The opening musical phrase of "The Circle of Life" prompted a little gasp in our audience at Disney's Animal Kingdom last weekend.
"Festival of the Lion King" is back.
The popular musical show went on hiatus in January when its former home in the Camp Minnie-Mickey section of the park was closed to make way for the "Avatar"-based expansion. The production has been moved to an appropriate spot: the Africa area of Animal Kingdom.
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To get to the new Harambe Theatre, cross the bridge into Africa and make an immediate left, just before the Dawa Bar and Tusker House restaurant. A small sign, mounted near the rooftop, posts show times for the day. Down this walkway is an unassuming white building with a large lion-head patchwork piece. Its structure fits well with the park's established Harambe Village theme; it looks like it has always been there, just hidden down an alley you've never explored before.
There are also a gift shop, restrooms, stroller parking and entrances for FastPass+ and the standby group. The FP+ crowd took up about one-third of the seats inside.
Harambe Theatre's interior is nearly identical to the previous home of "Festival of the Lion King." It has bench seating surrounding the performance area on four sides. The first few rows are on ground level, with a gentle incline for further seating. Some backstage design changes were made, but they should not be noticeable to audience members, said Reed Jones of Walt Disney Entertainment.
The show itself is much the same, too, he said. There were only minor changes, the kind a superfan might notice, Jones says.
Back are the crowd-pleasing Tumble Monkeys, who are featured in a high-flying trampoline-and-gymnastics display (set to "Hakuna Matata") and who inject goofy humor into the show. Returning are the fire twirler (to "Be Prepared," appropriately) and the woman who flies on a wire above the audience ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight"). It feels like those two routines are underappreciated by the guests. C'mon, people, that's real fire.
The 30-minute show looks bright, as if it just got back from the dry cleaner, and the cast — smiling throughout — didn't appear to have missed a step. It's good to have them home.
Hot for Harambe Nights
The new theater also will be home for part of Harambe Nights, the after-hours, separate-ticket event that debuts Saturday. "The Lion King: Concert in the Wild," a new and completely different production with dancers, singers, orchestra members and narrators, will be the evening's entertainment.
I heard grumbling about the Harambe Nights price tag: $119 per person. But the first night is sold out, and the premium seats (sold for an extra 15 bucks) have already been depleted for the entire run. Harambe Nights, which includes food and drink, runs Saturday evenings through Aug. 9.
End of the road
Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade has had its final performance at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The brightly colored, safari-themed parade, which debuted in late 2001, bowed out Saturday.
Its absence leaves the Magic Kingdom as the only Disney World theme park with daily parades. The Festival of Fantasy Parade debuted there in March, and the Main Street Electrical Parade sometimes has multiple runs after dark.
Dole Whip alert
Perhaps Jammin' Jungle fans can take solace in a pineapple concoction now for sale at Animal Kingdom. Yes, the much-heralded Dole Whip, previously considered a Magic Kingdom treat, can now be purchased at Tamu Tamu in Africa.
And you can get it with rum. Cheers.
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