About a year ago, long before I ever dreamed that I’d be living in Florida by now, I planned a little trip to Disney World, excited about the fact that Rivers of Light, the newest nighttime offering at WDW, would be opening in April. Well, April came and went and Rivers of Light was delayed. On and on the year went with no signs of the show’s completion. Then, all of a sudden, several weeks ago, it was announced that Rivers of Light would actually be opening this month! Animal Kingdom’s premiere nighttime show is finally here, and tonight we finally had the chance to check it out. Was it worth the wait? Let’s take a look.
We arrived early as we were too late for Fast Passes. In fact, we were about an hour early, which was a good thing as standby was already heading into the seating area. The thing about Rivers of Light is that it only seats about 5,000 people. And while that may seem like a lot, it actually makes it the smallest viewing space for any WDW nighttime show. Nevertheless, we watched as the sun set on a crowded ampitheater. The theater itself is loaded with little touches. From lanterns with the Rivers of Light signature blossoming flowers on them, to little pile of stone, which give the unique feeling that you are entering a village where a ritual is about to take place. There’s a lot more ambiance to this show than any other at WDW.
As show time neared, the blossoming lilies floated gently into the center of the stage. This is a neat effect as it really gets the audience excited for the show to come.
The show began with drummers on boats, performing a ritual to summon our ancient animal spirit guides who took us on this magical journey. Unbeknownst to us, we had already gotten a sneak peak at our guides as shadows of them raced across the forest pre-show, across the river itself. We also heard these animals through the speakers intermittently between the music playing overhead.
The ritual got into full swing as the lilies began to blast water into the sky, a technique that made up the bulk of Rivers of Light.
And then we were introduced to our spirit guides, each representing an element. A great horned owl for the sky, a tiger for fire. An elephant and her baby for Earth and a Turtle for water.
From here, the show continued to dazzle with a wall of water, onto which images of animals could be portrayed as sort of a backdrop to the artistic water spouts and live performers all across the water’s surface.
All of this culminated with a massive lily which shot out fire as water blasted from its smaller counterparts all around it.
If Rivers of Light is like anything else at WDW, it’s most closely related to Fantasmic which uses all sorts of water walls to tell its story. However, Rivers of Light replaces the idea of fireworks with these amazing fountains of water which feel alive and much more natural than their fiery counterparts. It also never overuses the water wall, and even uses smaller versions of it to create the illusion of holographic animals moving about on the water’s surface.
The spectacle of all of this water and fire and imaging is a bit much to take in. I found myself looking ever which way at all the things around me. In a way, this is very reflective of Animal Kingdom itself. It’s wild. It’s an adventure and the only thing that is predictable is just how unpredictable it is. Rivers of Light mirrors the message of the park with a strong theme of conservation and caring for the Earth and it definitely touches a nerve, especially in a week when animal right’s and conservation laws are being torn down left and right.
I think my favorite thing about Rivers of Light is that it is one of the only nighttime shows in these parks which requires no knowledge of any Disney film. Where Hollywood Studios heavily relies on your love of Star Wars, Rivers of Light simply asks that you care for the world around you. It has no references to Disney films, which makes it easy to enjoy no matter who you are. Because it doesn’t rely on the love of a film or franchise, it gets to stand on it’s own as a work of pure artistry and what’s truly impressive is that it pulls this feat off effortlessly.
If I had to make one critique of the show, it would be the ending. As the lights went dark, I noticed that no one really knew if it was over. For a whole minute, the audience sort of wriggled around, not sure whether to stand or clap or leave. When Wishes ends, you KNOW it is over. But Rivers of Light sort of peters out, and it’s a shame because it gets so much right. I left the theater feeling as though one more big blast of fire or water would have sent it off on a better note. Perhaps this will be something addressed in the coming weeks. Either way, that final 15 seconds is not enough to ruin a riveting 15 minutes of glorious Earth loving, water spouting fun.
Rivers of Light is now showing at Animal Kingdom and it is very worth staying until the end of the night to see it. It’s full of color and beauty and is one of the more poignant nighttime shows. All the “Ooh’s” and “Wow’s” around us gave me the impression that this is the nighttime show that Animal Kingdom has been sorely missing and it easily competes with Fantasmic and IllumiNations for coolest nighttime show. Sorry, Wishes, at least until it’s last breath in May, stands in a class all its own. If you get the chance to see Rivers of Light, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!