14 October 2013

Light Up the Night

We’ve talked a lot about the spectacles of Walt Disney World recently, haven’t we? There were intentional thoughts as to why we stayed away from Disney’s Animal Kingdom. For starters, we love the current daytime parade there. Secondly, as much as we love the photogenic nature of the park after dark, there are a lot of drawbacks and concerns that must be addressed when looking into the park as a nighttime destination. Then, embedded in the teaser announcement of the Avatar-inspired land and attractions, Disney went and announced a whole slew of new nighttime offerings that are coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The official release states, “As part of the largest expansion in its history, Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park will be adding all-new entertainment experiences including a new after-dark spectacular centered around and above Discovery River, new nighttime entertainment including live performers on Discovery Island (pictured) and a new night version of Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Disney has a fairly long history of putting water to use in its nighttime showstoppers, dating all the way back to the early days of EPCOT Center up to, and through, the current versions of Fantasmic! and World of Color. The options for Disney’s Animal Kingdom to ever have a nighttime spectacular of a sort have always been fairly clear, it would have to be a parade, a new theater would have to be built (a la the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater), or it would need to utilize the ample water spaces provided by the Discovery River. Parades are nice, and filled with great pageantry, but they are not the heart-racing and emotionally connective ways to end a day at a park in Walt Disney World. Looking at the two other options, and having ample proving grounds from the Fantasmic! set-ups at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Imagineering clearly decided to make the most of what the park had to offer in its natural setting.

For years the hindrance of a nighttime spectacular in Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the ability to use pyrotechnics. Fireworks would not only upset the animals in their habitats, but if any of the remnants from said explosives made their way to the animals, the results could be fatal for them. Disney has, for years, been perfecting lighting in nighttime settings, from the use of projections around World Showcase in previous incarnations of Illuminations, to the effects found in World of Color. Adding in the tricks that have surely been conceived to achieve Avatar’s bioluminescent scenery an upcoming attraction, it would seem all of these pieces can be put into play to light up the night without the use of a single rocket!

Continuing through the description, live music in and around Disney’s Animal Kingdom around and after sundown is nothing new. Harambe and Anandapur have both had musical acts and dance parties popping up over the last couple of years, and both have had success in holding the attention of guests in limited capacity, similar to guests’ attention-spans for the musical acts that appear all throughout World Showcase. With guests staying longer in Disney’s Animal Kingdom to experience all that the new Avatar-inspired land will have to offer, not to mention the park’s other big draws like Expedition Everest, there will be a need to entertain and keep guests from grumbling.

Lastly, Kilimanjaro Safaris will offer also have a new nighttime offering. We’ve been down this road before with everything from tribal performances taking place around a fire on the savanna to night-vision goggles to catch glimpses of the active animals. I’m curious to see what sort of angle the Imagineers are taking with this one. I would love to be a cheerleader for a new, nighttime animal experience, but my enthusiasm is going to be directly linked to how this is handled and what it actually looks like in execution. Basically, I am in a wait and see holding pattern on Kilimanjaro Safaris nighttime offerings.

If you have followed the Main Street Gazette for any length of time, you know that I am a big supporter of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and that I fully believe you can spend multiple days in the park without every wasting time or repeating yourself. Am I in a minority with this thought? Sure, but it appears that Walt Disney World believes there is more to this park than just a passing glance can provide and they are doing their best to find ways to keep guests coming back after the sun has set on the day!

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