After a few delays and mishaps, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is finally open to guests at night; and yours truly had a chance to experience it first hand.
Let me start this off by saying thank goodness. It’s about time Disney tried to make DAK more than a half-day park. I personally love exploring parks after the sun sets because of the drastic change in ambience.This dichotomous existence between day and night parks was something I had been aching to see at DAK since my first trip left me feeling unfulfilled years ago.
Luckily, my curiosities have been satiated for the time being what with DAK being open until 11pm or later most nights for the foreseeable future.
The highlights for the night, as Disney tells it, are Expedition Everest at night, Kilimanjaro Night Safari, the Tree of Life Awakenings, the two “streetsmophere” parties throughout the park, and The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic. I’ll just start at the top of the list and work my way down.
Everest at Night? Wonderful. There’s something to be said for taking your journey through the Forbidden Mountain at dusk (or in darkness); it really adds an element of the unknown to the whole trip, regardless of how many times you may have faced the yeti. This experience I highly recommend.
The flip side of this coin, however, are the Kilimanjaro Night Safaris. The Safari itself isn’t a horribly thrilling experience during the day, but at least it provides a relaxing view of some interesting animals. What happens when you take the “being able to see the animals” aspect out of this attraction? You get a quite dull, 20 minute ride in a large safari truck and not much else. The “sunset” that is simulated actually looks really cool and fairly authentic; this was probably the highlight of our tour surprisingly. Sadly, I think we maybe saw five animals throughout our trip (despite our driver reassuring us the rest were out there…somewhere). You honestly have no reason to do the Nighttime Safari unless you have nothing else to do. Use your FastPass for a day/dusk safari and you’ll make out much better.
Moving on to the entertainment offerings, I think The Tree of Life Awakenings show(s) are, quite possibly, the highlight of the night. The projection mapping on the Tree of Life is fantastic, I loved seeing all the carved animals come ‘alive’ and move around, and each short show the put on is really quite fun and engaging to watch. I might go one night and just watch this until the park closes; I honestly had that much fun.
The “streetmosphere” parties were also quite enjoyable. We only caught the Harambe Wildlife Parti for a few minutes before they took a break, but it seemed like an enjoyable time for those in attendance. Discovery Island Carnivale, however, was fantastic. Every person in attendance (performers, guests, random Cast Members in the area) were dancing, singing, clapping, and having a great time. The music was infectious, the costumes fantastic, and the whole atmosphere was electric. Even if you don’t/won’t dance, Carnivale is a great place to relax and people watch while still having a blast.
And finally, we have The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic. As has been reported many times before, Alive With Magic (further abbreviated as AWM) is a fill in show due to technical issues with the much hyped Rivers of Light show (set to debut at…some point). As such, it is painfully evident that AWM was thrown together in a very short amount of time (from what I’ve heard, just about a month and a half in total).
I will say that the Cast Members involved did a great job with what they were given; the show itself is just very uninteresting. The wholly unoriginal, wholly “un-Disney” show is still drawing huge crowds, though, so if you are in Asia or near Dinoland in the 40 or so minutes before a show starts, be prepared to fight through crowds the likes of which DAK hardly ever sees.
We did not try Tiffins during this trip, it was a little cost prohibitive for our group, but the restaurant does look gorgeous. Nomad Lounge, which we did try, is quite lovely though. I can definitely see myself spending a few quiet evenings or afternoons here sipping a cool drink and chatting with friends.
Overall, the night was pretty great and is something I would love to experience again. While not all the nighttime offerings are smash hits, there is still enough energy and ‘new-ness’ surrounding everything to make the after dark experiences worth your time over, say, another night at Magic Kingdom seeing Wishes for the 100th time. The park really does come alive at night to provide guests with a unique experience and atmosphere that is unmatched elsewhere. In fact, I would be brazen enough to say that Animal Kingdom at night is the way to experience the park. Just try to get your safari in before the sun sets; you’ll be happier and have way more time to take in the atmosphere.
All images courtesy of Disney