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!

18 Comment(s):

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to seeing Animal Kingdom at night.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to get back and see the park at night! I may have to add another day so we can check it out twice.

I am going into the Jungle Book show with low expectations. I know this is temporary - Disney has stated as such. And I know they only had 41 days to put this together. I feel other reviewers are not taking that into consideration

Anonymous said...

Just changed our breakfast reservation at Tusker house to include preferred seating for this. 63 days and counting.

Trent said...

I can only afford a Disney day once a year. For that reason, I am only going to Epcot this year. However, when Avatar opens next year, I can't wait to see it and the rest of Animal Kingdom at night, the way parks ought to be seen.

Anonymous said...

The safari and Everest are great after dark. We saw the lion and his pride moving around (rather than just sunning themselves). Everest at night gives great views.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great update! 👍

Anonymous said...

At the prices Disney charges and the high standards they hold themselves to, I don't think it should matter whether it is temporary or not or how many days they had to create it.

Reviewers should NOT take that stuff into account. This is an offering Disney put out to the public and even charged higher prices for (the dining package with Tiffin's). They should be held accountable. Disney used to be better than this. They've turned their focus away from families and over to shareholders. What a shame.

I am sorry to say this, but saying that the time restraints shouldn't be taken into account is ludicrous. Even if Disney has a lot of cash available they can't do miracles. The amount of time they had to create an entirely new nighttime show was too short. Just to create a parade it may take two years. 40 days to put together a 25-minute show is nothing.

Lance said...

Sure, "hold Disney accountable"--don't pay the money if you don't want to see it, pay the money if you do.

(they don't force you to watch it)

Sarah said...

While I realize that there were time constraints involved with putting this show together, I am grateful for the honest reviews. I don't want a reviewer to say a show is good simply because Disney was able to throw one together on short notice.

I'll be in Walt Disney World next month, and we will be spending a day at Animal Kingdom. I don't get to take a trip like this often, so I don't want to waste the little time I have to spend here. Whether the show was put together quickly or not, I need to know if it's worth spending a significant amount of time out of my day to see it. Now, based on the reviews I've seen, I can put the time I would have lost seeing a mediocre show into doing something more worthwhile for us.

I do regret that I am not able to make it to Orlando (from Germany) this year.
"THE JUNGLE BOOK: ALIVE WITH MAGIC" though does put some relieve on me, I have watched parts of the show on youtube ... pls Disney - fix it and come back to your old standards.

With all the things in Disney's pipeline I am very sure though that all will finally come together.

As I said, I used to be in Orlando 1-2 times a year, but with all these thigns going on right now (not only Disney!), including jungle book, I am more than looking forward to be back in about latest 12 months from now...

@Sarah: I hope you counted our review as being one of the honest reviews. Even though we have stated that we take into consideration the time constraint, we don't believe to have sugar-coated our review. We still believe it would not work as a permanent show, but in our personal opinion, it's not that big disaster everyone wants you to believe. For example, Universal's Cinematic Spectacular is MUCH worse that The Jungle Book in our personal opinion. Does that make The Jungle Book sound more appealing? No, it does not. But there are less entertaining shows out there.

Sarah said...

@OTPN: Yes, I do feel you did a good job of addressing both the positives and negatives of the show. I didn't mean to imply otherwise- I just wanted to illustrate why a straightforward review, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the show, is appreciated. I'm not really big into stage shows, so this one is going to be a pass for us. If it was really spectacular, my mind may have been changed. Thank you!

@Sarah: Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to reply! Hopefully you will enjoy Rivers of Light. We expect that to be spectacular. I truly hope it won't disappoint, as we have a much higher standard for it.

gabe said...

My wife and I just got back from the World today and we were able to take in the nighttime festivities (most of them) at AK.

Jungle Book was quite a mess. Not the worst, but not very good. On the upside, the new lakeside theater is a beauty and hopefully Rivers of Light is a worthy inhabitant.

Tree of Life Awakening. You have to be pretty cold-hearted not to enjoy this little show. As mentioned in the review above, these are short and sweet little projection shows that are different throughout the night. We saw one with a deer and one featuring a bunny and both were really enjoyable. Fun addition to the park.

Nighttime Safari. We really enjoyed this even though I'm still on the fence overall about that giant LED screen with the fake sunset. Frankly, I think it's going to confuse people as to what exactly it's supposed to be. Several people on our safari asked the driver point blank what they were seeing and the driver was sure to answer off-mic ("It's the sunset"). We saw many of the animals that we usually see during the day, including the lions, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, hipppos, etc.

Entertainment at Harambe Village. We only managed to catch the acrobats, but they put on a great 15-minute show. Grab a Tusker Lager at the Dawa Bar next door and just enjoy the show.

Bonus: Tiffins and Nomad Lounge. The new sit down restaurant at AK (and the attached lounge) were big hits for the wife and I. No kidding - the meal we had at Tiffins (I had steak and brisket; wife had a chicken dish) were the best meals we've had on property in years. Yes, it's a pricey place, but I think it could be a real hit. The food and the service (thanks, Alan), were fantastic!

Our Family said...

Yes Sarah! These thoughts exactly!! I saw the show last night and was sorry I wasted a fast pass. I am certainly glad I did not waste $$ by doing the special dining/seating. See the show if you wish, but use your time wisely as I wish I had used mine riding Everest multiple times - regardless of Disney's time constraints!!

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