The Happiest Place on Earth only remains happy until people stop visiting. Reclaimed by nature, left to rust, or simply locked away behind closed doors, attractions from Disneyland, Disney World, and other theme parks look incredibly creepy when they're no longer delighting park guests.
Disney's many monorail cars need to be updated and switched out periodically, but when one is retired, it needs to go somewhere. This one was found by Twitter user @ThemeParkShark supposedly in the desert, although he hasn't given specific details about where and whether it was being guarded. The life of a theme park treasure hunter is often filled with grey areas.
This adorable long-necked droid checks in passengers aboard the Star Wars themed ride, Star Tours. While it may fit right in with the Star Wars aesthetic, it's actually a refugee goose from the long-closed attraction America Sings. When that attraction closed, the goose was plucked, and its metal skeleton was repurposed as a Star Wars droid. Creepy!
Sometimes an entire Disney park ends up abandoned. While Euro Disneyland (later renamed Disneyland Paris) was famously virtually empty at the time of its initial opening, more recently parks have been left deserted as a result of pandemic lockdowns. This aerial photo of Shanghai Disneyland shows a completely empty park, as under very strict lockdown conditions at the time of writing, nobody in Shanghai has been allowed to leave their homes for months.
The Nautilus is very much still on display at Disneyland Paris, despite the fact that its bottom half has been left to decay. Under normal circumstances, the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea-inspired Nautilus would be submerged in water, but here, it's possible to see what the Disney park operators would rather keep hidden.
The Mark Twain
Disneyland Paris has two riverboats: the Mark Twain and the Molly Brown. Of the two, the Molly Brown has been operational more consistently over the years, with the Mark Twain having been dragged to a half-obscured dock and left to rot for decades. The Mark Twain does occasionally come close enough for park guests to take a look, but the sight isn't pretty.
Not every abandoned ride is given the dignity of festering out of sight. The track for Disneyland's Peoplemover is still very much on display, despite the fact that the ride hasn't been operational in decades. This has led many Disneyland fans to see the Peoplemover as their White Whale, and many hope that it will one day be restored to its former glory.
The Backlot Tour
Disneyland's backlots and out of bounds locations are filled with long-forgotten treasures from a bygone age. This photo shows both an old boat and an old comet sign that was part of an attraction in years past.
Another monorail car, ditched in a different location, this poor mass transit carriage has been far less well looked after. Missing its doors and windows, and covered in rust, it's hard to believe that this once ever carried excited families around the skies of the Happiest Place on Earth.
Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland
Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland was a railroad ride that operated from 1960 until 1977. It was eventually demolished and replaced with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. One of the old locomotives and a couple of carts were rescued and left on display for decades, where park guests who knew where to look could watch them slowly decaying.
Closing at around the same time as River Country, Discovery Island suffered a similar fate. Disney simply left the entire island's worth of attractions to fall apart, out of the sight of unknowing Disney World guests.
The Animals Vanished
Discovery Island was home to a menagerie of different birds; the main attraction was seeing all of these beautiful winged creatures on display. When the island closed, all of the birds were taken away, and their habitats remained.
People Still Visit Discovery Island
Nobody at Disney really expected anyone to reach Discovery Island, because it is, in fact, an island. Once a regular ferry stopped running, it was expected that park guests simply wouldn't be able to make it across the water to the remains of the attraction. This theory was wrong.
Disney Upped Security Measures
Several intreped park guests have managed to set foot on Discovery Island over the years, with one man even camping overnight. When discovered, he claimed he didn't know the island was off-limits. Since then, Disney has tightened its security measures to prevent anyone making their way to the abandoned attraction.
The Path to the Island is Dangerous
Disney has every right to try and keep people off Discovery Island, considering that the entire place is a health and safety nightmare. The only way onto the island involves swimming from the nearby mainland, which is not ideal given that the swamp water is both poisonous and infested with alligators.
Workers Left in a Hurry
Nevertheless, Discovery Island certainly lives up to its name for the few explorers who have evaded Disney's security forces. It's clear to see at what point Disney staff simply gave up on trying to relocate all the equipment and materials that had been left on the island.
The Island Is Frozen in Time
As run-down as it might be, Discovery Island does at least provide a perfect snapshot of turn-of-the-century Disney artifacts. If anyone still actually cares about tracking down some original McDonald's Mulan Szechuan sauce, this might be a good place to look.
Disneyland isn't the only park that suffers from broken down or abandoned attractions. In fact, entire theme parks across the world, many of which are designed to be the local answer to Disneyland, end up being left to rot.
Universal Studios Arch
Out in the middle of the Dubai desert is an enormous arch for a Universal Studios theme park that was never built. While construction started on the park, economic uncertainty led to its cancellation, and, as there was no real point in tearing it down, the only part of the park that had been constructed was left abandoned.
Flintstones Bedrock City
Once upon a time there were a pair of Flintstones Bedrock City theme parks, one in Arizona and one in South Dakota. The parks survived up until 2019, when both closed. As the most recently abandoned of the parks on this list, the full force of Mother Nature has not yet been unleashed on Bedrock, although some cracked and peeling paint hint at the attractions' age.
Bedrock City Was Active in the '60s
Bedrock City in South Dakota opened in the 1960s, while the Arizona site was active from the 1970s onward. The attractions certainly show their age, especially when compared with more consistently updated equivalents at Disney World.
It Became More Authentic
The nice thing about a caveman aesthetic is that in many respects, it gets more authentic with age. The slight wear and tear shown by this particular attraction feel completely fitting given the rustic Bedrock setting.
Ghost Town in the Sky
The aptly named Ghost Town in the Sky was once an Old West inspired theme park, nestled in one of the highest mountain ranges in the Eastern United States. Now it has transformed into a literal ghost town, making its whimsical setting feel eerie and foreboding.
A Few Creatures Call it Home
There is good reason for this particular locale to feel unnerving. It's actually very dangerous to visit, thanks to a community of territorial Pit bulls that have made the park their home. Staying too long in one place and not getting to high ground when necessarily is a sure way to get a nasty bite.
A Unique Beauty
Regardless of (and perhaps because of) the danger posed in exploring Ghost Town in the Sky, the park is hauntingly beautiful. The eerie shadows cast by the park's defunct rollercoasters no longer look wholesome and happy as the park has descended into chaos.
Ghost Town in the Sky is Still Pristine
At the same time, it's amazing how well many of the park's rides have survived. One of the nice things about being so remote is that not many people have been able to make the journey, and this means that much of the park is still relatively clean.
Nara Dreamland Was Once a Great Success
The same cannot be said of Nara Dreamland, which had been filled with graffiti from countless visitors who've snuck in to get a good look at the desolate park. Once upon a time, this was Japan's answer to Disneyland, and is complete with its own, admittedly rather shabby looking, castle.
They Took Inspiration From Disneyland
Dreamland served patrons for decades before its closure, and was perfectly successful during that time. Here, plenty of classic Disney-esque rides can be seen, in spite of mounting piles of leaf litter and foliage.
The Parks Had Many Similarities
Dreamland's plagiarism was not subtle. In addition to its castle, the park had its own Main Street USA, Matterhorn, and even an equivalent to Autopia.
A New Park Shut Down Nara Dreamland
What killed Dreamland? Simple: Japan got its own official Disneyland. Once a properly branded alternative was available, there was significantly less interest in the home-grown knock-off, and Disney expansion alongside a Universal Studios park made things even worse. Nara Dreamland was shut down in 2006, and finally demolished in 2017.
Quik Cup Ride
This forgotten teacup ride, featuring Nestle's Quik branding, is a riff on Disneyland's famous spinning teacups. Unlike the Disney equivalent, time has not been kind to this particular ride, although it may potentially be salvageable with enough elbow grease and attention.
Log Flume Ride
This unnamed flume ride was captured on film by Seph Lawless, who has done far more than simply break into Disney's River Country. A large portion of his body of work as a photographer is dedicated to abandoned, disused and forgotten places, especially theme parks.
Geauga Lake Amusement Park
Having travelled the world photographing abandoned and broken theme parks, Seph has amassed a large body of work, some of which can be seen in his book, Abandoned: Hauntingly Beautiful Deserted Theme Parks. Here he can be seen taking photos of an aging wooden rollercoaster which is probably not very safe to stand on.
Geauga Lake Closed in 2007
Geauga Lake in Ohio plays host to an amusement park that, once upon a time, was a very beautiful sight. Since closing in 2007, the park has been left to rot, with its original beauty fading over time as nature has taken hold.
The Park Is a Natural Space Now
The park's large, exposed rollercoasters are now home to local vegetation and wildlife, as the trees and bushes have wound their way around the rides' support structures. Weeds have sprung up, and it's hard to recognize that some parts of the park were ever a desirable tourist attraction.
It Still Has Some Charm
Is some places, though, the park's original vibrant beauty can still be seen. While chipped and peeled, the bright and colorful paint on many of the park's buildings still give off the same whimsy that they displayed two decades ago, and the choice fauna, such as these purple trees, continue to provide beautiful contrast.
Land of Oz
At first glance, The Land of Oz looks exactly like the famous 1939 movie that it was based upon. Closer inspection, however, reveals cracked paving slabs and overgrown plants, as the theme park had to close in 1980 due to a fire and was left abandoned for decades.
The Yellow Brick Road Crumbles
Oprah Winfrey was such a fan of these photos that she asked Seph Lawless' permission to use them in a presentation, and flew him out specially to watch. There's something about the corruption of a once beatiful dream land that makes these sights so compelling.
Land of Oz Has Reopened
This particular story has a happy ending: after decades of closure, Land of Oz was renovated and has re-opened to the public. These photos remember a bygone era when the park was less than pristine, and it's interesting to remember that not all forgotten theme parks remain abandoned forever.
Prehistoric Forest in Irish Falls, Michigan is a tourist attraction with lofty ambitions of being a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur adventure. Considering how well Jurassic Park turned out, things haven't gone too badly here; at least none of the dinosaurs have left their stations and run amok.
A Mossy Mammoth
Some of the attractions have aged better than others, of course. This wooly mammoth has certainly seen better days, and now looks far more terrifying than anything Jurassic World can throw at guests. Zombie mammoths are not for the faint of heart.
One of the most infamous abandoned Disney attractions is River Country, an expansive water park that served guests from the 1970s up until 2001. When the decision was made to close the park permanently, nature took over.
River Country is an Infamous Location
River Country was a perfectly serviceable, if occasionally troubled, Disney attraction. Part of Walt Disney World, it suffered from negative press following reports of occasional drowning, and the discovery that the water wasn't exactly clean, leading to one fatal case of poisoning.
2001 saw a dip in tourism for the Walt Disney Company in the wake of the World Trade Center attack and subsequent economic downturn. Considering that River Country was already struggling to keep up with more elaborate and impressive water parks in the area, it's not a surprise that Disney decided to simply shut it down.
It Was Left to the Elements
What to do, though, with an entire abandoned water park? River Country couldn't be moved or relocated, and the land couldn't immediately be used for anything else. The Walt Disney company simply let the entire attraction rot.
Someone Found a Way In
Of course, within Disney parks, nothing can remain off-limits forever. The occasional urban explorer, such as Seph Lawless, have made their way into River Country over the years, and have given us a glimpse of what is waiting behind closed gates.
They Broke the Rules
Disney is not exactly thrilled with people sneaking into the abandoned attraction, though. Lawless has revealed that his little jaunt out of bounds has earned him a lifetime ban from Walt Disney World, so his pictures have come at an extremely high price.
Sneaking In Is a Health Hazard
It's understandable that Disney might not want people snooping around these areas. Aside from the health risks of wading through a reclaimed Florida swamp, the photos that Lawless has shared on Instagram don't exactly show Disney World in a positive light (even if they are exceptionally cool).
New Construction Will Happen Soon
Most structures in River Country were demolished in 2019 to make way for a brand new hotel and, potentially, a new water park. These plans have been frustrated somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's unclear at the time of writing when Disney will go ahead with construction.
Everything is Temporary
The speedy closure and subsequent neglect that River Country suffered is a reminder that everything at Disney World is temporary. Without the careful maintenance that Disney park-goers regularly enjoy, it doesn't take long for these attractions to become unrecognizable.
River Country Was Partially Relocated
This is one part of River Country has actually been saved and continues to be visible at Walt Disney World. The large water tower, once a feature on a water flume ride, was relocated and is still in the park to this day, albeit without its accompanying swimming pool.