Rivers of Light - First impressions

Nov 28, 2016 in "Rivers of Light"

Rivers of Light rehearsal

Article updated January 10 2017 to reflect its soft opening status.

It has been years in the making and subject to various delays, but Rivers of Light at Disney's Animal Kingdom is now in soft opening.

The show official opens on February 17 2017, and soft openings began on February 10.

We were part of today's preview, and got to see the show first-hand. This report is largely spoiler free, but if you wish to be completely surprised by the show, stop reading now.

Rivers of Light - A Technological Powerhouse

First and foremost, Rivers of Light is a technological marvel. There is no question that it is one of the most technological advanced shows that Disney has ever produced.

Specifically, the floats that make up the majority of the show are extremely impressive in the way they move. Being driverless, and guided autonomously by computer systems, the floats perform complex choreographed movements, passing within feet of each other. Not only is their motion impressive, so is the show performance capability of the floats. The 5 Lotus floats are equipped with highly articulated fountains, lighting, and projection effects, including rear projection mist screens.

During the development of the show, many of the delays have been reportedly due to issues with the guidance system that controls the position of the floats. Many have questioned the need for such a complex system, and why not simply replace the guidance system with drivers. Seeing the show, it is clear why the team has stayed with the driverless approach. Besides the handful of actors that are part of the show, there are no techs, drivers, or signs of any human involvement with performing the show. This is rare for such a show, but is of great importance for the execution of Rivers of Light. Additionally, the sheer complexity of the float choreography would also seem to be beyond the capability of driver-based floats.

Remarkable, the floats are in near constant motion, even when performing fountain and projection effects. They move extremely smoothly, and are also capable of appearing to remain in a perfectly fixed position. The propulsion system has multiple jets around each float that work in tandem with the guidance system to fix a position, and it is extremely effective.

Unlike other shows that use tracks (Fantasmic!) or fixed anchor points (Reflections of Earth), the floats in Rivers of Light are able to travel anywhere in the waters and this capability is used extensively. The Lotus and animal floats travel throughout the river, giving every seat a great view, and adding a great sense of motion and energy. The difference between the fluid Rivers of Light and very static Jungle Book show is stark.

The lighting system used around the theater is also noteworthy. The trees that form the background to the show are constantly alive with special effects. Shadows of animals moving alongside the water are particularly effective.

Show audio is very well executed, with highly localized sound matching on-stage effects, along with crystal clear playback of the stirring soundtrack. Surround sound is difficult to achieve in a wide open space, but is done very well at Rivers of Light.

Rivers of Light - The Story

Thankfully the show has stayed true to the unique nature of the park, and does not incorporate any movies or existing stories.

Having said that, many guests will probably not really see much of a story, but more a collection of imagery unfolding before them.

Rivers of Light fits into Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the way that Reflections of Earth fits Epcot. It is subtle, beautiful and impressive. Quite the opposite to the summer’s temporary show, Jungle Book Alive with Magic.

A show length of 16 minutes puts Rivers of Light at one of the longer nighttime shows, and breaks the recent trend of a 12 minute nighttime show.

Rivers of Light - Final Thoughts

Based on tonight’s preview, it is clear that Rivers of Light is something special, and very different from the other Walt Disney World nighttime shows. It’s closest relative would be Reflections of Earth, but it is of course not a firework show.

The show will appeal to guests in different ways. There will be those who marvel at the technology, those that see beautiful imagery, those that will enjoy the intimate and enveloping staging, and perhaps those that just see the show as floats moving around with fountains.

Perhaps the biggest criticism we have, is that there isn't a real sense of finale or conclusion. Somewhat like a song that fades out, the show concludes in a way that might leave some wanting more. 

Rivers of Light is without doubt an impressive production, and something that will restore many people’s belief that Disney rules the world of nighttime spectaculars.

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Article Posted: Nov 28, 2016 / 11:07pm EST
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I am TimmyJul 17, 2020

Rough. I had high hopes for this, my oldest son actually loves it. We knew it wasn't popular, maybe if it had been given the chance it deserved, instead of constant cutbacks it could've been great. The area is beautiful, hope they do something with it.

HauntedMansionFLAJul 17, 2020

One of the best shows on property

brb1006Jul 17, 2020

At least we have the Tree Of Life projection show (that happens at random).

HauntedMansionFLAJul 17, 2020

Well, I guess if they aren’t going to be open pat 6:00 pm 😭

brb1006Jul 17, 2020

R.I.P Rivers Of Light 2017-2020

bubbles1812Mar 17, 2019

I don’t think they probably do that much cleaning (if at all) to the water in Paradise Bay. Having experienced WoC up close and personal, I can tell you it’s definitely not chlorinated by any means. I don’t think I’d feel too much difference with it versus the water in AK, haha. And I’ll echo what the other poster said. Definitely fireworks ash combined with water. Has happened to me at several of the Florida parks if there’s been a rainstorm right before the night shows. Still gross ;)

AJH219Mar 16, 2019

The black specks from IGNITE are fireworks debris turned to mush from the fountains, not from dirty water.

RSoxNo1Mar 16, 2019

Delicious tropical bacteria*

MansionButler84Mar 14, 2019

The water in Paradise Bay is nasty, too. At least in Florida, it’s only tropical bacteria.

mnelson3Mar 14, 2019

Maybe im wrong but I feel like there is a big difference between the water in WoC and RoL lol. Getting wet from WoC doesn’t sound as bad or dangerous as getting wet by the nasty water of RoL lol. I feel like I’m going to catch some nasty bacteria or something lol. I remember watching Ignite at Sea World during the Summer, getting soaked from their fountains and having black specks on my skin. Gross!

Timothy_QMar 13, 2019

There's wind only in Florida? You usually get soaked in WoC if you're close to water. That's a non issue

mnelson3Mar 13, 2019

It happened to me twice recently from the Dinoland side.

SquishyMar 13, 2019

I watched the show front row atleast 8 times already and never felt a drop of water.

mnelson3Mar 13, 2019

Hopefully I’m wrong but I doubt the Shamans will come back. If RoL was more like World of Color, sadly with IP, it would be extremely popular. Although I’m not sure that would ever work due to wind and beeeze factors. As it is you can get pretty wet from just the 4 lotus fountains and the giant water screen.