An opening day attraction, the first iteration of the river boats at Animal Kingdom were called the “Discovery River Boats.” Designed, not only as a method of transportation between Asia and Safari Village (now known as Discovery Island), but also as a way of teasing upcoming changes to the lands of the park.
As guests traveled the waters between lands they could see small references to the area around them, as well as items that hinted at what was to come. These teases included an eerie cave (with a plans for fire breathing dragon) with melted and impaled knights outside it, as well as a unicorn statue, all in the “temporary” Camp Minnie Mickey area that would soon become Beastly Kingdom.
For more information on the early days of the River Boats, as well as debunked myths about the Beastly Kingdom area, visit our page dedicated to Beastly the Unicorn.
Unfortunately for the boats, their days were numbered even before the park had officially opened. During early Cast Member previews of the property there were already lines that were simply too long to make the experience worthwhile. When the park officially opened, the wait times only increased.
Adding to the downfall of the boats was the fact that guests boarded them anticipating a “Jungle Cruise” like experience with much to see. Because the boats were meant only to more easily get around the park, however, they were often disappointed.
Soon after opening, Disney added a Cast Member to each boat that brought with them a selection of small animals. These Cast Members would walk the aisles of the boat showing guests the animals and answering questions about them. Unfortunately, this move didn’t result in a better future for the attraction. The boats eventually began operating as a one-way method of transportation allowing guests to board only in Asia.
In early 1999 Disney attempted to revive the dying “attraction” by retheming it as the “Radio Disney River Cruise” which featured Radio Disney DJ voices, broadcasting from atop the tree of life, along the trip. The attempt was short lived however and the boats closed permanently just a few months later in August of 1999, giving the river boats the distinction of being the first “extinct” attraction at Animal Kingdom.
Both docks used for the river boats still exist on Animal Kingdom property, one used often for a character greet location and the other a shady spot for guests to rest and refuel.