Things come to life at night, and now, that includes Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
Once the early-closing and under-appreciated of the four parks, Animal Kingdom has upped its game and multiplied its attractions.
Starting Memorial Day weekend, Disney’s Africa- and Asia-themed park will have new nighttime shows and a new restaurant. There’s even more to come in 2017, including an elaborate, Avatar-themed area.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom The Tree of Light at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom becomes a colorful display at night.
Cool new things You Can Do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – at Night
You think Expedition Everest is a fun roller coaster in the daytime? Or that the Tree of Life looks cool? Wait till you experience these things at night. It’s a whole new park.
Animal Kingdom will expand its hours and offerings starting Memorial Day weekend, making it a new nighttime destination at Walt Disney World.
“The night is alive,” said Joe Rohde, one of Animal Kingdom’s creators.
Boy, is it.
The park will remains dimly lit – so it feels like night time in Africa or Asia – and that adds a lot to the ambiance. There are a mix of new things, plus old ones that feel new under the cover of darkness.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Animal Kingdom will open at night, starting on Memorial Day weekend, 2016.
Here are some of the cool new things to do at Animal Kingdom at night:
1. The “River of Light” show
The other parks have their fireworks shows, and now Animal Kingdom has its own epic show. At “River of Light,” you’ll sit in bleacher-type seats in an outdoor pavilion in front of the Discovery River (near Everest) or line up in areas around the river. Then watch the spectacular musical light and water show, designed around the ancient belief that when animals die, their spirits dance in the sky and become beautiful rivers of light.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom The “River of Light” show begins at Animal Kingdom on Memorial Day weekend, 2016.
I got to see a sneak preview of part of the show in April, and I saw light and water beaming out of floating lily pads, hologram-like animal images, and tons of floating lanterns. It was really pretty, really well done, and best of all, unique. I’m told the other parts of the show will involve storytelling by “a pair of mystical hosts.”
2. The Tree of Life
The famous carving-covered tree that anchors the park is covered in brightly colored lights at night. You’ll see fireflies and light images of animal spirits coming to life. Super cool to stop and stare. It’s kinda hypnotizing!
3. Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids – in the dark
Expedition Everest is one of Walt Disney World’s best roller coasters – and it’s even more intense at night! Even when you come out of the darkened areas, it’s still dark, making it more scary and fun. Same with Kali River Rapids. Riding this water ride at night, it’s quieter and the water seems louder. So you do your twists and turns (and occasional drenching) under the stars. They feel like completely different rides.
4. A new restaurant – Tiffin’s
Tiffin’s, and the adjacent bar, Nomad Lounge, are new upscale additions to the food offerings. Elaborately decorated with a world traveling theme, it will have both indoor and outdoor seating areas for lunch and dinner. It’s a little on the pricier side ($35-$60 per adult), but has unique gourmet offerings, like lobster-popcorn Thai curry soup, grilled octopus or frog legs tempura. Nomad’s will have wines and liquors from around the world, plus appetizers like Indian butter chicken wings and vegetarian summer rolls.
5. Sunset and nighttime safaris
In the afternoon, the safaris aren’t very exciting. Most of the animals are asleep. But around sunset, and in the evening, they’re active. Which is why the new nighttime safaris are awesome. The areas remain dark, so your photos and videos might not be great. But you’ll see active hippos, giraffes that walk up to the vehicles, and maybe catch a glimpse of the new African wild dogs and hyenas.
6. Discovery Island Carnivale
Guys on stilts walked past us, and we watched an impressive gymnastics and dance routine by men dressed in traditional African garb at this new street show, which of course encourages audience participation. This winding area also has culinary stations with different Americanized African foods, like a sirloin steak with African spices, and other live performances. One I saw involved three talented African women singing about the chores they were doing. Just a fun, neat and new thing to stop and see as you’re walking through the area.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom During an April 2016 press conference, Disney executives gave a glimpse of what Pandora, the new Avatar-themed land in Animal Kingdom, will look like.
7. “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic” show
A new limited engagement show, “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic,” will have music, characters and special effects inspired by the movie.
The expansion at Animal Kingdom is still ongoing. Still to come is “Pandora,” an Avatar-themed forested area with bio-luminescent trees, is set to open in 2017. If you look carefully, you might notice the new “floating mountains” behind a closed off construction area.
The only challenge with nighttime at Animal Kingdom is learning how to take good photos at night. Traveling Grandmom Diana Rowe has great tips in this blog.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom The Panasonic Lumix ZS360 takes great night photos, and has an excellent zoom lens.
I recommend using a Panasonic Lumix ZS60, because it’s so easy to use and takes great night pictures. This camera’s zoom is fantastic – whether you want to capture details on the Tree of Life at Disney or get a shot of your kid in a crowded recital back home. Plus, the 4K video is really high quality. The camera has all sorts of bells and whistles if you like to experiment. But for a point-and-shoot girl like me, it’s fantastic.
Jamie Bartosch is an award-winning journalist in suburban Chicago. She loves to travel, and blogs for TravelingMom.com from the viewpoint of a "typical suburban mom." Her goal is to provide honest, useful information to help families save time, save money, and make the most of their family vacation. A married mother of two, Jamie grew up in the Chicago suburbs, lived in the city for 16 years, and is now back in the suburbs raising her two kids. Learn more about her at www.JamieBartosch.com