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Rivers of Light and Happily Ever After Fireworks

by | Jun 6, 2017

“Music has always had a prominent part in all our products, from the early cartoon days. So much so, that I cannot think of the pictorial story without thinking about the complementary music which will fulfill it.”

– Walt Disney, quoted in Jim Korkis, Walt’s Words: Quotations of Walt Disney with Sources. Theme Park Press.

Along with Head ConciEAR Mike and our better halves, earlier this week I had the opportunity to see two relatively new shows at Walt Disney World: “Rivers of Light” at Animal Kingdom and the “Happily Ever After” fireworks at Magic Kingdom. We did not have FastPasses for either, so this is the Standby version of both experiences.

Rivers of Light

As we made our way into the park and toward the amphitheater (in DinoLand U.S.A.) about 30 minutes before the start of the show at 9:15 p.m., we realized we probably should have shown up a little earlier. (You just can’t rush a dinner at Trail’s End—there’s bread pudding involved!) After passing all the FastPass entrances and arrived at the one for Standby near the Finding Nemo: The Musical theatre, we were greeted by a cast member holding a lighted sign that read, “Show has reached capacity.” Nonetheless, he let us pass and explained that there might be a few spots left. We were stopped in a holding pen with approximately 30 other guests, and noticed that they had allowed only about 10 more people in behind us before beginning to turn guests away. 5 minutes before the show started, another cast member directed us into the next-to-last back row. Although there were no seats, there was plenty of space and a “leaning bar” similar to those you find in the “O Canada!” show at Epcot. We had a great view of the entire show from this section of the theatre.

Although we didn’t see much of the “pre-show,” it consisted only of watching giant lighted flowers floating in the water. We didn’t realize it at the time, but these would play a central role in the show itself. Once the lights dimmed, these gigantic floating buds changed color, opened and closed, spouted water and were otherwise integral to the entire spectacle. Aside from the buds, the show featured large boats with dancing cast members, several color-changing stained-glass animals (owls and turtles, for example) that looked like massive floating Tiffany lamps, and what looked to be a floating propane-powered fire tower. Water was sprayed from virtually all directions throughout, with fine mists utilized as screens for multiple animated projections including a tiger that appeared to be leaping from one giant flower bud to another. Think of the Blackbeard/Davy Jones effect in Pirates of the Caribbean, but ten times as large with much more movement, clarity, and variety along with a rousing musical score.

The show lasted approximately 15 minutes, and was very impressive from a spectacle and technology standpoint. It had some narration but was difficult to understand, at least from our location in the theater. On the whole, it did not have much of a storyline—all I picked up on was “We are one” along with several references to light and water. This might explain why about half of the guests standing with us in the back row left about halfway through the show. In the Disney style you would expect, the grand finale brought together all the effects and music in a rousing crescendo—and then it just ended. As I mentioned earlier, as impressive as the show is, it’s a little lacking in story.

If you’re going, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before show time, bring some binoculars and if you plan to take photos a better camera than the one on my iPhone 6. As you can tell, the lack of ambient light creates some challenges.

Happily Ever After

I am not a huge fan of the fireworks at Walt Disney World. Normally, my family and I are early risers who get to the park before rope-drop, pack in as many attractions as possible, and are on our way out by early afternoon. Without a doubt, however, the Happily Ever After show is worth staying up and fighting the nighttime crowd. Even though we didn’t score an ideal watching spot (we were between The Plaza restaurant and Tomorrowland Terrace near the alleyway Disney periodically opens to allow guests to exit behind Main Street, proper), it was still a great show. Thanks to ConciEARS guest Shelley Wilson for sharing the great pictures she shot during the show–mine didn’t turn out nearly as well!

First, it was filled with easily recognizable music, projections, and voices from Disney movies everyone knows. Head ConciEAR Mike pointed out that this seems to distinguish the more successful Walt Disney World shows from those that are less popular. Part of it, I think, comes from the name-that-tune effect: as soon as the show starts, you automatically start identifying the source of each song, etc. Some people do this quietly in their heads. On the other hand, I am unable to resist the urge to blurt out, “That’s from ____!” each time a new song starts. Sure, I get some dirty looks but I have more fun than Grandma winning Cyber Command in the Carousel of Progress.

Second, the music and projections were remarkably well-synced with the fireworks themselves. In one scene, for example, a projected fireball shoots diagonally across the front of the castle and seamlessly “transitions” to an actual one that goes into the air and explodes. This is just one among a multitude of other examples.

Third, the show is filled with so much variety that it is never dull or redundant. That said, it takes some energy to watch. Every few seconds there are new scenes and sounds to process, and if you lose focus even momentarily you’re going to miss something. I think that’s why it felt like much longer than an 18-minute show. This also gives it a high repeatability factor: like the most popular Disney attractions, you can experience it again and again and pick up on something new each time.

Whereas I would not use a FastPass for Rivers of Light, I will try to score one next time for Happily Ever After (or maybe a reservation for the Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace–that’s not much closer, however). The projections are large and bright enough to get the gist from anywhere in the viewing area, but the show was good enough to make us want to be closer next time in order to pick up on more details. Finally: you traditionalists out there who, like me, were glad to see that Chief Flight Attendant Patrick made it into the new version of Soarin’ will be pleased to know that Tinkerbell still flies down from the castle tower at the end. Have you seen the new Rivers of Light and/or Happily Ever After? If so, share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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