We continue our look at Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night at Disney’s Animal Kingdom from Part One, which introduced the event and covered what you can expect to see and do at the first two stops of the evening.
As a brief reminder, the event is offered on most Wednesdays from 6pm to 9pm, and costs $99 for kids ages three to nine, and $125 for anyone ten and older. You can pull up Disney’s official word and check for availability here.
The first two stops – the train stations in Harambe and out at Rafiki’s Planet Watch – are open from 6pm to 7:30pm. Harambe Market opens at 7pm and runs through the end of the event, at 9pm:
As we’ll see shortly, Harambe Market is where you’ll find most of the best food and drink available at the event. There’s no reason to be watching the clock while you’re enjoying the first couple of stops, but you’ll probably want to spend 20 to 30 minutes at each of the train stations. Add ten minutes for each of the Wildlife Express Train rides and you’ve spent the hour until Harambe Market opens. We spent about a half hour at the Harambe train station and about 40 minutes at the Rafiki’s Planet Watch station enjoying our food and drinks, which was just fine too. But we’ve got beef tenderloin, lamb chops, shrimp, and more available in Harambe, versus Swiss cheese and grapes at the train stations. After you disembark the train back in Africa, a cast member will guide you towards Harambe Market, which is just a handful of feet away.
Comparing Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night to the Party for the Senses event at Epcot during the Food and Wine Festival is probably not very apt, but the idea is somewhat similar. In the center of Harambe Market is the bar.
The wines and beers are the same as the previous two stops, while the cocktail list is expanded to three unique options:
We also see the DMZ Rose listed on the menu for the first time, even though it was available at the previous two locations.
The Graham Beck Brut Rose is also offered in what I guess we can call the SECRET MENU. Old popcorn can also be picked up, as indicated by the box on the left.
On the bottom, we have the “Talking Monkey – Coffee Liqueur, Banana Liqueur, Espresso-infused Snow Leopard Vodka.” Given the lower temperatures that you might find here during the deep Floridian winter, you might expect it to be served hot, but ice is what you’ll find instead of an insulated cup. The cold, creamy drink tastes like a boozy espresso with just a hint of banana.
The Marketplace Sangria is “DMZ and Rooibos Blended with a Citrus and Mint Infusion.” I am not a big sangria guy, but I wouldn’t rate this one very high. I think most people opt for sangria over wine because it’s sweeter, and this isn’t really that – it’s just more tart and acidic than the wine would be on its own and you also lose the majority of the effervescence. I’d opt for the Graham Beck Brut Rose instead, but you can certainly give this a whirl if you’re so inclined.
The “Safari Sunset – Blend of Rums and the Fresh Flavors of Passion Fruit, Strawberry, Orange, and Guava topped with a Mint Sprig” was pretty forgettable. It’s basically Bacardi mixed with thick juices and syrups and without the advertised mint.
It may be in part because I was coming off of visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Dessert Party, but I thought the cocktail lineup was a bit disappointing. I’m not necessarily sure where I would go with it, but nothing offered here is as addicting as the Gingerbread Martini, and none of the drinks are seasonal or take the evening temperature into account. A drink featuring Amarula or Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky would have gone a long way. But the wines remain well above average in quality, and you can “get your money’s worth” by grabbing a few Tusker House Lagers over the course of the event. Of course, the beer will fill you up as we look ahead to a lot of great food.
A drummer and keyboardist join the guitarist that we previously saw in Harambe for about three 20-minute sets.
The musicians keep the energy up a bit, but I couldn’t help but feel like things began to fizzle once everyone ran off to their own corner of Harambe Market, and kept to themselves for the remainder of the evening. Certainly, this may be the atmosphere that you prefer. When I attended the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party at Epcot, one of the families that was seated at our circular table somehow kept their backs to everyone else for the entirety of the evening, never speaking a word to anyone. But part of the fun of these sorts of all-you-care-to-enjoy events is meeting new people and hearing about what they’ve got going on. We all have Disney World in common, after all. On evenings with higher attendance – I doubt our event was even half full – there might be more of a fun party atmosphere, but we found ourselves scavenging for a few bites and sips before returning to the quiet seclusion of our table. The band also seemed to be backstage as often as they were on-stage playing with no other entertainment offered in between. You may want to keep that in mind if you’re considering the event solo or don’t like whoever you are planning on attending with. There are no assigned seats at any point in the evening.
Originally, Harambe Market opened with unique dishes offered at each of its various “order here” windows, just like you might find at a real marketplace. While this seems like it might be “fun” and “adventurous,” it ended up being a nightmare, as guests found themselves having to wait in multiple lines of wildly-different lengths in order to piece together a meal for their group. Fortunately, that system works much better during Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night because there are typically no lines for food, everything is included in the price, and perusing the various menus to find some items that sound tasty is actually fun and rewarding.
What’s available is also listed in the pamphlet that you’ll be handed at the start of the evening. Here’s the African Lion, for example:
Just about everything that we tried, at a minimum, tasted as good as what I would expect to be served at a restaurant like Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. A couple were elevated so much that I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar served at a signature restaurant like Jiko, while a couple others would probably fit in closer to The Mara, which is still a very good quick service. In other words, we’re far from your run-of-the-mill quick service quality food here, despite the venue typically serving gyros and hot dogs during the day.
The “Hangar Steak with Herb-Infused Mealie, Chakalaka, and a Red Wine Sauce” was a highlight, with two thin slices of tender, juicy meat served on a bed of sweet corn that’s further enhanced by the delicious red wine reduction underneath. It took me right back to my last visit to Jiko, where you’ll find a very similar sauce served alongside the ($52) filet. The Chakalaka on top gives it a little bit of an African flair with the sweet tomato topping. Most dishes are prepared to order, so you can request something be left off or placed on the side.
Also served from the African Lion window is this “Tandoori-marinated Chicken with Fingerling Potatoes, Kool Slaai, and Mango Sambal.”
The Chicken was just about as tender and juicy as the steak, here served with a refreshing, vibrant orange sauce made of fruity mango and spicy pepper with just a hint of soy. The crispy potatoes underneath soaked up the delicious sauce and made for a satisfying accompaniment to all the meat. Really impressive.
You can also rock some Chicken Tenders if you’d like. Even these exceeded expectations, with a light, incredibly crunchy cornmeal coating wrapped around chunks of chicken.
About a foot away, you’ll find the Cape Buffalo window:
With four more selections.
The “Shrimp Curry with Sustainable Shrimp, Cape Malay Green Coconut Curry, and Basmati Rice” was another highlight, with two large shrimp served on top of fragrant Basmati Rice that’s smothered in a mildly spicy curry with cumin, coriander, and turmeric notes. At first, I wished that the Shrimp had been coated in the sauce as well, but this presentation probably lets people add as much or as little spice to the main event of the dish as they’d like. There’s some bites of cauliflower mixed in with the curry, which is where you’ll pick up even more of that spicy coconut flavor. Really good.
One thing to note is the potential for disparity between what you’ll find on the menu at the location, what’s listed in the pamphlet, and what’s actually served at the window, just like with what we saw at the bar with a couple of wines not making the printed menu. According to the pamphlet, we should see Sweet Corn served alongside our Shrimp, but in practice, it’s a Spiced Chickpea Fritter:
With Pickled Vegetables and Cumin-Garlic Yogurt Sauce.
This did not appear to be as described no matter where you were getting your information from. The Chickpea Fritter was dry and dense with a bitter molasses sauce served underneath and a side of sour carrots and pomegranate. It probably would have tasted better with the advertised yogurt sauce, which would have added a cool herbal element. You might as well pass it around though; somebody in your group will probably love it, and it’s likely that the dish will be served with the proper accompaniments in the future.
The Cape Buffalo concludes with the “African Fruit Fool,” which is a bowl of grapes, mango, papaya, pineapple, coconut, and more mixed together with sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. It’s sweeter, fruitier, and significantly lighter than you might be expecting, and serves as a nice accompaniment to some of the heavier dishes served, like the beef, chicken, and shrimp. The same dish is served at the Boma dinner buffet over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. You can pull up my latest review here. After tax and 18% tip, Boma dinner costs $60 for adults and $33.62 for kids. That’s less than half of the cost of Circle of Flavors for adults, and about a third of the cost for kids. In Harambe at Night’s defense, the event is about twice as long, it includes the alcohol and entertainment, the food is probably better, and we’ll be walking away with a parting gift.
We’ll check out The Rhino next:
It appears as though everything is at least vegetarian here; some sort of designation might be nice, but Disney chefs are happy to handle any dietary issues that you might have at the windows, and there’s also a handout outlining common allergies and what’s safe to eat under a variety of conditions.
First up, we have “Vegetable Curry with Roasted Seasonal Vegetables served over Basmati Rice.”
The spicy curry is heavy on cauliflower, sweet potato, chickpeas, onion, and zucchini, making for a dish that probably tastes better on cooler evenings. The mixture of textures makes each bite flavorful and interesting and it’s a nice, surprisingly-hearty alternative to the Cape Malay Shrimp Curry.
The “Potato and Pea Samosa with Pickled Vegetables and Tamarind Dipping Sauce” is similar to the Chickpea Fritter that we saw previously. They may have just not had the yogurt on this particular night. There isn’t a lot of the dipping sauce involved here, which is a good indication that it’s incredibly vinegary, to the point where it overwhelmed what little was going on inside the soft Samosa. You may have better luck.
The Macaroni and Cheese is just about that with spiral pasta served in a creamy white cheddar sauce. The kids will appreciate it, and you might too with all of the bold flavors on display in so many of the other dishes. There’s always something a little comforting in cheesy noodles.
It turns out that the Vegan Bunny Chow is served as a slider with Impossible Burger, potatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, and a lot of curry powder, among other things. The soft roll does a relatively good job of keeping things in one place, but a little bread bowl would have worked a little better and looked a lot more precious. The flavors here are even bolder than some of the meatier dishes, so you’ll want to give it a try even if the name and appearance aren’t necessarily the most appetizing.
The Elephant follows with the one fact about the horned mammals that Disney likes to pass on:
And start with the pork we shall. If you’re interested in seeing the elephants up close, then you might consider the $30 Caring for Giants tour, which I review positively here.
The Sweet Corn also moves over here with Barbecued Ribs rounding out the options.
The “Smoked Honey-glazed Pork Belly with White Bean Purée, Caramelized Apple-Bacon Chutney, and Curry-Apple Gastrique” may have tried to do a little too much, or we simply came away with a fattier piece of meat than the norm. Ours consisted mostly of gummy fat covered in a sticky, salty, overly-acidic honey. You may have better luck, but going with a simpler pork tenderloin probably would have offered more uniformity in the dishes. During the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, Brazil serves Pork Belly, and I feel like about 30% of the time it’s a top-five dish, and the other 70% of the time about half goes in the trash. If you get a bum piece on your first try, you can certainly give it another whirl, but with so many sure-things, I’m not sure how many people won’t head back for more shrimp, chicken, or steak.
There’s a lot more going on with the Sweet Corn than it might appear at first glance. It’s slathered in a tart citrus aioli, then coated in chili-lime spice, and then finished with quite a bit of creamy farmer’s cheese, which does a nice job of clinging to the kernels, which may end up being a little mushy by the time the ear is served to you. It would have been a lot tastier with crispier kernels, but there’s a lot of flavor going on here either way.
A single meaty rib is served underneath a squirt of what is probably Flame Tree’s spicy barbecue sauce. It’s a nice, straightforward dish for those who might not want to try the fattier Pork Belly.
The Leopard is our next stop:
Grilled Lamb is usually one of the more expensive dishes available at the various Epcot Festivals, so we can see if the offering here lives up to those $7+ dishes.
First up, we have the “Sustainable Fish with Coriander-Fennel Slaw and Dhania Chutney,” which I think is plated just about as nicely as if it were a feature entree served at a restaurant.
The fish is mild and flaky with a simple pepper and herb topping. A little of the Coriander-Fennel Slaw goes a long way, with a mellow licorice flavor backed up by herb-y coriander and tangy tamarind with some garlic and chili for good measure. You’ll want to mix together a little bit of everything on the plate, or the fish will come off a little bland.
Each one of these “Grilled Lamb with Goat Cheese Polenta and Roasted Garlic Sauce” would set you back about $8 at one of the various Epcot Festivals. This was outstanding with tender lamb served with a little bit of a tangy barbecue sauce on top of a bed of rich, creamy cheese polenta mixed in with a lot of roasted garlic. The presentation is just as impressive with the mint leaf, sweety drop pepper, and whatever the purple stuff is. Pick up a couple to really stick it to Disney.
A corn dog rounds out the options from the Leopard window. It’s nice and crispy with your typical hot dog encased inside. The kids may enjoy it, and if you have some extra sauce from another dish, then you might enjoy going for another dip yourself.
There’a dessert kiosk with an assortment of options, including the Brownie Pot de Creme with Whiskey Caramel.
Honey Caramel Candy Bars.
S’more Lion Pops.
“S’mores Macaroon [sic]”
Animal Print Cupcakes.
There’s also a couple of frozen treats – this is the “Passion Fruit Frozen Pop – White Chocolate-covered Passion Fruit Popsicle, Strawberry Crispy Pearls, and Candied Citrus.” A “Blueberry Frozen Pop – Dark-Chocolate-covered Blueberry Frozen Popsicle and Orange Blossom Honey” is also available. The size on these things is mercifully small considering how much flavor each bite packs.
I’d suggest bringing back one of each dessert for the table to share. The caramel flavor is a little overwhelming here, though the crispy pearls and slice of chocolate help balance things out a bit. It’s still really rich.
The Chocolate S’mors Lion Pop was probably my favorite.
The chocolate breaks away, revealing the smoky marshmallow inside.
The Brownie Pot de Creme was delicious too, here with some Bain’s Cape Mountain Whiskey to help cut some of the sugar. The peanuts add some crunch and further reduce the richness of the main chocolaty ingredients. It’s another incredibly rich dessert. A bite or two of each is about all I could muster, but those who prefer chocolate to steak will have an opportunity to go to town and everything is easily shareable among friends.
I don’t think anyone was aware that there was a hot beverage station towards the back of Harambe Market.
We ended up with this Peppermint Hot Cocoa after a cast member walked around with a tray of them. It probably would have tasted better if it were about half Schnapps. During the summer, a sno-cone kiosk, serving rock-hard ice creations, should replace it.
There’s one activity offered in Harambe Market:
You’ll first select a wooden charm based on of the animals represented by the event.
I can sort of make out a rhino, I think.
Then you’ll select four beads.
And come away with something like this.
A little bit of a dance party broke out at the conclusion of the event, though most people had left long before the 9pm conclusion.
This is a bad picture, but each person who attends Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night will walk away with this souvenir glass, which carries the event logo. It’s a nice way to remember the festivities.
Overall, we enjoyed Circle of Flavors, which includes three full hours of all-you-care-to-enjoy food, wine, beer, cocktails, entertainment, and a few opportunities at some arts and crafts. Almost everything we tried exceeded the quality of what you’d receive at an Epcot Festival, where each dish would cost $4-$9. After tip, every drink you consume averages about $12 if you were to order it from another outlet, like Dawa Bar or Victoria Falls Lounge. At two drinks per hour, you’d come away with about $70 worth of value there. It’s easy to hit $40 worth of food without trying, and the entertainment, crafts, and souvenir glass easily add another $15 worth of value to the experience.
The event is not for everybody. Those who don’t drink, or are only looking to sip a glass of wine or two over the course of the event, will come away with less value. Kids aren’t going to come away with a hundred bucks worth of value, and it’s a bummer that those between the ages of ten and twenty will pay the full $125 adult price, even if they can’t legally imbibe.
The event likely ends after Animal Kingdom closes, which means you’ll either have to leave early if you want to experience the rest of Animal Kingdom at night or get in line for Flight of Passage last thing. It would certainly be nice if the Park was open for an extra hour after the event concluded, as it would give you some time to do some other things after. That may be the state of things during the summer, when Animal Kingdom sometimes closes at 10pm.
Unlike most Disney events, like the multitude of dessert parties, fireworks cruises, or what have you, Circle of Flavors isn’t really building to a climax. At 9pm, the event ends, and you’ll head out of the Park, likely with smiles on your faces and with the potential for the occasional stumble. But there is no private viewing for Happily Ever After, reserved viewing for Rivers of Light, waterside seating for the Epcot fireworks, or anything else like that to look forward to as closing time approaches.
With Animal Kingdom closing at 8pm on the evening of our visit, we enjoyed walking out of the Park with virtually nobody else around after the event concluded.
There’s “literally” nobody waiting to take a picture with the Tree of Life lit up. If you’re considering the event, then you’ll want to check out the Park hours for that evening and see if the 6pm to 9pm event hours work in the grand scheme of what you’d like to accomplish.
The cost of the tickets include gratuity, but not tax, so the “true” cost is $133.13 for adults and $105.44 for kids ages three to nine. The opportunity cost is sizable. At Jiko, you could order the $19 Wild Boar Tenderloin appetizer, $52 Filet Mignon Entree, and $12 dessert for $83, and have $17 left over for a cocktail or glass of wine before hitting a hundred bucks. That’s obviously a very different experience, but some people may appreciate more of a relaxing atmosphere, instead of spending the same time and money outside picking up your own food and drinks.
The atmosphere would likely be more energetic with more people, but you’ll also need to be prepared to bring your own fun, which isn’t something that I typically have to say at these sorts of paid events. By the time everyone arrived at Harambe Market, just about everyone began to do their own thing far away from everyone else. This is fine, of course, but it ended up being similar to having dinner with the other people in your group.
Outside of Party for the Senses, I don’t think Disney offers an event like this with better food and wine. That fact goes a long way. But you’ll need to decide if this is what you want to do with your evening considering the multitude of other options and millions of other ways you could spend $125 per person.