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Guest Review: Harambe Nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Today, we welcome @MealTrip back to Disney Food Blog with an in-depth look — and some incredible photos! — of the opening night performance of Harambe Nights!

We enjoyed our first experience with this new hard ticket event at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom when we brought you a sneak peek from a media event recently. Now that the performance — which includes the new show The Lion King –A Concert in the Wild, a Welcome Reception, and a Street Party afterwards — is open to the public, we wanted to bring you another look at the event.

Let’s see what works — and what still needs a little work.

Harambe Nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

I made my way to the event location in plenty of time to check out the area for Harambe Nights before many of the guests arrived, and the set up is quite well done.

Festively-capped Cast Members greet guests of the event at the front gate of Animal Kingdom.

Cast Members Welcoming Guests to Harambe Nights

Cast Members Welcoming Guests to Harambe Nights

Here’s a close up of the Harambe Nights sign.

Welcome Sign

Welcome Sign

Let’s head in and take a look around.

Welcome Reception

As you enter the area, don’t forget to grab a program right after you check in and receive your wristband. The program contains information about merchandise, food, and the show.

Distributing Programs

Distributing Programs

It also gives you a handy schedule so you know just how the evening will unfold.

Event Program -- Click to Enlarge

Event Program — Click to Enlarge

Here’s the view as I arrived. The streets of the new Harambe Theater District are set up and ready to go before the party.

Streets of the New Harambe Street District as Guests Arrive

Streets of the New Harambe Street District as Guests Arrive

And here’s the area after 1,000 people are let in!

Streets of the New Harambe Theater District as it Fills with People

Streets of the New Harambe Theater District as it Fills with People

There are numerous beverage and food stations set up throughout the area. Here’s an example of one of the beverage stations. And yes — that’s Jungle Juice!

Beverage Station

Beverage Station

The Welcoming Party menu is somewhat light, and everything food and drink-wise is repeated at all stations, so if you’ve found one, you’ve found them all.

Welcome Reception Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Welcome Reception Menu — Click to Enlarge

The self-serve hot “appetizer” stations are well-looked after by Cast Members, and if you feel the line is too long when you walk up to one, just hang back and wait a few minutes. The crowds tend to ebb and flow, and there’s plenty of time to visit the food tables multiple times without standing in a long line.

Self Serve Appetizers at the Welcome Party

Self Serve Appetizers at the Welcome Party

Spicy Durban Chicken will be familiar to guests who have dined at Boma or Tusker House.

Spicy Durban Chicken

Spicy Durban Chicken

Also throughout the area, there are numerous information stations, staffed by Cast Members from various regions in Africa. These are not merchandise locations, they’re more like little educational carts that give you a chance to speak with someone from Africa.

Information Stations

Information Stations

The stations are decorated with some really interesting art pieces. Be sure to chat with the Cast Members and take a look around. It’s definitely worth your time.

Decor Displayed at Information Station

Decor Displayed at Information Station

There was a three piece band playing, and the live music added to the atmosphere.

Musicians at the Welcome Party

Musicians at the Welcome Party

Honestly, I enjoyed the Welcome Reception just as much, if not more than, the After Party. There was plenty of time to try everything and enjoy a drink or two. Standing tables were set up everywhere, but there were no seats available at the Welcome Reception.

And speaking of food, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the offerings.

The Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese was refreshing. You’re not really going to pick up much of the character of the paneer in the mix but it is still a decent prepared salad. Paneer is a mild cheese that’s hard to get to know in many respects.

Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese -- Up Close

Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese — Up Close

I don’t know how African these Safari Cheeseburger Rolls are, but they were really good.

Safari Cheeseburger Rolls

Safari Cheeseburger Rolls

The Moroccan Beef Kefta might be somewhat familiar to guests who’ve enjoyed the food of the Morocco Marketplace during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

Moroccan Beef Kefta

Moroccan Beef Kefta

Spicy Durban Chicken is another familiar favorite. The flavor here was good, but the chicken was a bit dry, as chicken can sometimes get when it’s kept warm.

Spicy Durban Chicken -- Up Close

Spicy Durban Chicken — Up Close

I went back for seconds of the Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese and Safari Cheeseburger Rolls. It was a great combination.

Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese Together with More Safari Cheeseburger Rolls

Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese Together with More Safari Cheeseburger Rolls

The cool little wooden triangle plates are a very nice touch and did an admirable job of holding everything. I wouldn’t mind seeing these plates at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival later this year.

Cool Triangle Wooden Plates

Bamboo Plates

In addition to the very popular Jungle Juice (available with and without rum), there were a few wines available that you expect to see when hosting an African party for a thousand people. Later, we’d see the same wines repeated for dinner.

The Wolftrap, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier, was a good option for guests who favor an easy-drinking red wine.

Wolftrap Red

Wolftrap Red

Fans of white wine could enjoy a glass or two of MAN Chenin Blanc, a light and refreshing option for a muggy Summer Florida evening.

M.A.N. Chenin Blanc

MAN Chenin Blanc

There were also a few domestic and imported beers. Some of the more interesting choices included St. George and the ever-present Tusker Lager.

But really, when you have Jungle Juice with rum, do you need anything else?

St. George Beer and Tusker Lager

St. George Beer and Tusker Lager

The theater district was getting more crowded as show time approached.

Crowds Swelling at Theater District

Crowds Swelling at Theater District

As dusk started to fall, the band stopped playing, and everyone was directed to the “animal sign entrance” that corresponded to the animal on their wristbands.

Guests should receive a tube of Lion Chow, a snack mix flavored with exotic spices, on your way into the show. However, these were just left out in the open at the very beginning of the event… and there weren’t enough to go around once the theater started loading. Hopefully, they’ll fix that.

Cast Members Directing Guests to their Animal Entrances

Cast Members Directing Guests to their Animal Entrances

Are you a zebra or a giraffe?

Zebra Entrance

Zebra Entrance

Giraffe Entrance

Giraffe Entrance

Let’s head in for a look around at the new venue and some highlights from the show.

The Lion King — Concert in the Wild

This, unfortunately, is where my enjoyment of the Harambe Nights experience started to unravel a bit. the “General Seating” area ($120) is in the raised bleachers at both sides of the theater (in the back of this picture) and the “Premium Seating” ($135) is a flat, non-elevated area, in the front and center of the non-elevated stage. The theater has effectively been cut in half by a curtain for this special show, so it’s more like a traditional stage area, and not a concert in the round.

Inside the Theater

Inside the Theater

Here’s my view from the premium seats while standing…

View Standing from the Back of Premium Seats

View Standing from the Back of Premium Seats

…And my view from the premium seats while seated. You can just sort of make out the top of the drummer’s head in between the two polo shirted gentlemen, and the celebrity narrator would end up being located right in the middle of the young lady’s arms in front of me.

I’m convinced that the only premium benefit you receive for the extra $15 dollars is the beautifully carved seat-backs that the “general” bleacher type seats did not have.

View from the Back of Premium Seats, from a Seated Position

View from the Back of Premium Seats, from a Seated Position

While this isn’t a beautiful shot, it shows you an interesting perspective. I’ve drawn an arrow to where my seat was, but I couldn’t help but notice that the first two rows of the premium section were actually Cast Members, and semi-well-dressed management, along with a few Disney ambassadors, all of which were wearing name tags. So presumably, they were “working”. The other two front rows of premium seating were reserved for family and friends of the guest narrator and show performers.

So if you were thinking your premium ticket would get you front-row seats, well, maybe yes and maybe no. You’ll have to cut your appetizer reception time short, and stand at your assigned theater entrance line early. There are only about 8 front row seats on either side of the premium area that are not reserved. The premium area looks like it holds about 300 guests.

While I don’t know if this will be the arrangement for all of the shows (it was opening night after all), I feel those front two rows of Cast Members and management had no business being in the front row of an area that I paid extra to be in.

Detail of Premium Seating Experience

Detail of Premium Seating Experience

In order to see any of the show, I had to abandon my premium seating, and head for the hills — or the top of the bleacher seats anyway. From there, I did manage to “see” some of the show. I use the word “see” in quotations deliberately, because I could actually only “hear” the smallest fraction of the performance.

View from the Risers

View from the Risers

The top four or five rows of the “Cheetah” section had to endure one of the loudest HVAC breakdowns that I’ve ever experienced. It was as if one of the blades of an air compressor had become unaligned and was constantly hitting, metal-on-metal, over and over and over again, several times per second…for 55 ever-loving minutes.

The Celebrity Narrator

The Celebrity Narrator

During quiet moments of the show, guest all around me were looking up, looking down, looking back, pushing on walls and curtains, half wanting to figure out what the noise was, and half hoping that someone…ANYONE… would notice that all 50 or 60 guests along the top four rows were being adversely affected by a facilities break-down.

A Quiet Part of the Show

A Quiet Part of the Show

It’s not as if someone didn’t notice. Two name-tag clad, nicely dressed Cast Members were sitting right next to me, and were also looking around and wondering what the sound was. In fact, after the show, one said to me, “That was a little annoying wasn’t it?”

Well yes, actually it was annoying and I’m still a bit awestruck that two presumable “managers” seem to have forgotten that, while they’re wearing those name tags, it is THEIR responsibility to ensure that all guests around them are taken care of and are having a good experience. Shut the a/c unit off. It’s night, there’s only a half-hour of show to go, the building has several a/c units… just shut that one off… investigate… text someone… call someone… move the guests… do SOMETHING. If you’re just going to sit there and watch the show, then take your name tag off.

Catching the Action

Catching the Action

In some ways though, all of this really didn’t matter, because as exceptional as the choir is, as talented as the musicians in the mini-orchestra are, as athletic and graceful as the dancers are, half of the 55 minute show is, sadly, just cartoon clips from The Lion King. And I’ve seen those before. I have the DVD. Even now as I reflect on the evening, I feel that we really only got to see and hear the smallest fraction of the talent that was assembled in the room that evening.

The orchestra was actually playing the whole time, but they were constrained by meeting the cue points of tightly timed video clips. So what’s the point of having an orchestra? Just use a soundtrack; half the show is a video anyway. The subtle inflections that make African choirs so interesting were lost to inadequate audio mixing in the expanse of the massive space. The powerful dancers were limited to a dance floor area far too small to embrace movements reflective of the expanse that is Africa. In fact, I’ve seen Broadway-style performance spaces on cruise ships that are larger than the area afforded these “Concert in the Wild” dancers.

Part of the Live Performance

Part of the Live Performance

And that’s really too bad, because they all are amazingly talented. While I have not seen The Lion King on Broadway, I have seen the touring production of the show, and this 55 minute piece does not even come close to the touring show quality. Not by a long shot. It’s not the performers’ fault — they were ALL great. It’s the show itself that is very disappointing. In fact, in many ways, I’m still wondering if a modified and more musical and choir-rich version of the daytime show would have had more impact. There certainly is more costuming and pageantry in the daytime version of the show, and there are established high and low impact moments that all flow together and complement one another.

Haramabe Nights Street Party — The After Party

After the show, there is still just a bit of twilight left in the air as guests are encouraged to walk out of the theater district area and into the main Harambe courtyard. This space stretches from the Harambe bridge, including the Tamu-Tamu area, all the way down to the entrance of Kilimanjaro Safaris.

After the Show as Night Falls

After the Show as Night Falls

There were many hot food and dessert stations set up throughout the venue, and in the case of opening night (it was sprinkling a bit), Tusker House was also open for seating and for picking up food and beverages. (Only event food items were being offered in Tusker House, and not the normal Tusker House menu.)

After Party Dinner Menu -- Click to Enlarge

After Party Dinner Menu — Click to Enlarge

Food-wise, there were basically three hot food stations and one dessert station that were duplicated in many different areas.

Hot Food and Dessert Stations

Hot Food and Dessert Stations

At first, it seemed initially that there would be ample small tables and chairs for everyone.

Seating After the Show 037

Seating After the Show

However, the many areas filled up quickly, and I began to see something vaguely familiar about this situation.

Seating Areas Fill Up Quickly

Seating Areas Fill Up Quickly

Yes, it’s the old Epcot Food and Wine Festival “find anything flat and eat off of it” experience.

These clever folks found a light pole, while later in the evening, I myself partook in the “over a garbage can” experience for one of my courses with another lovely couple from Sarasota.

Guests Eating Off of Any Flat Surface They Can Find

Guests Eating Off of Any Flat Surface They Can Find

Tusker House seating filled up quickly as well.

Seating Available Inside Tusker House during the Street Party

Seating Available Inside Tusker House during the Street Party

Outside, a large version of the reception band entertained guest while several characters posed for pictures with guests (including characters from The Lion King, and others, including a traditionally-clad Mickey and Minnie).

Band Plays While Guests Pose with Performers for Photos

Band Plays While Guests Pose with Performers for Photos

Stiltwalkers were also out in full-force, interacting with guests, as were a legion of PhotoPass photographers, dutifully attempting to capture every moment of the action. In fact, there were so many PhotoPass photographers underfoot, I felt a little like an elephant visiting a hamster farm. There were multiple occasions where there were so many roaming characters, dancing guests, PhotoPass photographers, and Disney management staff, I didn’t feel like I could turn around without being in someone’s way.

Stilt Walkers

Stilt Walkers

While guests partied on, I was interested in checking out the After Party Food Spread. I’ll show you some of the highlights.

In addition to hot foods, there was a Breads and Salads Station inside Tusker House (that’s the only place I found it anyway) that also offered Mac and Cheese, Chicken Legs, etc. There were also prepared salads like Roasted Beetroot Salad, Vegetable Samosas, and a couple of breads and dips.

Here’s my plate from the Seared Lamb and Corvina Filet Station.

Seared Lamb and Corvina Fillet

Seared Lamb and Corvina Fillet

I heard good things about most of the items from different guests throughout the evening. While one thought the Seared Lamb Chop was good, I found mine to be a bit more on the oily (and possibly excess cooking fluid) side. I found a station where the Corvina with Curry was just refreshed, and it was delicious, but others found the texture to be unappealing and dried out. This is pretty typical though; feeding 1,000 guests at the same time from warmer tables can be challenging from a quality perspective.

Some of the items were prepared right there and handed to you in pre-portioned dishes. Examples include Butter Chicken Thigh and Vegetarian Legume Wat, and the Peri BBQ Pork with Eggplant Tikka and Masala Curry.

Plated Portions of Peri BBQ Pork and Vegetarian Tikka Masala Curry

Plated Portions of Peri BBQ Pork and Vegetarian Tikka Masala Curry

Having it “dished to order” though didn’t really help with the “dried-out kept too long in a warmer tray” nature of the meats. I’m very familiar with the Butter Chicken at Sanaa. While the sauce in this dish was spot-on, the chicken was dry and overcooked, not at all like when you order it at Sanaa.

Plated Portions of Butter Chicken and Heirloom Legume Wat

Plated Portions of Butter Chicken and Heirloom Legume Wat

On the dessert station, the Chai Cream with Zebra Stripes was quite good, and different than what you might think they are, just by looking at them.

Chai Cream with Zebra Stripes

Chai Cream with Zebra Stripes

For a lighter dessert, guests could choose Melon with Minted Lime Yogurt Dip.

Bowl of Melon with Minted Lime Yogurt Dip

Bowl of Melon with Minted Lime Yogurt Dip

Here’s my assembled dessert plate, along with another glass of Jungle Juice.

Many of the Dessert Offerings and Jungle Juice

Many of the Dessert Offerings and Jungle Juice

Even though they didn’t really start moving guests out of the area until 10:30ish, I noticed that many guests had started leaving before 10:00pm. It’s hard to know what to make of that, but it’s not something you see at similarly priced events during the Food and Wine Festival, for example. People tend to linger a bit more when the event is over, because you just don’t want it to end.

There was some sort of “sparkling blue light” effect surrounding the Tree of Life as you exited the event space and made your way out of the park. But it was, quite frankly, completely unremarkable, barely noticeable, and not even worthy of a snapshot. It reminded me of the sad, last little Christmas tree that you might find at your local convenience store at 11pm on Christmas Eve, where a single string of silver-blue lights being powered by failing AA batteries have the entire tree blinking on and off at the same time… this was just not the iconic “kiss goodnight” we’ve come to expect from Disney, and would have been better left turned off. So instead, I’ll leave you with this lovely parting view.

Breathtaking Nighttime View

Breathtaking Nighttime View

Overall

As much as I love the food and environment at Sanaa, Tusker House and Animal Kingdom, and as much as I was looking forward to Harambe Nights, I can only muster up a 5 on a scale from 1 to 10. While I never encountered anything horrible, there was also nothing that really stood out as being a “wow” moment.

Even with the exceptional performers, it fell a little flat. It was too cartoon clip-heavy, and about 10 minutes too long for my taste. And while the food was all good, there was nothing exceptional there, either. I have had some variation of most of these dishes at other Disney restaurants or Epcot Food and Wine Festival over the years, and they’ve all been better at those spots. Many of the items were overcooked. But also, for $120 per person, I don’t want to share a garbage can with two other folks in lieu of a table.

And so, if the show doesn’t really stand-out, and it’s also not really a foodie event… I’m not sure I could or would actually recommend the event to anyone except those with a really strong love for all things Lion King. With all things being equal, I have to evaluate based on cost. If this were an $80 event, I’d feel better about the evening. As it stands, $120 seems too high, and $134 definitely seems too high.

Even so, I’m not sorry that I went. It was fun and it’s always nice getting little taste of African cuisine, but at the same time, I could have had three nice dinners at Sanaa for the same cost.

For those looking for a little goodie bag at the event close (aka Party for the Senses style), there really isn’t one. Your only take aways will be the tube of Lion Chow and your event program, so hold on to those!

Lion Chow and Programs

Lion Chow and Programs

(The napkin and fabric board in the photo are not part of your take-aways. They just made for a nicer pic.)

Does Harambe Nights seem like a fun evening to you? Let us know in comments if you plan to check out this special event!

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31 Comments

  1. justsaying says:

    Sad it was so disappointing. Was hoping it was going to be good. Doubt there is much that can be done to improve the experience – save removing all of the slots taken up by cast members. But that might not help the trash can table top issue.
    Too expensive for that type of experience.
    For that price per person you can experience Victoria & Albert’s instead.
    Thanks for the review.

  2. Sarah says:

    Much thanks for this review. I balked at the Harambe Nights ticket price, yet worried that I was missing out on something special. I’m glad to know I was spared a waste of money.

    The first hard ticket event I ever attended was the MNSSHP. Between the special parade, fireworks, character greets, Villains shows, candy trails, and costumed guest people-watching, I felt like I got a lot of entertainment value for my dollar at that event.

    The only other “hard ticket” I’ve tried was the After Hours Wind-Down, though I see that as more of a prix fixe wine tasting than an event. That, too, felt to me as a worthwhile value. I tried Tutto Gusto’s offerings, and felt like I got healthy portions of appetizers and wine for the money.

    I don’t see myself going for any event above $100 at Disney. It seems most of those higher priced tickets go for a massive catered meal with a bit of entertainment mixed in. From what I’ve seen of the menus for these events, I can typically find comparable food and dessert offerings in a more comfortable setting. I might miss out on a show, but I’d personally rather target those dollars to something such as the MNSSHP that I see as having more entertainment value.

  3. JoAnn says:

    I read another review that said that there was seating for everyone as opposed to the F&WF trash can tables? It’s a lot of money!!! It doesn’t sound like something we’ll try so thanks for the review and all the pictures!

  4. Brian says:

    When you consider that WDW’s other big celebrity narrator event, the Christmas Candlelight Processional, has no additional charge and you get premium seating for the ordinary price of a dinner at an Epcot restaurant, this seems really underwhelming. It sounds like you get a much better value at hard ticket party events like MNSSHP, MVMCP, the 3D Dessert Discovery during F&W, or premium entertainment events like Cirque de Soliel or Hoop Dee Doo.

  5. Jeff says:

    I was looking forward to your take on this, but was surprised at how harsh this review was on the Cast Members working the event.

  6. Kris says:

    My favorite event besides the Magic Kingdom holiday parties is Party for the Senses. Expensive but worth the splurge at least once in my opinion.

  7. Tina says:

    Have premium seats for closing night. Glad I read the review so I can be prepared, but I’m still glad I got the tickets. My mother and I are looking forward to experiences the evenings ourselves even if we agree with everything you say. Hopefully by closing night some of these kinks will be worked out! Thanks for the review :).

  8. Randi says:

    I think this was a good idea on Disney’s part (to showcase the new Harambe Theater), but it looks like it was poorly executed. I could do what basically amounts to a movie night with snacks in my own home, for free.

  9. Judi says:

    We have premium seats for closing night also, and in spite of this ‘review’, I’m glad we do. The A/C noise was definitely unfortunate, and in fact, if that had happened while I was there, I would have made more of it in terms of getting a cast member to do something about it, or at least attempt to.

    Yes, the price is high for this event, but, you’re getting an experience that just a fraction of the people who visit WDW can have. It’s unique and special, and for that? You’re going to pay. It was also opening night, so in fairness, they should probably get a little break, as they were still working out the kinks I would imagine. I think all the dress rehearsals and run throughs in the world aren’t always going to prepare you for the variables all those guests bring to the table (pun intended ;) ) so as someone else said, hopefully, things will smooth out over time. I am actually hoping there are more after hours special events at AK, and the other parks too! Gives long time veterans such as myself something new to do!

  10. Karen says:

    I was there Saturday night too and have to echo all the comments above. I did not have the premium seating. I was in the giraffe section at a great elevation. However, my perspective was of the back of the orchestra. The lights on the sheet music were very distracting, and the orchestra obscured my view of the dancers. I thought the choir totally stole the show. The dancers were terrific, but as said above, had about the size of my living room to perform. I didn’t think the narrators added anything. They weren’t bad at narrating, the show just seemed really choppy. It was narrate-video-dance-orchestra-tribal guy-repeat. Very choppy.

    I thought the food was generally worthwhile. The portions were perfect. Small enough to try everything and not feel guilty throwing it out if it was something you didn’t like. I think the reviewer may not have explored all the seating areas, because through wandering, I found many many unused tables all throughout the Harambe area. The number of food stations was completely sufficient so there really was no extensive waiting for anything.

    I have mixed feelings about the Jungle Juice cocktails. While they were refreshing, the pourers varied greatly on the amount of rum then added. So, one station you’d get an overpowering rum drink, at another station you’d get nothing but juice taste. And the cups were so small, literally three or four swallows and the vessel was empty. That was really annoying. Attending alone, I started asking for 2 drinks at a time just because there was so little cocktail served up. I am not exaggerating when I say I probably drank 15 of those and definitely was not super buzzed. (And I normally could not drink 15 of anything, trust me.)

    I loved the character mingling. There were no handlers tagging along, so you could create whatever experience you wanted with them.

    Much of the evening, the announcer kept saying “Wait for DJ ! He’ll be performing!” Well he finally showed up at 10:00 and played a few teeny bopper super saccharine “african” pop tunes. Very annoying. That may be what drove everyone home early. On the other hand, the band that played from 8:30-10:00 was really great. They had people dancing in the “street” and generally having a great time. My only comment on that was they could have been a lot louder. (Should have been a lot louder.)

    Overall, I’m glad I went. I love doing any new thing at Disney World. But I would definitely not do it again for the price. It was not a good value in my opinion. The biggest disappointment was the show. I was really expecting to be wowed and for me it fell flat. Would I recommend it? Probably same as above, if you love all things Animal Kingdom, Lion King, etc. then it’s good for the bragging rights. If you’re looking for Disney magic, I didn’t really feel it.

  11. Deborah says:

    Your review lines up with what others have said. I do hope the powers-that-be are reading these reviews. Apparently the show has been quite the letdown for everyone. As for the blue lights in the Tree of Life — one reviewer mentioned that this was to give a nod to the future Pandora (or Avatarland, as most call it).

  12. Alicia says:

    To be perfectly honest, it should be expected that on opening night that cast members/WDW staff/families of the cast would be there in the first two rows. This is actually common practice for most theatrical productions. Additionally, speaking so harshly in regards to what is most likely a perk for working for the Disney company is kind of odd considering that the seating is first come first serve (even though there were premium/non-premium seats). In my experience, if you aren’t picking your seats ahead of time when you are purchasing tickets, you should assume it’s going to be a situation where you will have to wait in a line and then try to grab the best seats first. *shrugs* I just thought that a little planning on the reviewer’s part could have helped improve their experience in regards to the show. That being said, I’ll save my money and just go see La Nouba again (where the seats are guaranteed and the show is amazing)! :D

  13. pam says:

    Thanks for posting – I wish I had read this a bit sooner though. We just booked a trip down just for this event. Hopefully they improve and if not, we’ll be prepared so it’s not as bad as it could be. I think I’m most disappointed to hear that the show isn’t that great. It’s my daughter’s favorite and why we decided on the trip.

  14. Mealtrip says:

    — Sarah — MNSSHP is a great event, as are the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party’s around the holidays… and both are a good value too. Glad to hear you enjoyed Tutto’s After Hour’s Wind-Down as well. I haven’t been to that one yet, but the La Cava Wind-Down event was a lot of fun. You’re totally right, those should be called tastings or pairings and not “events” per say… but I like the format quite a bit. I wish there was a $35 After Hour’s Wind-Down event at Animal Kingdom.

    — JoAnn — After about 9:30pm there was more indoor and outdoor seating available, mostly because people had started leaving at that point. As far as Tusker house seating goes, there was a bit of confusion when leaving the theater after the show.

    It seemed as though cast members (i.e. red light saber event staff) were telling guests not to go that way… now, I “think” what they meant was, they didn’t want you going into the side entrance of Tusker House, but apparently the front entrance was open? I don’t know… there were a ton of people in there when I checked around 9:00pm … but when I tried to go in the side/back entrance when leaving the theater (8:35pm-ish), they told me I couldn’t… so, it depends on when they opened that up.

    I guess after having gone the first time, I would suggest either grabbing a seat right after the show is over, or just grabbing a drink and milling around for an hour, and then begin eating dinner… if you want a seat. Honestly, the crowd levels between 9:30pm and 10:30pm were much more relaxed. That first hour reminded me of the “general admin stampede atmosphere” of a Party for the Senses.

    — Tina — I think if I were to go a second night, armed with the information from the first night, I would have been able to elevate my own experience from a 5 to an 8 … the reviewer in me though, doesn’t think I should have to work so hard at a $135 (plus tax) event. For example, if you want to ensure getting a decent seat for the show, hang out around the entrance that matches your wrist band, starting around 7:00pm. Even though it’s “premium seating”, if there’s a line… jump in then, don’t wait for the announcement to line up… there’s really only a few “premium” premium seats. Just little things like that, will help make the experience better. I’ve seen some Disney press related pictures from the “front row” and the show looks a lot better from down there, than where I ended up at the top of the bleachers. I hope you guys have a great time!!!

  15. Mealtrip says:

    — Jeff — Well, I may not have been entirely clear in the article. I consider anyone with a name tag, to be a “cast member”, so perhaps more distinction is necessary. Every “costumed” employee that I encountered that evening was AMAZING, as they almost always are. They’re always happy, and are willing to help you out in as many ways as they can to make your experience enjoyable. It’s their hard work that make these events enjoyable. And let me also state, that all the contract talent/performers in the show, are also amazing. This group of people however… can only do, as much as they can do. I totally understand that.

    My issue is squarely with the plain-clothes, contemporarily dressed employees… and there were a lot of them at this event. Some have a giant gaggle of keys hanging off to one side of their belts, some have clipboards and walkie talkies, some have dress jackets on, some have aluminum grip pick up tools, and such. Not being ensconced in Disney lexicon, I can only assume they’re “managers” of some type.

    These are the folks that I expect to see doing quite a bit MORE, not less than the costumed employees. Engaging the guests more, checking in with the costumed employees and seeing if THEY need any help, and ACTIVELY making sure all things are going smoothly. If all they are there to do… is watch the show, and then stand around in groups of two and three, talking about schedules and where they’re going to be working tomorrow, which attractions broke down that day and how irate guests can be about that… looking past, around, and over guests heads, instead of looking right into a guest’s eyes when speaking to them… it kind of gives one the impression, that you’re intruding on their evening.

    I’m positive there are exceptions, and I don’t mean to criticize the entire group of “managers” (or whatever you want to call them), as a whole… but at that event, that night… I only witnessed two such people “doing” anything. The other 50 or so that I saw, were just standing around in small groups talking to one another.

    When there is an obvious problem with the facilities, and you’re a manager, you have to act on it… even if it’s not your department. When you see three guests eating around two garbage cans, you have to ask them “could I help you guys find seats, or are you good there?”. If a guest thinks they’re “outside” and decides to light up a cigarette in the middle of an open air eating environment… I don’t believe the guests sitting around that person should have to ask that person to stop… I believe a manager should politely step in, quickly, and direct them to the correct location. I saw this happen in the dining area behind the Harambe Fruit Stand. There were many plain clothes “management” cast members standing around, talking, looking right at the issue, without it even registering as being a problem. Guests intervened for themselves.

    As a manager, when you get a free second, talk to the other employees that are under your charge, and make sure they’re good. See if they are fielding any complaints or concerns, help them out.

    Even though the characters were supposed to be “roaming”, but you, as a manager, see a line of 20 people forming in the center of the walkway, wanting to take a photo with Timon, creating a dangerous bottleneck of people… think on your feet, adapt, ask the people to move over slightly, or get Timon to move over slightly… don’t just shrug your shoulders and go talk with your friends behind the food service counter.

    I didn’t intentionally intend to be harsh, I just want to see this group of plain clothes “management” cast, working at a level that’s equal to or above what the costumed cast does.

  16. Angie says:

    I was really looking forward to see what Disney Food Blog had to say about this event, and I have to say.. I’m a bit disappointed. I also attended on Opening Night and while you definitely have some valid points, I disagree on a few others. Coming into The Welcome Reception, the atmosphere was nice and lively. We were able to get food and drinks without doing any lines and we could definitely get back for seconds. At Showtime, we were handed the Lion Chow by a Cast Member and there seem to be plenty for everyone (and we were one of the last groups to go into the theater).

    While I agree that the show needs some improving, especially in the excessive amount of movie clips, I thought it was quite entertaining and a good show (at least from my section). I thought the food was really good all over and there was plenty of everything (Cheeseburger Rolls!). The after party area never felt crowded to me… I actually thought it was quite easy to move around between the food, taking pictures with the characters and all around the Harambe area. They were heavily staff and honestly, I’m glad, because I felt they were being attentive and making sure that everything was running smoothly (which it was during the after party). I’m happy they had so many photographers because I did purchase the Memory Maker and I definitely wanted to get as many pictures as I wanted and all of them turned out amazing!

    This event is definitely not for everyone, maybe not something to do on your first visit to WDW, but as a frequent Disney guest, I found that 126$ (general admission with taxes) including food, drinks (alcohol included) and a show were not a bad deal.

    Just giving my two cents from a different perspective. :)

  17. Billie Hutson says:

    I sure hope Disney is reading your review !! And make some changes before we get there. I am very disappointed in the “premium” seating. I paid the $135.00 a person expecting a good seat and a good table for eating.

  18. Dawn says:

    Thanks so much for the review, A.J.! As much as I love it when you share a rave review, it’s just as important to know when things missed the mark. Incidentally, I do agree about the cast members needing to either take off their name-tags or else make sure they’re upholding Disney standards of service, especially if they’re management. Hopefully, Disney will work the kinks out of this event and make it worth the price. Thanks again for always giving us your honest opinion!

  19. Irunn2doorz says:

    Thank you for your honest opinion! I really wanted to go to this, but I am now seriously considering not given that it isn’t worth the hefty price tag. Is Lion King 20th Anniversary merchandise available outside of this event? To be honest, that is what I want the most! I have a birthday around the same time and love the Lion King so that is why I wanted to go.
    Thanks!

  20. Mark says:

    Nice to see a no fluff review. Sounds like opening night was not up to scratch. My wife and I thought it sounded great, but I think we’ll wait until they have the bugs out. Disney employees in the first two rows of seating is totally unacceptable. Look I love Disney, but when they screw up we need to call them on it. They sell at a premium price and if it is not a premium product they need to know.

  21. CHERIE says:

    This is what reviews are for – I don’t think you were being harsh about CMs – but it did not sound very ‘disneyesque’ to me – for the most part we love disney because of the service and attention to detail . . . not being able to see a show from half the premium seats is not attention to detail. Honestly I would have been quite unhappy to have spent even $120 on such an experience – it sounds so disappointing even just reading it. If you pay for a hard ticket event it should be one that doesn’t require you to run and line up just so you can SEE and HEAR the show at the same time – absurd. As for the CMs, well if they’re there with their nametags on then they’re representing Disney, and I agree it really sounds like they did a terrible job of doing so! Not magical, not one bit.

    And I adore the lion king show – can’t imagine why they wouldn’t simply amp that up for nighttime rather than doing a half cartoon show! Silly again

  22. Hanover says:

    We were there this past Saturday for the opening night of Harambe Nights, and are actually in one of your crowd photos. We enjoyed Harambe Nights and were glad we went. We were in the middle, top of the giraffe section during the show. Although the bleachers were padded, I thought the material was a little rough on my legs, even through my shorts. I was glad that we had stadium seating vs. the flat seating the premium seats had. We really enjoyed the show and the food offerings before and after the show. I was the only one of the 4 of us that liked the lion chow. We stayed until the very end of the party and would do this event again. It’s definitely worth walking around all areas too because we were pleasantly surprised by all the fruit offered in the cart near the start of the safari ride. Our boys liked the large variety of ice cream treats offered from some of the outdoor ice cream carts too. Inside Tusker House, they only offered 2-3 types I thought there were plenty of places to get drinks from all over. The lines were a little long in Tusker House, and I did hear some management speaking later when I went back inside to take more photos about changes to make for upcoming nights. There was an elderly lady in a wheelchair next to us at the tables with her daughter and they didn’t even get in the main food line because of it’s length. They did get the mixed bowls. We offered to get them items and my son ended up getting them Mickey bars at their request. I agree about the DJ music and wished the band had played longer. The character interaction was nice. I received a Disney survey about this night and will add my thoughts. We would definitely do this event again if changes were made to the show.

  23. Hanover says:

    I forgot to add that I really wish they had offered additional merchandise specifically related to Harambe Nights or more items from the Lion King.

  24. Marilyn Smith says:

    Wow.. Sorry some had a not memorable time on opening night but for me it was an absolutely marvelous night..yes I sat in bleachers and had great view of show… Yes it was opening night and with any event Broadway show or not there will be miscues to correct but I can not overstate this event is worthy to see was awesome..!!!!!!!Had I the time would catch it again!

  25. Lisa says:

    We attended the event last night, and it was fantastic. We had regular seats (not the premium ones), and we had a great view. Yes, there were a lot of movie video clips included, but they kept switching over to the view of what was happening on stage. Maybe this was new and they didn’t do that the first night? When the show was over, it was raining and most of the event was moved indoors. They still had a few food stations open outside, and we opted to sit at one of the many abandoned outside tables to avoid the crowds (I don’t mind getting wet). When we wandered around afterward, we noticed that there were plenty of tables inside, too. They had tables set up in the show theater,and Tusker House and Pizzafari were open so that people could sit in there as well. The character greetings and stilt walkers were moved indoors to the theater and Tusker House. The food was wonderful. As a picky eater, I was surprised that everything I tasted was so tasty. The one exception was the Lion Chow. I had high hopes based on what I read, but mine was stale. I think the containers got wet. Oh, well! I generally enjoy the special ticketed events, and this was no exception. I think it was well worth the $119.

  26. Darrin says:

    Thanks for the review, I will take it off of my to do list. I wonder if Disney is taking their guest for granted by serving up subpar entertainment.

  27. Margaret says:

    I have no idea if this reviewer is a professional critic, just someone who decided to show up for Harambe Nights. Judging from the pictures I would guess they didn’t just show up. I was there for the debut, and paid $134.00 for my ticket. I haven’t regretted it, and I don’t let go if that kind of money easily.

    I thought the food was good. I don’t normally eat African food, so I don’t have a point of reference. But, I didn’t go just for the food. I went for the experience. There seemed to be plenty of tables to use for the food before the show, and when people were finished eating they vacated the tables. As we moved inside for the show, we were given the Lion Chow. Take a good look at the wooden container. It is paper thin. The Lion Chow was good.

    Cast members have to pay the same for tickets as non-cast members. No seats are reserved for them. I asked about that. The seats that were shown as reserved for cast members in the above picture were occupied by the president of Walt Disney World and a couple of people with him. I have found out that from feedback offered, some of the seating has been changed for better viewing and comfort. For example the bleacher seating is now cushioned. I, also, noticed the noise during the quieter moments. It was debut night, so I would think any glitches will be corrected. I enjoyed the show. I didn’t expect a Broadway stage, or a Broadway show. The cast and orchestra were great.

    I enjoyed the meal after the show, as well. We had no problem finding a table. It was in an out of the way spot. The night was nice. There was a forecast of rain, but it held off, and only sprinkled a little. There was no wait for food or drink that I noticed, even though we did not leave the theater quickly. The main crowd had already exited the theater, was being served, and we still found seating. Still there was no wait to be served.

    The cast members clearing tables where guests hadn’t were very pleasant, as were the cast members who were walking around offering cups of ice water. Characters and stilt walkers in costume were passing along continually stopping when anyone wanted a photo with them. I didn’t see the congestion the writer encountered. I did see some photo pass photographers, but they didn’t stand out. The music for the street party was good. You could be as close as you wanted, or away from the music and dancers.

    Everything was included in the one ticket. The shops did have some special Lion King items for purchase if you wanted to spend any extra. And, I can assure there were plenty of guests who did.

    As for people leaving earlier than 10:30 PM, we were some of those people. I left about 10:15 PM. The event was scheduled to close at 10:30 PM. When you have partied all you want there is no reason to stay longer.

    I enjoyed the Kiss Goodnight. When I left it was peaceful. There were cast members positioned to direct guests, and say goodnight. At one point following a curve in the trail were the animals from the parade which were operated by cast members. They are special to see in daylight, but at night with the beautiful colors and lights, in the peaceful night air, well let’s just say, it was amazing. Then after we passed them, and looked back up the path between them, there was the Tree of Life lit with hundreds of little lights.

    As we neared the gate there were more cast members gathered to say goodnight and safe travels. Although they were all working late, not one of them looked like they wanted us to hurry up and leave. Not one of them looked like they were tired, and just wanted to get home. They were all very pleasant, and seemed happy we enjoyed ourselves.

    One more note. For the night ecv’s were provided free of charge. That in itself is a $50.00 saving. Not sure what the reviewer expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed the night.

    I say go EXPERIENCE Harambe Nights!

  28. Carol says:

    I love the “it’s opening night so we should expect issues” WHY? They didn’t give those guests a price break to iron on the glitches for them. Why are Disney guests expected to pay for Disney’s testing? It’s an ongoing theme with the “Disney cheerleaders” We pay full price for things that aren’t ready for prime time, but are told “we should be glad they agreed to take our cash” LOL! And if the CMs are there to have a private party then we shouldn’t be charged for it :)

  29. Margaret says:

    I am not a Disney cheat leader. I noticed a couple of glitches during the show that I feel will be cerrected. That did not ruin the whole evening for me. The evening as a whole was a success for me. I paid for the whole evening.

  30. Kristie says:

    Respectfully, I disagree with this review. I attended last night’s party. It was definitely a 20 out of 10. From the food, to the music to the show. We had premium seats and could see the show just fine. And, the show was amazing, loved the speaker, narrator, chorus, dancers and of course the infusion of what we were there to celebrate….the movie. They had so much for you to engage in, it was well worth the price. In my opinion, it was a fitting tribute to what I consider Disney’s greatest piece of animation!

  31. Eddie Diaz says:

    I have to agree with the review. Just got home from tonight’s performance…wow…I am still asking was that a Disney production?…simply not a a good show for all the hype. I rather see the festival of the lion king during park hours. Seating was aweful. We were in the giraffe section, all I saw was the back of the orchestra, could hardly hear the choir, the lighting doesn’t highlight performers solos and quite frankly the show just sucks!…the food was good and the after party well done. But not worth the price. Disney failed on this one.

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