We’ll take a long overdue visit to Animal Kingdom after dark to enjoy some of the sights and sounds and occasionally talk strategy, though it remains to be seen how long that advice is relevant. It’s more or less confirmed that Jungle Book: Alive with Magic will ends its run on September 5th. After that, Animal Kingdom is currently open until 9pm from September 6th through the 29th, then 8:30pm through October 1st, before the close is moved to 7:30pm beginning October 2nd. While those closing times are late relative to how Animal Kingdom has operated prior to this summer, it’s not late enough to allow for much more than an hour of darkness in September with the sun setting at 7:40pm on September 6th and civil twilight ending at 8:04pm. With the 11pm close over the summer, guests had just over two hours of darkness to enjoy the various enhancements. And while the lack of a nighttime show will save people time, it’s still going to be difficult to ride Safaris and Everest at night and make it to the Tree of Life to see an Awakening before the Park closes. Of course, theme park hours are subject to change and they certainly will if and when Rivers of Light comes online. But with how weak attendance has been at Animal Kingdom after 8pm, it seems unlikely that we’ll see later closes in September without Rivers of Light necessitating an extension.
But even 9pm is an improvement over last year when Animal Kingdom was only open later than 6pm on a single date. And with Magic Kingdom closing at 7pm on 11 nights in September and 18 nights in October, we may see more people than ever eyeing an evening that ends at Animal Kingdom. That’s true whether you want to enjoy a pleasant dinner at what is now the best signature restaurant in a theme park, stop for a drink and some small plates at what is now the best theme park lounge, take advantage of short waits at some of Walt Disney World’s best attraction, see unique entertainment that rivals anything at the other theme parks, or simply relax and enjoy the Park’s beautiful nighttime ambiance.
Uncertainty around Rivers of Light remains frustrating as we are all aware that Disney announced that the show would debut back in April and then not only failed to make that date, but has since ceased communicating about the status of the show. And we all know what happened in the interim…
To say reviews were “mixed” on Jungle Book is perhaps being kind, but I’m not sure it’s worth dwelling too long on a show that was put together in something like 43 days. Disney was literally training cast members for Rivers of Light’s opening at the same time that the Parks Blog announced that the show was going to be delayed and a different show would debut in its place. Personally, once my expectations were lowered far enough, I thought Jungle Book was “okay.”
I think it suffered from few people realizing that the singing was live on the center barge.
It was also unclear that the action on the five barges sitting too close to the stands was all the same, causing people to try to look around unnecessarily and lose focus on what was happening. With no real focal point, uneven pacing, and no real “wow moment” at the end, I think it’s safe to say that the show fell flat for most.
Was it terrible? Not really…but the lengths a lot of people went to see it were pretty terrible as people lined up hours early to sit on uncomfortable bleachers and then stare at the back of someone else’s head for the duration of the show.
And while the website has focused on entertainment/attraction cuts that Disney dubbed “efficiency initiatives” in their latest earnings reports, Jungle Book was an extremely expensive show not only to produce, but to perform two times nightly with over two hundred cast members in entertainment and support roles.
Hopefully the future is brighter.
Speaking of nighttime spectaculars, while Animal Kingdom doesn’t offer a fireworks show, the Star Wars fireworks at Hollywood Studios are visible over Expedition Everest.
This is from the bridge that connects Africa with Discovery Island.
It’s probably not worth going out of your way to experience, but you might take a note of when the fireworks start and if you’re in the vicinity, head over to the bridge to sneak a peak.
On the entertainment front, the “Harambe Wildlife Parti” runs “intermittently” from 5pm to 10pm nightly – the hours of which will assuredly change into the fall and winter.
Three specific nighttime acts comprise the Parti after dark with several other acts appearing earlier in the day.
The Harambe Village Acrobats are best under the nighttime lights when they perform a variety of powerful feats. I would be more impressed if he was picking up two theme park bloggers though.
Burudika ramps up the energy for their nighttime performances on stage, while the Karibu Sisters dance, sing, and invite audience participation earlier in the evening.
If you were to ask most people about what they were looking forward to most about Animal Kingdom staying open late, nighttime rides on Kilimanjaro Safaris would probably make the majority of lists. But I’m not sure how positive most experiences end up being.
Few animals are typically out after dark and when they are, they’re largely difficult to see as it’s prohibitively expensive to illuminate the savannas much more than they are. There’s a rhinoceros in the picture above.
After the first few nights, drivers started joking about the lack of visible animals. There are a couple hippos in this picture.
Some kind of story might have gone a long way to filling some of the dead space from area to area.
While I think we can agree that added emphasis on the animals is important, the Wilson storyline gave us a reason for being out on the savanna and a good excuse as to why our 2-week safari lasted closer to 30 minutes.
But like daytime safaris, some nighttime versions are packed with animals. This elephant picture was particularly lucky.
This still photograph does little to capture the movement of the giraffes, but it was the first and only time I’ve ever seen them running across the savanna after each other. A very cool moment.
Photography is largely a fool’s game though I don’t follow my own advice, which is to put the camera away and just enjoy the ride.
This blurry shot of two lions perched on a rock underneath a starry black sky is shot at ISO 25,600 at f2.8 with a 35mm lens and a 1/10th shutter speed.
But the ride does certainly have its moments and even on some of the safaris where we’ve seen fewer animals, there’s been at least one “wow” moment. On one ride, everyone thought a rhinoceros just inches off the path was a rock until it moved a bit as we approached. That sort of thing would never happen during the day.
A nighttime safari is certainly worth experiencing, though you might lower expectations on the various effects, story line, and potentially the number of animals you’ll see.
Looking over wait times over the last few weeks:
Waits are surprisingly short for the most part, not even hitting a 20-minute average until after 10:15am and peaking under 40 minutes at noon.
Waits spike at 8pm as Disney halves capacity with such low late night attendance. Disney does distribute the maximum number of FastPass+ from 8pm to 10pm, which also means little capacity is given to standby. But by 10pm, you might find that you’re waiting longer in your vehicle for enough people to arrive to fill it than you did in line.
If possible, my recommendation is to get in line with a FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris about 15 minutes after the stated sunset time. The animals should be more plentiful and it will be easier to see them. Towards the end of the ride, you should be able to enjoy some of the better nighttime effects . On the other hand, if you’d like to ride when it’s pitch black, you’ll want to get in line at least 30 minutes after sunset, keeping in mind that waits will be shortest as closing time approaches. But that’s true at every other attraction.
Walking over to Kali River Rapids:
I’ll be the first to admit that there is very little going on in my life, but I haven’t had more fun than showering the Kali rafts after dark in some time. Riders think the worst is behind them and the trick is to wait until they’re right before the elephant trunks before you press the green button because then they won’t see it coming. Then burst out laughing. Because it’s so dark, they will have no idea who’s doing it and group after group walked by talking about how they got squirted. At this point, you play dumb and say, “I have no idea who would do such a terrible thing.”
At least when there’s somebody riding in the raft, which is only about 70% of the time this late. To get to this bridge, you just walk past the entrance to Kali and then take a right at the entrance to Maharajah Jungle Trek.
Here’s a look at wait times over the same dates as Safaris:
The main reason why Kali is the top FastPass+ priority at Animal Kingdom when it’s hot out is that it has the longest waits when you’ll probably want to ride it in the afternoon. If you’re not using FastPass+, you want to try to ride before 10:15am or if you can swing it, late at night. There is virtually no demand for Kali after dark so if it is one of your favorites, you can ride it pretty much nonstop after 8pm.
On to Everest:
Trying and failing to get a picture of the moon by placing the camera on a variety of trash cans with fingers crossed.
Expedition Everest is always a treacherous climb, but the cover of darkness adds another layer of foreboding as riders find themselves lost amidst the twists, curves, and drops of the forbidden mountain. The Fear is ratcheted up again when you find yourself alone in the back row as I did on this ride.
A look at wait times:
Like the other attractions that we’ve looked at, wait times drop off considerably during the late night, seeing a slight bump after Jungle Book dumps about 1,500 people in front of the entrance at 9:30pm, before dropping into the single digits.
While it’s somewhat irrelevant now, Disney was letting guests get in line for Everest until a couple minutes after 11pm, allowing one last ride for the few people staying to see the second show.
Discovery Island Carnivale is a dance party with live music from Viva Gaia and a lot of audience participation in front of Flame Tree Barbecue, currently starting at 6:45pm, 7:40pm, 8:35pm, and 9:35p with the Discovery Island Sunset Serenatas playing at 4:50pm, 5:35pm, 7:10pm, 8:05pm, 9:10pm.
I’m currently “on vacation” with only around half of my photos in hand, so you’ll have to deal with archival footage of DinoLand USA rather than some fresh 2016 shots.
While there isn’t a lot of demand for the rides, particularly with DINOSAUR closed for a couple of months, the area is typically crowded earlier in the evening as it’s where those waiting in standby for the Jungle Book show stand, often for hours on end. Hopefully Rivers of Light will be a more organized experience.
The Tree of Life Awakenings, which are visible on Discovery Island in front of the Tree, are an unexpected highlight.
One of several different vignettes, each of which lasts just under five minutes, starts every 15ish minutes once the sun goes down.
The projections, which make the animals carved into the Tree appear like they’re alive, are particularly impressive and a highlight that shouldn’t be missed.
There’s typically plenty of room to enjoy each vignette whether you want to squeeze up closer to the Tree or hang back a bit. Seeing all four can be frustrating as there’s about ten minutes of downtime in between showings and there’s no telling which vignette will play next, but it’s worth staking out a spot to see at least one. If you haven’t seen a video and would like a preview, I uploaded this video to Facebook a few months ago.
Overall, Animal Kingdom’s extended hours are a welcome addition to the Walt Disney World lineup, offering a great variety of experiences that were either never or rarely available to guests. While not every addition is attune to Edgar Martinez’s double in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS, there are enough hits that most guests with the ability should do what they can to stay late even if Jungle Book and Rivers of Light aren’t on the schedule.
For the Safari, consider getting in line with FastPass+ a few minutes after sunset for the best view of the animals and several of the nighttime elements. For Everest, ride at least once after the sun goes down. Carve out at least a few minutes to enjoy the entertainment in Harambe and if you like to dance or make fun of other people dancing, stop by Discovery Island. Don’t miss swinging by the Tree of Life at some point in the evening and once the music starts, look up from your phone.
With potential 9pm closes starting September 6th, there won’t be a lot of time to enjoy the Park after the sun goes down and it remains to be seen what kind of entertainment is offered. It should at least give you an opportunity to ride Safaris from 8pm to 8:40pm and then hustle over to Everest for at least one ride after dark followed by a sprint to Discovery Island for the Tree of Life Awakening. But we should know more about the schedule and hopefully a start date for Rivers of Light soon.