2 Signs That Rivers of Light is About to Debut (And 2 That it Isn’t)

Ever since Rivers of Light was first delayed back in spring 2016, we’ve been getting a steady stream of seemingly conflicting signals from Walt Disney World about the development and future of this show. Over the summer, rehearsals stopped and technical development was stalled, which led many to believe that Rivers of Light had been canceled. However, this past fall, testing resumed and performers who were involved with the show were called back to rehearsal, which, conversely, seemed like a really positive sign.

In fact, as recently as last month, there was a big development regarding Rivers of Light, as several Cast Member previews of this show were held after hours at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Those who have been anticipating this show for the past two years were understandably excited about this preview, believing it meant that a 2016 opening was still possible (which of course, it actually wasn’t).

It’s hard to believe, but nearly 9 months have passed since this show was originally scheduled to debut, and unfortunately Disney has yet to make an official statement about its future in all this time. However, though official updates about this show have not been forthcoming, lets read the tea leaves a little bit and try and discern when (or if) this much-anticipated show will ever debut.

First, let’s look at the bad news:

1. Rivers of Light has been removed from Walt Disney World’s list of upcoming 2017 attractions

Image: Disney

In order to help ring in the new year, the Disney Parks Blog (Disney’s official PR outlet) published a list of all the new things coming to the resort in 2017, including the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, Pandora – The World of Avatar, and even some of the new restaurants and shops coming to Disney Springs later this year. However, there was one notable omission from the post (which you can read here): Rivers of Light

Now while its entirely possible that this was a slick PR move designed to distract fans from the fact that this show is almost a year overdue at this point, many have taken this as a signal that Disney is either abandoning development on this show altogether, or it is so far behind in production that it may be 2018 before it finally debuts.

2. Reviews from Cast Members during their official previews in December were…not great

Image: Disney

One of the big reasons why Disney previews new shows and attractions for Cast Members first (beyond the need to give performers and the tech crew an opportunity to have a “real” dress rehearsal in front of an audience) is because this group is typically pretty enthusiastic for new additions to the resort. However, response to the Rivers of Light previews late last year were mixed at best, which probably wasn’t what Disney officials were hoping for. Many Cast Members noted that the show they saw seemed to have been significantly pared down from what they were expecting to see (and what was show during a media preview last year), and while its possible that this was simply a test run for certain components of the show, many were under the impression that this was supposed to be a preview of the entire show, which made their disappointment that much more palpable.

While there are some real indications that Rivers of Light may not be debuting at all in 2017,

there are a few positive signs as well that we can’t ignore…


1. New signage has been installed around Disney’s Animal Kingdom

While Disney opened up the new Discovery River ampitheater earlier this year for the temporary Jungle Book: Alive With Magic Show, after that show’s closure in September, this ampitheater has sat completely dormant in the center of the park. However, in recent weeks, activity has been going on once again around the Discovery River, with signage related to Rivers of Light’s FastPass+ option popping up near the entryway.

While this happened last spring before the show was originally was set to debut, the reappearance of signage related to this show is definitely an encouraging sign that Disney might be finally ready to announce an opening date for Rivers of Light.

2. Merchandise for the new show is now available online and inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Image: Disney

It’s not uncommon to find merchandise for upcoming TV shows and films around Walt Disney World prior to release. For example, merchandise related to the Disney Channel show Elena of Avalor showed up at the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios several months before this show’s cable debut, and plenty of guests lined up to buy Elena dresses and dolls long before they even knew this show would be a smash hit.

However, even though this type of film and TV merchandise strategy isn’t uncommon, we can’t think of an example where merchandise related to an upcoming attraction was released far in advance in the same way. For instance, pins related to Soarin’ Around the World were released last year only a few weeks before this reimagined attraction welcomed its first guests. Which is where this latest development comes in.

If you take a walk around Disney’s Animal Kingdom right now, you can find keychains, cups, and even glowing wands bearing the Rivers of Light name, which seems curious considering Disney’s lack of updates on this project. And beyond merchandise in the park, guests can also view a selection of merchandise on the Shop Disney Parks app as well! If Disney truly isn’t planning on debuting the show any time soon, why wouldn’t they just hold the merchandise back for opening or dump it at one of the two outlet stores that contain liquidation merchandise? The fact that guests can buy something for a show that doesn’t technically exist yet may be a sign that Disney is getting ready to make a big announcement, and is getting its merchandise strategy together in advance to ensure that there is enough supply to meet demand.

Image: Disney

The situation with Rivers of Light is one that is undoubtedly frustrating for guests (especially for those who were hoping to see this show during a 2017 trip to the resort) and unfortunately there’s no way to really know what Disney’s plans are for this show. And while some of the news regarding this show has been encouraging, there are some signs that Disney still doesn’t think this show is ready. So we’ll ask you. What do you think the above signs mean? Let us know your best theories below!

– Originally published in Them Park Tourist By , Tuesday, January 3, 2017 23:38

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Don Korta
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