Review: Disney's Rivers of Light show turns on the H2-oh!
Last spring, Disney’s Animal Kingdom teased the media with a brief preview of Rivers of Light, a theatrical show that carried the promise — and the burden — of being a signature event designed to keep guests into the park’s new evening hours. Disney anticipated a summer opening.
What it didn’t anticipate was delay after unexplained — technical issues? — delay. Cue 2017: Finally, Friday night, came the official premiere of Rivers of Light, and we generally liked what Disney calls a “visual mix of water, fire, nature and light.” Well, that description is certainly accurate.
Rivers plays like a mashup of other Disney shows such as IllumiNations (Epcot) and World of Color (Disneyland’s California Adventure). The production takes place just after sunset in the new 5,000-seat amphitheatre near Expedition Everest on the edge of Discovery River. (An aside: The Everest experience is one of Animal Kingdom’s best nighttime highlights.)
In Rivers, four illuminated lotus blossoms float across the water to open the show and serve as its catalyst. The elements also include a projection canvas of sprayed water, two lantern boats carrying “mystical storytellers” and colorful lantern barges representing animals such as an elephant, lion, turtle and owl.
There is an overarching narrative — something about a ceremonial “affirmation of nature” set to an original score, which is of the usual uplifting Mouse-meets-Mannheim Steamroller variety. The storyline isn’t exactly clear — what, exactly, is up with those nautical storytellers? — and we suspect most people won’t care. The question for guests, especially those with children, will be: Do I want to linger past sunset to see the 15-minute show or head to dinner? Our take: It’s worth it for the stunning visuals, which are driven by those wonderfully articulated lotus blossoms whose choreography includes shooting out colorful and arching columns of water set to the show’s soundtrack. The projections on the canvas of water spray at the rear of the amphitheatre also are stunning and use animal scenes from Disney nature films. Kids, especially, will love them.
Our favorite may have been a jumping whale whose landing and the spray of the water feature were particularly well-timed. (We have to wonder: Will these projections soon include a few scenes from Avatar to tie into the new park attraction?)
Rivers of Light has a lot of moving parts so it may take more than one viewing to be confident you’ve seen all the details That said, despite its H2-oh! moments, once you've had the full experience, Rivers isn’t something locals and pass-holders will want to see on every visit. Think of it as more of an occasional pleasure than an everyday one.
If you go
Rivers of Light will play at 7:15 and 8:30 p.m. on weekends and select evenings until the summer, when the park is expected to extend its hours with new attraction Pandora: The World of Avatar, which opens May 27. You can reserve a FastPass for Rivers as well as dining packages that includes reserved seating. For reservations, visit disneyworld.com/dining or call (407) 939-3463.