Rivers of Light, Tiffins, and Pandora World of Avatar Construction Updates as Disney Confirms Nighttime Enhancements – 3/1/16

We’ll break our Animal Kingdom visit down into three more manageable parts. First up is a look at the various construction projects happening around the Park and an update on the nighttime enhancements expected to arrive later this spring. Second will probably be a return to Pizzafari for the new Shrimp Flatbread and a look at the many changes to the various quick service menus. And we’ll end with an update on touring as I go through the website’s morning touring plan without FastPass+ with some thoughts on what we’re looking at when Rivers of Light officially opens on April 22nd.

A spoiler on the menu front as Flame Tree now offers two entrees that come in at a whopping $19.99 each.

With the ability to substitute any eligible snack credit for the dessert and beverage on the Disney Dining Plan, you could come away with a meal that would otherwise cost $32.97 ($19.99 entree plus two of the $6.49 French Fries with Pulled Pork and Cheese). That should beat Wolfgang Puck Express as the most expensive quick service meal on property.

Not to mention this toppings bar that’s arrived at Restaurantosaurus. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Larger: https://www.easywdw.com/reports13/avatar_main_entrance.jpg

Construction continues on Pandora – The World of AVATAR as the Hallelujah Mountains tower over the rest of the Park, dwarfing the 145-foot tall Tree of Life in the process.

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Of course, that’s nothing compared to the 3,000+ foot tall “real life” Hallelujah Mountain in China, which was the inspiration for the mountain range in the movie.

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The construction is visible from various parts of Animal Kingdom. This is from Expedition Everest where you can see the mountain construction in addition to the massive, single show building that houses both the Soarin-esque ride and the boat ride interlude off to the left.

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The best view of the front is from the overpass on the way to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you’re not headed over there, try taking a Disney bus to the Animal Kingdom theme park and sit on the driver’s side. You’ll be seated a lot higher than your typical vehicle and will enjoy a better view.

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Otherwise, you might try the area on the back side of Rainforest Cafe.


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Otherwise, I don’t think there’s any news on the Avatar front. It is still a long ways off.

On the small projects front, Flights of Wonder is closed through March 17th. They’re putting a permanent roof on it:

We’ll see if it reopens with more of a dedicated standby/FastPass+ entry scheme. There are two very different schools of thought on the future of FastPass+ at characters and shows and it will be interesting to see which prevails. At something like Star Wars Launch Bay, the entry and each character meet and greet are all theoretically FastPass+ enabled, but the machines were never turned on and FastPass+ experiences were never offered. On the other hand, with virtually no notice and no additional infrastructure whatsoever, FastPass+ was shoehorned into a show like Flights of Wonder seemingly out of the blue.

The Boneyard is also closed for Refurbishment through March 17th.

Kali River Rapids’ refurbishment was also extended from February into mid-March.

Flame Tree’s refurbishment went on for months and months longer than originally anticipated due to some electrical problems arising from Rivers of Light construction, to the point where Disney wasn’t even able to complete the project that was more publicly known.

Most of the seating sections remain open though walls still line the area down towards the Adventurers Outpost Mickey and Minnie Meet. They are installing roofs over the walking paths.

Walls are down in front of Disney Outfitters, though the store remains closed and the old sign feels extremely out of place with the new color scheme. But you also get a better idea of the changes looking at the old juxtaposed with the new.

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If you had told me a year ago that Disney’s hot new signature restaurant offering picturesque waterfront views in Animal Kingdom was going to be attached to Pizzafari, I probably would have laughed and said, “YEAH AND DONALD TRUMP IS GOING TO BE PRESIDENT HAHAHA.”

Yet here we are.

Disney quietly added a variety of details on the nighttime enhancements coming to the Park in the near future here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/animal-kingdom/animal-kingdom-night/. We’ve seen a ton of construction around the Tree of Life over the last few months, most recently with a crane on-site aiding in what should be the last of the lights.

Most of the area to the right of the back side of the Tree has been cleared.

This was just last month. I haven’t seen an advisory on what exactly is going on, whether they needed to pull out some of the vegetation temporarily for the crane or if additional electric work was necessary for the upcoming show or what. Hopefully it will be back to its lush self shortly.

According to Disney, each light show will be called a “nighttime awakening:”

After the sun sets, animal spirits within the great tree come alive and reveal themselves in mesmerizing color and light.

During the evening hours, pay special attention to the Tree of Life at the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. At various times, flickering fireflies magically appear and awaken the wondrous animals spirits carved into the tree’s towering trunk—bringing to light a stunning visual extravaganza swarming with vivid color and animated imagery.

Witness a graceful young doe embark on a thrilling cross-country journey. Behold love blossoming between 2 hummingbirds. See a spry fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest. A feast for the eyes, each approximately 3-minute-long revelation celebrates the eternal balance and harmony that exists in all living things, big or small, and is sure to inspire and delight the entire family, big and small.

Disney has impressed in recent memory on the projection front, particularly on Cinderella Castle for Frozen Holiday Wish and Celebrate the Magic. Additional enhancements are coming to the Great Movie Ride facade over at Hollywood Studios during the Galactic Fireworks as well. It should be pretty spectacular. One does wonder whether the projections will circle the entire Tree or just be visible from the front. And one also wonders how different the various awakenings are and how many people will camp out in the best spots waiting for each short, sporadic show. This kind of thing is all fun and games until the iPads and shoulder kids go up.

Ride-wise, the extension of Kilimanjaro Safaris into the evening for the nighttime safaris is a major piece:

After the sun sets, venture out onto the savanna for a nighttime safari tour—and see the animals in a whole new light.Experience a different breed of discovery when you explore the wilds of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve at night. Previously off limits to visitors after sundown, this unforgettable journey aboard a rugged, all-terrain caravan takes you deep into the wilds of Africa, where creatures both big and small await your arrival amid the tranquil shadows of the lush brush.

During your adventure, witness the rarely seen nocturnal habits of the reserve’s many animal residents, including lions, elephants, hippopotamuses and hyena. Spy a careless crocodile slumped upon a rocky plot. Behold spirited zebras galloping silently across a vast plain. Catch sight of a curious cheetah, lazily reclining in the brush. Strategically placed lighting evoking both the setting sun and rising moon—plus side-sweeping headlamps attached to your safari vehicle—ensure you won’t miss a moment. And as always, your friendly safari guide is on hand to share expert knowledge about the animals and their unique nocturnal habits.

So climb aboard, lean back and take in the sights of Africa by night; it’s sure to be one drive you won’t soon forget!

You had me at lush brush.

It will be interesting to see what the experience will be like as construction continues throughout the savanna in preparation. Many of these animals have sort of been “trained” to act a certain way for going on 20 years now and a lot of those behaviors are going to need some modifying to extend the hours into the late evening.

Good thing there are so many babies.

Other recent species additions have been strategic, here with the painted dogs that are either playing or trying to kill each other. This isn’t unlike the scene at the first day of Flower and Garden as the bloggers all converge on the butterfly garden.

Operationally, it will be interesting to see how the crossover from day to night works. You would expect the daytime safari to have a set end time around dusk and the nighttime safari to begin as a separate entity perhaps 45 minutes after. I don’t think guests would be too enthusiastic about getting in line towards the end of the daylight hours and not really know which ride they’re going to be on until they get to the front of the line. It seems likely that FastPass+, if offered, would be separate as well. FastPass+ reservations are exceedingly good at getting people to the Parks earlier and keeping them in late. Those 9am-10am slots are one of the major reasons why we’ve seen such an influx of crowds at rope drop in the last couple of years. If Disney can get 4,000 people to schedule a nighttime safari from 7pm-10pm and effortlessly get 2,500 people to book FastPass+ for Rivers of Light then they don’t really have to try that hard to get people to stick around on other fronts. They will stay to make their reservation.

Disney is also playing up nighttime rides on Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest. Everest in particular is outstanding at night. The ride “feels” a lot faster and at times you have no idea where you are in the mountain. Because your eyes are better adjusted to the darkness, you’ll also enjoy a better view of the yeti. It does remain to be seen whether they operate the ride during Rivers of Light.

Africa will also be home to the “Harambe Wildlife Parti,” a taste of which we got on New Year’s Eve and then more recently a couple of weeks back during a Zootopia event:

On the lookout for a night you won’t forget? Head to Harambe where “party animals” have taken over the streets.
Harambe, the African village within Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, is a popular daytime destination known for its excellent street musicians, stunningly beautiful theater district, vibrant marketplace, diverse eateries and lively daytime street parties. But after the sun sets, Harambe’s excitement soars even higher with the Harambe Wildlife Parti.

Be a part of this lively street festival that kicks off in late afternoon when Afro-Pop musicians the Burudika Band take to the stage in Harambe’s Old Square and perform music popular in Africa. Clap your hands and kick up your heels to the blissful beats—it’s almost impossible to resist dancing in the streets!

Wander past the main stage and into the bustling marketplace to discover even more exotic entertainment just around the corner, including:

  • Muziki
    Located in Harambe’s drum circle, this delightfully unusual goodwill shaman perched high atop regal stilts invites children to join him as he plays his own instruments, dances and makes them official drummers of the day.
  • Karibu Sisters
    Resembling regal African cranes, these 3 women add to the rhythm of Harambe Marketplace through elegant dance, acapella songs and acoustic renditions of African party music.
  • Harambe Soccer Meerkats
    Cheer on the village’s finest soccer players as they ramble through the streets rallying anyone within sight for a quick pick-up game—entertaining with comic soccer moves inspired by African animals and delighting with skillful acrobatic teamwork and dancing.
  • Harambe Village Acrobats
    Wearing costumes of grass, beads, bells and feathers set against a mosaic of African prints, this troupe of skilled performers move with the synchronicity of circus performers as they drum, dance, tumble and climb into man-made pyramids and break away into spinning, tumbling towers.

Boasting music, dance and an ever-changing landscape of performances and things to see and do—Harambe’s Wildlife Parti offers the excitement of an African village bursting with non-stop entertainment and surprises for all who visit.

And drinks. There will certainly be drinks.

The second party is focused in Discovery Island, probably mostly in the Flame Tree Barbecue and Disney Outfitters area.

Revel in the beauty and harmony of all living things during a jubilant jamboree inspired by Carnival celebrations around the world.

In late afternoon when the sun is beginning its descent at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, listen for the distinctive drumming of Latin and world-beat rhythms as they fill the air around Discovery Island—that’s when the Discovery Island Carnivale, an exuberant dance party to end the day and welcome the night, begins.

The Viva Gaia Band and a spirited group of Islanders welcome you to a larger-then-life gala celebrating the wonder and beauty of nature and who we are together—the “Nature Family.” Bursting with cheerful music and spectacular costumes that take inspiration from the living creatures of the air, land and sea, this seemingly spontaneous, free-spirited jubilee winds its way from one end of Discovery Island to the other, eventually arriving at the Discovery Island stage where the exhilarating festivities get into full swing.

Over the course of several hours, the unflinching beauty of nature is on dazzling display. Clap your hands, dance, laugh and experience unbridled joy into the evening—the pulsating bass, lively beats and playfully outlandish outfits inspiring all around to join in the high-energy excitement. Watch as Danza del Arpa, one of the Island musicians, takes to the stage to play the Paraguayan harp, as if calling upon the animal spirits within the Tree of Life.

In the moonlight, everyone appears to glow. It’s a celebration of the night, and a celebration of nature—and it’s surely one you’ll never forget.

Probably right here on this stage.

These are some substantial offerings in addition to Rivers of Light, though I think it remains to be seen how successful they are at keeping guests engaged throughout what are going to have to be some very late nights come June.

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Of course, the main event is Rivers of Light, the new nighttime spectacular set on Discovery River.

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(You may be able to click the image again to expand it further)

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Disney announced that the show will officially debut on Earth Day, April 22nd. There are private screening events on April 16th and 17th and one would assume that previews for Park guests would precede that as Disney tries to work out the kinks before those that are paid to give glowing reviews arrive. The show should be fully staffed by the end of the month. I would not expect to see the show on any given day between March 27th and April 15th, but it is certainly a distinct possibility. We should know more about the schedule and procedure in a couple of weeks.

A few more shots from around the Park:

Dining Packages will be available and the show is expected to be FastPass+ enabled. It will be interesting to see how the seating arrangement plays out as those seats in front won’t necessarily enjoy the best views. You may remember me mentioning that there were some issues with sight lines during testing and some chatter that the seating areas would need to be raised, delaying the debut of the show. It looks like they figured out some way around that or those in the front row will just be staring at the bottoms of a lot of floating barges.

Disney posted this behind-the-scenes video a couple of days ago and it shows some of the mesmerizing effects, in addition to explaining a bit more about the show. I’m cautiously optimistic about how a Disney-character-less, fireworks-less, avant garde production will play to a population that has never really understood what Animal Kingdom is about. And even with the soccer players in Harambe and the Paraguayan harp player in Discovery Island, one wonders whether Disney will be able to keep 10,000 people interested in hanging around through what is going to have to be 10pm and later this summer.

We’ll check out menus next.


  1. JulieHFJ says

    Nice AK post. Looking forward to the next two parts, especially the third, the touring update. Thanks so much for your thoughtful, comprehensive posts!

  2. Billy says

    great writeup I am so looking forward to all this….My wife and I are going for our Anniversary in May so I am excited to get to see a bit of it.

  3. Diana says

    Thanks Josh for a great post!
    Our trip is April 9th until the 16th. Would love to catch ROL on a preview day. I remember years ago when I got to ride Everest on a soft opening. There was a sign at the entrance to AK that the ride was open. Do you think there would be something similar for ROL previews? Or maybe previews for AP holders? We have AP’s so that would be fantastic! Trying to figure out if there is a a way to find out if a preview takes place during our trip so we can hop over to AK to see the show.

    You are the best Josh, love your site!!

    • Tinkerella White says

      Would love to know the answer to if there might be previews and how to find out…We are there April 14-20 and are sad we will be so close to seeing it! Love the site…Thanks!

    • josh says

      Disney doesn’t really seem to be throwing Annual Passholders any bones these days, save for perhaps the prints they’re handing out at Flower/Garden. I’m not sure what their procedure is going to be for preview shows, but will keep everyone up to date once I hear what’s going on.

      • dusty cheatham says

        you know josh your right ?? in years gone by AP holders did get a chance for soft openings for SOARIN , ENCHANTED TALES WITH B ect . hoot heck there was even a passholder lounge @ epcot $$$$$$ Disney just thinks hey I got there money . if we build it they will come

  4. Kim Dobeck says

    Im excited about having a night-time show without all the kaboom and fuss. It sounds like it will be a quiet beautiful moving experience. I expect a message about taking care of our planet and creatures. It might be a nice change of pace when compared to all the of glitz and bang at the other parks. Having an autistic son Ive learned sometimes less is more. Our family would love a show featuring some quieter music, softer lights, and smaller crowd. Fingers crossed this is the experience Disney is after. Thanks for the update on the progress. We didn’t even venture over to Animal Kingdom our last visit. Its nice to see things finally making progress.

  5. Tim says

    I agree about seeing how Rivers of Light plays to audiences once it opens. While I am encouraged to see a large-scale original production I’m not sure if park guests have been “trained” to expect Disney Characters, Magic and DREAMS to a point where something Tapestry of Nations-style might play out to blank faces. We’ll see.

  6. Carol O says

    I just read on Twitter that you said: I think my memoir will be titled “There Will Be Artsy”, but instead, I think you nailed it in this post: “And drinks. There will certainly be drinks.”
    Re late night AK: am I the only one worried about the animals’ sleep? Between thousands of people, light shows and ‘music’ parties, we are going to have some cranky critters.

    • Magic1106 says

      Since when do humans care about the well being of the animal “entertainment”?

      But, realistically, wild animals don’t sleep like we do. Most animal will sleep for shorter periods of time throughout the day and night. And keep in mind that some of these animals are nocturnal, so their natural wake cycle is during the night.

      • Pat says

        And really, have the lions ever really been awake? I think over about 40 safaris I’ve seen them up once. They sleep more than our teenagers.

        • josh says

          I think, “the animals have to sleep” was a convenient way for Disney to excuse their lack of a nighttime spectacular. They have shot fireworks before and do so occasionally for private events. The animal homes/pens/whatever they’re called are a good distance away from most of the park. If all that construction activity and noise isn’t bothering them, I’m not sure what would.

  7. Bev F says

    Can’t we get characters mixed in, like Brother Bear, Jungle Book, Lion King, there have been some beautiful animal scenes in Disney animation. Just including animation doesn’t make it unnatural. Brother Bear was all about the lights. C’mon, we are still Disney people, Disney.

  8. Rod Handler says

    Won’t it be incredibly crowded on the walkway by Everest with Rivers of Light seating in that area? This has the opportunity to make the pathway between It’s a Small World and Peter Pan look like the wide open Wyoming prairie!

  9. Chris says

    Any word on the timing of the 3 showing? Seeing as how they will most definitely have to wait until its dark to start ROL, this will have the park open VERY late. Which is good news for us. More nighttime options for our teens are a big plus.


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