Park of the Week: Islands of Adventure

Walt Disney World Closes 'Rivers of Light'

July 16, 2020, 6:14 PM · As the Walt Disney World Resort reopens, it is becoming clear that some attractions - and planned construction projects - will not be returning.

Disney today confirmed that two attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom will not be returning. The Reverchon spinning coaster Primeval Whirl, which has been demoted to seasonal status, is done for good. As is the park's nighttime spectacular, Rivers of Light: We Are One.

Rivers of Light debuted in 2017, after a nearly year-long development delay. The show on the park's Discovery River originally did not feature any Disney IP (unless you count DisneyNature documentaries). That gave the show a fresh, unique appeal - one that I compared, in tone, to the "Firebird" sequence at the end of Disney's Fantastic 2000.

To me, that was the test for whether you'd like the original Rivers of Light or not. Didn't catch it? See for yourself:

Notice that I wrote "the original Rivers of Light." Since some fans simply cannot stand the idea of a Disney World show without Disney characters in it, the resort caved and last summer added IP to the production, renaming it Rivers of Light: We Are One. (FWIW, I never saw it.)

Disney's not putting on nighttime spectaculars this summer, as it looks to enforce safe physical distancing throughout its resorts. So Rivers of Light wasn't going to be playing now anyway. But Disney has confirmed that the show will not return, even when other nighttime shows do.

Don't expect Disney to give up on that amphitheater seating it built along the Discovery River for the show. Eventually, when safety and budgets allow, Disney will create a new nighttime production for Disney's Animal Kingdom. And you can bet that it will include Disney IP from the start.

Elsewhere, Disney has reconfirmed previous reports that Stitch's Great Escape is really, truly done. And that it won't go ahead with the Mary Poppins project that was announced at the D23 Expo last year but that never progressed much beyond the concept stage.

We've told you earlier that the Spaceship Earth redesign was on hold, and now we can report that the Play Pavilion announced for the former Wonders of Life space is not proceeding at this time. Disney will finish the demolition of the old Innoventions buildings at Epcot, but a scaled-down landscaping plan will replace the Dreamers Point and World Celebration Plaza concepts originally slated for that area.

Several theater shows at the resort, including Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo, remain closed for now, but will return when Disney comes to an agreement on safety procedures with the Actors' Equity union and determines at what capacity level running indoor theater shows becomes viable.

Whether Disney can go back to full capacity by next summer will determine the fate of Harmonious, Epcot's IllimiNations replacement. Finally, Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and TRON Lightcycle Run all remain "go," though specific opening dates for those new attractions remain up in the air.

Replies (24)

July 16, 2020 at 6:39 PM

I saw both versions, and enjoyed the show. If they're getting rid of it, I hope the replacement will be better, or at least as good. I still cringe when I think they replaced the spectacular Aladdin stage show at DCA with a merely okay Frozen show.

July 17, 2020 at 6:17 AM

I saw the original on my last visit in September 2017. That theater is awesome and the pre-show characters walking the stands had a real Cirque du Soleil vibe that had me excited. Ultimately the show disappointed and I found it very boring. Not something I would have seen again. I did not walk away thinking the thing missing was Disney IP though.

July 16, 2020 at 8:07 PM

Ugh, this is gonna be a rough few years for new attractions.

July 16, 2020 at 8:25 PM

I felt ROL needed more pyro to give it that extra "umph," the (original) show was pretty good and had a great soundtrack, but the lack of fire and lights and stuff like that made it a let down for a lot of people IMO. It was kind of like one big moment that never happened. Really great message and sountrack but after its first year the attendance for the show seemed lack luster, sadly I think that space is going to sit empty for a long time.

July 16, 2020 at 8:39 PM

While cinema can sell any emotion and most of all sells growth, theme parks sell joy and astonishment - you better be surprised and happy if you're paying so much to walk around a park. People are willing to sit through a movie like Taxi Driver because they want to FEEL. I assume this was the main problem of why Rivers of Light, which is slowly-paced and far more cinematic, failed.

July 16, 2020 at 9:22 PM

I know that there most likely isnt any plan right now to utilize the space Primeval Whirl takes up but I wonder what might go there. Or they might just not do anything with it for the next couple years (or longer) and change Dinoland to a different theme in time.

July 16, 2020 at 9:25 PM

COVID-19 has been a massive win for Bob Chapek, aka the worst thing to happen to Disney in half a century. WDW will never be what it could have been it could be now because his grubby little garbage hands got hold of it.

July 17, 2020 at 5:48 AM

I only saw Rivers of Light for the first time last year and it didn't do a lot for me. They are probably restricted with all things sound related so it was far from being "spectacular" but it didn't create any emotions with me at all. I don't think having Disney IPs in it, or not, made any difference, it was really quite boring. I won't miss it but expect a (much) better replacement is already being planned.

July 17, 2020 at 6:30 AM

nrainone: "WDW will never be what it could have been it could be now because his (Bob Chapek's) grubby little garbage hands got hold of it."

I Respond: What the hell are you talking about? I was disappointed in Mr. Chapek's initial public comments on COVID-19 ("a bump in the road") and took him to task on thread's at this, august site (community). But "DW will never be what it could have been it could be"? And then you refer to it as as "massive win" for Mr. Chapek -- with no further explanation? I mean ... my God.

July 17, 2020 at 7:35 AM

What stands out for me is that Disney has pushed forward on the largest capital investments at the Walt Disney World parks -- TRON, Guardians and the Star Wars hotel. Mary Poppins, a replacement for Stitch and Play Pavilion might have been interesting, but they were never going to be gatecrasher productions. It's definitely heartbreaking that the re-imagined Futureworld is going to be scaled back. The concepts were quite breathtaking. To think we will never see them is disappointing.

But, from where I sit, the decision to move forward on those much larger attractions is a harbinger for better days ahead. When the company pressed pause, they must have gone through a titanic evaluation related to the its future. I find it difficult to believe that they would re-start construction if their models did not provide reason press the "go button" on attractions that will cost tens of millions (or maybe, hundreds of millions) to complete.

July 17, 2020 at 7:39 AM

Covid 19 has been a massive loss for Chapek and Disney as a whole. No movies can be released in theatres, most of the parks and resorts are closed, the cruise ships are docked and empty, and movie and TV production is halted. 2019 was a great year for Disney, and Iger picked the perfect time to step down. 2020 wasn’t going to be as successful for Disney even without covid, but now Disney and most companies are struggling. The theme parks might never fully recover. That’s far from good news.

July 17, 2020 at 10:26 AM

Just so we are all on the same page, Mr. Iger has not stepped down in the classic sense. Additional, as the company's largest shareholder (he has 1,150,138 shares and the guy is second place has 141,301 shares) he has a vested interest in the decisions being made regarding ... well, pretty much everything.

July 17, 2020 at 10:48 AM

Boy, this is not unexpected, but is is painful. EPCOT is my favorite WDW park and while living in San Diego as not afforded me the chance to visit it in many years, I was excited about coming back to see what it was to become. Now, it seems like those high and mighty plans will leave what was left in an even less than state. It's just such a sad thing. Excuse me, I need to go be by myself for a while.

July 17, 2020 at 11:07 AM

The loss of Rivers of Light indicates to me that maybe Imagineers were never really happy with the result of the long-troubled production. Amid numerous technical delays and complications, the result was a show that didn't connect with audiences - for the record I thought the original production was solid, and no doubt park executives forced changes to inject unnecessary IP into the show. The changes resulted in a production that had a stale sameness to Illuminations, Fantasmic, and World of Color. The problem with Rivers of Light is that it lacked that unique hook to set it apart from other Disney nighttime productions, which is what the original story and concept free of IP was supposed to provide.

It concerns me that if Rivers of Light could not survive, what happens to HarmoniUS and the future of a nighttime show at struggling EPCOT. Rumors claim that HarmoniUS is even more technically advanced than Rivers of Light, though the show is supposed to already contain IP and characters, so will Imagineers be able to find a middle ground that can be successful and still have wide appeal, particular among EPCOT fans that tend to skew older than the other WDW parks?

My feeling about the projects that have been maintained at WDW is that those represent the ones where significant investment have already been made. Many of the announced projects that have been cancelled or pared back have not begun significant construction, while the three biggies (Tron, Guardians, and the Halcyon) already have completed a majority of their vertical construction. Those projects have already passed a point of no return, and would stand as gravestones on their respective parks if they were abandoned. Moving forward with those attractions doesn't really give us any sense as to the future of theme park investment.

July 17, 2020 at 3:37 PM

"But, from where I sit, the decision to move forward on those much larger attractions is a harbinger for better days ahead."

I disagree. Pushing ahead with big headline grabbing attractions is all well and good, but it hardly speaks to confidence in the short term future.
Carrying on with investment in 2nd or 3rd tier enhancements or attractions would be a much bigger statement. After all, it'd the little touches and embellishments that can make the most difference, there's no point moving ahead with an immersive ride that you have to walk down a plain white hallway to.

July 17, 2020 at 4:17 PM

I am curious as to why Disney no longer believes they can build outstanding attractions without IPs.

Tomorrowland & Adventureland were built without attractions tied to IPs. While Frontierland drew on characters such a Davy Crockett and were their early ties to Disney programming, Disney's most creative work IMO remains what they created without IP.

Epcot was built entirely without IPs and even some of their second Iterations such as World of Motion/Test Track... no IP. Soarin' no IP. Grizzly river rapids, no IP. Expedition Everest? Dinosaur?

July 17, 2020 at 6:54 PM

It's not that Disney "no longer believes they can build outstanding attactions without IPs." I don't think there is any doubt from anyone they can, it comes down to the fact that from a business perspective what they are doing is working.

July 18, 2020 at 7:28 AM

I only saw the original version and I have to say ROL didn't do it for me sadly. The thing I found, you get there and seated some time before the show and then the anticipation starts to build, 15-30 minutes later the show starts, it is pretty but it just didn't quite reach a wow factor for me. I understand they can't have fireworks or louder sounds. To me it seemed like a 'show' you could have on the lagoon, but not have people seated, rather just walking around and enjoying the spectacle as they wander around the lagoon (maybe a bit like the electrical water pageant on the seven seas lagoon)

July 18, 2020 at 1:21 PM

Although its fate is in limbo, Play Pavilion has no IP

July 18, 2020 at 10:34 PM

Play Pavillion was going to be entirely IP based

July 19, 2020 at 10:47 AM

@the_man No it wasn't and the name of the attraction was not IP based -- as in Pixar's Play Pavilion" or "Hamilton's Play Pavilion."

July 20, 2020 at 7:14 AM

Play Pavilion was supposed to be loosely based on Ralph Breaks the Internet, which itself has numerous references to many other IPs.

July 20, 2020 at 5:50 PM


Um ... okay.

July 21, 2020 at 11:33 AM

I never felt ROL was bad because it lacked Disney IP. I felt it was bad because it was boring. The soundtrack was amazing, but once you'd seen the "floats" meander around for a few minutes, you'd kind of seen the entire show. It felt too high-concept. It may have been celebrating animals, but it lacked any kind of *human* connection. There was no *story,* and Disney's nighttime shows typically do have at least a vague storyline.

And Robert, honestly, the "Disney IP" comments are a little unfair. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth had zero Disney IP, and it's one of the longer-running and more-beloved shows. Sure, Fantasmic is all about the characters, but Illuminations has always managed to make a strong connection. Even "Epcot Forever" doesn't feature "Disney IP" until the very end (and does so very poorly), but instead is a nostalgia play for Epcot attractions.

ROL felt like it was intended mainly to be a showcase for the technology. "Look what we can do with autonomous barges!!!" Nobody ever thought about the story it was supposed to be telling, how the audience fit into that story, or anything. It was just meant to be "pretty." Heck, the ending was so un-spectacular that the "thank you" announcement caught almost everyone by surprise. "Wait, it's over?"

It was a non-story intended to keep people in the park longer, better utilize a corner of the park, and showcase a technology they spent years figuring out. All the wrong motivations for a successful nighttime spectacular. I'll agree with Mike: if this had just been the floats and the music along the entirety of Discovery River, with a "show stop" at the lagoon – more a "water parade" than a "spectacular" – it would have been more loved. The Tree of Life could have been incorporated with it more. Honestly, the "Awakenings" are more spectacular, surprising, and charming than ROL ever was.

We met one of the show producers for ROL on vacation. He left the company shortly after the show opened.

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