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Rivers of Light – Review (no spoilers)

Rivers of Light is a new evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s currently most famous for having been delayed quite a bit since the intended opening date of April 22nd, 2016. It began public “invite-only” soft-opening shows on February 10th for anybody with a FastPass+ reservations or is an Annual Passholder or DVC Member who is able to collect a wristband. It lasts approximately 18 minutes, and is filled with projections, water cannons, water misters, boats, and floats.

I’ve seen it described by some as a longer version of the intermission scene of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, where the globe floats to the center of World Showcase Lagoon. This is not an inaccurate description, but also not an entirely accurate one either. It joins nighttime rides on Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life projection shows, and the soon-to-be-opened Pandora: World of Avatar (which itself opens on May 27th, 2017) in expanding Animal Kingdom’s evening offerings. Like the Tree of Life projection shows, it does require you to bring some interpretation with you; it’s not always 100% clear what Disney is trying to get across. That last point, however, is one of the things I really like about Rivers of Light. Different people will see different things in it, and that’s fantastic.

There are no fireworks in Rivers of Light, which is necessitated by all of the animals in such close proximity to the performance area. But do not let the fact that this isn’t a Disney Nighttime Spectacular (TM) steer you away from Rivers of Light, it is still well worth viewing. The folks over at Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, and I imagine also Walt Disney Imagineering, have perfected projection technology on water. Moreover, they’ve been able to project on multiple mediums of water; there are heavy-mist “screens” in the back of the performance area, smaller spheres of mist that move around during the show, and finally greater areas of fog that are used to show moving images.

Floating lotuses and gigantic, illuminated animal floats join two boats, a “warm” red boat, and a “cold” blue one dance a beautifully choreographed dance around the Discovery River, supplemented by beautiful music and four live performers, two on each boats. One of each of those performers is designated the Teacher, and they help tell the story of Rivers of Light along with spirits of tigers, owls, elephants, and turtles, supplemented by projections and dancing jets of water that seem as if someone said “Have you seen the show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas? We’d like to do that, but we want the foundations for the show to float on top of a lake and move autonomously.” It’s a remarkable thing, to be sure.

I quite enjoyed the show and the message behind it. It is a show that, photographically, rewards wide shots and tight shots, but not too much in between. Discovery River is gigantic, and the floats and boats use every inch of water that they can. As a result, things are very wide left-to-right, but not so much top-to-bottom. Be prepared to crop your shots if there’s a boring sky. Telephoto lenses will not suffer from this so much, but they’ll miss the scale and breadth of everything together. That isn’t a bad thing, however, as the floats and performers are so incredibly detailed that to not capture them close-up would be a crime.

Overall, I really enjoyed Rivers of Light. I did not take a lot of pictures during this soft open show as I truly wanted to experience the show fully, and I find I cannot do that with my eye up to a viewfinder. In doing so, I learned that this is a show I will keep coming back to, even without my camera, because there is so much going on that one truly cannot see it all during a single viewing. Thankfully, with a rumored three shows an evening during summer operating hours, 15,000 people a night will be enjoying Rivers of Light. It appears roughly half of those seats are reserved for FastPass+, so there are lots of opportunities to watch. I hope you take advantage of them, because it’s a show unlike any other on property. The soundtrack is amazing without being an earworm that sticks with you for months (I’m looking at you, Boo To You) and the technology and details are incredible.

Editor’s Note: Thanks Ben for going to the preview and giving us a taste of what the show looks like.  Extra special thanks for no spoilers. I can’t wait until the next time I can go to WDW to see the new show.