This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Reasons We Love Harambe Nights at Animal Kingdom. When Walt Disney World announced its newest hard ticket event, Harambe Nights, we at the Saturday Six were a bit skeptical. At a starting price of $119.00 per person, this party is expensive even by Disney standards. However, we are big fans of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party as well as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and faithful readers will remember that we recently debunked the rumor that Animal Kingdom was a half day park, so a party at the Animal Kingdom is right up our alley.
Harambe Nights, itself, is a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King, one of Disney’s all time greatest films. The centerpiece of the entire party is The Lion King: Concert in the Wild, a retelling of the classic story using a celebrity speaker, an orchestra, film clips, dancers and more. Does Harambe Nights justify the price tag? We’ll talk about that more at the end of the article, but we can safely say that the party delivers the goods, and here are our top six reasons why…
# 6 – Walk Around Characters
Both the Halloween and Christmas parties at the Magic Kingdom have character meet and greets that often draw huge lines. With time limited at the party, spending 30 minutes, one hour, or even two hours in line to meet Jack Skellington or the 7 Dwarfs is a big commitment. For Harambe Nights, there were several characters (including Mickey and Minnie in tradition African garb, Timon and Rafiki from The Lion King, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto) that were roaming around meeting guests, just as many people remember them doing in the years before meet and greets became so structured. This was a refreshing and unexpected surprise.
# 5 – The Food. The Snacks. THE OPEN BAR!
If you ever wanted to know what it was like going to a Disney or Universal media event, Harambe Nights will give you a taste, no pun intended. There is almost a never ending supply of free food and drinks throughout the entire event. It all kicked off with self-serve appetizers including Safari cheeseburger rolls, spicy Durban chicken, Moroccan beef kefta, and pickled fennel paneer cheese. As a whole, the appetizers might have a been the highlight of the evening, food wise, all worthy of second helpings with our favorite being the Safari cheeseburger rolls.
Going into the Harambe Theatre, guests received a rolled tube of Lion Chow (trail mix) to snack on. When Harambe Nights ends its run, Lion Chow needs to be an option for an everyday snack at the park. It’s perfect for adults and kids.
There was an open bar for the entire event and the drink list included: Beer – Tusker Lager, St. George, Bud Light and Corona. (Regular Saturday Six readers may remember that we recently suggested getting a Tusker Lager at Animal Kingdom’s Dawa Bar, one of the six best theme park bars in Orlando.) Wine – Spice Route Chenin Blenc, Fairview Pinotage, Fairview Goats do Roam White, Wolftrap Red, and Beringer White Zinfandel. Specialty Cocktails – Jungle Juice (which also had a non-alcoholic version available). Coke products and water rounded out the selections.
After the Harambe Theatre lets out, the main dishes are available buffet style. There is a large selection of breads, salads, meat, fish and vegetables. Some of the items included were Katchumbari salad, creamy mac and cheese, spicy vegetable samosa, seared lamb chops, butter chicken thighs, and BBQ pork.
The salads and main dishes are very good, but the overall food quality wasn’t up to the standards set by restaurants such as Jiko, Boma, and Sanaa, where you would normally find more exotic fare like these offerings. To be fair, those are very high standards, and it is much harder to have consistently great buffet food compared to a table service restaurant. That said, the food was very tasty and so plentiful that if you found something you really enjoyed (as we did with the lamb chops and BBQ pork) you can really load up.
There was a nice selection of desserts, including our favorite the Chai cream with zebra stripes. Also worth noting was the fact that all the frozen treats that you can purchase during the day (including Mickey Bars and chocolate covered bananas) were free as well. Be sure to bring your appetite when you come to Harambe Nights.
As for seating, there were a decent amount of tables and chairs set up outside, as well as high top tables that you could stand and eat at. Guests were also allowed to bring their food into Tusker House to sit down and eat. All of these tables filled up relatively quick though, and much like the Food & Wine Festival, every available space became a table – including trash cans.
# 4 – Merchandise
We can’t deny it, we love theme park merchandise, both the good and the bad. We especially love party merchandise, but the offerings can be sparse and lack originality. We were very surprised to see a bunch of unique items brought out for Harambe Nights, all of which looked really sharp. One of the more interesting items, the Legacy Collection CD, will be available to purchase from outlets such as Amazon.com starting on June 24th.
# 3 – African Culture on Display
Throughout the Harambe area were information centers with cast members available to talk about the culture of Africa. The cast members were there to explain which region of Africa each item came from and its significance to the people living there. Not many people want to go to a theme park to learn anything, but we found this aspect fascinating and there were some pretty cool art pieces to check out.
# 2 – Street Party
A live DJ, face painting, street performers (it seemed several of the stilt walkers that Universal loves to use were moonlighting for this event), and a live band were part of the offerings for both the welcome party before The Lion King show and the after party to close out the night. Not sure if it was the festive music or the open bar, but many guests were dancing and having a great time.
# 1 – The Lion King – Concert in the Wild
Using an orchestra, choir, dancers, and a celebrity narrator, the story of The Lion King is brought to life in a new way, completely different than the regular Festival of the Lion King show and the Broadway adaptation. With a running time of almost an hour, the show also displays scenes from the Lion King film on two large video screens. The talent here was stunning, and if anything they were too constrained by the small space that they had, especially considering how large the theater itself is. This was definitely a step above your average in-park show, but the performers should have been allowed to do even more. Disney should skip the actual movie clips and let the orchestra, choir, and stage performers tell the whole story because they were fantastic. Overall the show was a great experience, both funny and moving, but with a couple tweaks it could be one of the most memorable shows Disney has ever put together. Everything they need is already there.
Honorable Mention: Tree of Life projections
To close out the night, the Tree of Life was lit up with projections that were intended to represent the stars in the sky, an important element from the Lion King movie. This was an interesting effect, and we love seeing anything done with the Tree of Life, one of WDI’s greatest creations, but it could have used just a little more magic. A glimmering Tree of Life could send guests home with a huge smile on their face and something very memorable to tell friends and family, but instead this was just “pretty good.” In fact many guests just thought a couple strings of lights were put up, not realizing these were actually projections. It seemed cheap, even though it wasn’t. This seems to be another easy fix that can turn an okay show element into a jaw dropper.
So the big question: is Harambe Nights worth it? We think for adults, yes, even at $120 per person (the more expensive tickets are actually completely sold out for the entire event), but not so much for children at $80. The amount of food was much more than expected, and an open bar is almost a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming situation. It’s something different and done very well across the board, which actually counts for a lot when it seems like you’ve seen and done it all in the parks. Animal Kingdom at night is also a unique experience, one that we’ll all hopefully be seeing more of in the upcoming years. Harambe Nights isn’t a steal at $120 per person, but you also won’t leave feeling ripped off either.
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Loved Harambe Nights. See you next weekend for the latest edition of the Saturday Six where we are going to look at the newly unveiled London Waterfront at Universal Studios Florida . If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles or, for your listening pleasure, check out Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover for his assistance with this article.