It’s time to consider another Dessert Party, this time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for Rivers of Light.
The website has reviewed just about every Dessert Party offering available across Walt Disney World. You can pull up my opinion of the Before and After Fireworks Dessert Parties for Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom here.
We’ve also considered the Ferrytale Sparkling Dessert Party, which puts you out on a ferryboat during Happily Ever After with unlimited Heineken.
Over at Epcot, I reviewed the Frozen Ever After IllumiNations Dessert Party, which includes a ride on the Frozen Ever After ride at the conclusion of the show.
And over at Hollywood Studios, I reviewed the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Dessert Party for the holidays and the Star Wars: Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party that’s available the rest of the year.
Back to the task at hand, the Rivers of Light Dessert Party takes place in the Asia section of the Park across from the entrance to Expedition Everest.
The Dessert Party is scheduled to begin 60 minutes before the start of the first Rivers of Light. In practice, cast members begin checking in guests 15 minutes before that. So with a 6:30pm Rivers of Light, the Party officially begins at 5:30pm and you can check in and start hitting the desserts and drinks as early as 5:15pm. You can pull up the schedule and check availability at DisneyWorld.com here.
Here’s how Disney describes the Party:
The cost is $79 per adult and $47 per child ages three to nine. That’s the same price as the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party at Epcot and within two dollars of the cost of the Star Wars Dessert Party at the Studios. It’s $10 more expensive than the Happily Ever After Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom for adults and $6 more than kids, though there’s obviously no booze involved with the Magic Kingdom offering. In other words, attending the Rivers of Light Dessert Party costs about as much as any of the other in-Park Dessert Parties.
In the reserved area, about 85% of the tables are high-tops where you’ll stand for the majority of the dessert portion of the event. The bar is conveniently located straight ahead, which is just about centrally located in the Party space.
Tables are scattered around the area with five located up a stair or two away from the buffet area.
About ten more tables are located across from the buffet area. There are a couple of benches out of frame on the right with much lower tables that are probably meant for the disabled.
Erin and I preferred the tables up the stairs behind the buffet area. We were the only people up there for the majority of the evening and it offered a unique vantage point to enjoy the sunset and the water underneath.
Calling the dessert spread “beautiful” is probably hyperbole, but it’s easily the best looking assortment that we’ve seen.
It starts with Tiger Cake Push Pops.
Just like similar items that we’ve seen elsewhere, this “Pop” is about half very sweet orange cake and half very, very sweet cream cheese frosting with some sweet crispy chocolate pearls on top. They’re too sweet for me, but anyone looking for the most sugar in the most pushable container should look no further.
Here’s the “Earth” version of the Cake Pop that was available for five bucks earlier in the year.
That means there’s $70 worth sitting on that top row. Eat them all and you’ve already come out just about even.
The Chocolate Pot de Creme is up next.
This is a somewhat “literal” interpretation with a thin layer of white chocolate molded into a colorful orange pot that holds the rich chocolate ganache that’s topped with cookie crumble “dirt,” colorful edible flowers, and a milk chocolate leaf.
It’s a gorgeous, decadent dessert that’s completely edible and a lot of fun to eat.
The Pineapple Bar with Pineapple Meringue is up next.
This is the most refreshing of the various desserts with a thick layer of creamy pineapple mousse on top of a crunchy vanilla cookie garnished with a small bite of fresh pineapple, a tiny little meringue, and a chocolate leaf. Really cute with fresh tropical flavors.
Green Tea Cake is up next.
The airy, spongy cake enjoyed a distinct, unique green tea flavor throughout the bite that was sweetened up by the white chocolate Tree of Life piece and a little dollop of whipped cream. It was a nice change of pace from the sugar bombs like the Cake Push Pop. The nice thing about a buffet like this is that there’s no downside to trying anything and you might be surprised with what you end up enjoying most.
The colorful Lotus Blossom Cupcakes are vanilla with buttercream frosting. The straightforward flavors are probably aimed mostly at kids, but if you’re tired of the pretentiousness of green tea sponge cake and miniature meringues then you can shove a couple of these in your mouth to help offset that. Three seemed to do the trick.
Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey Coconut Almonds.
Vibrant fruit sits atop a small cup of vanilla yogurt. You’ve got the sweet, crunchy almonds, ripe blackberry, bright strawberry, and a chocolate animal-stripe piece for good measure. It’s a nice, natural tasting contrast to some of the more over-processed options. Personally, I’m still chugging vanilla cupcakes.
Cashew-and-pecan-heavy Mixed Nuts are up next with almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts mixed in, perhaps with a macadamia or Brazil nut for good measure.
The Cheese selection was above average with dense, flavorful selections instead of the typical grocery store Colby Jack and Cheddar that you’ll find at other Dessert Parties.
A tower of Seasonal Fruit follows. I was impressed by the high quality of everything.
At other dessert parties, this is what you’ll typically see. Yes, that is the last bastion of seeded watermelon as Disney attempts to save three cents per pound over the seedless variety. That’s accompanied by unripe melon and just about the smallest, softest grapes money can buy, all served on a cold, metallic grey pushcart.
Big, ripe, juicy blackberries.
Big, ripe, juicy blueberries.
The strawberries might be the weak link, but there’s always the Strawberry Shortcake from Sunshine Seasons for breakfast tomorrow.
Rounding out the options, these Mickey Safari Cookies were virtually inedible – stale sugar cookies with a hard layer of frosting on top. I’m guessing that they would taste much better fresh, but it seemed evident that these were packaged up from a couple of nights before. The kids might not care.
With just about ten options on the buffet, this is certainly not the widest selection of desserts and savory items that we’ve seen at a Dessert Party, but the flavors and attention to detail make up for that, in my opinion.
You’re not going to put together a plate this precious at any of the other Dessert Parties.
The setting is also a beautiful one as the sun heads down on Discovery Island Lagoon.
You can see people sitting and enjoying themselves as they take in the colors in the sky and the reflections on the water.
By design, Erin and I attended the Rivers of Light Dessert Party on a clear, relatively cool evening in “Late Fall.” During the summer, you’ll be standing around the same space in much hotter, much more humid weather. When rain and lightning threaten the area, the Party is moved to the Flame Tree Barbecue seating area. While it would be fine over there, I think the Party would be a lot less fun overall with a roof over your head and rain tumbling down.
A Rivers of Light Dessert Party reservation also comes with a “120-hour cancellation policy,” which means you’ll need to commit to going five days in advance. That may or may not be an issue, but it’s a lot more strict than the other Parties, probably because Disney knows it’s less likely that a last-minute cancellation will be scooped up by someone constantly refreshing availability, as is usually the case with the Happily Ever After Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom. Bathrooms also aren’t particularly convenient. You’ll either need to head to the set to the right of Finding Nemo the Musical or down past Expedition Everest, almost to the entrance to Kali River Rapids. Stop by before the Party starts.
Back to the offerings, non-alcoholic beverages include Water and Unsweetened Iced Tea.
Jungle Juice, which is a mixture of Passion Fruit, Orange, and Guava, is offered. I’m not a million percent sure what’s in the Purple Lotus, but I think it’s a mixture of Monin Syrup, Lychee, and Odwalla Lemonade, making for a sweet, syrupy concoction.
While it may not be evident depending on the weather, hot coffee is also available.
Onto the good stuff, the bar serves two pre-mixed cocktails along with DMZ Chardonnay, Excelsior Cabernet, Tiger Beer, and Bud Light.
Here’s the menu at Thirsty River Bar next to Expedition Everest, where both wines and the can of Tiger Beer are also offered, in addition to the $8 Bud Light that’s on draft over there and the Specialty Cocktails that are also pre-mixed and similar to what’s offered at the Dessert Party.
The 16-ounce cans of Tiger Beer, which is a Singapore lager, are refreshing with a crisp mouthfeel following a light body. It’s basically a Budweiser, which is about what we’ve come to expect from these Dessert Parties. I’d be over the moon if they were serving the Hitachino Nest White Ale, which is actually less expensive at Thirsty River, but that’s probably not in the cards.
On the left is the “Tiger Lily – Bacardi Superior Rum and Strawberry with Orange, Pineapple, and Lime Juices.” It’s exactly the fruity, viscous drink that you would expect at one of these parties. Amusingly, they were pouring them into these little cups to start and during the last half hour, began pouring the same cocktails into the 16-ounce beer cups. It ends up being a lot of juice if you’re trying to get your buzz on.
On the right is the “Asian Chai Tea – Absolut Citron Vodka, Sweet-and-Sour, and Chai Tea.” This one is thinner and tastes largely of the bitter Chai Tea syrup, which is not to my personal tastes, particularly when little vodka is concerned. But it’s at least slightly refreshing and helps counteract all of the sugar in the desserts.
While it’s not particularly obvious, Mickey Ice Cream Bars, Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches, and Strawberry Bars are available next to the bar throughout the Dessert Party.
A cast member should begin walking around with a tray of the frozen novelty treats about a half hour before showtime, stopping by each table and offering everyone whatever they might like to grab.
With Rivers of Light beginning at 7:30pm, the coast remains clear in the FastPass+ seating section at 6:35pm, or five minutes after the Dessert Party officially got underway.
Five minutes later, people begin streaming in.
Here’s the scene 30 minutes prior to showtime with two full FastPass+ sections still almost completely empty in the distance.
At 7:15pm, just about everyone attending the Dessert Party has found a seat in the first few rows of the section initially reserved for Dining Package users.
Not unlike the viewing areas at the Dessert Parties at the other Parks, those that arrived in the general seating area an hour before showtime are just a couple of feet away from those seated in the reserved section. The two people seated on the far left are in the reserved section, while everyone to the right is general seating.
With ten minutes to showtime, there’s still seats in the second, third, etc. rows available in the FastPass+ section in the far corner. While those seats aren’t as centralized as those in the reserved section, the view isn’t all that much different.
Like the Fantasmic Dining Package section over at Hollywood Studios, the reserved viewing area for the Rivers of Light Dessert Party is opened up to everyone a few minutes before showtime. On one hand, it’s nice that more people are able to see the show. On the other hand, those paying $79/head will be squished next to somebody who didn’t pay an extra dime for the privilege. That’s a departure from how things work at other Dessert Parties, where the reserved area for IllumiNations, the Star Wars Fireworks, and Happily Ever After remain closed off to the general population even with plenty of open space.
Everything on the buffet remains fully stocked for the duration of the Dessert Party, which extends through the end of the Rivers of Light show.
While just about everyone attending the Dessert Party will sit down below in one of the first few rows, you also have the option to sit or stand and watch up above in the Dessert Party area.
We were the only two people that took advantage of that unique view.
And I think it was worth it as we had plenty of room to spread out.
In addition to being right next to the desserts.
And the bar.
The quality of Rivers of Light is debatable and for the sake of this review, somewhat irrelevant.
When we consider whether or not these upcharge dessert parties are “worth it,” a lot of the value comes down to how much hassle paying the money eliminates. When it comes to Rivers of Light, the answer is typically, “not much.” Each Rivers of Light show distributes about 2,000 FastPass+ experiences, hundreds of which will become available on the day of the show as people inevitably change their plans. As we saw earlier, half of the FastPass+ section for the first show was empty with 30 minutes to showtime and even with ten minutes to showtime, there were still several empty rows at the far end of the theater, where the view is maybe 5% worse than the reserved section.
Rivers of Light is typically scheduled twice per night, even when overall crowds are predicted to be low. For the second show, crowds are even lower as the above picture shows with two standby sections nearly empty in DinoLand. For the second show, cast don’t even typically check to see if people have FastPass+. They try to fill the bleachers with whatever warm body is willing to see the show.
Second, the Rivers of Light Dessert Party is more expensive than the Tiffins Dining Package, which also includes a reserved seat for the show.
For $12 less per adult and a whopping $21 less per child, you can choose any appetizer, entree, and dessert at Tiffins and be guaranteed somewhere to sit for Rivers of Light. You can pull up the current Tiffins menu here, but a 3-course meal at the signature restaurant goes for as much as $92. No matter how many cupcakes you offset the Green Tea Cake by, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to eat enough to equal the cost of the $62 Steak & Lobster entree at Tiffins.
So if you’re looking to guarantee yourself a seat at Rivers of Light and don’t want to deal with getting a FastPass+ for it, you’d have a tough time convincing me that the Dessert Party is a smarter buy than a delicious, relaxing 3-course meal at the highest rated theme park restaurant at Walt Disney World.
The $79/adult and $47/child cost of the Dessert Party will also buy you a lot of beers and a lot of desserts if you simply want to pick up a couple of items a la carte and sit in similar seats waiting for the show along with the general population. You could get four 16-ounce Tiger Beers and four full-size cupcakes and still have money left over compared to the adult cost of attending the Party.
But I will say that given pleasant weather, the Rivers of Light version of the Dessert Party is easily the most pleasant of those offered at the Parks and probably the best way to spend your time waiting for Rivers of Light in particular. Cast members are gracious and it’s obvious that the Food & Beverage team went above and beyond in an effort to make up for the quality of the feature presentation.
So while I enjoyed my time at the Rivers of Light Dessert Party, there are (arguably) better ways to spend your money and more economical solutions to seeing Rivers of Light.