The new sound-and-light show, which lasts 15 minutes, takes place along the lagoon formed by the Discovery River. Rivers of Light is rich in symbolism and conveys the story of the relationship of humans, animals, and the forces of nature on our planet.
The show features 11 floats, including two carrying storytellers. But do not expect a narrative, a plot, or a traditional storytelling with heroes and villains. Rivers of Light is anything but that. Even the storytellers do not talk but rather express the story using Balinese shadow puppets.
In a recent press release, Disney explained that each float with an Animal Spirit Guide represents a different element: An African Elephant and her calf embody Earth; a Turtle and her baby signify Water; a Great Horned Owl and her owlets symbolize the Sky; and an Asian Tiger represents Fire.
The Animal Spirit Guides are introduced on the lagoon before the show starts, and their shadows are projected on the tree canopies and the riverbank. Of course, because guests have never seen the press release, nobody really knows what they’re watching beyond a water pageant about animals and nature.
Disney calls the larger-than-life lotus flowers Asian-inspired lantern floats. Either way, it is from these floats that water spouts. Animal scenes are projected onto mist screens, and laser light projections round out the experience.
The soundtrack, with a musical score created by songwriter and composer Don L. Harper and the signature song “We Are One” written by Mark Mancina, is simply amazing. The combination of colors, light, and music is soothing. Rivers of Light does not have any fireworks because they would disturb the animals in the park, but one could argue that the show is somewhat similar to Disneyland’s World of Color or Epcot’s Illuminations!.
Rivers of Light is much like a three-ring circus: there’s stuff going on everywhere but rarely a specific point of focus. As with a circus, it’s big and impressive, but not easy to comprehend as an integrated whole.
Walt Disney Imagineers collaborated with noted New York-based costume designer Irina Kruzhilina to produce designs that reflect a combination of Native American, European, and Far Eastern cultures. The show’s costumes are fabulous and incorporate 81 different embroidery motifs, 180 different fabrics, and more than 250 various bead designs.
Limited Capacity Makes FastPass+ Reservations a Must
Rivers of Light, like all new attractions, is extremely popular, and a FastPass+ is a must. The amphitheater, unlike the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater (home of Disney’s Hollywood Studios Fantasmic!), holds only approximately one-third of all guests that visit Animal Kingdom on an average day. Even during the busy season, when the show is presented daily, with two showings per night, not everybody will be able to get a seat in the amphitheater.
Another option for a guaranteed seat, albeit an expensive one, is to spring for one of the Rivers of Light Dining Packages.
The Cost of a Rivers of Light Dining Package
Breakfast at Tusker House starts at $39 for adults and $23 for children ages 3 to 9. Lunch and dinner prices start at $52 for adults and $32 for children ages 3 to 9. Lunch and dinner packages at Tiffins start at $67 for adults and $26 for children ages 3 to 9.
As always, we recommend you double-check showtimes, dates, and dining package availability prior to your visit. You can do so on the official Rivers of Light page. For more information and dining package availability, check here.
If you are a lucky FastPass+ holder, or if you have purchased a dining package, you should still arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the show to claim your seat. Long lines form at the entrances to the show. There are several entrances: one in Asia near Expedition Everest (Fastpass+ seating – shown on picture hereunder), one across from the Finding Nemo theater entrance (dining package seating area), and one a little farther towards Dinoland U.S.A. (standby seating area).
While it is possible to leave the theater (Cast Members will give you a lanyard to wear, allowing you to return), I recommend that you stay put. Bring a snack and a drink, and relax before the show. There are no bathrooms inside the theater, so take care of business prior to entering the show.
Where to See Rivers of Light Without a FastPass+
The bridge between Expedition Everest and DinoLand is a good option. But remember, you won’t be the only one so arrive early to claim your spot!
You can also position yourself along the walkway between the Yak and Yeti Restaurant and Expedition Everest.
We do not recommend the spot in the waterside seating area of the Flame Tree Barbecue, as the water screens and projections come from there and you won’t be able to see much of the show from this location.
Trust Disney, there is no shortage of merchandise for Rivers of Light. There is the obligatory T-shirt, coffee mug, Christmas ornament, blanket, and even a shot glass. The Glow With The Show wand features the four animals of the show topped by a lotus flower. The wand interacts with the music of the show. I really prefer the wand to the glowing Mickey ear hats, as they do not interfere so much with the view of other guests. Our favorite souvenirs are the Rivers of Light mugs and the lotus-shaped popcorn bucket.
Rivers of Light is definitively worth your time. I believe that, to really take in all the sights and sounds, you ought to see it twice. Is there room for improvement? Yes. At times the show is a little too slow paced, and there are quite a few empty spaces on the water that could use some activities (more light). Missing are hundreds of floating lanterns that initially were foreseen but have yet to make it into the show.
For more information on visiting Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa.