Rivers of Light: Review at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Rivers of Light Opened On: February 17, 2017.
See this page for all of the Disney’s Animal Kingdom attraction reviews.
Disney stages “Rivers of Light: We Are One” on Discovery River. That’s the name of the large body of water that runs around the majority of the center of the Park, including the Asia and Discovery Island areas.
The easiest way to see Rivers of Light is with FastPass+. All FastPass+ seats are located in the Asia section. The main FastPass+ entrance is located directly across from the entrance/exit to Expedition Everest. Those arriving closer to showtime may be able to use the alternate FastPass+ entrance located closer to the Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks.
Those seeing Rivers of Light in standby may be in for a hectic, confusing experience. In the picture above, there is actually a line of guests backed up to TriceraTop Spin waiting to enter the standby seating section. That seating section is a good distance away, with the entrance up across from the the Finding Nemo the Musical Theater. For the second show, standby guests shouldn’t have any trouble walking right into the theater. More on this later.
Extra Magic Hours: No, Animal Kingdom does not currently host evening Extra Magic Hours. Disney may schedule a show at Park close, or even sometime after. If this is the case, anyone is welcome to stay and watch the show. With Animal Kingdom open from 9am to 9pm, Disney may schedule shows at 8:15pm and 9:30pm. Guests exiting Avatar Flight of Passage after getting in line at the end of the night routinely leave over an hour after the Park closes. Guests will also be finishing up meals after closing time. Don’t feel weird about staying for a late show. Thousands of other guests will do the same.
Show Length: 15 minutes.
Show Schedule: Disney may schedule zero, one, two, or three shows per night. Disney bases the number of shows on anticipated crowds. Typically, Disney schedules two shows per night.
Scary Factor: Low. The show is at night and uses projection technology similar to Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but the scenes are far less ominous and there is never much danger involved. There is one short section featuring Disney villains, but only the most prone to terror will be upset. You may want to sit near the back of the theater if you think the show could be upsetting. That will make it easier and quicker to exit. Anyone over the age of eight should be fine.
When to Go: The last show of the night is always the least crowded. That also makes it the best show to see, at least if Rivers of Light is the priority. However, wait times are also shortest at the very end of the night, and the last Rivers of Light is typically scheduled at or after Park close. If you’re not headed towards an attraction last thing, in order to take advantage of a shorter wait at the likes of Flight of Passage, then plan on seeing the last show. If the show schedule allows it, and you’d like to experience a ride or two after Rivers of Light concludes, see the first show of the night with FastPass+ or the Dining Package.
Expect to Wait: The theater reportedly holds 5,000 guests, about 2,500 of which are in the FastPass+ section.
Disney typically seats guests by section, filling the rows closest to the center of the theater first. Then, they fill rows farther and farther away from the entrance. Views from the far section of the theater are typically almost as good as those in the center. This makes an early arrival less necessary, particularly for a show with very little hype. With FastPass+ for the first show, consider arriving 15 to 25 minutes before showtime to secure good seats together. If you’d like prime-time, center-section seats, arrive closer to an hour early. With FastPass+ for the second show, arriving 10 to 20 minutes before showtime is plenty.
In the picture above, the farthest FastPass+ section is still completely open with just a minute or two until showtime. The seats down there may offer better views than many of those that are currently occupied with people crammed in much closer together.
In standby for the first show, be prepared to arrive 45 to 60 minutes before showtime. For the second show, arriving 15 minutes early should be fine most days. If crowds are incredibly high, arrive ten to fifteen minutes earlier than the previous recommendations. You might also consider trying to cut it a little closer to showtime for the first offering of the evening. If heavy crowds shut you out, arrive earlier for the second show.
What to Expect: Rivers of Light is one of the more notorious offerings that Disney has debuted over the last few years. Much of the original technology failed to work, the concept art was much more impressive than what we ended up getting, and the show was delayed so long that Disney had to slap together an interim show themed to The Jungle Book. For the purposes of this review, we won’t focus on what Rivers of Light offered in the past, but rather, what you’ll currently see.
Rivers of Light is, at times, absolutely gorgeous.
Two boats, lit up by little more than lanterns and the projections of Disney movie clips on their sails, glide effortlessly through the water.
Unfortunately, about half of the show relies on scenes projected onto water.
These scenes are often blurry or unrecognizable. This could be some sort of snake. It could also be a ribbon or some sort of art. Perhaps it’s a flamingo.
Narration is also lacking. Originally, several performers appeared first in the crowd, and then down on the boats. Now, the show is completely void of live performers.
The finale is also hit or miss. Sometimes, the fire effects don’t work. Other times, wind prevents Disney from using them.
Originally, not only was there a shaman and an acolyte on each boat, but performers were also set to appear on the fire barge contained within the large lotus flower float. Guests who sit through the show now will see none of that.
To sum things up, the 15-minute show is basically two remote-control boats gliding through the water, with some other light-up floats and water features interacting with them. Disney character animations have replaced much of the original avant garde approach. These changes haven’t helped make the show more accessible to a wider audience. If anything, the production is now less cohesive. Those looking for a show infused with Disney characters will leave disappointed. Those looking for something a little different will also likely leave disappointed.
FastPass+: Yes, the show is a low priority in most cases.
Disney distributes a couple thousand FastPass+ experiences for each Rivers of Light performance. The show’s lack of popularity makes acquiring FastPass+ relatively easy.
4th FastPass+ Availability: On the day of your visit, there will likely be little or no availability for Rivers of Light FastPass+. However, people are likely to cancel their Rivers of Light FastPass+ after their evening plans change. That makes it easy for guests to select the show as a 4th or subsequent selection. This is what I recommend doing. Because the show is late at night, selecting it in advance will inhibit your ability to select many additional FastPass+ experiences after seeing the show. If you’re planning on a late arrival at Animal Kingdom, then selecting FastPass+ for Rivers of Light in advance may make more sense. Otherwise, refresh availability in the afternoon and early evening and shows should become available for booking.
What You Miss Using FastPass+: Only a longer wait, or potentially spending more money with a Dining Package. The views from the DinoLand side, as shown below, are not necessarily better or worse than those on the Asia side.
Total Average Experience Time with FastPass+: About 40 minutes, assuming you arrive about 20 minutes before showtime, and take about five minutes to exit. Add or subtract time depending on whether or not you’re planning on arriving earlier or later.
Where to Sit:
You’ll first need to figure out the section in which you’ll be sitting. You can read more about the Rivers of Light Dining Package at Tusker House here. The seating section is the same for those dining with the Dining Package at Tiffins. You can pull up current pricing for the Dining Packages at DisneyWorld.com here. From a cost perspective, the Dining Package at Tiffins may make economical sense, even if you’re not planning on sitting in the reserved section for the show. The cost of the Dining Package is around the same amount as the highest-priced entrees at Tiffins. That basically makes the appetizer, desserts, drink, and reserved seat, all included in the Dining Package, “free”
On the other hand, the cost to use the Dining Package at Tusker House is about $8 more per adult, and $5 more per child, than simply dining at the buffet like a normal patron. This upcharge isn’t worth it because the section reserved for Dining Package users is actually one of the most congested in the stadium. Think about it – people who pay extra for the package are among those who want to see the show the most. They’re also willing to arrive unnecessarily early to see it. The Dining Package section is also small and typically full of guests, making it more difficult to spread out and choose your seats than the other areas. After seeing the show a couple of dozen times, my worst experiences have been in the reserved section, due to crowding and needing to arrive earlier than with FastPass+.
Here’s an approximate look at the same boat passing by the same water screen from the Dining Package and FastPass+ viewing areas. They’re not much different.
My recommendation is to use a 4th or subsequent FastPass+ at the first show. The first several rows in each section are made of concrete/rock.
While it might seem like these seats are less comfortable, they’re not. The rise between rows is also greater, which means it will be a little easier to see over the heads of those in front of you.
I like to see the show in the farthest section on the right as you look towards the water. It’s the least popular, and the view is just as good. I also prefer the front row, where it’s easy to stretch your legs. The various projections are high off the water, making them easy to see from lower rows. If you arrive and cast members are seating guests away from where you’d like to be, you can simply get up and move over when the new sections open.
Disney also offers a Rivers of Light Dessert Party. See this review for all of the details.
Exiting the Theater: How quickly you want to exit the theater depends on your next destination. If Rivers of Light is your final attraction of the day, simply let everyone cram the walkways and fight towards the exit before you make your move. If you’re in more of a hurry, head down the stairs to the very bottom of the seating area. Then, make your way over to the left for DinoLand or the right for Pandora or Africa. You’ll be able to exit more-easily from there. Of course, if you’re near the top of the seating section, you can make a quick exit through the doors or walkway at the top at the conclusion of the show.
Josh’s Take: Rivers of Light ended up being a major letdown. Disney delivered the show a year late, and without many of the effects they advertised in the concept art. Disney moved relatively quickly to “fix” some of the problems. Unfortunately, the “fix” ended up being the elimination of the entire cast who performed on the boats. It also meant the inclusion of Disney movie scenes, none of which make much sense given the show’s limited narrative. It’s worth seeing with FastPass+ if you can swing it, and can arrive only ten or fifteen minutes before showtime. Those waiting an hour or longer, like many do at Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, will likely leave disappointed.
The show definitely has its movements. The first six minutes are mesmerizing, with beautiful music and choreography. The middle of the show lags, and ultimately, the show culminates in a lackluster finale, leaving many guests wondering if that was “really it.” With lowered expectations, or an appreciation for things a little out of the ordinary, Rivers of Light may impress. Compared to other nighttime spectaculars, most guests rate it at or near the bottom. See it if you can, but it’s not worth missing out on a short wait for Flight of Passage or a couple of late night rides on Expedition Everest.