For the first time ever, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park remained open to regular park Guests until 11 p.m. on Friday, May 27, 2016. This was, without a doubt, a very important milestone, as it also included the debut of multiple new nighttime offerings that aim to keep Guests entertained throughout the evening.
While fans were definitely excited about these new additions, some were a little underwhelmed after experiencing a few of these activities. Let's find out why.

First of all, it is important to keep in mind that this is just the beginning. We certainly expect to see the park's nighttime offerings continuing to evolve and improve to provide an event better experience. What may be seen as underwhelming today may completely change for the better in the next few months.

Now that we have stated that, let's examine the highlights of Animal Kingdom's new nighttime offerings. As we discuss about them, we will share what we thought was particularly enjoyable and what was not.

Let's begin by addressing the elephant in the room. The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic is the limited-engagement show that park Guests will be able to enjoy twice a night throughout the summer. It features about a hundred live performers, multiple barges (none of them moves, with the exception of those used to transport performers to one of the three barges located in the middle of the lagoon), large fountains, projections, dramatic lighting effects, fire, and a minor pyrotechnic effect at the very end of the show.

While all of that will surely sound quite exciting, theme park fans have been quite harsh in reviewing this show. Among the most common complaints was the lack of a real storyline, the lack of a real "wow" moment, and the low quality of the projections on the huge water screens found behind the barges.

Are all these issues real? Absolutely. Saying that this show is perfect would be one big lie, because it's far from being a show on par with Fantasmic! or other similar nighttime shows. You can count us among those who believe that the storyline was not clear (we have seen The Jungle Book movie, and we loved it; that said, it looks like using the movie's theme was more of an afterthought), and we also agree on the fact that the projections are really hard to see. That said, everything needs to be put into perspective.

What needs to be highlighted is the fact that this show was created in a rush. The Walt Disney World Resort had a little over a month to put together an entirely different nighttime show to temporarily replace the Rivers of Light show. Now, we absolutely agree on the fact that Disney has already created many nighttime spectaculars in the past and is therefore more prepared than other companies to create such shows, but they also got quite a few things right in The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic.

Here's a quick list showing the specific features of this show that we particularly enjoyed:
  • LIVE MUSIC: This is undoubtedly a major component of the experience. No other Disney nighttime show on earth currently has live music. This is a very big plus in our book, as it helps in creating an entirely different experience every time the show is viewed. Of course, it is important to mention that there is also a recorded base that plays during each segment of the show.
  • LIVE PERFORMERS: In addition to performers playing instruments, the cast of the show includes dancers, singers, and many other artists that all work very hard to make the experience enjoyable.
  • THE SOUNDTRACK: The musical score of this show is very catchy. In addition to popular songs from The Jungle Book (they are extremely similar to the songs featured in the original animated movie created by Walt Disney, so everyone will be able to recognize them), the show is infused with Indian-inspired music that is very upbeat. Young kids are even invited to dance along with some performers during a specific segment of the show.
  • THE LIGHTING: The barges, the trees, and even the amphitheaters all come alive during the show thanks to dramatic lighting that enhances the overall show. We were pleasantly surprised by this.
  • THE DURATION OF THE SHOW: The show is about 25 minutes long, which is very similar to the duration of Fantasmic! This helps to avoid having a rushed experience (that would be an even bigger dissatisfier for Guests who waited more than an hour before the show began).
Would this work as a permanent nighttime show? Absolutely not. On the other hand, is this a terrible show that you shouldn't see? Far from it. Our suggestion would be to get to the Discovery River Theater no more than 45 minutes before the second show of the night, as the first show might fill up quickly.

All that being said, we have much higher expectations for Rivers of Light. We can't wait for its debut.

Being one of the minor new additions, we didn't expect much from the Tree of Life "awakenings." We were definitely wrong. In fact, we found these projection shows to be very delightful.

The awakenings consist of multiple (different) projection shows on the park's icon that bring the carved animals to life thanks to "fireflies" that live within the tree. These shows are 4 to 5 minutes long, and take place every 10 to 15 minutes after the sun goes down.

What is great about these short performances is the amazing quality of the projections, the soundtracks used during each of the segments, and the easy-to-follow stories behind the animals that come to life. We were mesmerized by these projections, despite having seen Celebrate the Magic (Magic Kingdom's projection show) many times. The lack of Disney music and characters feels like a breath of fresh air.

Between shows, the animals featured on the trunk of the tree move slightly, showing that they are about to come to life soon. There's even snow falling on the tree before the winter segment. Amazing, isn't it?

This has been one of the most criticized nighttime offerings at Animal Kingdom. Many have lamented the low number of animals visible during the evening hours and the lack of light in certain areas.

While it is true that there are fewer animals visible after the sun goes down (we all should have expected that to happen, though), we do not agree that there is nothing to see. We personally boarded one of the very last trucks of the night (it was around 10:55 p.m.), and we were able to clearly see the following:
  1. Hippos;
  2. Greater Kudus;
  3. Rhinos;
  4. Pink-Backed Pelicans;
  5. Wild Dogs;
  6. Ankole Cattle;
  7. Giraffes
  8. Greater Flamingos;
  9. Lionesses;
  10. Zebras.
Not bad for a nighttime expedition, in our opinion. We saw far less animals at 5 p.m. during one of our visits a few months ago, so we were pleasantly surprised to see so many animals at night. But animals are definitely not the only interesting feature of nighttime safaris at Animal Kingdom.

In addition to new lights installed around the ride path (most of which can't even be seen during the day, as they have been tastefully disguised as trees), new sound effects can be heard in different sections of the ride, and a few new props can be seen near the area where the Black Rhino resides.

We would certainly not encourage first-time visitors to skip Kilimanjaro Safaris during the day, as there are many more animals active when the sun is out, but we would undoubtedly recommend riding again at night to get a different experience (make sure to ride after 10:30 p.m. to ensure a minimal wait time). Even just riding the truck through the dense forest and the savanna is an experience in itself.

Due to the late sunset, we were not able to watch all the new nighttime street shows that take place throughout the park (three hours is definitely not enough to do everything), but we liked what we saw. Guests love interacting with performers, dancing and singing along with them. While music is a staple of most of these new entertainment offerings, some of these new shows involve acrobatics and other interesting features that are sure to please many people.

All in all, the most important thing is that Disney's Animal Kingdom is finally going to be open throughout the evening hours. This absolutely amazing park becomes even more beautiful when the sun goes down. Indeed, while it's definitely nice walking though the open spaces of Epcot and the intimate (yet man-made) environments of Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, Guests walking through Animal Kingdom at night feel completely enveloped in a natural setting that is accompanied by a feeling of mystery and awe-inspiring vistas (including Expedition Everest and the savanna).

What do you think? Are you looking forward to experience Animal Kingdom after dark? Let us know!

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