This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s RIVERS OF LIGHT! On March 2nd, 2016 Disney whetted all of our appetites when it announced on the Parks Blog that Rivers of Light – the first ever nighttime spectacular at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, would debut on Earth Day (April 22nd). April came and went with no show, but we were told we would get an update “in May.” May came and went with no show and no update. It wasn’t until late November when – seemingly out of nowhere – there were cast member previews for Rivers of Light. While no official announcement was made, that’s a pretty good sign that the show would be opening soon for the general public.
Turns out that was also wishful thinking, as both December and January passed with no word on when we would finally see this highly anticipated show. Then in early February – again, almost out of nowhere – Disney announced that the debut performance for the public would take place on February 17th.
When February 17th arrived, anticipation was at an all time high. Standby guests were lined up all the way back to Flame Tree Barbecue, and even those with FP+ were getting into the theater over an hour early to secure a seat. The question on everyone’s mind was simply: was Rivers of Light worth the wait? SPOILER ALERT: Yes. Even better, just as the Main Street Electrical Parade’s return to Disneyland brought along a lot of other cool stuff for guests to enjoy, Animal Kingdom has gone all out for Rivers of Light as well. Today we’re going to look at the actual show along with awesome food and merchandise that supports it. Let’s kickoff the countdown with…
# 6 – Lotus Flower Popcorn Bucket
Walt Disney World has stepped up its popcorn bucket game in a major way in the past few years. We’ve seen neat buckets themed to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Cinderella’s carriage, and even Han Solo frozen in carbonite. But a true E-Ticket popcorn bucket arrived for Rivers of Light. Based on the show’s iconic lotus flower, the popcorn bucket not only looks visually stunning, but it also lights up. A game changer in the world of popcorn buckets and we love it.
# 5 – Lotus Flower Drink Topper
We’re not the biggest fans of glow cubes in drinks, but themed glow cubes? Now you’re talking. While Disneyland has the cute turtle drink topper, over in Walt Disney World we have an awesome glowing lotus flower. Once the sun goes down, this little flower looks wonderful in any drink, and even makes a beer look better! These toppers are available at Thirsty River Bar and Snacks, directly across from the Rivers of Light theater.
# 4 – Rivers Of Light Themed Cupcakes
We’re pretty serious about our cupcakes down here in Florida, and the Rivers of Light themed cupcakes available at Creature Comforts do not disappoint. Sometimes a cupcake’s “theme” is just a logo slapped onto it (we’re looking in your direction Princess Half Marathon cupcake,) but the Rivers of the Light cupcakes go all out. There is a lotus flower cupcake (did we mention the lotus flower is the unofficial icon of the show?) and a firefly cupcake. The “fireflies” are a nice moment in the Rivers of Light pre-show. Right now, over in Disneyland, guests are going crazy over Beauty and the Beast themed food in Fantasyland. Hopefully between the items themed to MSEP, Beauty and the Beast, and Rivers of Light, Disney will start seeing how much guests appreciate these unique options.
# 3 – Souvenir Cups
Regular SATURDAY SIX readers know how much we love souvenir cups. In fact, they may be our favorite of all theme park souvenirs. The cups designed for Rivers of Light are right up there with the best of them, however there is a small catch. If you remember the early concept art for Rivers of Light, lanterns looked to play a significant part of the show. Those who saw the previews in November reported that Cast Members walked through the crowd and interacted with lanterns to start the show. When Rivers of Light officially debuted this February, pretty much anything to do with lanterns was cut. The souvenir cups for Rivers of Light are tied in directly to the lantern aspect of the show.
Now we’re almost certainly going to see changes to the Rivers of Light show over the coming months, and there’s a good chance the lantern part of the show will be reintroduced back into it. The souvenir cups also light up, just like the lotus flower popcorn bucket and drink topper. In a souvenir cup first, one of the lanterns actually folds like a paper lantern. Just incredible.
# 2 – The Merch
Great news for merchandise fans, as Rivers of Light debuted with a ton of great items. Not only are there the usual open edition pins, shirts, and magnets, as well as a really great design exclusive to Annual Passholders. There are glowing Rivers of Light lanyards, kid friendly light-up totems featuring animals, and even those weird Mickey Ear Christmas Ornaments that we see at the Disney Outlets. The best item has yet to make its debut in the parks, but it appears an official Rivers of Light soundtrack will one day be available on CD. This will be a must get, as the music for the show is an ear worm that will stay with you for a long time.
# 1 – THE SHOW
Rivers of Light is not your standard Disney show, and that is a good thing. A while back we wrote a SATURDAY SIX knighting up for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, and said that we need to cherish the show because we’ll mostly likely never get anything like it again. Disney was clearly headed towards shows based exclusively around intellectual properties, and it didn’t seem like we would ever see a truly original show again. In a nice surprise, Rivers of Light features zero IPs. It’s also a show that makes guests work to understand the whole story, which adds a whole new level of rewatchability as each showing reveals details you may not have noticed previously.
Rivers of Light has been criticized for having no “wow” moment, but what it does have is a show filled from beginning to end with “Disney Magic” and how did they do that technology. Before the show officially begins, there is a great touch featuring the fireflies we mentioned earlier. This reminded us of the elements that get crowds ready for the Tree of Life Awakenings shows, where for brief moments it appears animals on the tree are coming alive. When the lotus flowers float their way in front of the audience, everyone in the theater is ready.
What follows is a spectacular that contains elements we have seen before in shows such as DCA’s World of Color and Animal Kingdom’s own Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, but presented in a whole new way. After the lotus flowers start the show, they are joined by shamans on boats, who represent the forces of fire and water. Later we get a crowd pleasing appearance of four large floats that feature elephants, owls, a turtle, and a tiger. When these animals leave, they reappear on screens (while the projections on the water screens are a huge improvement over the Jungle Book show, Rivers of Light also has projections on the sails of the ships which look perfect). The show is filled with many subtle moments. You could spend one show just watching the performance of the shamans and get a totally different perspective than someone else just taking in “the big picture” and trying to take it all in at once. The music is fantastic, and the narration gives the show more of an IllumiNations feel rather than something like Wishes. While not perfect, it is a definite Must See on your next Disney trip and prepare yourself even more with this article on What You Need To Know Before Seeing Rivers of Light.
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s RIVERS OF LIGHT! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, co-host of the Grim Grinning Hosts podcast Travis Terrell, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2017 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now and support SIX NATION (boy do we need a better name than that.)