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What You Need to Know Before You See Rivers of Light

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It’s finally here. After months of delays and a long hype campaign, Rivers of Light has made its debut at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Once upon a time, having Animal Kingdom open at night, let alone its own night time show, was just a dream. The fact that it is finally a reality is enough to make me happy. Personally, I found the show to fit the spirit of Animal Kingdom very well and think it is a nice addition to this Walt Disney World theme park that always seems to be fighting an uphill battle.


On your next visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom you should definitely make time to see this new night time show. Rivers of Light is worth seeing at least once, and here’s what you need to know before you go.

FastPass+ entrance – Rivers of Light

There will be lines

(regardless of if you have a FastPass+ or not)

Even if you book a FastPass+ for Rivers of Light or if you book a dining package, there will be lines to get into the ampitheater. There are two main entrances into the theater, one in Asia, near Expedition Everest, and the other in DinoLand U.S.A. The Asia entrance is FastPass+ and dining package only. The DinoLand entrance is standby, and dining package seating, though it seems to a lesser extent than the Asia side.

If you have either a FastPass+ or dining package you are guaranteed a seat up until about 5-10 minutes before show time.  The advantage of both of these options is to not have to get to the theater 45 minutes before showtime just to get a seat of any kind. Both methods save you time.

Asia side of theater nearly full 30 minutes before Rivers of Light show time


In my opinion it was worth having the FastPass+ when I viewed Rivers of Light. It reduces the stress and worry of wondering if you’re even going to get into the theater, plus the standby line is quite long. So while FastPass+ and dining package guests are seated in the theater, hundreds of standby guests wait standing in a long, winding line.

Check the schedule



Rivers of Light does not perform every night, at least not yet. Perhaps Disney should not have stated that February 17, 2017 marked the official opening of Rivers of Light, but rather kept it as a “soft opening.” Some elements of the show still need work. Because of this, and a few other reasons, Rivers of Light does not perform on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays until mid-April.

Additionally, on most nights there is only one performance. However, on peak nights there are two shows. The second show does fill up, though not as quickly as the first show.

Before you enter the theater…

Whether you are using a FastPass+ or standby, once you are in the theater it is a little cumbersome to get up and either get snacks or use the restroom. It is do-able; Cast Members at the theater entrance will give you a lanyard to wear to allow you to exit the theater and come back in. However, the rows are fairly long without much space in between making it difficult to get back to your seat.

Restrooms are located to the left of Expedition Everest, a bit of a walk from the Asian entrance to the theater and also near the Finding Nemo Musical Theater.  I recommend you visit the restroom before entering the theater. Having a snack or drink while in the theater helps make the time go a little faster and more comfortably. You can bring food and drink into the theater; I visited the Thirsty River Bar near Expedition Everest and enjoyed sipping on some red wine while waiting for the show.

Expect delays

This won’t always be the case, otherwise the show would be considered a disaster, but for the next few weeks it is safe to say that the show may start later than expected. The majority of the showtimes of Rivers of Light thus far have started 5-15 minutes later than the published show time. There are quite a few technical elements in the show, which opens up more opportunities for “whoopsies” (that’s a technical term, I promise).

Operations Cast Members prepare the ampitheater


When I went to see the show on opening weekend I noticed the lotus flower floats moving into place about an hour and a half before show time, and operations Cast Members were getting the theater ready. However, the largest lotus flower float did not come out into the lagoon until just after the published start time and had to get into place before the show could start. I am not sure if this particular float was the only reason for the delay. Hopefully very soon we will have a complete and delay-free Rivers of Light on a regular basis.

Consider other options

The ampitheater isn’t the only place you can see Rivers of Light. There are a few other places to view the show around the lagoon. However, there is nothing like World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot where you can easily walk up and find a spot on an average day and have a decent view. Rivers of Light plays to the theater, it has a forward facing direction. If you are not in the theater you’ll still be able to see the show, but the music and effects are not directed at you. The quality of the sound and effects will be diminished if you are not in the theater.

An alternative vantage point for Rivers of Light


A few alternatives to the theater are the bridge between Expedition Everest and DinoLand, the bridge from Discovery Island to DinoLand, and along the walkway between Yaki and Yeti Restaurant and Expedition Everest. You’ll still need to be in these areas well before show time, and the walkways are subject to being kept clear by Cast Members. The waterside seating at Flame Tree BBQ is only an option when this counter service location is open during show time, which is rare.

Enjoy the view

Last, but not least, the most important thing to do during Rivers of Light is to take in the view. Not only is the show full of beautiful imagery and colors, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is beautiful at night. It is calm, yet vibrant. Don’t get too wrapped up in waiting for a wow moment that you expect in a fireworks show. Don’t expect a story line or plot.

Instead, sit back and observe the movement, the patterns, the fountains, lasers, projections, and colors. Take in the whole view. There isn’t really a bad view in the theater because the show moves around quite a bit. Everyone gets a chance to see it all.

Animal Kingdom at night

I feel the show’s beauty, creativity, visual elements, and music are enough to make it worthy of your time. It certainly is a pleasant way to end your day at Animal Kingdom, and I think it is enough to keep guests in Animal Kingdom longer, especially once Pandora: World of Avatar opens in May 2017.

Rivers of Light is closest to World of Color at Disney’s California Adventure and IllumiNations at Epcot in the family tree of Disney night time shows. If you can appreciate subtlety, artistic expression, and quiet moments, such as the middle portion of IllumiNations then you will probably enjoy this show. If instead you find yourself bored and fidgety during such moments, then Rivers of Light is probably a hard sell for you, and that’s okay.

After all, the main message of Rivers of Light is that the diversity of our planet is beautiful and spectacular. Without different tastes and viewpoints our world wouldn’t be what it is. And it is messages like this that make me appreciate Rivers of Light and make me want to see it again.

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Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. She's worked in nearly all of Orlando's theme parks, on board Disney Cruise Line, and in hotel management. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thisfloridalife

10 thoughts on “What You Need to Know Before You See Rivers of Light

  • Hmmmm, not sure Charla. All I can think of is a private event / buy out of that area for a corporate or other type of event. Thanks for reading!

  • I am trying to reserve a Rivers of Light dining package at Tusker’s on October 12, 2020. There are many reservations available on October 11 and October 13 but there are no reservations available on October 12. There are also many reservations available the previous Monday. I called WDW but they did not have an answer why I could not book a reservation for the dining package on October 12. Do you know the reason? Thank you!

  • Hi Sarah,

    Rivers of Light is at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You’ll need to be in that park to see it.


  • Hi

    can I watch the rivers of light from Epcot ?

  • We have River of Light Dining Package reservations on June 1st. Our only choice was the first River of Light show at 7:15p. Will it be dark enough to enjoy the show.

  • Worth noting as well that the entrances will likely change as time goes on and adjustments are made. I believe there are actually four different entrances to the theater, and my guess is that they’re trying different things from night to night to see what works and what doesn’t.
    In particular, there is an entrance on the dinoland side, near the center theater area, which may/will be used for dining package holders, as the entrance is close to the area set aside for those guests.

  • Can you describe where the wheelchair seating is located for this and if wheelchair users are limited to one companion, please?

    • Good question Laura, sorry for not mentioning this and investigating this in more detail. I saw accessibility ramps that led to the bottom of both sides of the ampitheater (both Dinoland and Asia). It appeared that there was room for 2-3 people per guest traveling in a wheelchair. Next time I am there I will confirm how accessibility seating works in this theater.

      • Ramps are good. It’s always nice to have choices in seating. Thanks!

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