Yesterday, May 27th, saw the beginning of nighttime experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including the after dark version of Kilimanjaro Sunset Safaris, the new Tree of Life: Awakenings show, and The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic nighttime spectacular.
Though the start of nighttime offerings at this park was unfortunately stunted a few weeks ago by the technical difficulties experienced by the Rivers of Light show, Disney's Animal Kingdom has forged ahead with nighttime operations, with some very mixed results. What was done well, truly felt magical. However, more than a few things fell flat. Here’s what we thought of these new experiences on their first night of operation:
1. Kilimanjaro Safaris After Dark
Kilimanjaro Safaris is unique among Disney attractions as it is different every time you ride, thanks to the dozens of animals who live within its borders. However, even though you may have had some memorable trips on this attraction, its nighttime version leaves something to be desired.
If you are able to experience this attraction at dusk, (around 7:30PM in the summer), you'll probably get the best experience, as many of the nocturnal animals (like lions, wild dogs, etc.) are very active around this time. The rhinos are also moving around quite a bit in the dusky hours of the evening before nightfall, and one got so close to a truck during our evening ride experience that we had to wait 20 minutes for it to move along before our vehicle started going again.
However, while this ride really shines between 7-8PM, once the sun actually sets (around 8:30PM in the summer), visibility on this attraction takes a nosedive, and even with the special sunset lighting, it's hard to see any of the animals very clearly. Though the route is slightly altered during the evening experience and you'll experience some new elements of the attraction, there is a lot of silence during the attraction as well as guests talking amongst themselves during the ride (mostly about how they can't see any animals).
Kilimanjaro Safaris is absolutely worth going to in the evening hours, but once the sun actually sets, this ride simply isn't as exciting as it is during daylight hours. It's certainly a unique experience, and the way the park creates the "eternal sunset" is nifty, but this attraction is simply better when the sun is out.
2. The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic
When Disney announced that Rivers of Light would not be opening on time just days before its big premiere, fans were disappointed. And then when it was confirmed that a new, temporary show was in the works to replace Rivers of Light for this summer, fans got nervous. How could a temporary show cobbled together in just a few weeks possibly be good?
First the good: if you like The Jungle Book, you'll probably like this show, as it is essentially The Jungle Book in concert. Live musicians play familiar tunes while singers belt out everyone's favorite lyrics, all while dancers move to some truly intricate Indian-inspired choreography. If this show was billed as just a Jungle Book concert, it would be a rousing success. However, as a nighttime spectacular, this show unfortunately fails to live up to what guests probably expect for a nighttime show at a Disney park.
The two biggest problems are the staging and the projections, which both make the show unfortunately hard to watch. Essentially, there are three stationary barges in the water, with the center barge housing the singers, and the other two filled with dancers. In front of these three barges are two stages, which are filled with musicians and more dancers. While you'll be able to see the dancers on the front stages no matter where you are sitting, the barges are hard to see, and the dancers in front are blocking the dancers behind. Making things worse is the fact that the center barge (which has the singers) sits between the two seating areas, which makes it impossible to see straight on, as there are no seats in front of this area). Unfortunately, with this setup, no matter where you're sitting, you don't have a good seat.
And then there's the projections. Behind the stages and then behind the stationary barges, there are water fountains that show images from the Jungle Book film. However, if you didn't know to look behind the barges, you wouldn't see these projections, as not only are they blocked by the awkward staging of this show, but the projection quality is very blurry, and not at all like what guests are used to from shows like World of Color or Fantasmic.
While the Jungle Book: Alive With Magic isn't an intrinsically bad show, it is more of a concert than a nighttime spectacular. And while the strength of the 2016 live action version of The Jungle Book really boosts this show, the amazing source material can only carry it so far, and with the awkward staging and poor projection, this show simply isn't as good as it could be.