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Rivers of Light is Animal Kingdom’s first nighttime spectacular. Set on the lagoon surrounded by Asia, DinoLand U.S.A., and Discovery Island, it uses water screens, fountains, lasers, music, boats, floats, and fire to portray the colorful world of animals and nature.
The show centers around four lotus-flower lanterns floating on the lagoon. They’re soon joined by shamans on what looks like a Chinese junk. The shamans conjure the forces of fire and water to reveal the majesty of the natural world, mostly as video projections on a huge water screen at the back of the lagoon. The highlight is the appearance of four immense colorchanging floats in the shape of a tiger, a turtle, an elephant, and an owl.
Because wind patterns on the lagoon sometimes blur the videos projected onto the water screens, the animal shapes can get distorted. (Our notes from when the show debuted include snippets such as “Lion? Grizzly? Rhino? Puppy?” written as we were trying to figure out what creatures were on display.) Also, the area’s prevailing winds come from the south and east, so mist from the show’s fountains should head away from the seating areas. If the forecast calls for winds from the north or west, especially during colder months, bring ponchos or blankets just in case.
Rivers of Light is Walt Disney World’s lowest-rated nighttime show—the result of building an entire performance around ambitious technical effects that Disney was never able to get working properly in the preparatory stages. Some planned effects were cut; thus, the visuals don’t make a lot of sense as staged. Plus, the pace drags at points because the floats and boats need to move around for different scenes.
Disney’s comically predictable first response to any sort of theme park problem—whether it’s with a hotel, a restaurant, or an attraction—is to throw characters at it. Rivers of Light is the latest to get the quick-fix treatment, with additional water-screen projections of Disney characters and songs in a revised show called Rivers of Light: We Are One. This means that all four parks’ nighttime shows now include familiar Disney characters and scores, and three of the four now feature characters as video projections on water screens. Because these shows have become so homogeneous in spirit, scene, and sound, our verdict is that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. That being the case, the one you want to see is Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom.
Rivers of Light: We Are One is staged in the middle of the Discovery River, with seating split in two sections: on the shores of Asia in front of Expedition Everest, and along the banks of DinoLand U.S.A. in front of Finding Nemo—The Musical. Half of the show’s 5,000 seats are reserved for FastPass+; the other half are for standby guests and those with dining packages (see below). There are also partially obstructed viewing areas around the river. Arrive about 45 minutes in advance to get a standby seat.
To help meet demand, Disney may run two shows on busy nights, similar to the schedule for Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios. The Rivers of Light Dining Package combines a meal at Tusker House or Tiffins with guaranteed seats for the show; prices (before tax) start at $46 for adults and $26 for kids ages 3–9. The dining package is a good alternative to FastPass+ if no day-of passes are available and you were already planning to eat at one of these restaurants.
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