Attractions We Love: Kali River Rapids

by | Mar 21, 2021

Deep in the Anandapur royal hunting preserve in the foothills of the Himalayas, villagers sought a way to bring in money through eco-tourism rather than the destructive logging that threatened their forests. One family arranged a raft tour down the Chakranadi River to highlight the beauty of their forests and the ruins of ancient temples along the way. Little do they know that illegal logging operations have already infiltrated the river banks, threatening not only the forest, but the very eco-tourists they sought to attract.
This is the setup for Kali River Rapids in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the park’s seminal splash attraction. Families have been cooling off in this corner of the park since 1999, but not everyone knows the story behind this great attraction. The imagineer behind this and many of Animal Kingdom’s design is Joe Rohde who wanted to follow the standard Disney formula (everything is fine until something goes horribly wrong!) and mix in a message about conservation. The resulting ride delivers on that message while it immerses guests in an a convincing and entertaining environment. Let’s learn some more about this great, summer soaker, shall we?

Picture Courtesy Disney

Set in the Asia region of the park, you float through the lush jungles of Anandapur, a fictitious southeastern Asian kingdom. The entrance signs warn that you will definitely get wet on this ride, but some of your party may get soaked. According to Joe Rohde, the queue starts well outside the line area. As you walk through Asia toward the ride entrance, you see large temples with support structures surrounding them, suggesting the ancient structures are under restoration. At various times of the day, gibbons and siamang are present in and around these structures, creating movement, noise, and a large crowd of spectators. Joe states that these structures are closely modeled after temples he photographed in the nineties, though by now the temples are fully restored.

Picture Courtesy Disney

Passing this spectacle, you head toward the main queue area where guests wind through temples and shops and passing other statues and ruins. At points in the queue, you will hear hiding animals and far-off chainsaws. Televisions describe the mission of the Kali River Expedition you are about to experience and radio transmissions further on warn that loggers are close to the river, though it seems nobody but guests are around to catch this update. Elsewhere, guests are treated to music from Nepal and Indonesia, some of which Joe Rohde recorded himself on a trip in 1989.
The large pagoda covering the load area is based on a building in Bali called the Kerta Gosa. Murals on the ceiling depict Buddhist parables acted out using animals instead of people. The murals were hand-painted on panels by a Balinese painter. The original building was used as a court and to make proclamations. Here, you will use it to embark and eventually disembark a large, round, 12-person raft.

Picture Courtesy Disney

Reaching the boarding area, your family embarks on rafts with names like Sherpa Surfer, Manaslu Slammer, Kathmandoozy, Himalayan Hummer, and Bhaktapur Bubbler. The initial lift hill rises 90 feet and passes through jungle filled with mists scented of jasmine and ginger. On the ride up, you pass a large, stone tiger carving at the top and start a leisurely ride past geysers while being serenaded by animal and bird calls.
The waters start to get rough as rafts round the bend. The smell of smoke accompanies the sounds of industry invading the forest. You soon see charred logs and stumps and a truck, fully loaded with logs, struggling to get out of the mud. More devastation surrounds the river including a log bridge overhead that smolders while the raft passes underneath.
Things get tense as your raft plunges down a 30-foot ramp into the rapids. Water splashes, people scream, and you escape the desolate landscape into a cave. More water drips down on the party and the raft emerges into daylight where carved elephants line the river on both sides. These elephants fire water from their trunks at the passers-by, controlled by kind and loving individuals on a bridge above who seem to understand that someday soon they will be in the same position.
Guests soon come to understand why the river is called Chakranadi, which is Sanskrit for “river that flows in a circle.” The rafts reach the same pagoda from which they departed five minutes ago. As you disembark, try your best to look like you learned a deep lesson on your journey, just to impress the guests in line. Everybody else will be wet and laughing about it, so you will look really deep I bet.
Visit Anandapur’s royal hunting preserve in the foothills of the Himalayas! Disney’s imagineers created the Asia region of the park to look like a blend of Nepal, Indonesia, Cambodia, India, and Thailand. They placed amazing details all around the area, creating yet another immersive Disney park theming experience.
Anandapur feels like it could be a real place. This ride is made to feel like an isolated and sometimes-idyllic exploration. Outside, guests have no idea that this river exists apart from wet people leaving the area. Disney built in story you will never see or need to know about, but which you can feel. The cultures of this area live with animals very close to animals. Rather than trying to keep nature at bay, it thrives inside and around homes and shops. This coexistence is the opposite of many Western civilizations where we prefer to keep nature in neat little pots in our houses. Instead of victory over the forces of entropy and nature, these cultures thrive in balanced harmony. Guests may not immediately sense this as they gape at gibbons swinging around their habitat, but this is the essence of the Asia region in the park and the ride fits in perfectly.
Together, this gives Animal Kingdom’s cool-off attraction as much of a history as the Magic Kingdom’s Splash Mountain. The next time your family enjoys this soaker, keep an eye on all of the detail built into it. This is what Disney does better than anyone and it is evident all around you.
If you ever wondered or argued about whether Kali River Rapids is better than Grizzly River Run in Disney’s California Adventure, you’re not alone! Check out this episode of the podcast The Supreme Resort to hear what they have to say on the issue.

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