Rivers of Light is Not Good Enough; Here’s Why

While I applaud the thought of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom having a nighttime spectacular, Rivers of Light was SUCH a let down. There, I said it. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Here’s why I think Animal Kingdom deserves better:

You can only watch it from one angle.
On the first night of our trip, Justin and I ventured to Animal Kingdom with Kelsey & John of Never Never Growing Up. We naively thought we would be able to get seats for Rivers of Light so we spent time chatting and drinking, and it wasn’t until we ventured towards the seating half an hour before the show that we realised we had made an error; the seating was all full. Undeterred, we ventured around the other side of the water and decided to watch on the opposite side, facing Everest.

Here’s a tip for you: don’t watch it from here.
We could barely hear the music, and weren’t even aware of the projections, beyond occasionally being flashed in the eyes by a blinding light. From anywhere other than the designated seating, Rivers of Light does not work.
But Fantasmic is the same! I hear you cry. But see, no, it isn’t. Fantasmic can only be seen from the designated seating. It cannot be half viewed by somebody walking past, as Rivers of Light can. There’s no risk of the effects being ruined by watching the show from behind.

Is there a storyline?
When Justin and I were able, at the end of our trip, to get FastPasses to see Rivers of Light we tried to go in with a sense of anticipation. After a few minutes we were glancing at each other with the same thought; ‘is there a storyline?’ The answer, I think, is no there isn’t.
I’ve seen Illuminations more times than Tink has taken flight from the castle (okay, not quite that many, but you get the idea. I’ve seen it a lot) and I’m still clueless as to what is happening for the majority of the show. But with Illuminations I feel as if someone did once have an idea of the storyline. Rivers of Light feels as if no one ever bothered to think of one and just cobbled bits together. Considering it took 4 years to come to fruition, I was hoping for something a little more coherent.

The technology is wasted
Within Rivers of Light there are amazingly technologically advanced remote controlled floats. But you can’t tell. They glide effortlessly across the water and change colour and they are undoubtedly beautiful, but you just can’t appreciate the technology behind them because it isn’t clear. If I hadn’t known that they’re supposedly an amazing feat of technology I would barely have given them a second thought beyond ‘ooh, a tiger that changes colour’.

There’s no ‘oomph’
I can’t find a better wording to describe it, so I hope you understand what I mean. There’s no feeling of tugging at the heart strings, no goosebumps as the music rises, no involuntary tears when the show reaches its climax. I watch Disney spectaculars for those feelings that I cannot get from anywhere but Disney parks. And this doesn’t bring that hit. I’m left feeling as if I’ve watched a decent Universal show, rather than a wonderful Disney one. I wanted to feel the emotions, the tingles, the goosebumps. But they weren’t there.

It’s not ALL bad
The music is beautiful. The floats are beautiful. The projections are pleasing to the eye. The whole thing is only 15 minutes long. Sorry, that last one isn’t necessarily meant to be a good thing is it?

Okay, maybe I’m being harsh. I understand there are limits to what they can do in a park with sleeping animals. I was never expecting a grand fireworks finale. But I was expecting something a little more adventurous than a few timid bursts of flames.

My feeling is that when you’ve waited for as long as we waited for Rivers of Light I want to be blown away. I want to be excited for the next time I see it. As it is, I’ll probably skip it on my next visit and just take advantage of the lack of queue at Expedition Everest instead.



  1. FigmentJedi
    24 September 2017 / 8:48pm

    Well of course you can’t get any sense of story watching it from the backside. Just like how you can’t really experience World of Color from the backside all that well

    The story is essentially the Shamans calling on the Animal Spirits and lotuses to take us on a mystical journey through the world of nature, the aurora borealis, and the stars and animal constellations within. The technical problems of getting the show operational (mostly tied to its mini-lanterns) lead to restructuring and trims that threw off the progression in introducing its various players. Like the lotuses initially came in at the end of the “Animal Spirit parade” segment as the animal spirits each leave their barges and the opening had a longer processional element with the shamans before they boarded their ships.

    • 25 September 2017 / 10:32pm

      Thank you for sharing the storyline! I can sort of see it but I absolutely would not have figured that out without the description. The technology – or difficulties with – has cleared affected how well the story can be told.