Beginning Memorial Day weekend, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park will officially allow guests to enjoy its attractions, animals, and worldwide adventures in the evening. A park simply increasing its operational hours isn’t usually noteworthy, but this? This is a massive change. Often considered to be a “half-day”experience by parkgoers, Animal Kingdom has been Disney’s only American park that until now was not open past 6 p.m.
In planning its extended hours, Animal Kingdom did more than simply install floodlights to allow for nighttime entertainment; it embraced night as being part of the cycle of life. Lights are dimmed and experiences were developed with the wildlife in mind, making guests feel like they’re one with these low-lit regions even more than they already do — and the knowledge that something around every corner could be thriving and awake.
The rides are different, the nighttime entertainment is unlike anywhere else in Walt Disney World, and there will even be live music and multiple dance parties, making Animal Kingdom an ideal location for both family adventures and late-night date night. If you happen to be traveling to Florida after the end of May, here’s what you won’t want to miss at the new, invigorated Animal Kingdom park:
Guests can enjoy beloved rides in a completely different way.
Due to the literal nature of Animal Kingdom, in-park experiences will very much be cloaked in darkness. Guests can spin on Primeval Whirl and even get soaked to the bone on Kali River Rapids with no warning of what comes next beyond the gaze of the moon. Taking a special ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris in the dark is touted as the park’s most noteworthy nighttime ride, but it’s actually Expedition Everest that’s the most unique. When it’s just as dark inside the mountain as when you’re flying down the big drop outdoors, the coaster just seems to offer twice the thrills.
There’ll be something even better than fireworks.
Disney Parks have been ramping up their projection mapping—if you’ve ever seen the nighttime shows at Magic Kingdom or Disneyland, this technology is the video playing the castle—and Animal Kingdom’s may in fact trump both of them. As the sun sets, the majestic Tree of Life in the park’s center awakens, coming alive with magic and enchantment. It’ll look like it’s just simply lit up, but give it time—slowly but surely, the animal etchings will move around, transforming the trunk into the most impressive movie screen on property.
Dinner options are going to be on point.
Animal Kingdom already offers some of the tastiest food across Walt Disney World (more on that, here), but the opening of Tiffins will mark the park’s first signature dining option, which is Disney-speak for “upscale”. The restaurant, themed around the places Imagineers traveled when designing the park, will include everything from Argentine wines and octopus dishes to Asia-inspired miso-glazed black cod and pea fritters.
And the best bar at Walt Disney World may very well be inside this park.
Between ten and twelve innovative new drinks are being developed specifically for Nomad Lounge, the new bar adjoining Tiffins restaurant. These craft cocktails are so much more than just tasty blends, too—one libation in particular, a guava Mezcal margarita, features a spirit made in Oaxaca, the same place where Imagineers got inspiration for the wood carvings in the surrounding Discovery Island section of the park. A craft ale created straight from the spices of the menu at Tiffins was also developed specifically for these two locations, and will exclusively be available there, for the time being.
The park’s much-anticipated evening entertainment may in fact live up to the hype.
The tent pole of Animal Kingdom’s late-night events is Rivers of Light, a fully immersive nighttime performance inspired by the Aurora Borealis, traditional lantern festivals, and the animals that make the park whole. The show begins with a procession as storytellers come through the aisles while projected stars twinkle onto the surrounding trees. Illuminated animals soon float onto the waterfront, lotus-shaped fountains explode with dancing water synced to a soundtrack of driving instrumental beats, and animal footage of all kinds is projected onto an array of falling water serving as a makeshift screen. This nighttime attraction is expected to spectacular, so try your best to research and plan Fast Passes before you go—the show was originally intended to open April 22, and while it’ll likely open around Memorial Day weekend, the official opening date is unannounced.
Your new favorite movie will be brought to life.
Following the recent success of The Jungle Book movie, a new experience will be hitting the parks only through the end of summer. Details are few, as it was announced just this week, but The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic promises to have music, special effects, and beloved Disney songs with a new Indian influence.
But hey, who has time to do all that when there’s partying to do?
Live music is a large part of the nighttime expansion, offering guests two nightlife experiences—first, a Harambe Wildlife Parti featuring African music, food and drinks, as well as a Discovery Island Carnivale, which will see dancers and stilt walkers passing through the guests. Extending Animal Kingdom experiences into nighttime transforms it into a different destination than during the day, and when Pandora—The World of Avatar opens in 2017, the bioluminescent forests and experiences will make for a location that may even outpace itself at daytime, too.