In Animal Kingdom’s Asia section, you can find a cool respite from the Orlando heat while exploring one of Disney’s more intricate set designs. Kali River Rapids is hardly an innovation; since 1980, versions of a ride imitating white rapids popped up all over the major theme parks.
The same year that Disney World opened its Kali River Rapids, a cluster of their competitors opened similar such rides. This includes their closest geographic rival: Universal Studios. On paper, this appears to be one of the few times Disney followed a trend instead of starting it, though some version of this ride dates to the early days of Disney.
This is neither the first nor, in truth, the best version of this kind of ride. But what Disney does well with this ride is what they do better than anyone else: infuse it with a bit of the magic of storytelling.
Before we get into my Kali River Rapids ride review, let me just give you a very brief history of this awesome ride.
Kali River Rapids History
River rapid rides are a staple of amusement parks, but for Disney, they are a relatively recent addition. In 1999, Disney opened its first river rapid attraction: Kali River Rapids. It wouldn’t be its last, as soon they would build Grizzly River Run in California and Roaring Rapids in Shanghai.
Whitewater rafting became an industry in the United States in the 1970s and 80s. Not long after, theme park operators began trying to harness the thrill of whitewater rafting and domesticate it for their parks.
In its early inception, Disney’s Imagineers planned to name it the Tiger River Run but nixed the name when they decided it would mislead guests into thinking it would involve real tigers. It does not.
Although it wouldn’t involve tigers, they did intend for it to involve live animals. The ride would have served as a companion to the Kilimanjaro Safari in the Africa exhibit. Guests would zip by live animal exhibits on their spinning rafts. This would have not been the best way for guests to experience the animals. Plus, the ride would have probably stressed out the animals. From our perspective looking back, it seems obvious that both would be problems.
If they had gone with the original Tiger River Rapids idea, it would’ve resembled Walt Disney’s original plans for the Jungle Cruise. One of Walt’s early ideas for that ride was for it to have live animals, but that never materialized that ride, either. The idea for a river ride clearly hung around, but it was never a pragmatic idea.
The had to rethink how to do this ride without the animal exhibit while still making it fit thematically into Animal Kingdom. Their solution was to make the ride about negative effects of deforestation. Thus, the ride was named after Kali, the Indian goddess of destruction and the preserver of nature.
Preparing for Kali River Rapids
I find that my enjoyment of water-based rides depends on how prepared I am for them. Part of this is mental preparation; I want to brace myself for the sensation of all my clothes feeling heavy and sloppy. I want to know what to expect so I’m not surprised, and I want to know how to make it the most enjoyable I can.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you will get very wet on this ride. Kali River Rapids involves about 150,000 gallons of water and a twenty-foot drop, so if you’re looking to stay dry, you probably want to go somewhere else.
However, this ride could make for a terrific break from the hot sun. If you want to reduce how soaked you get, you might consider wearing a poncho on the ride. You’ll want to have it by the time you reach the loading area because there won’t be a lot of time once you get into the actual raft.
It is also important to note that, since this is an outdoor ride, inclement weather can affect its operation. You’ll want to keep track of the weather and ask a cast member for any updates.
Your poncho won’t protect your feet, however, so you want to think about what you’re going to do to avoid squishing about the park in soggy socks. So, think about a couple of options: first, you can bring a backup pair of socks. Just put the wet ones in a plastic bag when you are done with the ride. Or you could just take off your socks and put them in the bag and ride without any socks. Otherwise, maybe wear a pair of hiking sandals that day and not even worry about it.
You also need to think about what you’re going to do with your stuff. You don’t want your phone and that protein bar you were saving for later to get drenched. Many similar rapids rides have a storage container in the center of the ride. This one does not, so you need to make some arrangements. Fortunately for you, they have lockers outside of the attraction where you can enter a PIN and protect your stuff. The lockers are free for the duration of the ride, but they are on a first come, first serve basis.
It’s also worth noting that this ride can close from weeks to even a couple of months during winter. Frequently, it will cease operations from about January to February or March. Keep that in mind if you plan on traveling during the winter months. Often, Disney uses this time for refurbishments. It closed during the winter months of 2020 and will close again in late 2021 for November and December.
When it is open during the winter, they account for how cold you might get by turning down the water. You will get wet, but not completely soaked.
With that said, most prefer to ride this attraction during the summer anyways. It provides a way to cool down from the hot, sticky Orlando weather.
Also, keep in mind that the hours for this ride are not completely in sync with the rest of the park. Typically, it opens at 8 am, thirty minutes after the rest of the park. In May of 2021, they bumped it back another thirty minutes to open at 9 am.
Kali River Rapids Wait Time
The average wait for this ride is around thirty minutes, but the maximum is a little over two and a half hours. Disney has not confirmed as of this writing whether this ride will be including amongst those you can reserve on Genie+, but it would be a good idea to get a Lightning Lane for this one.
You will skip parts of the amazing queue, but you will get enough to be worth saving time. Another way of saving time is to wait until later in the day, closer to closing, if you do not want to use the Lightning Lane for this attraction.
Kali River Rapids Queue
The queue for Kali River Rapids is arguably better than the ride itself. Disney is at its best when it incorporates the queue as an opportunity for storytelling. When they do this well, they elevate a ride into an experience. The queue for Kali River Rapids is complex and detailed, taking you through the forest and into a temple, a shop, and finally the expedition offices before taking you to the ride proper.
All of Animal Kingdom’s Asian exhibit takes place in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur, just south of the Himalayas. This Anandapur is apparently unrelated to the real-world municipality of Anandapur located in India. In this Anandapur, you will embark on the Chakanadi River, where you will see the effects of illegal logging.
The queue allows Disney to create a backstory for a ride that might have otherwise just been a water rafting ride. They establish a story with a clear hero and villain.
Before you even enter the queue, Disney establishes the villain in the story as you see flyers encouraging readers to join the fight against Tetak Logging Company.
When you approach the exterior of the ride, you see a house on stilts. It belongs to Manisha Gurung, the founder of Kali River Expedition. You will hear from her as you proceed towards the ride.
The backstory presented throughout the approach to the ride and all the way through the queue seems almost like overkill for a ride that is basically just whitewater rafting. It’s a wise decision on Disney’s part. There are, quite frankly, amusement parks who are better at Disney at thrill rides. What Disney excels at is immersive storytelling and imagination.
Beyond the bend you see old, religious ruins along the trail leading you to Tiger Temple. Throughout the temple you see a number of statues and artifacts, including masks and fountains. The largest of the statues is that of a tiger.
After the temple, you enter Mr. Panika’s shop. The sign in the shop encourages you that “looking is free,” so take a peek at all of the wonderful details within the shop. It is filled with antiques. Signs tell you that tourists get preferential pricing.
Besides the merchandise, you also see a wall of pictures, including the royal couple. There’s an advertisement for fictional hotel that boasts such luxuries as “fans in most rooms” and “running water.” Upstairs, you can see a door for the room that is apparently Mr. Panika’s living quarters.
While you are in the shop, make sure to look for Mr. Panika’s two geckos. They are real and stay inside his gecko cabinet.
When you leave the shop, you pass the family tricycle on the way to the offices of Kali Rapids Expedition. The offices are immersive and detailed, hiding a lot of fun stuff. Inside and outside of the company offices, several details make it feel like a lived-in place. There are tea kettles, propped up bicycles and a motorcycle outside. You see a collection of brightly colored oars. Pay attention to those oars: they have the signatures from many of the Imagineers involved. There is an empty chair surrounded by bowls filled with fruits and vegetables. In a display case, you see an assortment of animal statues.
Overhead, you can hear a voice explain to you the stakes of the story. The frame narrative sets up the river water ride as an alternative way to bring income to the village. It shows visitors the beauty of wild places and why they must be preserved. This is contrasts with the logging companies, which threaten to destroy their way of life. As you move closer to the rafts, you hear another voice coming from a radio warning about activity close to the river. The voice speculates that the activity is from the Tetak Logging Company.
Overall, the queue exceeds expectations for what it needs to be. It in some ways puts the ride in a position to live up to the queue, which it does not quite do. The ride is fun, but the queue sets a high standard.
Kali River Rapids Hidden Mickey
There’s a lot of great details within the queue, but we should note the hidden Mickey. This one is particularly clever on Disney’s part: look for a collection of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling in the first room of the offices. From the right angle, three of them form a Mickey head.
Kali River Rapids Height Requirement
You need to be at least three and a half feet (38”) to ride the Kali River Rapids ride. Children on the lower end of the scale (between 38” and 42”) will receive a special wristband that designates them as needing to occupy special safety seats. These seats have safety mechanism for their protection.
Kali River Rapids Advisories
Those who use wheelchairs or ECVs will need to transfer out to ride. The ride jostles you about a lot, so expectant mothers should not ride. Those with neck, back, heart problems or anything of the sort should not ride, either. Service animals might not want to come, either.
Does Kali River Rapids Drop Guests?
Kali River Rapids begins by scaling a 90-foot hill. I’ve seen some different numbers for the exact drop of the slope, but the official website lists it as 20-feet.
Kali River Rapids Speed on the Ride?
The website advertises this as a rip-roaring trip down a river, but that is a bit of dramatic license. The ride isn’t terribly fast. You will spin around and it bumps and jerks enough that you will need to meet standard theme park health standards, but it is a family-friendly attraction. It shouldn’t be too scary for the kids, but not everyone likes to get soaked.
What to Expect from Kali River Rapids?
At the end of the queue, you reach the loading platform. You’ll want to be prepared when you get to the loading platform, because everything happens quickly from there. You load on a turntable platform and get into the raft.
It is worth spending a minute on the rafts themselves. They hold twelve people, and there 20 rafts in all. Each of the rafts has its own name, with names such as “Banyan Bay,” “Bhaktapur Bubbler” and “Sherpa Surfer.” These names are printed in white letters around the bottom exterior of the raft.
You sit around a circular platform with a handrail and a footrest. The seats are grouped together in six pairs, with a single fabric lap belt for the two to share. That means that you will be awfully close with whomever you ride with.
After you get in the raft, the ride takes you up a 90-foot lift hill. This was the highest lift hill for a rapids ride in the world when this ride was first built. On each side of the lift hill, you see thick vegetation. Mist surrounds the lift as you ascend.
Initially, the scene is calm and beautiful. Again, Disney’s capacity for creating an atmosphere is unparalleled. You can smell jasmine and mint and you can hear birds chirping. Along the path of the lift, you see statues of animals.
There are quite a few things once you get going that will spray you down. Pretty soon after ascending the lift hill, you get hit by a blast from a geyser.
The path of the river tells a story. As you begin, it is a green, thick, and plush forest. As you progress, the forest gives way to bare land and heaps of chopped wood. As you pass under a log, you see it glow red in an imitation of fire. You hear the roar of chainsaws. You smell smoke.
Here is where the slide occurs. It happens fast, but not the kind of fast that you will get on a roller coaster like nearby Expedition Everest. It is enough to ensure a good splash over the guests.
From there, the forest is green again. You are hit with sprays from different places: from statues of elephants, from vases that shoot like water cannons. You go under a rock bridge that drips water on you. You pass by more geysers. All of these make sure that, if the first, big drop didn’t get you wet, then one of these will.
Throughout the ride, Disney maintains its eye for detail. After the first of the geysers, you pass by a waterfall arranged like the face of a tiger.
The main drawback is that it isn’t terribly long. Also, after that initial slope, it doesn’t do anything terribly dramatic. For a lot of people, that may be preferable.
The ride is fun, and it does rock you about quite a bit, but I wouldn’t describe it as terribly intense. In comparison to Universal’s Bilge Rat Barge, it isn’t quite as intense and it’s a bit shorter. Still, it’s a lot of fun and its slide is more dramatic.
How much you enjoy this ride ultimately depends on how much you enjoy getting wet. If you don’t enjoy it at all, you will not enjoy this ride at all. If you enjoy it a whole lot, then you most likely will. It’s hard to say how wet you’ll get on this ride—it kind of depends on so many factors pertaining to your raft and the river and, well, luck. But for comparison sake, the very first time I went on Kali River Rapids, I emerged from the attraction absolutely soaking wet.
Is Kali River Rapids Worth It?
Kali River Ride is a lot of fun. The main drawback comes from expectations on two fronts. First, the queue exceeds the ride in quality. It is just a strange situation where the queue is more interesting that the actual ride. This shouldn’t be too surprising, however, since that is indicative of Disney’s strengths in its amusement parks. Disney World is not the theme park for thrill ride enthusiasts, with a few exceptions. Their strength is in storytelling.
On a related note, there might be disappointment when comparing to similar rides in other parks. It does hold up but is ultimately not as thrilling as Universal’s Bilge Rat Barge. For me, that is OK. It does not need to be. It fills a need at Disney World, where there is not a whole lot of rides like it.
Where the ride excels is in its ability to give an interesting story to a very standard variety of ride. Most of this they set up through their queue. They do so with keen attention to detail and full utilization of the long line. Where others might have seen a wait for an attraction, Disney sees an extension of the attraction and an opportunity to heighten the experience by storytelling.
Beyond the queue and the storytelling, the surrounding land and trees are beautiful. Disney did an outstanding job with its landscaping in this part of the park. Everything looks lively and green all around the ride. It feels like you have been transported to another part of the world.
All of this to say, this is a great queue and a pretty good ride. It’s worth taking some time out of your hot day to cool down in the Chakanadi River.
Just be prepared to get drenched!
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