Dateline Disney World is headed on safari today. It’s been a while since we visited Animal Kingdom, so that’s where this week’s news and photos are coming from. Let’s take a look.

Welcome to Animal Kingdom!!

This dinosaur photo op is now a character meet and greet.

Over in DinoRama, Disney was testing a pretty terrible walk around dinosaur character. I hung around for a while looking for it, but I sense it may have seen its last days already.

To my knowledge, and by judging the concept art, this body of water is where the new Rivers of Light nighttime show is going to happen. I’m pretty excited for it.

“Rivers of Light” promises to be an innovative show, combining live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. The show will magically come to life on the broad, natural stage of the Discovery River, between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Hot days led to Kali River Rapids having one of the longer waits in the park.

The more I think about it, Animal Kingdom may be the prettiest park at WDW. So much beautiful foliage and intricate details.

Walls up here over near Harambe.

The new Festival of the Lion King building is almost complete and ready for the show to come back in June.

Walls also over by the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

I took a ride on the Safari, which I think is still one of WDI’s hallmark WDW attractions, even with the dropped story and certain animal changes over the years.

Some ‘walls’ up near the elephant area.

Back to Harambe.

Many of you have been asking for Avatar updates, but this is pretty much all I can give you.

That wall blocks the old bridge that took us to Camp Minnie-Mickey. Disney has announced that 2017 will be the opening date for Avatar, but I fear that it won’t be entirely possible to cover the construction of this massive land. The only good I think can come of this will be that almost all of us will be spoiler free until we see it completed for the first time, and I cannot think of many attractions or lands in recent memory where that was possible.

That’s it for this week. What do you think about the new nighttime show? How about waiting 3 more years for Avatar? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Such a beautiful park! I LOVE DAK, but they really need more attractions.

    I’ll be happy to see the Rivers of Light show, I just hope they don’t build a bunch of ugly seating for it. It will be nice to visit DAK at night when the weather is cooler and the accent show lighting is illuminated.

  • Skimbob

    Thanks for the update. I have to say this is one of my most favorite parks. I am excited about the water show and I can hardly wait to see Festival of the Lion King.

  • FarFromHome

    Thanks! Always great pics when visiting DAK.

  • cruise

    Avatar opening in 2017 will make it nearly 6 years after the announcement. In terms of the timetable of overall attraction development this seems only slightly over average for Disney. I think their biggest fault was announcing it too early (if you don’t count the acquisition of Avatar as a fault). Also, the way Universal has been fast tracking attractions makes this look especially bad.

    As exciting as this id for DAK, every time I hear about Avatarland it reminds me how much I would rather have Australia or South America. I don’t doubt it will be a quality addition on its own (like Carsland was to DCA), I just think there were better “fits” for the park available (like Carsland at DCA).

    • Darth Goofy

      Great pics! One better fit for DAK would have been an Indiana Jones themed area, complete with coaster similiar to Tokyo DLR and Forbidden Journey, including the stunt show. This “land” if fleshed out would have blended wonderfully within the park, and guests would have had something really exciting to come and see. I don’t get excited when I here about this “AVATAR” addition, whatsoever.

      • BlahBlahson

        Indiana Jones has absolutely NOTHING to do with animals. Unless you count eating monkey brains or not liking snakes.

      • BlahBlahson

        Oh DAK, ten thousand words I could write about you.

        I’m very happy that Disney has decided to go forth on the Avatar and River of Light plans for this park, as it is the one that needs changes more than any other park in their chain in the world.

        And at least Disney DOES respond when they haven’t put forth their best effort. Which happened with DCA, HKDL, and Paris Studios of recent. Which gives me lots of hope for 2020-2030 at WDW, when they inevitably feel the effects of massive Universal Orlando expansion.

  • M69

    Thanks for another gorgeous update! Your weekly “articles” make me excited for our next trip to Orlando. As a fan of the original park (and SoCal resident), thanks for enabling the obsessive interest in WDW!!

  • TCadillac

    This is a beautiful park. I really hope to visit one day. Cory you do a great job, Dateline WDW is definitely my favorite blog on here!

  • Cory Gross

    Looks like a great park and I am very much looking forward to spending my day there when we go in September. I’m actually heartened to hear that they got rid of the contrived story in the Safari attraction. Animals BY THEMSELVES are awesome, you don’t need to tart it up with a fake story.

  • 99disney

    Again, fantastic photos. I’m trying to figure out where some of the details are in the park.
    I don’t get the Avatar thing. It’s not an original Disney thing. I love the ideas from others about Australia, South America or even Indiana Jones. They could come up with other Indiana Jones adventures. To me Avatar is an old movie, dated with a small following, maybe that’s just my take. Disney could have come up so many other things to add to DAK so much other potential, after all they did come up with Animal Kingdom !

  • tooncity

    A short List of needs for this park:

    1)A fantasyland style JUNGLE BOOK Dark ride. The Bare Necessities of Life. King Louie. The movie has great songs. Happy fun characters. A ‘c’ ticket ride will be the top ride of the park much like ‘peter pan’s flight’.
    2) turn Dinosaur Ride into an Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye Adventure. Or Indy accidently finds Dinos in a Human archeological site and mayhem ensues. A Dino culture of humans with a curse of a the returning dinosaur (kinda strange). Dinoland can be much more. More fun educational/interesting/new discoveries. Boys are fascinated by Dinosaurs and THIS is the best Disney can do?
    3) get rid of Disco Yeti animatronic. Just dismantle it and remove. It’s just a reminder of what it should have been. Do some kind of projection screen. Currently, it’s just embarrassing.
    4) get rid of the “Man is terrible and destroying the earth” narrative. Go with something that is more positive, celebrator and fun. Keep the realistic African village. Dump poachers, Deforestation, pollution tripe.
    5) Get rid of the Chester and Hester Street fair/carnival theme. I still don’t understand this area’s them. You need a kiddie area. But this is just stupid and unimaginative. This is DCA 1.0.
    6) don’t do Avatarland unless you plan on doing it well. If the current rumors are true, then it’s a complete waste of time. A dud. Weak, Silly Stupid. It’ll hurt more than help.
    7) More fun animals. Penguins, Otters, Pandas in fun interesting exhibits. Disney’s afraid of the ZOO moniker. This is a total lack of confidence. Turn imagneering loose and let them create fantastic displays of fun animals like NO other ZOO/Busch garden/SeaWorld can do.

    You can always do more, but this would be a real upgrade.

    • DaveDizney

      I completely agree with your points, a little more specific “Disney experience” is needed in AK. My only exception would be #4 – this is the one place where Disney does not use fantasy in order to gloss over responsibility. It’s a fitting theme throughout AK and refreshing when taken in with all the park attraction other messages.

      Don’t get me started on “Disco Yetti…” 😉

    • AaroniusPolonius

      They could solve two problems at once by dismantling the Universe of Energy in Epcot, bringing those giant dinos over to DAK, and creating a family-friendly (and for that matter, weather friendly,) indoor “Jungle Cruise through dinosaurs” attraction in lieu of Hester and Chesters and the wretched wild mouse coaster. (And then bring in a new ride to Epcot, of course.)

    • Cory Gross

      1) Ahem… “THIS is Disney’s answer to Harry Potter?! Universal is doing amazing things with all their innovative use of putting carts in front of screens! 39% growth! And all the Disney executives have to answer for it is a lame c-ticket ride? This is just ridiculous! DAK needs way more than this if they’re going to compete with the trouncing they’re getting from Universal! I don’t even understand how people can still support this resort that I used to like but don’t anymore! STOP ENABLING THEM! If this is all they’re going to give you… MagicHandcuffs, a kiddie coaster, a 1950’s dark ride based on a movie from the 60’s… when are people going to wake up?!?”

      Is that about right?

      2) Dinosaurs are awesome, so no.

      3) Or fix it, or replace it with a more simple animatronic or whatever. The problem is, they wouldn’t be able to take the ride down and fix it without people complaining that they’re still charging full price for a park that was already a half-day thing and now one of its signature attractions is down.

      4) Man is terrible and is destroying the Earth. Just other day it was announced that one of the major Antarctic ice sheets has passed the point of no return. My only issue is the fear that putting it in a park attraction is trivializing it. Maybe keep it out of the rides, but maintain a conservation message throughout the park, because that’s super important.

      5) “I still don’t understand this area’s them.” It’s a tacky roadside tourist trap. Love it or hate it, I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out what it is supposed to be themed to. We’re talking classic Route 66 stuff… not only is this DCA 1.0, it’s also DCA 2.0.

      6) Granted, but if I was going to hop a ride on the whamublance, I’d much rather see them build Mysterious Island or Mystic Point. Something actually Disney.

      7) I’m really sure what you mean by “fun,” since zoos don’t necessarily operate on a system of what is “fun” or not. Seeing how they do a zoo is actually one of the things I’m most interested about with DAK, and how that compares to the zoo I work at.

      • blondiemouse72

        Yes paragraph 1 is spot on

      • michael darling

        Good points.

    • thebear

      I really like the 1st idea! I think that would be great. I would also like a small theater that you could walk in and out of to get some shade and have the old true life adventure movies playing.
      I can’t believe people still complain about the Yeti. I went on the ride during annual pass holder previews and dozens of times since. I can’t say I’ve every really cared. Is it really bothering people that bad? Not trying to be an apologist. Yes, it is wrong when things don’t get fixed. Does it have a negative effect on my ride experience? No. It’s a thrill ride, not Pirates. Just can’t believe how often it still gets brought up.

    • danielz6

      South America land with UP dark ride using Peter pan ride system. Australia with rescuers ride. Bambi in a North America land, jungle book is India, The list goes on and on but no we’re getting giant blue Aliens sadly based on native Americans.

    • CaptainAction

      Yeah, I’ve never liked the theme of this park. We call it the “man evil, animals good” park.
      The poachers, the destruction of the forest which almost gets guests killed, etc.
      What is the Wilderness Lodge made of? Is it resin? If it isn’t wood, it promotes itself as wood.
      But if you cut down a tree at AK you’re evil.
      Castmembers at AK told me that they never wanted to do anything near dusk at this park because it would mess with the animals sleep and cycles. So, now have the WDW execs thrown that care out the window for a loud nighttime water show just to try and get folks not to visit Universal?
      In the summer this show won’t be able to go before 9 pm.

      • Cory Gross

        “What is the Wilderness Lodge made of?”

        My understanding is that it is mostly made of concrete and fiberglass. Interestingly, so is the Ahwahnee in Yosemite.

        “But if you cut down a tree at AK you’re evil.”

        There is a difference between responsible logging and clearcutting a rainforest.

        “WDW execs thrown that care out the window for a loud nighttime water show just to try and get folks not to visit Universal?”

        Wait, I thought that’s what you wanted, because you, like, y’know, love Disney so much and are filled with such overwhelming concern for the resort’s quality. You were so adamant that you weren’t just a hater, and yet here you are, saying you never liked DAK and never will like anything they do. Gosh.

        On this point I actually agree with you. I am concerned about having nighttime stuff in DAK because of the animals, and they’re only forcing it in there to appeal to people like you who will never be happy with anything Disney does.

      • ayalexander

        I have to agree Cory, However, I don’t think the animals will be affected. Most of the animals are taken out of their daytime enclosures at a certain time and brought to a nighttime enclosure just outside the park. If they maintain that and get the main animals out of the park before the nighttime show, there shouldn’t be too much a problem.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        Cap, I’ve always found the overall message of conservation to be a little bit dissonant as well, since they took some 500+ acres of wilderness and turned it into a theme park. It IS a little weird to discuss conservation and preservation when just a few years ago, the very land you’re walking through was in its natural state. (Carl Hiassen has a wonderful screed on this in his short book of essays on the mouse: Team Rodent.)

        Having said that, the “man evil, animals good” message isn’t entirely off, as we’re really responsible for the ongoing and accelerating collapse of the natural environment, and for the habitats where these animals would naturally live. There may come a sad, sad day where places like DAK are really the only places left to see whatever has survived humanity’s alteration of the earth (if we survive that alteration ourselves.)

        The cheapness of DinoRama aside (which was thrown in there as an inexpensive panic solution, once guests upon opening realized that there was next to nothing to do at DAK,) I actually think DAK is wonderfully, gorgeously themed, and it’s probably one of the world’s most beautiful theme parks from a thematic point of view.

        DAK represents a compromise forced by Pressler and Eisner. Look at each park like a canvas. At that time, the Imagineers could craft a beautiful canvas to tell stories upon, but not have the funds to create attractions to tell those stories (DAK or HKDL.) Or, they could craft a frayed, flawed, confused canvas but load it up with cheap content (DCA.) I’m glad they chose the former route for DAK.

        I don’t know enough about animal husbandry to make a definitive statement regarding night and sleep cycles regarding the animals. That could have very well been a PR line to help explain why the park closed early (heck, I’d have used it. It’s brilliant, true or false.)

        I does seem that they are locating the water show between “non-animal” areas of Disco Yeti and DinoLand, although there are small animal exhibits around the Tree and such that might need to be moved.

  • ayalexander

    I love Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s so beautiful. I wish we could have something like that here in Anaheim. I’d visit it. As a matter of fact, if Disney built an Animal Kingdom park here in Anaheim it would quickly rival the San Diego Zoo and they could include Avatarland as it opening day attraction. I would love to go on a Kilimanjaro Safari here in Anaheim. Great, now I got myself all excited.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Thanks, Cory, so much for your photos, they are a delight. I see so much potential but too many missed opportunities for DAK. I love the park, but it really is a half day park. Putting in a light show at night does not really change that.

    The two themes that need to be emphasized more are Adventure and Magic. Ecology hammer too much. It should be there, but not the theme of the park. EE is great at adventure, but needs more similar rides in the park. Avatar will bring some magic into the park, but I am afraid the plans are too small and beat the drum of ecology too hard to really make it pleasant.

    Areas that need to be address are: 1) Lion King needs more story to the show. It feels too dated now. 2) Yeti need SOME movement, even if it not the original concept. 3) Dinosaur ride needs something. Indiana would add but something needs to be done to improve the experience. 3) DinoLand needs the feel of fantasy and adventure, not “hip and edgy” which comes across as “tacky and dated.” 4) It needs more shaded covered areas if they want people to wait for the evening show. I would love a Tarzan hang out space with hammocks and tropical food and drinks served. Maybe a waterfall nearby…

    Anyway… there needs to be real evaluation of the whole park and concept, not just an add on of a small land or evening show.

  • Big D

    Great photos of my favorite theme park! I hope the night show turns out well. I wonder what the impact will be on the animals that live there? It’s hard to imagine something like Fanasmic not giving many of the wildlife there a heart attack the first time they hear it. But Disney does an outstanding job with their animals (much more than people give them credit for) and so I’m sure they’ll work it out.

  • Kimura

    NOT excited about Avatar.

    • redrhino54

      Who cares……………..

  • Disney Analyst

    I disagree with removing the Yeti completely… I sadly never got to see it move, and I wish every day I ride it that it would… But it is still terrifying and awesome with the Strobe…

  • Jabroniville

    I was impressed with the design of the park when I went last month, but I found it a bit poorly laid-out, and short on major attractions, which meant that only a few had line-ups, but they were big ones. It also felt very much like they wanted to be a zoo AND an amusement park, and thus ended up being a bit weak at either one- it combines into a pretty good park, but I’d have been disappointed with just one or the other.

    • AaroniusPolonius

      Jabronville, I’d recommend a trek to Tampa. Busch Gardens, which certainly has its flaws and is nowhere near as beautiful as DAK, pairs the park/zoo features much more completely than DAK. It’s well worth a trip, and is the generally forgotten “major” player in the Central Florida theme park lineup.

  • AaroniusPolonius

    I’ll say this: with our without the poacher storyline, the Safari ride is such an amazing, signature, pinnacle Disney attraction. It honors the “zoo” park of the park and demonstrates the uniqueness to that experience that only Disney can provide. It totally represents the promise and potential of DAK, and, of course, is demonstrative of how much of the rest of the park fails to live up to that promise and potential.

  • Erik Olson

    One of our favorite spots is the overlook from Flame Tree toward Everest. I bet that spot will be very popular once Rivers of Light makes its debut.

  • Ravjay12

    Definitely the best park at WDW. I think 3 more years for Avatar will be ok because the films should be out by then and hopefully it will generate more interest. The Yeti is truly a tragedy. It’s too bad that the Yeti is part of the structure and can’t be removed from the mountain! Oh well, we love you Disco Yeti! Still the best ride at the park.

  • plzstandclear

    I agree that DAK is by far the best themed experience anywhere in the world — and I’ve been to DisneySea! While EPCOT has become Epcot and kiddified to death, I have to hand it to Disney for not dumbing down the message of the park — that humanity can either be stewards of the planet or destroyers, the choice is ours. I think this is why Avatarland ultimately really will fit in with the park — it’s their “Tomorrowland” and clearly, the films have the same general outlook that the park does.

    That said – give us a South America or Australia!

  • airick75

    Haha- good one on all you could show of the avatar update.

    I agree on how beautiful the park is. Everyone said I would be impressed, but I remained skeptical. Then i ended up loving it. There’s are parts of the park where I would love to spend extended periods of time, and I’m not even that into animals. But I really like the Afica and Asia areas. I really like eating in the Asia area!

    I wish they’d do a river ride though again. It needs that activity.

    • michael darling


    • AaroniusPolonius

      I think Avatar’s land will feature a River Ride, but I know what you mean. I believe the rapids ride was originally intended to be combined with the Asian walking ‘Jungle Trek,’ to kind of be like a river-ride version of the African safari, actually.

      Heck, I think it would be a great idea to move Jungle Cruise over there, and make it a “classic inspiration” for the entire park. (The could do this with Carousel of Progress for Epcot, as well.)

  • grizzlybear55

    I just don’t get the Avatar connection. The ideas presented here (Up in South American, Indy, etc.), are far superior. Avatar is hardly an Indy or Star Wars in terms of iconic, in either story or character. They said it all in Big Bang Theory when they referred to it as a movie about “what’s-his-name and the big blue chick.”

  • mondo

    “…even with the dropped story and certain animal changes over the years.”

    I don’t follow DAK news/updates. What was the old safari story and the current story?What were the animal changes?


    You mentioned (in the original article), and had photos of the “walls” (canvas tarps) near the elephant enclosure, these are often used when there are new animals on the nearby Savannah until those animals have acclimated enough that they are pretty sure they will not try to jump these brushy areas, as there is a HUGE drop on the other side that you can’t see from the ride path, you can see it however on some aerial footage of the attraction that , if I recall correctly, appeared in the History Channel modern marvels WDW special.