in Florida’s presidential race.
  • The CFTOB does not want to be misaligned with their presidential nominee on this.
  • Republican voters in Florida say the economy and housing costs are their top 2 issues and it’s not close:
  • 35% of Republican voters name the economy and jobs as their #1 issue
  • 25% say it’s housing costs
  • 13% say immigration
  • No other topic gets more than 8%
  • Nothing like “Woke ideology in schools” made the top 10 concerns of Republican voters.
  • D23 is in August, three months before that election, and everyone expects Disney to announce its major theme park projects there.
  • Disney could’ve played hardball and said at D23 “Here are the projects we want to build in Florida, but the political situation there makes it too risky for investment”.  Then politicians will spend the next 3 months explaining that if you stare really hard at the cartoons, a couple of background characters look kinda gay, so Florida shouldn’t accept Disney’s $17B in jobs.
  • The composition of the board has changed enough that Disney probably is satisfied that the board knows how to work on big municipal projects that require consensus and compromise.
  • Stephanie Kopelousos is the CFTOB administrator. Was DeSantis’ Director of Legislative Affairs, previously FDOT Secretary and has a background in public policy and transportation.
  • Greg Mateer also joined the board yesterday. Background in hospitality and logistics.
  • It would not shock me to learn years from now that we didn’t hear the whole story about how this board changed.

  • Universal Orlando has released details on lands in the upcoming Epic Universe, this one for How to Train Your Dragon
  • Hiccups’ Wing Gliders: “Hiccup invites brave new Vikings to take a ride in his latest glider contraption – a winged flying machine that launches aspiring Dragon Riders into the sky for a dragon's eye view of Berk. Guests will fly alongside Hiccup and Toothless and reach speeds up to 45 mph as they soar around the perimeter of Berk – and even through the lagoon – while experiencing firsthand what it's like to fly on a dragon.”

  • The Untrainable Dragon stage show: “Characters Hiccup, Toothless, Gobber, and Astrid as they work together to solve the mystery of The Untrainable Dragon. This heartwarming story comes to life with captivating musical numbers, breathtaking sets and life-sized dragons soaring overhead.”

  • Fyre Drill: “Mischievous Viking twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut invite teams of Vikings to compete to outscore and out-soak each other on this wet-and-wild boat battle. Guests will board a colorful dragon-headed boat and blast water cannons at flame-like targets to practice putting out fires – a crucial skill to master when living with dragons.”
  • I’m surprised we haven’t seen this kind of water-ride-as-shooting-gallery before in a domestic Disney or Universal park - they’re all over Europe and you’d think with Florida’s weather it would be popular
  • This is my early pick for “Surprise hit of Epic Universe”

  • Jim, is it me or is this giving “Beastly Kingdom”?

Village Plaza:

  • Dragon Racer's Rally – Berk's new Vikings racers can practice aerobatic maneuvers and high-speed barrel rolls on two Viking-made dragon-riding trainers that reach heights of up to 67 feet in the air. Guests can control how "wild" or "mild" their experience will be as they perform high-flying, gravity-defying, swooping and soaring skills that are necessary to earn the accolades worthy of a true champion dragon racer.
  • These kinds of rides are a staple of European theme parks.

  • Viking Training Camp – Junior Vikings will learn everything they need to know about dragons as they climb, slide and explore their way through this sprawling interactive adventure play camp – featuring a Viking agility course, a Toothless-themed teeter-totter, baby Gronckle dragon climbers and so much more.

  • Meet Hiccup and Toothless – Guests can visit the Haddock Paddock for an incredible meet-and-greet experience with heroic Dragon Rider, Hiccup, and pose for a photo with his friendly Night Fury, Toothless. Plus, throughout the day, guests may also encounter other familiar Vikings and dragons while exploring Berk.

  • Mead Hall — The beating heart of Berk and the village's main gathering hall, Mead Hall is where guests can feast like a Viking and enjoy a savory menu featuring a variety of meats, fish, sandwiches and more along with a collection of meads and ciders.
  • Jim, I’m just going to point out that wassail is an alcoholic punch typically served around holidays and that wassailing, as a verb, means to drink while going door-to-door around your village. So if you’re a theme park and you’re looking for your next big holiday event, maybe dust off that copy of Beowulf and get to reading about mead halls.

And a few other miscellaneous food kiosks and shopping:

Spit Fyre Grill — Overlooking the action of the Fyre Drill water attraction, Spit Fyre Grill is a quick-service dining location featuring delicious, hearty meals flame-seared by a helpful (unseen) dragon fry cook.

Hooligan's Grog & Gruel — Guests can grab quick bites at this festive racing-themed food stand located in the Viking Camp.

And after a day of dragon training, guests can commemorate their lessons with an array of merchandise available at highly-themed shops like Viking Traders, How to Treat Your Dragon, Hiccup's Work Shop, and Toothless' Treasures.

  • More details on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure
  • Tiana is throwing a party and needs a band, so you’re helping search the bayou for animal musicians.
  • Imagineers have started test rides
  • Hearing mid-June for media event, so previews probably start early June? All of this can change, but the information we’re getting has narrowed down the opening window from “Summer 2024” to the first half of June, assuming everything goes well with testing.
  • Jim, Len is going to say something like “You know how I feel about change, Jim. It scares me. I’m excited about Tiana’s because it’s a new theme for a ride system I love, and it’s going to get more people into the parks, which is good for everyone. Just as long as we’re done for now with changing classic Frontierland attractions. We’re done for now, right, Jim?”  And you can say something like “Oh, Len.”  Don’t mention the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, but just give a hint that another announcement is coming before summer.

  • Large sections of Morocco are back behind construction walls. This photo is from our friends over at WDWMagic:

  • Disney Dreams that Soar” drone show
  • At Disney Springs
  • May 24 to September 2
  • On the heels of Disneyland Paris’ 500-drone Disney Electrical Sky Parade
  • We’ve said before that Europe’s legal system seems to take the view that experiencing a theme park carries with it some inherent risk. Like there’s a French lawyer who’s taking a drag on a cigarette before saying “If the drone crashes, it crashes, eh? It is alive one moment and then, poof C’est la vie, n’est pas?”
  • Jim, is this a test flight, if you will, for in-park drone shows?

  • Joe Rohde confirmed he’s working again with Imagineering
  • We knew there was interest.
  • Jim, is it reasonable to assume that because it’s “his” park, Joe is involved in the upcoming AK projects?


Listener Questions

Research/Patents (use query "disney enterprises".as AND "theme park".ab)


We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  When we come back, Jim tells us how Walt Disney World’s Treasure Island became Discovery Island.  We’ll be right back to explore this wilderness.

MAIN TOPIC - iTunes Show

Treasure Island / Discovery Island feature

As soon as Walt flew over Bay Lake and looked down at Razz Island, he knew that that was where he wanted to build “Project Florida.” People who were aboard Mickey Mouse One (That was the Disney corporate plane. A Grunman Gulfstream G-159 purchased in 1963) … They recall Walt looking out the window, spying Razz Island out in the middle of Bay Lake and then saying “That’s it.”

And with those two words, Walt Disney World went from a fairly vague “We should build another Disneyland. Maybe on the East Coast” to a hard reality.

And speaking of hard realities … We know the exact day that Walt first spied Razz Island (November 22, 1963) because – as this group was flying back to Burbank (having completed their scouting trip to Florida), Mickey Mouse One stopped for refueling in New Orleans. And it was there on the tarmac that Walt & his team learned that President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated in Dallas.

The next few months were a sad time for the country but a busy time at Disney. At this point, there were just six months ‘til the four shows that the Imagineers were prepping for the 1964 New York World’s Fair needed to be up & running in Flushing Meadow. But even so, there were folks at 1401 Flower Street who were focused on what came after the World’s Fair. And that was – obviously – “Project Florida.” Which wouldn’t officially be announced ‘til nearly 2 years after Walt first saw Razz Island (November 16, 1965).

And the thinking in-house (at that time, anyway) was that “We need to do something special with Razz Island.” After all, that’s the reason that Walt bought all of this swampland in this particular part of Central Florida.

And Walt? He could be somewhat squirrely when it came to islands. It was well-known at WDI – back when Disneyland was first being built in the Late Summer / Early Fall of 1954 – that when it came time to dig out the Rivers of America (And – by proxy – determine what the original layout for Tom Sawyer's Island would be. Because the backhoes that were digging down into that old orange-and-walnut-groves – as they dug out the Rivers of America – were going to be carving away at everything that wasn’t Tom Sawyer's Island) ..

Anyway, on the weekend before all of that digging began down in Anaheim, Walt took the site plan for the Rivers of America home with him. And on Monday, he came into work with what the precise layout of Tom Sawyer's Island should be. Walt had hand-drawn where exactly all of the inlets & coves should be located / how they should look.

So taking that into account … The folks who were working on “Project Florida” – whenever they looked at Razz Island – thought long & hard about how they could make the very best use of this teeny bit of property out in the middle of 450-acre Bay Lake.

What further complicated this situation was Walt’s sudden passing on December 15, 1966. By this point, the broad strokes for “Project Florida” had been worked out. Where the Vacation Kingdom complex was supposed to be located (Surprise, surprise. It was to be built up by Bay Lake). Where the six mile-long North / South Road that would service the Vacation Kingdom should be carved out. Where Disney World’s overall entrance complex should be built. But – again – no definitive plans for Razz Island. Not yet, anyway.

For a time. Razz was renamed Blackbeard’s Island. Which kind of made sense. In February of 1968, Walt Disney Productions had released “Blackbeard’s Ghost” to theaters. And this supernatural comedy – which starred two-time Academy Award-winner Sir Peter Ustinov as that film’s title character – had done reasonably well at the box office.

More to the point, after Walt had surgery in Late November of 1966 (This was when doctors over at St. Joe’s removed most of his cancer-ridden left lung), he returned to the Disney lot for one day. And one of the places that Walt visited that day was the soundstage were “Blackbeard’s Ghost” was being shot. Where he then reportedly had a fun time chatting with Ustinov and his co-stars, Dean Jones & Suzanne Pleshette.

Anyway … Renaming Razz Island Blackbeard’s Island was – for those within the Company who understood the significance of that specific set visit (Walt’s very last day at the Studio that he & his brother Roy built) – was thought to be an appropriate gesture.

That said, the folks who were building Walt Disney World were very wary when it came to the topic of anything Pirate-related. And that was because of the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Which was held over in Tampa every January.

Now this event had been going on in Florida for a very long time (The very first of these fests – according to the Tampa Tribune – was held back in 1904). And Gasparilla honored the antics of Jose Gaspar, the legendary pirate who plied the waters of Western Florida back in the late 18th century. Jose was supposedly the Jimmy Buffet of his day, more interested in partying than raping & pillaging.

Anywho … What with the Gasparilla Pirate Fest being an established thing over in Tampa (And Disney wanting to make a good impression with all the folks in Florida as it got its vacation kingdom up out of the ground), the thinking back then was … Let’s be selective when it comes to how we use Pirates down at Walt Disney World.

Which was tough. Given that Disneyland’s version of “Pirates of the Caribbean” had opened back on March 18, 1967 and was a smash-hit right out of the box. So there was all this immediate pressure from Disney Corporate on the folks who were working on “Project Florida” to replicate that ride. And the Imagineers were like “No. We want to be good neighbors. Pirates is Tampa’s thing. We don’t all those people who live just 84 miles away from Orlando to think that Disney’s deliberately horning in on their thing. We want the people who live in Tampa to be happy with Disney, to regularly drive up the 4 and come over & visit Florida’s Magic Kingdom. I mean, we can use pirates selectively. Like having Captain Hook in Orlando’s version of ‘Peter Pan Flight.’ But nothing huge like Disneyland’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride.”

That idea – that Disney could only use pirates that had previously appeared in films that Disney Studios had made – began to influence what the Imagineers were looking to do with Razz Island. I mean, if this primo piece of real estate was going to be associated with a Disney film that featured pirates … Well, rather than “Blackbeard’s Ghost,” why not go with the movie that got Disney Studio started in the live-action-only business? Which was “Treasure Island,” which was first released to theaters back in the Summer of 1950.

And when I say live-action-only … Well, there were obviously films that Walt Disney Studios produced prior to “Treasure Island” that featured live-action:

·          “Fantasia” in 1940

·          “The Reluctant Dragon” in 1941

·          “Saludos Amigos” in 1942

·          “Song of the South” in 1946

·          and “So Dear to My Heart” in 1948

But these 5 films also featured animation. Whereas Disney’s version of “Treasure Island” (which was based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel that was originally published back in 1883) was animation-free. It was entirely live-action. More to the point, it was shot – not in Hollywood – but over in the UK. Largely because – after the War – England wouldn’t allow any of the ticket sales money that Disney films had earned while being exhibited in that country since 1939 to actually leave that country. If Walt wanted that money back, he had to spend it in the UK. Interesting bit of film history there.

Disney’s “Treasure Island” was an enormous success. Studio would go on to re-release it to theaters several more times over the next 20 years as a G-rated feature. Problem came in 1975 when Disney was getting ready to send “Treasure Island” back in theaters. The Studio submitted this movie to the MPAA (The Motion Picture Association. Those folks who determine which rating a movie should receive). And they then came back and said that Disney’s now-25-year-old “Treasure Island” (because of a scene where Jim Hawkins shoots a murderous pirate directly-in-the-face with a pistol) was now a PG-rated film.

Only problem was Disney – at that time, anyway – had a policy where it would only release family-friendly films. Which meant G rated. So – prior to “Treasure Island” being re-released to theaters in 1975 – Disney had to cut 9 minutes of pirates-related violence out of that movie to go from a PG to a G. The 1970s were a different time, Len.

Speaking of the 1970s … Once the vacation kingdom portion of Walt Disney World opened in October of 1971, attention then turned to transforming Razz Island into Treasure Island. 50,000 cubic yards of dirt & soil were hauled out to Bay Lake. Which then expanded this island from 7 acres to 11 acres.

And as the 1972 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report stated (It was published on November 30th of that same year [1972]) reported …

Work has been progressing since last Summer on the first phase of Treasure Island. Walkways, small lakes and waterfalls will be available for explorers and picnickers starting in 1973. Sometime after that, the rest of this picturesque spot in Bay Lake will then become home to recreations to memorable locations from Walt Disney Productions’ 1950 release. Among these will be the Benbow Inn, the wreck of the Hispanola and Ben Gunn’s cave.

The annual report was off by about a year. Treasure Island didn’t actually open to the public ‘til April 8, 1974. And as for all those recreations of memorable places & things from Disney’s 1950 version of “Treasure Island,” only the wreck of the Hispanola was installed. It was parked on the side of the island facing the Contemporary Hotel.

Funny story: As part of the set dressing for the Wreck of the Hispanola on Treasure Island, the Imagineers placed the skeleton of a pirate on the beach between the ship & the walkway that circled the island (so that Guests would have a bit of pirate-themed placemaking to view as they walked by). The morning after this fake pirate skeleton (which made out of plastic) was put in place on the beach, the Imagineers returned to find his bones scattered across that beach. There was also a flock of very ticked-off turkey vultures in the same vicinity, glowering at the Imagineers as if to say “What kind of a sick joke was this?”

Here’s the thing, though … We’ve talked about this previously. But when Walt Disney World first opened in October of 1971, people would tour the Magic Kingdom and then swing by City Hall and say “This was great. But where is ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ? You have all sorts of recreations of rides from Disneyland here . Why didn’t that ride make the trip to Florida?”

And then the folks in City Hall would then try & explain about the Gasparilla Pirate Fest over in Tampa and how the Company wanted to be a good neighbor. But after several months of Guest complaints, it became painfully clear that visitors to Disney’s vacation kingdom in Florida wanted that park to have its own version of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.”

But here’s the thing: The construction of Walt Disney World famously went overbudget. Was supposed to only cost $100 million to build. Wound up costing $400 million. Then the Arab Oil Embargo arrived in October of 1973, just two years after “Project Florida” had first opened.

Some hard decisions had to be made. There wasn’t enough money to do two Pirates-themed projects-of-size. If the Magic Kingdom was now going to get a version of Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, that then meant that there was going to be a reduction of scope on Treasure Island out in Bay Lake. So no Benbow Inn & no Ben Gunn’s cave.

1977 – Treasure Island renamed Discovery Island. Place to view animals in cages. Part of the relaunch was tied to the theatrical release of “The Rescuers” in June of 1977. Nationwide contest. Devil’s Eye diamond in animated feature / contest winners could dig for $25,000 diamond on Discovery Island.

Closed in April of 1999 (Year after Animal Kingdom opened). Lots of stuff proposed – Lost themed experience, Myst themed experience, island made up of exclusive honeymoon cottages. Disney has yet to turn the key on any of these ideas.

Walt probably wouldn’t be happy to hear this. But he’s been gone for nearly 58 years now. And Disney’s a different company now.


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For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.