We head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park to check out the Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night event.
Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night returns from its original summer 2019 run. The nighttime event is currently scheduled on most Wednesday nights through the end of June 2020, with the likelihood that Disney will add additional dates into the summer as we move through the new year. You can pull up Disney’s official word and check on availability here.
Above is a look across the water at the Forbidden Mountain. We’re headed towards the event check-in kiosk that’s located outside of the Wildlife Express Train station in the Africa section of Animal Kingdom.
Harambe at Night runs from 6pm to 9pm with the check-in podium underneath the Rafiki’s Planet Watch sign.
We arrived at 5:40pm to about a half dozen groups already queued up. Cast members were moving up the line with a reservations list to check everyone in, which sped up the process.
At that time, we were awarded Animal Kingdom wristbands and given this pamphlet that would serve as our guide for the event’s proceedings.
Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night is broken up into three parts, each with its own destination. The cost is $125 for adults and $99 for kids ages three to nine.
I did not have a whole lot of interest in attending the event over the summer, given the 110-degree RealFeel temperatures of the day, followed by the uncomfortable nighttime humidity, and the typical 8:15pm rain shower putting a likely damper on the festivities. With these winter and spring dates, you’ll instead need to keep an eye on the low temperatures, as things may get a little chilly towards the end of the evening. It’s also worth noting the sunset time, which, as of January 2k20, is currently around 5:30pm. That means our event will occur almost completely after dark, unlike events in the middle of the year, when the sun won’t go down until around 8:30pm.
The events will likely have a little bit of a different “feel” based on the time of year, particularly because everything takes place outdoors. After checking in, groups of about 15 head down towards the Harambe Train Station and stand in front of this sign while a cast member briefly explains what’s also written down in your pamphlet.
The quality of service at these sorts of events is typically a big part of how enjoyable they end up being. No matter how good the food, drink, or entertainment might be, the experience is going to be lackluster if you feel like nobody cares about you or there are long waits to do anything. From that perspective, Harambe Nights was one of the most pleasant Disney events that I’ve ever attended, with helpful, courteous cast members everywhere ensuring that we all had anything that we might need.
Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night is an all-you-care-to-enjoy event for the full three hours. Things get off on the right foot as a cast member will hand you a Harambellini on the way inside. It’s “Sparkling South African Wine blended with a bright burst of Passion Fruit, Orange, and Guava juices.” You may recognize it as POG juice spiked with sparkling wine. Non-alcoholic juice was also available.
We can move from Train Station to Train Station between 6pm and 7:30pm, per the pamphlet:
Theoretically, you could go back and forth between the Station here and the station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch a couple of times, but I think everyone spent 15 to 30 minutes at the Harambe Train Station before boarding the train to the Planet Watch Station.
A couple of activities are offered at the next stop, making the trip out there worthwhile:
According to the pamphlet, this is what we can expect from the Harambe Train Station as far as food and beverages are concerned:
You’ll find different food and drink stations around the…station.
The bar is inside on the left.
I’ve added the regular price-per-glass in red should you be wondering how much you’d pay for a similar serving at a nearby venue. Bud Light and Tusker Lager are available all over the Animal Kingdom area, including Dawa Bar across the way. The Painted Wolf The Den Pinotage is $14 a glass at Dawa Bar, while the DMZ Rosé is $10 at Victoria Falls Lounge at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The other wines would likely be in the $10-$14 range should you find them on a Disney wine list.
The Beers and Wines will be available at each of the three stops, while the Harambellini is unique to Train Station One. It’s a fruity, sparkly drink that isn’t as thick as you might expect given the viscosity of the juices. I would have happily put back ten or twelve glasses, but I think I kept it closer to four. (Or so.)
As with any of the fixed price events that include alcohol, those who are averaging a couple drinks per hour are going to come away with the most “value.”
The wine pours were impressive with a solid 4+ ounces of the Bukettraube on the left and DMZ Rosé on the right.
For your viewing pleasure, we have the Painted Wolf The Den Pinotage and the same winery’s Chenin Blanc. All four tasted like wine. While I am not a big Rose drinker, I like the DMZ, which is crisp and juicy with strawberry and cherry up front. The Chenin Blanc brings just enough acid for a bright, floral flavor. South African wines are still bargains based on quality for the money. So even if Disney tries to go cheap, we still get some pretty good stuff. I appreciated that they weren’t using the little 2-ounce thimbles that now permeate the various Epcot Festivals. They’re substantial servings.
We enjoyed the live guitar player, who moved about the area strumming classics like, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” along with some more authentic tunes.
There is an assortment of tables with chairs, along with high-top tables, around the covered train station. Here, you can get a good idea about how things are spaced out early in the evening with the main food pickup area to the rear and a variety of people enjoying the live music. Note how almost everyone is smiling. This is definitely not Hollywood Studios.
Our event did not appear close to selling out, which is probably a good thing for those who did attend. These tables went largely unoccupied, but you have the option of sitting and staying for a while, or more casually stepping up to a table before going back for more treats.
In the opposite direction, we have more tables, along with the Wildlife Express Train preparing for its first departure on the right.
One more look with the musician and the train in the distance.
Stop One serves largely as the appetizer course.
Potentially for the sake of cleanliness, and perhaps to move us a step away from grab-and-go buffets, a cast member will pass along whatever you’d like to try.
Everything lined up.
And as served.
Our first choice is “Tuna Kitfo – Mitmita-Spiced Seared Tuna and Ginger Aioli, Tempura Crunchies, and Slaw.” Mitmita is a spicier version of the more-common berbere spice, hailing from Ethiopia and usually bringing a much more vibrant reddish-orange color. There’s just a little bit of the serrano-chili-spice coating the tender pink tuna, adding a bit of a zip that’s tempered by the creamy zest of the ginger aioli. The Tempura Crunchies add a nice crunch to each bite and what little slaw is added offers a little bit of a vinegar tang. It probably doesn’t look like much in the picture, but it was restaurant quality, and one of my favorite dishes of the night. Four pieces would run you about $16 at Flying Fish on the BoardWalk, and I wouldn’t stick my nose up at it if this is what we were served at the signature restaurant. This is high praise.
“Bread and Hummus – Pomegranate Molasses Focaccia with Peppadew Hummus and Smoked Olive Oil” is up next.
If you’ve dined at Tiffins over the last few years, then you’ll be familiar with the bread, though it tasted sweeter and less dense served here alongside the mild, piquant, and slightly-sweet hummus with a dollop of hickory-smoked olive oil in the center. It was a tasty, if not forgettable, couple of bites.
The “Meat Pie – Minced Beef Pastry with Tomato-Date Jam” was heavier on the sticky, gooey chutney than anything.
I wasn’t crazy about the Meat Pie – it’s served cold, which means much of the crispiness of the pastry is gone, and the beef needed to be a lot spicier to contend with the sweetness of so much of the tomato-date jam. You may enjoy it more than I did, and the nice thing about these sorts of events is that you can take or leave as much as you like.
According to Disney’s own description, we’re to expect “an array of meats and cheeses,” but according to the menu placard at the station, this is “Charcutamatata Ndogo – For Adventurers of All Ages – Grapes and Cheese.” You’ll be served one cube of cheddar and one cube of Swiss along with about five grapes. It’s exactly that.
A few non-alcoholic drinks are offered at a self-serve station.
The Kitamu Cooler would taste good with a splash of tequila, I bet.
All of this is supposed to tie back in to the animals of Africa:
Here, we’re represented by the lion.
People are typically looking to enjoy themselves at these sorts of things, so it’s always fun to meet up with and talk to some fellow tourists to see what sorts of ridiculous things they’ve got going on.
The entire Wildlife Express Train will be at your disposal, so you’ll have an opportunity to spread out.
You’ll also be encouraged to take a drink for the road.
I thought that there might be some sort of special narration during our train ride, like we experienced as part of the Lion King Dining Package at Tiffins, which includes a special behind-the-scenes slant during the safari portion.
But in the dark, there isn’t a whole lot to see, and we didn’t hear much about what we were passing.
None of the animals seemed to have been brought back to their snoozy-time quarters quite yet. Potentially on the plus side, the Wildlife Express Train does not ordinarily run after dark, so this is a “once-in-a-lifetime look.” During the summer, it would be like any other ride during daylight.
We did enjoy a grand welcome at our next stop.
Rafiki is on hand.
Timon as well.
Not only are the characters on hand, but you can also take a picture with them together at your convenience and likely to no wait at all. The duo does meet during ordinary hours at Animal Kingdom at the Character Landing across from Flame Tree Barbecue, currently from 9am to 2pm and 3pm to 5pm. It was fun to meet them, but it would have been even more fun if a rare or exclusive character, like Jiminy Cricket, was present instead.
A couple of activities are also offered.
First up is the “Virtual Reality Experience.”
“Immerse yourself in a 360-degree safari experience – featuring the sights and sounds of Pride Rock.” I don’t know a whole lot about virtual reality, outside of the fact that we’re living inside of a simulation, and had never donned this sort of Oculus VR headset before. Basically, it “felt” like Disney had set up a 360-degree camera near the lion habitat on Kilimanjaro Safaris and kept it running for a while. You put the headset on and you can look around as if you were standing there on pride rock in the same area that the lions generally lay on as you pass them.
The experience is seated and takes about five minutes. It was neat to see the lions from a new perspective, but I’m not sure I’d let the experience dictate whether or not you consider attending the event, particularly when you can actually go out and see the same lions during the day. It’s almost like going on a virtual tour of your house while you’re sitting in your house.
There’s also a coloring station for the kids with coloring packets and crayons.
As with our previous stop, the focus remains on the food and drink.
The Wine and Beer selections are the same as our first stop, with the addition of this unadvertised Graham Beck Brut Rose. We also add a Chief’s Shandy, which is Tusker Lager with Lemonade, and “Wanjohi’s Dawa – Refreshing Blend of Tequila and the Sweet Heat of Pineapple, Mango, and Ancho Chili.”
Double check what bottles are actually available, as it may differ from the printed list. The DMZ Rose is offered here as well, for example.
The Dawa mixture was pre-mixed and strong, with the fruit juices helping to mask any harshness from the tequila and the sweet chili adding a tangy zip that we couldn’t quite get enough of. A classy glass of the Graham Brut Rose sits alongside, bringing a nice, bright berry effervescence, and a long raspberry finish. Like the other South African wines offered, it’s an excellent value at the $~20/bottle price. It would potentially be nice to see another cocktail option. Even if you “don’t like tequila,” I think you’ll still enjoy the Dawa, but it would be nice to see something with vodka and some more straightforward mixers as well.
Anyone who enjoys the Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen available around property will enjoy the mixture of Tusker Lager and Lemonade.
It’s the same idea and you can customize your selection with a hint of lemonade or a lot of lemonade.
The same Kitamu Cooler from Station One is available, along with Iced Tea.
Food is available at a similar cart towards the back of the area.
We’re in snack-y territory here with what sounds like a variety of sweet and savory flavors.
First up, we have the “Charcutamatata – Meat and Cheese Selection with Sweety Drop Peppers and Castelvetrano Olives.” Even those who “don’t like olives” may appreciate the bright green Sicilian Castelvetrano variety, which provides a sweet, firm, chewy bite with an almost-buttery, salty aftertaste. The vibrant red teardrop-shaped peppers are a Peruvian variety with a sweetness that contrasts nicely with the briny quality of the olives and the richness of the meat and cheese. There’s a little bit of a tartness in there too. The Parmesan-esque slice of cheese is perfectly mild, while the various bites of meat add some protein and plenty more salt.
Next up is the “Kachumbari – Tomato and Citrus Salad,” which serves as a flavorful, potentially healthy mix of fruits and vegetables, with zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and the same sweety drop peppers that we saw arrive in the cone.
The “Trail Mix Bar – Oats, Raisins, and Chocolate Chips” was a little dry and crumbly for my tastes, but the kids may appreciate what is basically an elevated granola bar.
“Toffa – Chocolate-Caramel Dipped Granny Smith Apples” follow. The Caramel is a bit much here – we’ve all probably enjoyed a caramel apple at some point, but there’s probably a reason why you either dip the apple in a little bit of caramel or caramel wraps itself around the exterior of the whole apple. Entirely encased, the bite is probably 70% caramel and 30% apple. Anyone who enjoys caramel will appreciate this, but you may be surprised when just a bite or two is enough.
A separate cart situates itself to the left of the main food kiosk.
Here, we have the Mbwa Wa Moto Hot Dog Cart serving the “Boerie Roll – South African Farmer’s-Style Sausage, Peppadews, Pickled Sweet Potato-Apple Slaw.”
These are put together to order, so you can request that some of the toppings be left off, or placed in a separate container, if you’re less sure about something.
I’d like to see these incorporated into Harambe Market’s regular menu, though the list of toppings might make it a non-starter for most. The sausage itself brings a robust, spiced flavor with a satisfying snap to each bite. The slaw adds a nice crunch, bringing both sugar and vinegar along with another appearance by our beloved peppadew pepper, this time served smashed up on top. Then there’s a line of creamy mustard for good measure, all wrapped up in a plump bun. This is the heaviest dish that we’ve seen, and as tasty as it is, we’re going to find even better dishes back in Harambe. You might want to start with one and meet in the middle, Lady and the Tramp style.
Both Train Stations are open from 6pm to 7:30pm, and you’ll likely want to be on your way back to Harambe around 7pm, as that’s when the Harambe Market portion of the event begins.
If you’d like a little more time to yourselves, then you can hang out for a bit at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Most of the tables under cover are high-tops, while tables with chairs are set up down the path towards Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
After first hearing about the event, I imagined that it would take place inside of Conservation Station, the large building where the various exhibits are housed. But unless you urgently need to go to the bathroom, the Train Station is as far as you’ll go at Planet Watch. I think the event would probably work better overall inside Conservation Station, but there’s probably no mechanism to cook all of the food back there.
We’ll wave goodbye to our friends and head back to Harambe in the dark.
We’ll take a look at all of the food and drink offered in Harambe in the next part of the review, which you can pull up here.