New Nighttime Entertainment at Animal Kingdom


Animal Kingdom’s new nighttime spectacular, Rivers of Light, officially debuts this summer (delayed from the original date of April 22). Additionally, Walt Disney World has released new information about how Disney’s Animal Kingdom will come alive with nightly magic this summer. This post provides details about Walt Disney World’s newest night show and Animal Kingdom’s “Nightly Magic”, what this means for the park, and how this will all impact Summer 2016 at Walt Disney World.

First, Disney announced that Rivers of Light will open this summer. They also revealed that there would be a live chat on March 8. As a bit of background, Rivers of Light will take place on the Discovery River in the Asia area of the park. The show will center around an ancient lantern festival guided by two storytellers.

These guides will summon four Animal Spirit Guides: an Asian Tiger, Tropical Turtle, African Elephant, and Great Horned Owl. These Spirit Guides return at different points during the show to lead the audience through their journey through the Rivers of Light. The Disney Parks Blog has a video (I assume with spoilers–I didn’t watch for that reason) featuring some of the lanterns, water screens, fountains, light projections, and other tech that will be showcased in Rivers of Light.

Obviously, Rivers of Light is the highlight of the new 2016 offerings at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but there are also some interesting nuggets on a new page on bearing the headline “This Spring, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park Is Now Alive with Magic Nightly.”


Not much is surprising with regard to Rivers of Light, so let’s jump right to the other stuff. As for the other new entertainment detailed as part of the ‘nightly magic’, it makes perfect sense and consistent with what we predicted would be added to supplement Rivers of Light and flesh out the nighttime offerings.

To be honest, I’m surprised by the scope of the added entertainment. It sounds like it will give Animal Kingdom a palpable nighttime energy and provide guests with enough to do as they await the nightly Rivers of Light showtimes (we are hearing rumors that it will be shown 3 times per night in the summer, but that’s unconfirmed).

animal kingdom tree of life

As a photography geek, the Tree of Life Awakenings sounds most exciting, as if this periodic projection show will be emotionally akin to the chills-inducing Kiss Goodnight after park closing in the Magic Kingdom. This show is described as featuring fireflies that awaken the animals’ spirits carved into the Tree of Life, in a ‘visual extravaganza’ with vivid color and animated imagery. It will be roughly 3 minutes long, and will  celebrate the eternal balance and harmony that exists in all living things.

Another new offering is the Discovery Island Carnivale. This will start just before sunset, with drumming and a dance party that “welcomes the night” on Discovery Island. Led by the Viva Gaia Band and “Islander” dancers, it will be a gala celebration for the “Nature Family” that includes us all. The Carnivale could include a light story element as well, with Islander Danza del Arpa taking to the stage to summon the animal spirits with his Paraguayan harp. Uptempo (on-theme) music and elaborate costumes inspired by animal life should make this a dance party befitting of Disney.

Then there’s the Harambe Wildlife Parti, which is another intriguing and diverse party in the New Harambe district. This high-energy street festival starts in late afternoon in Harambe’s Old Square with Afro-Pop musicians the Burudika Band performing music popular in Africa. It’s followed with a diverse and eclectic group of entertainers, including stilt-walking musicians, crane-like a capella musicians, soccer-playing acrobats, and circus performers. None of those are misprints…it should be interesting to see how all of this culminates in a single show. Like all things Animal Kingdom, I’m sure it will be incredibly well done.


What’s most exciting to me about these shows is that they sound like they will be lavish and authentic. This is as they should be, and unlike the lazy “throw in a few costumed characters and inappropriate pop music” approach popular recently in Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Rivers of Light sounds like it’s staying true to Animal Kingdom’s original vision, and so too are these pieces of entertainment (or so it sounds). This is a huge breath of fresh air, and yet another reason why Animal Kingdom could conceptually be in the league of Tokyo DisneySea come Summer 2016.

Both the Parti and the Carnivale sound fairly large scale, with multiple entertainment acts within them. This makes sense, as Disney needs to bridge the gap between the 3 p.m. time many guests presently depart the park, and the Rivers of Light showtimes. Some of this will come in the form of guests spending time doing attractions and having dinner, but this entertainment also plays a crucial role. Think of it all as a de facto pre-show for Rivers of Light.

Expedition Everest Night

All of this means it’s going to be a big year for Animal Kingdom. If the rumors of 3 nightly showings of Rivers of Light are accurate (if there are even 2 showings!), Disney is projecting a huge attendance boom for Animal Kingdom. This would certainly make sense, given the infrastructure work in adding new restaurants, expanding other areas of the park, and even widening walkways. There’s no word on FastPass+ yet for Rivers of Light, but it should be a given (by summer–perhaps not right upon debut) as are dinner packages for the show with reserved seating.

While Pandora is the big-money opening, we stand by our claim that this year will be Animal Kingdom’s coming out party, the year when guests and locals (who hadn’t previously) really take notice and start treating Animal Kingdom as a top-tier theme park at Walt Disney World. It seems this is the sentiment within Disney as well, as internally, Cast Members are being told that there will be a re-launch in April, presumably on Earth Day. This may sound premature with Pandora a year away, and maybe it is. However, this isn’t “simply” a new piece of nighttime entertainment for Animal Kingdom. Rivers of Light represents a total shift in how Animal Kingdom will be perceived and visited–a shift that (I think) is greater than what we’ll see in 2017.


Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help.

For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

For Walt Disney World news, tips, discount info, and free eBook downloads sign up for our free monthly newsletter.

If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, we’d really appreciate it if you’d share it via social media to help spread the word about DisneyTouristBlog. We put a lot of work into making this site a helpful planning resource, and hope it’s useful to you! 🙂


Do you agree or disagree that Rivers of Light and the “Nightly Magic” will be huge draws for Animal Kingdom this summer? Are you excited to visit Animal Kingdom at night? Any questions about the new additions or other planning questions for visiting Animal Kingdom once this all starts? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

22 Responses to “New Nighttime Entertainment at Animal Kingdom”
  1. Bettye October 22, 2016
  2. Florencia August 25, 2016
  3. Pamela May 31, 2016
  4. Treva April 13, 2016
  5. Dwain April 1, 2016
  6. Kathy March 18, 2016
    • AK Hours still not posted?! April 4, 2016
  7. Kathy March 18, 2016
  8. Fiona March 12, 2016
  9. Rich March 10, 2016
  10. Mitch March 3, 2016
  11. Mike C March 3, 2016
  12. Brad March 3, 2016
  13. Mike March 3, 2016
  14. Gina March 3, 2016
    • Jennie March 11, 2016
      • Tom Bricker March 13, 2016
  15. Odelia March 2, 2016
  16. C March 2, 2016
  17. autumn March 2, 2016
    • Heather March 2, 2016
  18. Cathy March 2, 2016

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *