Liesle and I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom this past Friday, which marked the first night of the new extended hours, along with the new nighttime experiences taking place there now. Above is the scene on the river just across from Expedition Everest when we arrived in the early evening, complete with the floating stages used in the new show, titled Jungle Book: Alive with Magic.
The show is scheduled to run twice nightly, at 9:00pm and 10:30pm, and FastPass+ is available for the show.
Above is the scene on the pathway just in front of Expedition Everest, taken at around 7:30pm, or 90 minutes before the first show time. Note the rope running down the middle of the pathway, which is used to mark off the section of the pathway being used for the FastPass+ entrance.
There are two main entrances for the show, with FastPass+ guests entering here near Expedition Everest, and Standby guests entering over near the Finding Nemo show just outside DinoLand USA.
Opening night for the show proved to be very busy, with seemingly every theme park blogger in town attending, plus the thousands of guests who wanted to see what the new show was all about.
Above is the view of the front of the Standby line, at just after 7:30pm. For the first show at least, Disney started the line here just outside the DinoLand entrance, and wound it back around the pathway into DinoLand itself.
It’s difficult to see, but the end of the line is back there near the restrooms and gift shop somewhere. (As usual, you can click on any picture for a larger view.)
Again, this is 90 minutes before show time.
Liesle & I weren’t able to get FP+ reservations for the show, despite numerous “refresh” attempts with Disney’s app, so we would be visiting the show using the Standby queue. We did have reservations for the new nighttime experience on Kilimanjaro Safaris, however, so we opted to ride the Safaris first, just after dark, then come over here and see the 10:30pm Jungle Book show.
We had some time to hang out before dark, so we decided to use our FP+ reservation on Expedition Everest. You can see the Jungle Book show area down on the water below.
That’s the Tree of Life in the top center of the frame.
The Yeti did it… AGAIN. Ugh.
After explaining that I was a V.I.B., (Very Important Blogger), a Cast Member was kind enough to escort me into the Jungle Book viewing area, where I was able to get the above pano shot from the back of the FP+ seating area. This was taken at around 8:00pm, or one hour before showtime. You can click on the picture above if you want to see a much larger view of some of the details here. Hopefully you can see that most of the standby area off in the distance on the left side of the picture has filled in now.
As far as the show layout goes, you have four floating “stages” that are just in front of the viewing areas (two on each side of the bridge dividing the show area — you’ll have to look closely at the picture above to see these), and three more floating stages out farther in the water, one for each viewing area, and another one facing the Asia-DinoLand bridge, just for fun. The water screen projectors are in the very back of the river.
We’ll return here later in this post for some actual scenes from the show.
New nighttime experiences also offer the opportunity for some “glow merch,” including Glow with the Show ears.
The crowd seemed to enjoy this entertainment offering, which performed in the Africa streets out in front of the Safaris.
Interestingly, there were crowds in the park, but most were focused on the new Jungle Book show. Crowds elsewhere in the park were sparse. Here we are in the Harambe Marketplace, at 8:10pm, or just before sunset.
We opted to grab a bite here before visiting the Safaris. Even though crowds were light, service was slow, as they only had one ordering window open.
While Liesle waited in line for the food, I hopped over here to the Safari entrance to check out the “crowds.” As you can see, there weren’t any.
Yes, that’s a ten-minute posted wait at 8:16pm.
Our snack completed, it was dark now and time for our ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris. It’s now 9:08pm.
If you don’t want to read the details, just let me say that I was a bit underwhelmed by this experience, and don’t plan to do this again, unless I’m seeing it with someone else who’s dying to ride at night.
By the way, this would be my first experience on the nighttime safaris. Apparently I’m not an important enough blogger to have scored an invite to the “media preview” they held here a few weeks back, so this is my first time experiencing the attraction.
(Oh, and if someone can tell me how you go about getting 10,000 fake Twitter followers, maybe I can get some “media preview” coverage for you next time. Although if Disney reads my opinion on the new Jungle Book show below, I’m probably banned from such events for some time to come. )
Anyway… back to the Safari ride itself. The picture above pretty much sums up the experience for me. There may be some hippos out there somewhere in the water, but it’s hard to know for sure. I’ve even cranked up the exposure on the picture in post-processing, so the view above is actually brighter than what you’ll see on the ride itself.
The simulated sunset out on the plains was OK I guess.
Seeing the ankole cattle here was probably the best view of the animals we’d have all night.
If you look *really* hard, you can sort of see an elephant or two here. You can click on the picture if you think it might help.
The driver promised us that the lions are up there… somewhere. The shadow silhouette of all of us in the ride vehicle is sort of cool, I guess.
Wrapping it up with this.
OK, if you can’t tell from the commentary, I was pretty underwhelmed by riding the Safaris at night. Sorry to be so blunt and/or negative, but for me the only experience of the evening that was *worse* than this was the Jungle Book show (more on that shortly).
Hopefully as Disney gathers feedback from customers they’ll find ways in which they can tweak this experience so that it offers a bit more than it does currently. In its current state though, it’s very hard to recommend doing the Safaris at night. Especially since you’ll likely want to use a FP+ for this (unless you wait until closer to 11:00pm), thus locking you out of additional FP+ choices during the busy afternoon hours.
ALL IS NOT LOST THOUGH!
(I had to put that in upper-case because this next part is really important lol.)
Remember that ten-minute wait for the Safaris back just a little after 8:00pm? I’m going to apologize for the second-hand account here, but we sat next to a couple during the Jungle Book show who said that they rode the Safaris at around that time, and had a REALLY GOOD view of the ride.
Sunset on Friday was at 8:17pm, and apparently feeding time for the animals is/was right around sunset. They said that they had never had such a good view of the Safaris, and this coming from a couple who’s obviously done the ride multiple times.
Obviously I expect to check this out myself at some point, but this story does offer a silver lining to the nighttime Safaris.
My recommendation is if you want to do Kilimanjaro Safaris, wait until twenty minutes or so before sunset time to get in line, and on all but the busiest days of the year, you should be fine using the Standby line. Friday night at 8:00pm the posted wait was just ten minutes, and last night, Memorial Day, the posted wait was just fifteen minutes. Waits earlier in the day would be much longer, and waits after dark would increase as well, since everyone is trying to do the “new” nighttime experience.
Using the strategy above, you should get the best of all worlds: You still get to see the Safaris in the evening-ish, which is something you couldn’t do before, you get to see lots of animals (emphasis on SEE), and you won’t have to burn a FP+ for this, so you can use it someplace else instead.
A new experience in good light, low crowds, lots of animals. What’s not to like?
I suppose the only drawback to this is that you won’t be able to view the early Jungle Book show. But after you read this next section, you may not care anyway.
I almost hate to move on to the Jungle Book show now, but trudge along we must…
As I said, we decided to see the second show using the standby line, and we got in line at around 9:40pm for the 10:30pm show.
I’m sure Disney is still trying to figure out what works best, but this time, rather than having us line up in DinoLand, we lined up outside one of the exit doors to the Finding Nemo show’s building. The line snaked through the building, outside, back in the building again, then finally outside again and into the Jungle Book seating area.
Seeing the pretty floats out on the water before the show started did offer some hope for something fun.
Looking over to our right, you can see that the FP+ seating area isn’t quite filled in. This was at 10:02pm.
The show starts… and here you go. You have people playing some instruments on the near float, and Cast Members dancing on the float farther out in the water.
While that’s going on, you’d get some images projected on the water screens as well.
A tiger on the water screen, with dancing going on in front of you on the floating stage.
This guy’s twirling some fire sticks. This scene was replicated on all four stages.
As I said earlier, I didn’t really care for this show. I hate to be so negative, especially since when I could focus on individual Cast Members during the performance, I could see that they were really skilled at the dance moves, and were really putting their hearts into the performance.
The problem is really one of focus, I think. You have scenes like the one above, where something’s going on on the far stage, musicians are playing on the near stage (duplicated multiple times around the river), performers are walking up an down the aisles (sometimes with and sometimes without lighted stuff), and the projection on the water screen may or may not be up there as well. With everything happening at the same time, it was just hard to know where to focus, and while the individual performances by the Cast Members were full of energy, it just sort of got lost in the “bigness” of it all. This show seems like it’s more suited for a smaller stage, and actually might be enjoyable as such. Having each stage replicated around the river adds to the distraction, in my opinion. A single stage in a smaller venue might work better.
As I posted on Twitter, it’s easy to take a spotlight for granted sometimes, and Disney could have used a few more of them here, a la Fantasmic!, Festival of the Lion King, or any other number of high quality shows.
Adding to the issues with the show is one of seating. The bleacher-style bench seats seemed spaced much closer together than, say, the Fantasmic! benches, and it was hard to move without putting a knee into the back of the person in front of you. And although the seats are arranged in a stadium style, the angle from the back of the seating area down to the river is quite shallow, making it difficult to see the stage over the shoulders of the people in front of you.
Maybe the show is just going through some growing pains and Disney will fix some or all of this soon. For now though, it’s hard to recommend using your evening for this. I think you’d be better off doing Kilimanjaro Safaris just before sunset, then heading back to the hotel for an early night so that you’re rested for the next morning’s activities.
Rivers of Light can’t come soon enough!
Lest you think the evening was a complete bust, for me the highlight of the evening by far was the new “Tree of Life Awakening” projections. It was quite mesmerizing to stand and watch everything change from one scene to another. The pictures in the series below were taken in a period of about six minutes, just after the park had officially closed at 11:00pm.
It was nice of Disney to keep this running after closing as folks exited the park.
Again, you can click on any picture for a larger view.
I guess that about wraps it up for the nighttime experiences at the Animal Kingdom for now. The Tree of Life Awakening project turned out great. Here’s hoping for some positive changes in the Safaris and river show over the months to come.
As always, if you’re visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World and want a custom game plan designed to minimize the amount of time you spend in line, be sure to check out RideMax.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the new nighttime experiences at the Animal Kingdom. Am I being too harsh? Let me know in the comments below!