Is the Rivers of Light Show Really Worth It?

Rivers of Light” by Chad Sparkes licensed under CC BY 2.0

Once you’ve arrived at Disney, all you’ll want to do is relax and enjoy your time. When you sit down to watch the Rivers of Light show at Animal Kingdom, you’ll be able to lose yourself in the wonders of nature.

Though the show is short, your memory of the brilliant colors and phenomenal animal sculptures will never fade. Plus, you’ll be able to use whatever pictures you take as a strikingly beautiful Disney World wallpaper when you get home.

The Show

Like Disney’s other light shows, Rivers of Light tells a story. Because of its presence in the Animal Kingdom, it’s no surprise that this tale centers on wildlife. The show begins with a range of lotus blossoms floating across the water, gently drifting with the current. Each are colorfully lit, letting you know the show is ready to start.

Two boats enter the scene and two riders on each one dance to the soothing music playing in the background. As the show continues, the boats travel around the river, guiding floats carrying colorful animals across the water. Soon after that, the lotus flowers open their petals, unleashing streams of water from their centers. From this point on, you’ll be lost in the magic of lights and water.

The end of the show starts when a spray of water arches over the river. Scenes of wildlife play on the canvas of water, illuminated by the glowing lights of the boats and flowers. The last act of the show consists of a giant tower of lights exiting the center of a lotus flower. This is meant to represent fireflies as they fly into the night. It’s noted as a key aspect of the show, keeping with the traditional Eastern festival traditions present throughout the rest of the show.

Though the plot of the show is vague, you get the sense of Disney’s dedication to wildlife conservation and the promotion of keeping the planet healthy. You’ll quickly fall in love with the style of the lights. They reflect on the sprays of water, showing images of the animals on the floats.

The Logistics

As mentioned earlier, the show takes place at the Animal Kingdom. There is a line that starts in DinoLand—and it can start hours before the show starts. Unlike other Disney shows, you can’t just sit and watch from anywhere in the park. The seating is limited, so you can expect some lines if you don’t get there with plenty of time to spare. FastPass+ tickets are available for this show, so if you really want to ensure a seat, you may want to book a FastPass+. You have the option of a private viewing of the show, but that will be discussed later in the article.

This show lasts about 15 minutes and runs on select nights. You should get the My Disney Experience app to fully prepare for this show; show times vary and they do not occur every night or on a rotation like other shows at Disney do. It’s best to get a time guide at one of the parks for the most current schedule, but on average you can expect a show at either 6:30 p.m. or 7:45 p.m.

Because it’s one of the newer light shows, debuting in February 2017, you might expect a little bit of a crowd. Those who don’t frequently visit the parks will be sure to add this attraction to their list, so it’s likely that those who don’t travel to Disney annually will be present in the crowd. Don’t take that as a bad thing, though!

Shows like these are meant to be enjoyed with a crowd. When something spectacular happens, you’ll all be able to cheer and revel in the beauty of the lights. Disney travel automatically yields crowds during your vacation; try your best to enjoy the energy it provides rather than get frustrated at the challenges crowds may present.

The Pros

The show is undeniably beautiful. You’ll love every second of the flashing lights and soothing music. If you’ve got kids with you, they’ll be entertained the whole way through. Kids of all ages will enjoy looking at the animals; even older kids can appreciate the choreography that goes into this show.

It’s also short, meaning you can quickly watch the show and move on to other events. If you’re worried about fitting every magical moment possible into your vacation, you can grab a snack at one of the many food stands at Animal Kingdom and eat while you watch. Or, since the show is so short, you can take a seat for a little bit, then hit up a restaurant when it finishes. By the time the show finishes, there should be plenty of food places open and ready to feed you and your family. Rainforest Café is a particularly good choice.

The show also incorporates traditional Eastern festival traditions in its narrative. From the time the show starts to the time it ends, you’ll be captivated by the authentic nature of the experience. It’s a great opportunity to teach your kids about differing cultures. The animals in the show also provide an educational element to the show. You can talk to your kids about the importance of conservation as they marvel at the brightly lit animals floating across the water. 

The Cons

Though there are not many downsides to Rivers of Light, there is one glaring issue that should be addressed. The show does have an opportunity for guests to eat desserts near the Asia Viewing area, but the cost of this event exceeds the quality of the show. For a free 15 minute show, the Rivers of Light Dessert Party, as it is aptly named, verges on frivolously expensive. You do get to view the show on the terrace at the Asia Viewing Area, which offers an amazing view of the lights, but, again, the show is 15 minutes long and you can get a free FastPass+ ticket for it. Prices for this experience are around $80 for adults and $50 for children ages 3 to 9. You must reserve this event in advance in order to take part and you don’t get a discount on your ticket to the park.

Again, this is an optional experience, but given the details of the event itself, the large price tag should be noted for families who may assume something like this comes as a complimentary service.

Additionally, this show resembles another show put on by Disney, so if you’ve seen that show you may find yourself feeling déjà vu. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth at Epcot has a similar flow of events—even the lotus flowers look the same. Although, the Reflections of Earth show will be leaving Epcot at the end of 2019, so it’s possible the Rivers of Light show is its replacement in spirit. There will be another show at Epcot in Reflections of Earth’s place, but it’s unlikely that the new show will be as similar as Rivers of Light.

Rivers of Light: Is It Worth It?

Given all of the hoops you have to jump through to see this show, it may not be worth your time. If you and your family are dying to see this show, then you can take your chances with waiting in line or get a FastPass+ if you’d like. However, if you feel as though you can fill that time with something else, then you should.

Getting dinner with your family at one of the parks will give you more bang for your buck; while watching Rivers of Light is truly a fantastic experience, the amount of time it takes to wait in line compared to the length of the show is not an equal trade off. That plus the optional dessert’s incredibly high cost makes the Rivers of Light show a low priority if you’re looking for an affordable, jam-packed vacation.

It should be stressed that the show itself really is a lovely experience, but you can get the same sort of experience at Epcot with the Reflections of Earth show—at least until the end of 2019. Invest your time in that show while it’s still around. If you see that show and still find that you want to watch Rivers of Light, then absolutely do so. The educational aspects of Rivers of Light are incredibly beneficial to children, and if you feel as though it would be a disservice to your children to miss this show, then by all means carve out the time to see this show.

You can get a FastPass+ for it, after all. Just be aware of the disadvantages before investing too much time in it. You may find that you want to save your FastPass+ tickets for rides that are truly unmissable like Avatar’s Flight of Passage or Expedition Everest—each of those rides have lines that far exceed an hour.

All in all, the show is worth seeing, but you may want to consider skipping out if this is your first trip to Disney. There are plenty of shows to see in the parks. Even though Rivers of Light is beautiful, you can see another show with a lot less hassle.

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