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Behind the Ride: Kali River Rapids

Splash Mountain receives all of the attention, but Walt Disney World is home to a second splash ride, one where you're sure to get wet. Kali River Rapids at Disney's Animal Kingdom is more than just a way to cool off on a hot Florida day. It's also one of the most eco-friendly amusement attractions in the world. Let's go Behind the Ride to learn why it's such an important attraction.

The planned experience: A water rapids ride through the Chakranadi River

The problems: noisy boats and easily disrupted habitats

Image: DisneyLike Jungle Cruise before it, Kali River Rapids was once planned as something entirely different. First named Tiger Rapids Run, it would highlight the spectacular Imagineering feat of Animal Kingdom. Boat riders would witness animals frolicking in their natural habitats throughout the attraction.

Park planners wanted to marry the concepts of a working zoo and a theme park with rides on multiple attractions. Kilimanjaro Safaris was one, and the expectation at the time was that Tiger Rapids Run would be the other. Alas, over time, everyone realized what a terrible idea this was.

While driving a jeep through an animal habitat is tricky, it’s a cake walk compared to constructing a boat ride through the same trails. Consider the matter from the ride designer’s perspective. The rafts must follow a path close enough to provide a view of various animals, ones who wouldn’t be spooked by the constant noise and activity.

Image: DisneyEven worse, the rafts must go slow enough that the guests would have time to watch the animals. By going too fast, the vessels would never get to enjoy one of the best parts of the attraction. Disney officials struggled with each parameter, eventually finding an optimal solution for the latter, one we’ll discuss in a bit.

The former seemed like pointless overhead with limited upside, and so Disney ditched the premise. At the same time, they changed the name of the ride from Tiger Rapids Run. Otherwise, everyone worried that guests would expect (and possibly fear) the presence of tigers in a ride that had none.

The experience: A simulation of the Chakranadi River

The trick: Recreating the lush scenery of the area at Animal Kingdom

Image: DisneyIn place of playful animals, Disney chose exotic scenery for their attraction. The setting for Kali River Rapids is the Chakranadi River, a real place in Karnataka, India. Imagineers themed the attraction as a tribute to the Harare province of India with some elements of Nepal included as well.

Starting with the line queue, you’ll feel transported to a faraway land where you’re about to go on a rafting expedition with Kali Rapids Expeditions. The similarities to the later addition, Expedition Everest, are unmistakable.

You'll see many authentic touches before and during the ride. The concept of the attraction is that you're a tourist. You’ll see an odd mixture of ancient ruins, shrines, and thematic statues here. But you’ll also walk past advertisements for bike tours, retailers, and expeditions. In fact, one of the signs is for Anandapur Rail Services, the company that will almost lead you to your doom on Expedition Everest!

Image: DisneyAs you walk and ride through Kali River Rapids, keep your eyes open. You’ll walk past a temple that has shoes lining the doors. This bit of subtle storytelling honors the Asian tradition of removing one’s shoes before entering a place of worship. Many touches like this are visible during the entire ride experience. Count how many you notice during your next ride!

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