Debuting a week from tonight, the new water pageant Rivers of Light finally opens at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Like Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the show is unlike anything you’ve seen at Walt Disney World before. Rich in symbolism and storytelling, the elaborate theatrical production takes guests on a 15-minute emotional journey using the mediums of of water, fire, nature and light all choreographed to an original musical score.
Rivers of Light celebrates the majesty of nature and the connection between animals and humans in the world, the performance combines live performers, beautiful floating lanterns, glistening fountains, special effects and authentic animal imagery projected on giant water screens. One thing they show does not have is fireworks, as those would potentially disturb nearby animals.
“Disney’s Animal Kingdom is built around the lives of animals, built around the rules of nature, and those rules dictate that as you move between day and night everything changes…and you’re going to want to see that,” said Joe Rohde, Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. “It all really is summed up by Rivers of Light. In the show, we take this combination of light and water which create life, and out of that comes this fantastically rich explosion of animal life that ultimately rises up and joins the stars.”
We’ll be on hand to see how Disney handles stand-by versus Fastpass+ and Dining Package seating. If it’s similar to the Jungle Book: Alive with Magic show, Fastpass will be on the Expedition Everest side, Dining Packages check in on the Dinoland side, and Standby queues in Dinoland. The arena seats approximately 5,000 people a show. One nights when there is only one performance, you’ll want to arrive early for stand-by. While parts of the show may be visible outside the area, you really won’t have the best experience.
As the sun sets, take your seat at the Discovery River amphitheater at the site of a fabled age-old ritual. You will be seating in one of two distinct “villages” separated by a bridge and the river. Sounds of animals are heard from a nearby forest, and magical fireflies descend from the Tree of Life toward the lagoon, creating a sense of wonder as four beautifully illuminated Lotus flowers float across the water.
The ceremony begins with a stirring musical overture signaling the arrival of a pair of mystical Storytellers, two complementary forces who come to the river bearing gifts of light. They set out from the shore aboard elaborate lantern vessels. Adorned in intricately designed costumes, the hosts engage in a dramatic dance of water and light to summon the animal spirits – an Asian Tiger, Tropical Turtle, African Elephant and Great Horned Owl – and take guests on a wondrous journey across Asian jungles and African savannahs.
Disney challenged renowned Broadway production designer Michael Curry to create vessels that were artistic and stimulating, yet innovative. The commanding lanterns stand 15 feet tall and are 30 feet long, illuminated from within by innovative LED technology.
As the mesmerizing show progresses, Rivers of Light continues to unfold with a powerful musical score created by songwriter and composer Don L. Harper and recorded at the renowned Abbey Road Studio in London. The signature song “We Are One” was written by Mark Mancina, who created the score and was a key collaborator on the music for Disney’s hit animated feature film “Moana.”
A collaboration with Disneynature to incorporate rare nature cinematography showcasing tender animal moments adds rich authenticity to the storyline. Many are never-before-seen moments from Disneynature films.
The crescendo of the evening finale blends triumphant music and a waterfall of colors celebrating the circle of life.
“At the show’s finale, we hope guests will feel like they have been on a tremendous ceremonial and visual journey,” said Michael Jung, Walt Disney Imagineering creative director. “Rivers of Light really provides an affirmation of life and reminds us of the beauty and fragility of the natural world we all share – with animals and one another.”
Technology and attention to detail play starring roles in the new show. The 11 show floats are independent of each other and programmed to follow a choreographed “dance” across the lagoon. More than 50,000 programmable, color-changing LED lights are found in the four Animal Spirit Guide floats alone. Each Lotus float produces its own water screen. Costumes for the storytellers and their acolytes include fabrics using 5,000-year-old dye and weaving techniques.
Performance dates times are available for on Disney’s website and My Disney Experience App. For now there is one performance a night, but the show is not offered every night (so plan ahead). As crowds pick up in the spring the show will move to nightly, then in April it starts running two shows per night.
If you want to do the dining package, which can be a good deal as far as making sure you don’t have to wait long for seats at the Rivers of Life Stadium, you can do so now as well. Packages are available at Tusker House (including the breakfaset Buffet) and Tiffins.
At this point we’ve been waiting much of 10 months for Rivers of Light to make its debut. We sure hope the wait has been worth it.