Disney's Animal Kingdom debuted its first after-hours hard ticketed event this weekend as the Walt Disney World Resort continues its rollout of new premium experiences.
Harambe Nights - Main entrance signage
“Harambe Nights” brings together an original theatrical show and African street party featuring all-inclusive food and drink. We attended the first night on June 7 to see everything that “Harambe Nights” has to offer.
Arriving at Disney’s Animal Kingdom parking, you are immediately greeted with the “Harambe Nights” banners flying over the parking plaza. The event ticket includes parking, and a reserved lot is made available within walking distance to the front of the park. At the main entrance, more “Harambe Nights” banners welcome you, along with a host of greeters who scan tickets and provide an event wrist band. With the wrist band comes a designated seating section for the Lion King show - more on that later. Guests also receive an event program, outlining the schedule and menu.
The event begins at 7pm, and the land of Africa is closed to day guests early to allow for the show preparations. Walking towards Africa, cast members can be seen guiding day guests out of the area, and directing those with wrist bands towards Harambe. Note that the experience does not include any Animal Kingdom attractions, it is all about the new "The Lion King: Concert in the Wild" show and a chance to enjoy the food and entertainment of the Harambe Street Party. Other areas of the park are closed off during the event.
The pre-concert welcome reception takes place in the brand new Harambe Theatre District which just opened last week. Along with a live band, there were stilt walkers, face-painters and some roaming character appearances. Appetizer food and drink stations were in plentiful supply. Each station featured all four of the appetizers, and the bars had a variety of beers, wine and soft drinks.
Harambe Nights - Pre-concert bar
Harambe Nights - Pre-concert Appetizers
The appetizers on offer are Durban spiced chicken tenders, Moroccan beef kefta with tamarind glaze, Safari cheeseburger roll with tomato curry aioli, and Pickled fennel paneer cheese with tomato. All four were excellent, very well prepared, fresh tasting, and just the right size to enjoy before the show. The serving plates, although disposable, fitted the theme of the event perfectly - no plain paper plates here. Our favorite was the Safari cheeseburger roll with tomato curry aioli - delicious, and worthy of a second round.
Harambe Nights - Pre-concert appetizers
Pre-concert welcome reception
Harambe Nights - The Theatre
Guests began to lineup for the show almost immediately, and as mentioned before, each guest had a designated section to sit in for the show. There are three seating sections in the theatre, plus the premium seating category on the floor. Each section had its own entrance, so this served well to spread the crowds out across the entire theatre walkway.
Just before heading into the show, each guest received a snack to enjoy along the way, a rather unique creation called “Lion Chow” – Sea salted pretzel chips, benne crumbles, cardamom candied pecans, golden raisins, dried cherries and candied ginger. Very very good, and beautifully presented in a rolled box.
Once inside the theatre, cast members load each seating section row by row. Although each guest had a designated seating category, there were no assigned seats. Loading of each row was done by a cast member, so it was completely the luck of the draw as to where you are seated. It was loaded front to back, so those guests quieting up early would have been seated towards the front. The good news, is that from our observation, there are no bad seats in the theatre. Unlike during the daytime during Festival of the Lion King, the theatre is reconfigured to use only three of the sections, with the stage itself being on one side. The setup is similar to Cirque du Soleil at Downtown Disney or Fantasmic.
Harambe Nights - Inside the Harambe Theater
It did appear that although the premium seating category was front and center, they were perhaps disadvantaged by being flat on the floor. Although we were not seated in premium to confirm this, there did seem to be sightline issues as the stage was not raised, and the seats were not sloped. The regular seating makes use of stadium style seating, so views would not be an issue.
Harambe Nights - The Show
“The Lion King Concert in the Wild” is an all new original 60 minute show which comprises celebrity narrators, a live orchestra, choir and special effects to present the story of The Lion King. It is essentially a retelling of The Lion King.
The show’s cast members were excellent. At times it was easy to forget that all of the music was being performed live - it sounded so good. The dancers were first rate, as was the use of the celebrity narrator. For the first night, actress Viola Davis led the show, and she did a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. You can see the full line-up of future guest narrators here.
The show does make use of a lot of footage from the movie. And although the music during these scenes is accompanied by the live orchestra, some may feel that they are just watching scenes from the movie. Out of the 60 minute show, there is perhaps 15 minutes of movie material. This is carried by two large screens either side of the stage, giving everyone a view.
It was first night for the show, and while the performers were flawless, there were some audio issues that seemed to impact the show at various points. Some of the microphone levels were extremely low, to then be suddenly corrected. It happened a number of times, and took off some of the polish of the show. This will more than likely be smoothed out in future weeks.
Rating these types of shows is difficult, and people’s opinions will likely vary considerably. Our view was that the show was well put together, and very well performed. It certainly felt like it was a separately ticketed show, and not a regular theme park production.
Photography and video taping is allowed inside the theatre, but no flash photography. Check out the video below for a look at the show - "The Lion King: Concert in the Wild."
Harambe Nights - The Harambe Street Party
After the 60 minute theatre show, everyone leaves the theatre and heads to the original Harambe street for the food and entertainment. If you have ever been to Festival of the Lion King, you will know what a capacity exit of that show looks like. A huge mass of people surged out towards the food. Along the way, there were lots of cast members welcoming everyone to the street party, and doing their best to distribute people to the various areas of the party. What was not at all obvious, was that the food stations were spread throughout the entire street, running all the way from the Asia walkway, right up to near the entrance to the Wildlife Express. Many guests stopped right by the first few stations, that were outside the Dawa bar. This seemed to cause a lot of congestion, and people were scrambling for tables before even getting food.
Harambe Nights - Buffet food stations
Harambe Nights - Outdoor seating stations
The food stations each contained a couple of dishes, and were grouped together in clusters. Cold dishes, hot food, and desserts. Each group was then repeated five or six times in different areas. There really was food absolutely everywhere, and if people had known that from the start, much of the early scramble would not have taken place. Also worthy of note is that the food was constantly replenished right up to the 10:30pm close.
Along with the outdoor section, all of the food was also available in Tusker House, using their buffet area. The full dining room was also available, giving plenty of indoor air-conditioned seating. It seemed this was a popular choice, as the restaurant was at or near capacity around 9pm. Wait times for food in Tusker House early on were about 30 minutes.
Harambe Nights - Buffet food stations
It was great to see that there was no shortage of outdoor chairs and tables at "Harambe Nights". Unlike at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival where you are often searching for somewhere to put your food down and eat, here Disney made sure everyone had a seat. Most guests seemed to be mostly camped out a table, rather than moving from area to area.
Harambe Nights - The Food
From the initially released information about the food and a look at the menu we had really high expectations. We are huge fans of Sanaa, Boma and Jiko at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and were hoping for a sampling of some of their finest. Sadly, the food did not measure up to the supremely high standards of those restaurants. Most of the offerings were bland, over-cooked interpretations of the originals. Two of our favorites at Sanaa, Butter Chicken and the Corvina were a pale shadow of the originals. The chicken was dry, overcooked, and bland - the complete opposite of the Sanaa version. The corvina fish was almost unrecognizable as being fish. It was massively overcooked, soggy, and flavorless.
Harambe Nights - Pulled pork
Harambe Nights - Butter chicken
Similarly, the breads did not measure up to the Sannaa equivalents. If you have tried the wonderful bread service there, you will know a proper naan bread. The offerings at “Harambe Nights” were not remotely similar - only the accompaniments bore a resemblance.
Harambe Nights - Lamb, chicken, corvina
Somewhat better were the lamb chops, pulled pork and the roasted potatoes. Still not on the level of the restaurants, but good offerings.
The best of the dishes were probably the cold salads. The Watercress, melon, feta and berry balsamic onion salad was refreshing and flavorful, as was the Kachumbari salad with tomato, paneer, carrot and cilantro.
Harambe Nights - Buffet cold dishes
The desserts were rather limited, with the two standouts being the Chai cream with zebra stripes, and the Rice pudding, dried fruit compote and pistachio gremolata. The Chai cream tasted identical to the Sanaa version. Zebra Domes from Boma would have greatly bolstered the dessert line-up. Along with the desserts were the fuller ante of Disney ice creams, including Mickey bars.
Harambe Nights - Desserts
It was strange to see such a difference in quality between the pre-show appetizers and the after show buffet. The appetizers were fresh and restaurant quality, but the after show dishes bore all the hallmarks of cafeteria type food that had been sitting around. Perhaps this will change in future weeks as the process becomes more refined.
You can view the full "Harambe Nights" menu here.
Harambe Nights - Street Party Entertainment
Roaming Disney characters were in the street throughout the night. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Timon, Rafiki were all out in special costumes. There were also stilt walkers, a live band, and DJ dance party. It was great to see the characters out roaming rather than using set locations. No autographs were being done, but the characters were posing for photos while roaming.
The street party event moved quickly, and it was all over too soon. From the dash out of the theatre to the food area, which at first was all rather manic, there was no sense of really getting time to relax. A lot of the crowds left at around 10pm, leaving a much calmer final 30 minutes through to the event ending at 10:30pm.
Leaving Harambe, floats from the now closed Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade were out giving a goodbye moment, and a special twinkling lighting effect was in place on the Tree of Life. Check out the video above for a look at the Tree of Life lighting.
Harambe Nights - Value for Money
So was the “Harambe Nights” worth the $120 per person asking price? Your individual tastes and preferences will go a long way to answering this question.
Despite our hopes going in, our opinion is that “Harambe Nights” is not an event for foodies. The food is not good enough, and for the price, you can have an amazing dinner at Jiko, Boma or Sanaa and enjoy considerably better food. But to put it in context overall, taking into account the appetizers, the show snack, and some of the buffet food - it was not at all bad, much better than you would typically expect in a theme park, but just don't expect Sanaa or Boma.
For the theatre fans, the show quality was good, and was certainly at a level that would suggest being worthy of a stand-alone ticket.
For the park fans, “Harambe Nights” is a great way to be able to spend time in the park after hours and see the beauty of the place at night.
Perhaps the best fit for this event is those guests who just want a different experience, and a chance to see a different side of Disney. There is always something special about Disney after hours events. The cast go out of their way to make you feel like a VIP, and the feeling of just being able to walk up to a bar and get a drink, or grab a bite to eat without questioning the cost is something so different from the normal park experience.
“Harambe Nights” takes place every Saturday from June 7 through August 9 2014. The event’s welcome reception begins at 7pm. At 7:30pm, it's show time, dinner begins at 8:30pm, with the event ending at 10:30pm. Tickets are $119 for adults, $79 for ages 3-9, plus tax. Premium seating is sold out for all event nights, but regular seating is available for all remaining dates.
Be sure to check out the photo gallery for more photos of "Harambe Nights."