My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Animal Kingdom's Kali River Rapidsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all safe and well out there.
It seems like everyone keeps coming up to me to talk Disney lately. That's no real surprise actually. Most people who know me well enough know that I am, indeed, a big Disney nut, especially a big Walt Disney World nut. So, it's no shocker that people consistently seek out my advice when they're planning a trip down to the most magical place on Earth and I really don't mind. I've been writing here on MousePlanet since 2008, so obviously I never tire of talking about Disney. I have to say though, it'd be great if I was actually planning my own trip to Disney instead of talking to everyone else about theirs! Next week is our February break up here in New York, which means some much needed time off. I have friends going to Walt Disney World. I'll be up in Vermont skiing for a bit with my family so I can't really complain. Still, I can't wait for the Disney trip details to start coming together for our escape there this summer.
Considering I'll probably be back there this summer, one of the things I will desperately need to do when I'm in Walt Disney World is cool off. If you're there in summer it's a daily necessity. Now, I've been further south in Florida. I've been to the Caribbean, South America, southern Italy, even the Nevada desert, but I swear, there's no place hotter than Orlando in July and August. As a teacher, summer has always been the best time for me to go but people are constantly surprised that we actually elect to spend a week in Orlando in the summertime. I know people that live real close to the parks down there who try to limit their time out in the summer swelter. Me? I've gotten used to it. People ask me, "Isn't it hot?" And I respond, "Well…yeah. But nobody does AC like Walt Disney World. Plus there's pools and water rides, so I'll be just fine." If being at Disney means I have to put up with the heat, then that's what I'm going to do.
Speaking of water rides, guests either love them or hate them. Some people just can't fathom why anyone would want to get soaked and then walk around a theme park. I see their point, but I have to say that some of the most fun I've ever had in any park has been on the river raft style rides and Animal Kingdom has one of the best. Kali River Rapids opened in 1999 about a year after Animal Kingdom premiered to the public on Earth Day in 1998. It was Disney's first foray into the river raft type of ride that has become pretty ubiquitous in theme parks across the country. I can remember when Roaring Rapids opened at Six Flags: Great Adventure in nearby New Jersey way back in 1981. It was only the second of its kind in the world, the first being at Six Flags Astroworld in Houston a year earlier. The commercials were enticing. We'd never seen a ride like that before and I couldn't wait for my turn that summer to head south on the Jersey turnpike to get soaked. Since then, I've been on it many times and I've been on many others at many other parks. It could be said that Disney was a little late to the party as far as opening a river raft ride, but Disney was never really about following the competition when designing attractions now were they? So, when it came time to open their version, the Imagineers had to take things up a notch. Did they succeed? Let's find out with my Top 5 things to love about Animal Kingdom's Kali River Rapids.
5 - Soaking Other Guests
Technically, this aspect of Kali River Rapids is after the ride ends. As you exit the attraction you are led out over a bridge which just so happens to have fully loaded rafts full of guests passing by underneath. Rather than just watch or take photos, you're able to control some squirting elephant trunks and soak the guests floating by. Hard to believe it but I've actually managed to stay relatively dry throughout Kali River Rapids only to get drenched approaching this bridge by some stranger with a pretty sadistic grin on their face.
It's a pretty unique thing for a Disney park to potentially and happily make another guest miserable. But it's good clean fun and sometimes the suspense of "Are they going to get me?" really caps off the ride. It's caused a boatful of laughs and it's become a big part of the whole experience.
4 - Cooling Off
As I write this it's about 18 degrees outside and I have the Winter Olympics Slopestyle Finals on in the background where the temperature is a bone chilling 10 below zero with a minus 22 degree windchill. Cooling off isn't exactly on my mind. But as I said above, I'm frequently at Walt Disney World in the heat of summer and, once again, I stand by my statement that Orlando can feel like the hottest place on Earth during the summertime. That said, what could be better than cooling off on Kali River Rapids? Be smart about it. Lock your stuff that you don't want to get wet in a nearby locker. Keep your feet up off of the floor, especially if you're wearing socks and sneakers. You could even wear your Mickey poncho if you're trying to avoid being totally soaked. Me? I do all that, but if I get drenched I get drenched and I revel in it, especially on a swelteringly hot Animal Kingdom day in August. It feels great and, trust me, you'll dry off quick and be hot again in no time.
For a frame of reference, if you've been down the road to Universal and had the soaked-to-the-bone pleasure of riding the Popeye themed river raft ride, rest assured that this is a different experience. You get so wet on Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges you might as well just completely submerge yourself in a pool with your clothes on. Kali River Rapids will cool you off and probably get you wet, but there's wet and then there's Popeye wet. The Kali River cools me off. Popeye is like taking a bath.
3 - The Smoldering Forest
Disney doesn't just build roller coasters, they build Expedition Everest. They take a log flume and turn it into Splash Mountain. So, did they take the fairly common river raft ride and turn it up a notch? I think so, and the smoldering forest scene you float through right before you go over the drop is a classic example of Disney Imagineering at its finest. The entire conservation theme of Animal Kingdom extends into this area of Kali River Rapids and it's a pretty extraordinary example of the Imagineers conjuring up legitimate atmosphere from thin air. I remember the first time I was on this ride and I heard the chainsaws echoing through the trees and then I caught a glimpse of the full size logging flatbed truck tipped over at the water's edge.
Then I began to smell the burning forest and I saw the black smoldering logs. It's incredibly impressive. They were trying to tell a story and, in my opinion, they succeeded. I do hope that those images stay in the average guest's head. However, once you go over the falls and get soaked, I'm not so sure anyone is still thinking about deforestation. Still, the Imagineers deserve major praise for the rockwork, the greenery, and the propping that all come together to try and drive home the overall theme of conservation that Animal Kingdom strives to communicate. It's beautifully done.
2 - The Queue
i hate to sound repetitive in my Top 5's but sometimes you just have to applaud what Disney's Imagineers can do in a ride's queue. In my last Expedition Everest Top 5, I said that the awesome roller coaster's queue was almost as much of a show as the ride itself. I'd have to give Kali River Rapids a close second place in this category. Once again, the Imagineers take the entire concept of simply waiting in a line and blow it wide open to showcase a staggering amount of detail. There are two basic areas that you walk through on your way through the queue.
The larger area, the "Tiger Temple" is filled with statues both complete and crumbling, religious symbols and artifacts and the massive tiger statue as its focal point It's a beautiful area to wait for your journey to begin. Then as you get closer to your point of disembarkation you enter the Kali Rapids Expedition Office, your guides for this journey. Inside you'll find a big chunk of the more than 5,000 props that made it home from the Imagineers research trips to Southeast Asia. Before Everest this was, at least in my eyes, the gold standard of Disney attraction queues.
1 - The Unknown
Referencing my last Top 5 once again, when you get to the top of Expedition Everest, you know what's going to happen next: you're going backwards. When you finally get to the top of Chickapin Hill on Splash Mountain, you know you're going over the falls. The thing that I have always loved most about Kali River Rapids is that you never quite know how things are going to go. I've sat clear across the raft from members of my traveling party and I've been so sure they are about to get drenched when all of a sudden that raft takes a spin and I'm the one getting soaked instead. It's a rare thing at Walt Disney World that the unexpected happens on a ride, but on Kali River Rapids anything can happen. I've walked off dry and I've walked off completely dripping wet.
The other cool thing about this type of attraction is that you either get to be a witness or you get to be witnessed. You don't always get to watch your friends or family full out experience an attraction. Sometimes things are dark. Sometimes they're fast. Sometimes you're busy looking at all that's going on around you. Given the circular shape of the Kali River rafts, you spend a lot of time on them looking at the other riders and waiting for that moment when they unexpectedly get soaked. I've had some of my all time greatest Disney World laughs on Kali River Rapids watching my companions get drenched or looking at their faces as it happens to me. It's an unusual occurrence at Walt Disney World and that just makes it all the more fun.
As I said above, there are guests that have absolutely no interest in a river raft ride like Kali River Rapids and I get it. Getting soaked on a ride and then walking around all day at a theme park is just not everyone's cup of tea. For that matter, neither is a screaming fast roller coaster that drops you backwards or even a timid ride through the Hundred Acre Wood. My advice when it comes to Kali River Rapids is just to accept the fact that you might get wet, keep your feet up, wear a poncho and enjoy the ride. As I say above, it's packed with Disney details and it's a ton of good fun, especially on a hot summer Orlando afternoon.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts about Kali River Rapids. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.