Theme Park Insider

Disney finds a new way to wrap up your day, with Rivers of Light

March 8, 2017, 7:23 AM · LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — What's the perfect way to wrap up a day in a theme park? A rousing fireworks display? A flashy parade, featuring every IP in the park? Or maybe after a day in which you've overloaded every sense in your body, you just want to sit down and be awed by something beautiful.

If that's what you crave at the end of the day, then Rivers of Light at Disney's Animal Kingdom is the show for you.

A 15-minute musical presentation, on the Discovery River, that features mystic shamans, water projections, dancing fountains, giant floating "lanterns," and a tower of fire at the end, Rivers of Light offers viewers far more than the sum of these parts. It's the energy of Rivers of Light that distinguishes this performance from Disney's many other night-time spectaculars around the world. While those other shows draw upon Disney's deep reservoir of IP to power their narratives, Rivers of Light aims for something more simple yet far more profound —: a single focus on the power of nature.

That focus lends the show gravitas, but that carries risk — that the seriousness of the focus will weigh down the narrative, leaving it ponderous instead of inspiring. No one wants a lecture at the end of the day. But Rivers of Light deflects this risk with non-stop movement: illuminated animals that float across the water, projections that animate the river, and fountains that soar toward the heavens. To use a cliche from my journalism school days, Rivers of Light shows, not tells.

Disney's worked this theme before — appealing to a natural theme with music and imagery — perhaps most notably in the "Firebird" sequence at the end of Fantastia 2000. Let's consider that the barometer for your enjoyment of Rivers of Light. If you rolled your eyes or yawned at "Firebird," stay away from Rivers of Light. But if, like me, you adored "Firebird," prepare to endure the necessary hassle to ensure your place on the riverbank to see this show.

Yeah, about that. Disney offers about a fourth of the approximately 3,000 seats in the amphitheater for stand-by guests, who started queuing two and a half hours before the performance. On a Tuesday. In early March. I don't want to imagine how early you'll need to arrive to secure a place when Spring Break gets rolling in a couple weeks.

Try instead for a Fastpass+ reservation, or book one of the Rivers of Light dining packages at Tiffins or Tusker House. While those reservations go fast, keep checking. After several failed attempts at getting a Fastpass+, I managed to snag one the morning of the day before my visit, allowing me to dump the Tiffins reservation I'd made a week earlier, taking the last available dining package slot at either restaurant for that day. I assume that someone grabbed that one as soon as it came back available.

And if you get a Fastpass+, ignore Disney's recommendation that you arrive 45 minutes before the show. I dropped myself in front of the FP+ entrance in Asia two hours before the performance, and cast members started letting us in 30 minutes later. By 45 minutes before the show, the FP+ seating area was close to 90 percent filled.

Is the show worth all that? Yes. (Okay, assuming you passed my "Firebird" test. Otherwise, oh heck no. And stay away from that side of the park in the two hours leading up to the show, unless you want to become encased in human gridlock.) If you asked me to summarize Rivers of Light in a single adjective, I'd offer "refreshing."

How so? Let's employ the kid test. Other Disney night shows tend to leave little kids in one of two states: overwhelmed and wailing, or jacked up and giddy. The shows are dessert at the end of the day — a giant dose of sugar after an already sweet day. But Rivers of Light is the cheese course at the end of the meal — something rich, yet not sweet.

At the end of the show, I saw in the children around me not giddiness... but calm. They weren't bored — far from it. Their expressions were more of awe. One child just kept staring at the river after the show had ended. Finally, after that long pause, she said, "that was the best show I've see in my life."

Yeah, Rivers of Light passes the kid test. And the jaded theme park reporter test, too.

Watch it: (Video not available in some countries due to Disney's copyright bots.)

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Replies (15)

March 8, 2017 at 7:47 AM · It is very encouraging to see such a commitment from Disney to an original non-IP-based nighttime spectacular.
March 8, 2017 at 8:13 AM · Does anybody know when the show times will be released for July and beyond? As I've tried for weeks now to book the dining package for August when we will be there and it still says there are no times to show on the website?
Thanks in advance!
March 8, 2017 at 8:41 AM · Well... technically it's an IP show, if you consider disneynature an IP.

Oh wait, no one does. Okay, carry on....

March 8, 2017 at 9:24 AM · Fantastia does make me yawn at times. Just need coffee before the show.
March 8, 2017 at 10:26 AM · I will not weigh on this one way or the other until I see it live. But AK tried the "characterless" parade and was met with guest complaints which lead to "Mickey's Jammin Jungle". Tapestry of Nations was a beautiful parade at Epcot but it lacked characters and people complained. Personally I think it's refreshing to have alternatives and I am 90% certain I will love Rivers of Light....but we'll see how it fares once several shows have run.

I did watch 2 different youtube videos of it and at the normal "breaks" during the show after specific songs, there was a spattering of applause. The endings of both videos did have crowds cheering, but not during the show that you find at other nighttime spectaculars.

March 8, 2017 at 10:40 AM · I've heard other reviewers say that the show doesn't have a 'wow' moment, that it's not worth seeing more than once. But maybe as you say, it's a good nightcap for Animal Kingdom.
March 8, 2017 at 11:05 AM · Disfan
"I've heard other reviewers say that the show doesn't have a 'wow' moment, that it's not worth seeing more than once. But maybe as you say, it's a good nightcap for Animal Kingdom."

Yea, if you want an honest, balanced review with the pros and cons of a show, don't look at TPI for guidance. Unfortunately, this is more of PR puff piece than an actual, honest-to-goodness review.

March 8, 2017 at 11:09 AM · Rivers of Light seems to be a good fit for the mellower vibe of Animal Kingdom in the evening. The Tree of Life Awakenings are quite lovely in person and Rivers of Light is much in the same vein. Hopefully guests will respond well to the unique flavor of Animal Kingdom at night.
March 8, 2017 at 11:37 AM · "Rivers of Light is the cheese course at the end of the meal — something rich, yet not sweet."

I love this analogy. I also loved the Firebird segment from Fantasia 2000. I will be in Orlando in October and now I really want to see Rivers of Light. It's going to be interesting to see how the Turkey Leg gnawing masses take to a cheese course rather than a colossal cone of Cotton Candy (hard "K" sounds are always the funniest).

March 8, 2017 at 12:10 PM · It sounds lovely, and no movie tie-in, yes!
March 8, 2017 at 1:13 PM · I saw it the weekend it opened and the crowd control was severely lacking that weekend, I honestly don't think they realized that people lining up for the second show simply wouldn't move at all to let earlier attendees leave. Not realizing that if the others couldn't leave that they couldn't get in, which led to lots of cranky people.

Definitely Fast Pass this, after that first weekend, the next FP available was March 7th even with 2 shows.

I liked the show but...to me, it lacked a cohesive storyline, something to pull it together. It was pretty and well done but to be honest, if I had stood in line for over 2 hours for 15 minutes, I'd have been aggravated. I will have to go see it at a slower time with less crowds to see if my opinion changes.

March 8, 2017 at 3:03 PM · Folks did not complain about Tapestry of Nations at EPCOT. That's not true. It was well received, but complicated and costly to run.

EPCOT and the World Showcase was never intended to have a parade. The back-of-house and front of house infrastructure is not there and length of the showcase is too long It was intended to be a limited time offering for the MIllennium and left not due to lack of interest, but because of Disney's original intent. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, because it is not true.

I suspect that interest in Rivers of Light will wane with time, but I think Disney's set too many of the problems with this show in stone and won't be able to easily correct them. The seating area is far too small.

March 8, 2017 at 7:25 PM ·

March 9, 2017 at 6:57 AM · Couple questions, does anyone know what exactly caused the long delay for this show to roll out and did they cut major elements form the original idea or time to the show?
March 9, 2017 at 5:37 PM · I just had 30 high school seniors from Canada, at WDW for 6 days. We hit every park and Disney Springs for a morning and an evening, saw all 5 WDW nighttime shows, and did a day at Universal. I knew that I would love RoL (it was awesome; can't wait to see it again), but was pleasantly surprised that every single high school 'kid' with us loved it! Several said it was their favourite night show, or second favourite. Passed the teenager test too, with flying colours. :-)

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