Last week, Disney released plans for several upcoming attractions at Walt Disney World which were previously shrouded in the mists of rumor: Rivers of Light water fountain show at DAK, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Polynesian, and Harambe Nights in DAK’s Africa. Taken together with the previously-announced AVATAR expansion at DAK, the Mine Train in Fantasyland, and the Disney Springs expansion, that’s a lot of activity happening around WDW all at once. And the newly-announced offerings, though smaller in scale and import than the other construction projects, are encouraging and positive developments indeed.

The Polynesian, which is also changing its name back to its original moniker (Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort), will be home to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. Disney didn’t announce the location, but it’s a safe bet it’s going into the former video game arcade – Moana Mickeys, which closed when Capt. Cook’s main location went under the knife. That begs the question – will Capt. Cook’s be rethemed to fit the tiki bar better?

Trader Sam’s at the Disneyland Hotel works extremely well, but it has some tight quarters. Here in WDW, where in theory they have the blessing of size, you’d think they’d want to enlarge the establishment. But the bar is not going into the larger – and unused for public purposes – Tangaroa Terrace, which is just outside the main Ceremonial House. If the former arcade is indeed the new location, it may not be much roomier than Anaheim’s version. (Of course, there may be additional backstage space I’m not seeing).

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The Rivers of Light show borrows the name of a previously-proposed nighttime parade for DAK (part Light Magic, part SpectroMagic, and part its own thing with more embedded lights in the pathways), but it’s not a parade. The closest analogy would be World of Color from DCA – fountains and giant waterscreens to tell stories.

The World of Color technology would be welcome indeed in WDW – the Florida Fantasmic! looks dated by comparison in many ways. The most obvious effect for WDW is that DAK will now be open longer (possibly only on weekends, holidays, and summer?) Being open longer is certainly a win for the customers – the park is way more stunning at night than you’d expect, and with the blistering daylight heat and humidity brought down to tolerable levels after sundown, DAK will become a more welcoming place.

New Details on ÒRivers of LightÓ Nighttime Spectacular Coming to DisneyÕs Animal Kingdom

In fact, the nighttime DAK is in many ways an undiscovered gem. More than any other parks I’ve been in, DAK changes character completely after the daylight is gone and artificial illumination takes over. The park is not covered in floodlights. Rather, it has spot lighting on ground level, creating mood and atmosphere that is pretty unexpected for a park that makes you swelter, sweat, and perhaps curse during the daytimes. This weekend I ran the nighttime Expedition Everest Challenge and took the opportunity to ride Kali in the dead of night (it was 1am), and I was floored. The buzzsaw/destruction sequence was misty and mysterious, with red lights establishing a whole new atmosphere. And just after the big drop was a set of waterfalls on the side of the raft lit by dazzling colored spotlights. I’d never given this spot a second glance in the daytime, but it was breathtaking at night. So the chance to make many more similar discoveries in a nighttime DAK leaves me pleased.

I only hope Rivers of Light (RoL) is not a victim of its own success. The park obviously wants to keep the masses late because that would lead to additional food sales (people have to eat dinner) and maybe even some additional merchandise. But the narrow strip of land that would ideal viewing for RoL – on the banks in front of Expedition Everest and facing the Boneyard at Dinoland – is even smaller than the inadequate viewing area of World of Color in DCA. If the show is anywhere near as good as World of Color (and I hope it is), there are going to be major shortages of viewing space. Maybe they plan to add bleachers? Reclaim land?

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The Harambe Nights announcement was the one that interested me the least initially. At $119 per adult ($134 for the premium seating), this struck me as particularly expensive. It promises all-inclusive appetizers, beer, wine, and later food in the street party (buffet style?) but $120 for a meal is rich even by Disney’s standards. The included show in the new Harambe Theater didn’t sound that interesting initially either. The fact that it would be offered only on Saturdays, and only June 7-August 9 2014–to me implied they did not expect big crowds.

The more I pondered this event, however, the more I was willing to give it a shot. As with anything, what matters most is the execution. The show in the theater is new, and re-tells the Lion King story in yet another new way, with live performances and a live orchestra (and screens?) and a celebrity narrator:

  • Viola Davis – June 7, 2014
  • TBD – June 14, 2014
  • Montego Glover – June 21, 2014
  • David Alan Grier – June 28, 2014
  • Michael Beach – July 5, 2014
  • Harry Lennix – July 12, 2014
  • Joe Morton – July 19, 2014
  • Alfre Woodard – July 26, 2014
  • Brian Stokes Mitchell – August 2, 2014
  • Patina Miller – August 9, 2014

If you think about it, the price can be broken down into chunks that do, upon further reflection, line up with Disney prices. It’s unlikely the new show will be Cirque-du-Soleil quality, but a $30 upcharge for a show isn’t too extreme. That leaves $90 for the food and drinks. If the alcohol is truly unlimited, that could easily be another $40 (five $8 beers), leaving only $50 for the food. If there are just appetizers and finger foods, this won’t be worth it. But if the street party includes enough food to add up to a full meal. Dinner at Boma costs $40 per adult, so we’re only talking a $10 upcharge (in terms of the food), and you’ve got the street entertainment (character appearances) to factor in.

Harambe-Nights_Full

Of course, your mileage may vary. One could easily quibble about the dollar values assigned in the example above. Maybe the show will feel like a $10 value instead of a $30 one. Or, if it is long and well-done, perhaps $40 would be a more appropriate approximate price tag. But the larger point is that the big price tag MIGHT be uncalled-for, or it MIGHT be right in line with other Disney offerings.

That last point is the real crux of the matter. Disney has lately been pushing the envelope in terms of up-charge events. Harambe Nights resembles in some ways a more upscale version of the After Hours Wind Down at Epcot, which so far appears to be a success among visitors (though I haven’t tried it myself just yet).

On balance, these announced additions are positive developments. The one with the most far-reaching consequences is clearly Rivers of Light, but the other additions are significant enough to warrant close attention.

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