Rivers of Light was a nighttime spectacular that highlights the beauty of all living things in a story told by water, music, and light.
The soundtrack for Rivers of Light tells the story of the show:
Before the show begins, four lotus flower floats enter the lagoon. The line of trees near the Tree of Life act as a backdrop to the show and fireflies illuminate the Tree of Life as animal shadows cross over the backdrop.
Show director Mark Renfrow described the backstory of the show as follows:
“It has been described a lot as a spiritual journey and that’s a very good thing, because in the very beginning we looked into a large variety of diverse spiritual inspiration. At the very heart is the ancient belief that all those that had a true respect for all living creatures could bear witness to the great animal spirits dancing in the night sky. To witness these beautiful flowing rivers of light was considered a great honor.”
A pair of Asian shaman’s and their two acolytes (students) are the storytellers of the show. They emerge in the crowd before the show begins as a form of introduction as they make their way to their elaborate lantern vessels. The four human characters help tell the story through Asian dance, song and shadows.
The two Asian shamans are as follows:
- Aseema – the human embodiment of water. Her name means “limitless”. She emerges on the Chester and Hester’s Dinorama side of the amphitheater.
- Aditya – the human embodiment of fire and light. His name means “like the sun” in Nepalese. He emerges on the Asia side of the amphitheater
Disney explains that these two characters, “transcend time and location” and their costumes draw inspiration from Native American, European and Far Eastern cultures.
The acolytes Ambu and Ketu are the students of the two Asian shamans and they join the shamans in the storytelling of the show.
The shaman’s and their acolytes come to the river bearing gifts of light. They set out from shore on their elaborate lantern vessels performing a dance of water and light to summon the animal spirits. As the vessels travel around the lagoon, the shaman’s and their acolytes dance, and their shadows are reflected on the sails of the vessels. A narration introduces the show to guests:
Of all the gleaming planets in our vast universe it is only here on Earth that water and light harmonously unite to create the wonder of life. We most graciously welcome to a timeless celebration of water and light, with roots as far reaching as time itself. Here, where the forces of nature meet in harmony, the spirits of the animals are freed to dance together in the night sky creating Rivers of Light. We are united in this special place to celebrate the magnificence and wonder of all living creatures. For in life we are all one.
Mist screens and lighting emerge in the back of the lagoon showcasing animals before the Parade of the Animal Spirit Guides
Parade of the Animal Spirit Guides
Four animal lantern floats emerge in the lagoon, each highlighting different parts of the world. The animals are meant to be spirit guides through the show.
- Tiger – represents fire and light
- Elephant – represents majesty and the land
- Turtle – represents sea and water
- Owl – represents sky and all above
As the animal spirit guides make their way around the lagoon their lighting changes and they interact with the four lotus floats that were already in the lagoon. The lotus flower floats transform into fountains, spraying synchronized water from their center as the mist screens in the back of the theater illuminate with images of animals and ultimate a lotus as well.
Dance of the Lotus
The shaman’s and acolytes continue their spiritual dance as a fifth, larger lotus float emerges in the center of the lagoon. The lotus floats continue to illuminate, change colors and dance as fountains while the mist screen accents them with light and animal imagery.
We Are One
The music softens before reaching a crescendo of rhythmic drumming. Animals of all kinds appear on the mist screens, before the music transitions into We Are One. During this sequence, the mist screens are the focus and a montage of different animals and light are projected.
The music in this sequence varies between the rhythmic drumming and the calmer chorus and lyrical portions of “We Are One”.
Smaller mist screens originating by the other floats join the larger mist screens. These smaller screens show similar images on a smaller scale.
Rivers of Light
The shaman’s and acolytes move out towards the larger lotus fountain as the mist screens show shadows of animals marching and lasers and light fill the lagoon. The music softens after a crescendo and the narrator returns before the show’s finale:
Within each of us is a light. A light that shines in all living things. Here where fire and water bridge the earth and sky our light rises on the wind to join the stars. As we journey on this great Earth may we remember the light we share. May we celebrate our bond with the natural world and the wonders that flow on Rivers of Light.
As the narration is going on, the large lotus flower opens up to reveal a tower that changes color along with the petals of the lotus flower. As the music gets louder, bursts of fire emerge from the tower and the other lotus flowers and mist screen all add to the visualization. The animal spirit guide floats and additional projections on the water join the lotus floats once again.
The music reverts to “We Are One” as the show ends with a final display of fire and water.
Afterglow is the closing music that plays as guests leave the amphitheater. As it plays the various floats are illuminated along the water for guests to see.
The musical score (written by Don Harper) was recorded in Abbey Road in London.
The show typically plays once or twice nightly. Depending on the sunset, the general show times can be 6:30 PM, 7:45 PM and 9:00 PM.
The Fastpass area for this show are located in the Expedition Everest viewing area.
Rivers of Lght is one of the high demand Fastpass+ reservations in the park. There will typically not be same day availability. Fastpass+ reservations give guests access to a preferred viewing location near Expedition Everest.
Guests that select this Fastpass+ option will generally not be able to make additional Fastpass+ selections because the show typically occurs at the closing time of the park.
In lieu of Fastpass+, guests can also reserve seating by booking a Rivers of Light Dining Package. Guests combine a reservation at the following restaurants with reserved seating for the show at an additional cost:
- Tukser House (Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner)
- Tiffins (Lunch/Dinner)
The Rivers of Light Dining Package can be reserved here. Or by calling 407-WDW-DINE.
The Fastpass+ queue lines up near Expedition Everest between the projection and show control towers. The structures are weathered and detailed to look consistent with the buildings in the village of Serka Zong (the area around Expedition Everest).
The Standby queue is located near the entrance to Chester and Hester’s Dinorama and is a bright blue signifying water. Guests who have reserved Rivers of Light dining packages will also sit in the Standby area.
Before the show begins, four lotus floats move through the lagoon as the flicker with light. The Tree of Life comes to life with fireflies and animal shadows before the two nomadic Asian shaman’s and their acolytes (students) make their way through the stands.
Variations of the show existed before the show opened to the public. Most notably, the show was announced to have an April 2016 opening. The original show was expected to include over 100 floating lanterns as part of the show’s visual display but those were eliminated by the time the show ultimately opened in February of 2017. Rivers of Light: We Are One debuted Memorial Day Weekend of 2019 and included sections from the live action version of the Lion King.
The closest nighttime show to Rivers of Light is Fantasmic! (mainly because of the floats and mist screens), however it shares similarities with Illuminations: Reflections of Earth (mainly because of the music and fountains) as well.
The biggest difference is that Rivers of Light does not utilize fireworks and only limited fire effects throughout the show.
- Michael Jung – Creative Director, Walt Disney Imagineering
- Michael Curry – Production Designer, Michael Curry Design
- Mark Renfrow – Creative Team Member, Walt Disney Imagineering, Show Director, Disney Parks Live Entertainment
- Mark Mancina, Don Harper, Dan Stamper, Dave Metzger – Composers, Musicians
- Irina Kruzhilina – Costume design