Harambe Nights Debuts at Animal Kingdom Park
My 15 year old son and I had the privilege to attend the very first Harambe Nights party event at Animal Kingdom. This special event included a street party, food, and the centerpiece—a special theatrical show highlighting the Lion King for its 20th anniversary. Overall I would highly recommend this event—it was a wonderful experience with just a few “flubs” that I will chalk up to opening night. The event was divided into three parts: the opening reception, the show itself, and the street party.
I will start at the beginning. We arrived at Animal Kingdom around 5:30 and were allowed to enter using our Harambe Nights tickets (I believe 4:00 is the earliest you can enter with just this ticket). As we entered we were directed to a particular cast member to get our wristband. There were four different animals to assign your seating area and we were given Giraffe bands. People were streaming out of the park, and it already felt like we had it to ourselves. To take up the spare time we went on a safari—little did we know a rhino traffic jam would cause the safari to be extra long. Once we got off preparations were underway in Harambe for the party, but we walked around to Asia and were pretty much the only guests in sight.
Just before 7:00, the party start time, we headed back over and were escorted into the new area of Harambe around the Festival of the Lion King’s theater. Here we were served drinks (beers, wine, sodas and Jungle Juice—both alcoholic and non), along with appetizers including Safari Cheeseburger Rolls, Moroccan Beef Kefta, and Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese. The food offerings were delicious, and I always love Jungle Juice, but my favorite parts of the opening reception were the other activities they had going on. There was face painting in a “Rafiki” style—similar to the way he marked Simba in the movie to help everyone (young and old) get into the spirit of the event. There were also various stations where you could learn more about African culture, history, music and natural resources (including animals). My son and I learned to play mancala—an African game using marbles. All of the “ambassador” cast members from Africa were very friendly and happy to share their culture.
Next up was the actual show. We queued up a few minutes early hoping to get a good seat. As we entered the theater we were given our cylinder of Lion Chow (Sea Salted Toasted Pretzel Chips, Benne Crumbs, Cardamom Candied Pecans, Golden Raisins and Dried Cherries). I really enjoyed this alternative to popcorn and I hope they continue to serve it in Harambe—maybe where they have the fruit.
As we were seated for the show I was immediately disappointed. “Operations” cast members as they were called were seating everyone and you really had no choice even within your section. We were as far over to the side and behind the orchestra as you could get. I really didn’t think any of the seats in the Giraffe section were great, but ours were terrible—I really don’t feel they should’ve been seating anyone in that location. And we weren’t the only ones—throughout the show they kept escorting guests down from higher seats in the Giraffe section to fill in the empty rows they had left in front of us (which was also distracting). We could see the narrators, and a bit of the dancing, but really none of the choir. We were able to see the orchestra and the screens plainly. We did not pay extra for the preferred seating, but I wish we had. I don’t know if the Giraffe section was the only non-preferred section, but all of the other areas appeared to have a much better view.
Aside from our view, I really enjoyed the show. It was powerful and moving. It did get a late start, but I think that is forgiven for an opening night performance. Viola Davis was the celebrity narrator, and I am a big fan of her performance in “The Help.” I think she did a great job conveying the emotion of the story along with her co-narrator. Again, there were a couple of miscues, but it was the first real performance. This was not a special edition of Festival of the Lion King, it was something entirely different celebrating the movie The Lion King and the story it tells on its 20th Anniversary. The performance intertwines scenes from the movie, live narration/storytelling, dancing, music and song. It was well choreographed, and, as I said, powerful. If you are a fan of the Lion King you would definitely enjoy this.
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After the show ended (it lasted approximately 55 minutes), the audience exited and moved around the the Harambe Village area for the street party. There were buffet lines set up in various places outside, along with inside the Tusker House Restaurant. This is where it became a little confusing to me, as there were masses of people clumped around some buffet tables and I wasn’t sure where to line up (and there weren’t many cast members or signs to help in the dark outside). In Tusker House they had all of the food selections including dessert all in one place, but outside there were stations where some had a few menu items and others had different things. We waited in a fairly long line in Tusker House to get all of the food we wanted to sample. The same drinks were offered in various locations during the street party. The full food menu was:
- Watercress, Melon, Feta and Berry Balsamic Onion Salad
- Kachumbari Salad
- Roasted Beetroot Salad
- Creamy Mac & Cheese (unfortunately not the Jiko version)
- Spicy Vegetable Samosa
- Slow Roasted Chicken Legs
- Traditional Naan, Onion Kulcha, and Papadum Breads
- Dips: Roasted Pepper Hummus, Raita, and Garlic-Ginger Pickle
- Mango, Radish, Lime and Mustard Seed Salad
- Watermelon, Cucumber and Fennel Salad
- Coriander Chutney Roasted Potatoes
- Seared Corvina Fillet with Curry
- Seared Lamb Chops with Tamarind Pomegranate Sauce (and you could watch them sear them on an outside cooking table)
- Fork Tender Peri BBQ Pork and Vegetarian Eggplant Tikka Masala Curry
- Butter Chicken Thighs and Vegetarian Heirloom Legume Wat
- Golden Pineapple with Toasted Coconut
- Apple slices with Amarula Caramel Sauce
- Ripe Melon with Minted Lime Yogurt Dip
- Rice Pudding with Dried Fruit Compote and Pistachio Gremolata
- Caramel Salted Tanzania Chocolate Kenyan Coffee Bite
- Chai Cream with Zebra Stripes
- Assorted Ice Cream Novelty Bars
We filled our plates to sample a little bit of everything. All of the food was served fresh and hot. And although my tastes are not very adventurous, I found several things I liked. Perhaps due to the time of night we were eating (since the show started late), I enjoyed the dessert offerings most of all. The Caramel Salted Chocolate bite was delicious, and between my son and I, I think we ate 5 of the small cups of Chai Cream—yum! The Pineapple with Toasted Coconut was a very nice, light treat too. Tables were available outside throughout Harambe or inside Tusker House to enjoy the all-you-care-to-eat offerings.
While everyone was eating the street party was happening outside. There was a live band playing and a lot of lively dancers joined in. The cultural stations from the opening reception were back out in the Harambe Village. And there were several characters who you could try to meet. I say try because they were really just walking around and it was hard to get them to pause for a photo. We saw Pluto (in his outfit from DinoLand), Goofy (in his Safari outfit from the Tusker House breakfast), Rafiki, Timon, and Mickey and Minnie (who were wearing African style outfits I had not seen before). There were a few other characters that you could have photos taken with or just visit with—like some of the stilt walking characters. There were also plenty of PhotoPass photographers around to capture your images participating in the activities, or in posed locations.
There was also a small amount of limited edition merchandise, which disappointed me a little, as I was hoping for a bit more and a different selection of items. The merchandise was centered around the 20th Anniversary of the Lion King, and not really Harambe Nights. There was a T-Shirt, a pin, a watch, a puzzle, and a few other things.
It was starting to sprinkle, and we were ready to leave around 10:00, but I heard the DJ announce that the dance party would go on until 10:30. It was very nice walking out of the Animal Kingdom at night—it is a beautiful park and it makes me excited for the announced nighttime activities to take place there on a regular basis in the future. As we entered the area on Discovery Island near the tree of life headed toward the Oasis we were greeted by some of the puppets from the recently retired Jammin’ Jungle Parade along with cast members waving flags to bid us “Kwaherini” or “go well.”
It was a wonderful night despite my small complaints. If you have a choice you would want to avoid the Giraffe section at future performances. One question I’ve been asked repeatedly is do you think it is worth the hefty price. And I do. For the $120-$135 you are getting a special, one of a kind show that is high in theatrical caliber. In addition you are getting an opening reception, dinner, beverages and additional entertainment all in a wonderfully themed environment. If you are able to attend one of the upcoming Harambe Nights (Saturdays through the summer), you should definitely try to work it in—and let us know what you think!