Kali River Rapids is Disney’s very first river rapid ride. The giant round raft takes you deep into the jungle of Asia where you embark on a 12-man expedition to explore the Chakranadi River. Along the way you will see the beauty of the forest, the destruction caused by illegal logging, and the thrill of a waterfall drop. Each five minute journey is sure to contain some laughs, some screams, and a whole lot of water! Let’s strap on our packs and get exploring.
Kali River Rapids is named after the Hindu Goddess, Kali, who demonstrates the destructive forces of nature. Her influence will certainly be seen during the ride, but also in the queue leading up to the expedition. Those looking to cool down begin their trek by hiking down the Rice Terrace Road to the town of Anadapur. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it is! If you listened to our podcast on Expedition Everest you will recognize the name from the Anadapur Tea Company. Well, that same region that carted tea up the forbidden mountain can be further explored here at Kali River Rapids. The town of Anadapur has not suffered the same fate as that of nearby Zerka Zong, where the Yeti scared off the local villagers. Instead, this town faces a different kind of threat, a very real threat to the livelihood of the jungle. Rather than a giant mythical snow beast, this part of the region is under attack by illegal loggers. It seems they do not care about the preservation of the forest as much as they do their own wallets. However, some still believe there is a better way to bring support to the community. One such person is Manisha Gurung.
Manisha is fighting to save her village and the jungle that is shares. To do this she started the Kali River Rapids Expeditions. She believes that showing visitors the devastating effects of the slash and burn techniques used by the illegal loggers will bring awareness to the issue and help find a solution.
Before you can become part of Manisha’s expeditions, you must first walk through the dense green jungle. This pleasant little hike is what I love about Disney. They immerse you in the environment before you ever get to the ride. There is just enough path for you to find your way through the lush surrounding of plants and trees. With so much to see, you hardly realize you are actually going through a queue for a line. After passing by some decaying ruins and shrines, you will come to a temple. This is the Tiger Temple, a shrine to all the animals of the surrounding forest. If you pay attention here you will notice both prayer ribbons and bells. In the Tibetan culture these ribbons represent a prayer offered, and the bells a prayer answered. Moving on you will come to another room called the Painted Pavilion. Here the ceiling is covered in beautiful paintings telling the stories of Buddha. This is just another great example of the care and detail that goes into a ride like Kali River Rapids. Finally, you will move past Mr. Panika’s shop, a small bird market, and a bird aviary. While you won’t see any real birds nor will you be able to actually buy any of the items Mr. Panika is trying to sell, you will be further drawn into the rich story.
After moving through the village you will arrive at the offices for Kali River Rapids Expeditions. Manisha can be heard over the speakers talking about her company and her goals of preservation. Before you board your raft, let me give you an “impress your family tidbit.” If you look carefully into the office you will see a paddle on display. This piece of decoration actually contains the signatures of all the Disney Imagineers that worked on Kali River Rapids. Now that would be a cool souvenir to take home! After pointing out that neat piece of ride trivia, it will be time to walk out onto the rotating loading platform.
By now you should have noticed a sign saying, “All riders must wear shoes.” This means you need to be prepared for your shoes to get wet! If you aren’t wearing sandals it would be a good idea to take your socks off before entering the ride. Also, you can lift your feet up once the ride gets going, but don’t expect to avoid the water altogether. My best advice is to have a second pair of shoes, or wear your quickest drying footwear the day you visit the Animal Kingdom.
Once you have your footwear figured out you can climb aboard your raft. Pay attention as you board and you will be able to see the name of your raft on the outside. My favorite of the bunch is the Sherpa Surfer! Once inside the raft you will notice there is a central hub that contains a storage area. There is a waterproof flap that covers this spot so if you have a small bag, hat, or something you want to keep dry you can place it here before you get going. If you have something larger or just want to be 100% sure your stuff stays dry, there are free 2-hour locker rentals located outside the ride before you enter the queue. Hopefully, by now you are starting to understand the chances of getting outright SOAKED are pretty high.
The ride itself begins with a steep 90 foot climb up into the forest. If you have a good nose you will notice the smell of jasmine and ginger; these scents are sprayed through misters towards your raft. While this may just seem like a nice touch added by the imagineers, it actually serves to contrast what awaits down the river. Soon, you will come upon a clearing where the illegal loggers have cut and burned down the forest. The smell of smoke helps you empathize with those seeking to preserve the natural beauty of the area. This ride really does engage all of your senses!
Listen for the sound of chainsaws, smell the wood burning, and see the banks of the river torn apart by the loggers trucks. At this point, it should become clear that you are part of story and not just a bystander on another thrill ride. Of course, the ride is not without any thrills! Once you pass the destructive scene of the loggers your raft will plummet down a 30 foot drop. At the bottom of the drop, a wall of water awaits. This is the moment you and most of your 11 crew members will likely be soaked to the bone.
The anticipation of this big drop and the rotation of the raft make a guessing game out of who will be the wettest. Even if you are riding with complete strangers, there are usually fun conversations leading up to the big splash while everyone waits to see someone else get drenched!
If that person isn’t you and you managed to avoid the worst of the wave don’t worry, there are still a few opportunities to get nice and wet! After you navigate some white water rapids your raft will slow down and float peacefully into a cave. The cool dark cave is complete with dripping water and a few statues that spit water onto the passing rafts. If you are still dry after this, you’re still not out of the woods. Before the ride is over you will pass by a pair of very mischievous elephants. Well, I shouldn’t blame the elephants for the water they shoot from their trunks, the elephants are controlled by the peanut gallery up above. This is a fun way for fellow family members to get involved in the ride, even if they choose not to go themselves. If you have little ones that don’t meet the 38” height requirement, you can let them push the button which sprays jets of water onto passing rafts. The kids can practice on unsuspecting rafts as they wait for their chance to soak Mom or Dad. Pretty cool huh?!
With the elephants behind you, the ride is almost over. The Chakranadi River has lived up to its name, which means a river which flows in a circle. You are back to where you started and it is time to gather any belongings you may have stored in the center console. As you walk away from this watery expedition through the jungle, you will be a walking representation of that sign back at start of the queue: “You will get wet. You may get soaked!”
So let’s take a minute and talk about when to ride and what to expect from Kali River Rapids. I have discovered that some riders left their River Expedition with unmet expectations. The common complaint from these riders seemed to be a very long wait, followed by a rather tame river rapids ride. First things first, I don’t recommend ever waiting in line for more than an hour for any Walt Disney World ride! There is just no way any ride can deliver a pay off that is worth that amount of time in a line, especially on hot and humid day. During the summer time this ride can have a wait time of close to 2 hours! If that is the case, you should wait to ride, or save it for another time altogether.
While the ride is fun, and the theming is really remarkable, Kali River Rapids is not a high thrill ride. Yes, it does have a physical conditions warning, but the majority of the ride is a rather tame float down the river. The ride is more about brining the message of conservation to life through detailed storytelling. Along the way you have some fun and get a big splash. This makes it a great ride for the whole family to experience together. Just don’t go expecting a non-stop pulse-pounding adventure.
So, if you avoid the super long wait times and go in with the appropriate level of thrill expectation, I think you will find Kali River Rapids to be a lot of fun. Of course, there is still the elephant in the room: getting absolutely soaked. With this in mind I suggest one of three approaches to this ride.
#1- Wear a swimsuit or moisture wicking clothing for your day at the Animal Kingdom
If you wear clothes that can get wet and dry relatively quickly, you can hit the ride early in the morning before the lines build up. If you go first thing you might even get in multiple rides. If you are already wet, why not? As the temperature rises throughout the day your cool, wet clothes will feel pretty good.
Even if you don’t add Kali River Rapids to your touring plan, you want to stay as cool as possible at this park. With its lush, dense vegetation, the Animal Kingdom holds in the humidity far more than any other Disney park, making it feel hotter than the other 3 no matter when you visit. Of course, this also makes it a great place to take in a nice water ride like Kali River Rapids.
#2- Bring a change of clothes
If you don’t like the idea of walking around in soaking wet clothes, you can bring a change of clothes and store them in the free locker outside the ride. There are nearby restrooms that you can change in once you are done on Kali River Rapids. This is a good idea if visiting when the temps aren’t boiling hot. A chilly morning or evening would be pretty unpleasant if spent in wet clothing. I would recommend saving the ride until the end of the day in this scenario, just so you don’t have to haul around a bag of heavy wet (and probably stinky!) clothes all day.
#3- Make the ride your last stop of the day
If neither of the first two tips sound enticing to you, that’s o.k. On my last trip to the Animal Kingdom I was wearing my thickest, heaviest pair of shorts. I knew I wouldn’t want to slosh around the park in those after riding Kali River Rapids. So, we all waited till the end of our day at the park and made this ride the last item on our list. Our big crew of 8 all floated down the river together. While my parents, wife, and brother-in-law stayed relatively dry, my sister, nephews, and I got completely soaked! The “after” picture is above so you can see just what that looks like. With my shorts now weighing about 10 pounds, we headed for the park exit. Fortunately, we were staying at the nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge and I got into some dry clothes as soon as we got back to the resort.
Well, hopefully this all helps you formulate a plan of attack so you can enjoy this fun ride. It is after all, another great way to cool down and beat the heat during those hot Florida days. Last week we got a little wet on Splash Mountain, this week we got pretty well soaked on Kali River Rapids, and next week we will discover my favorite way to beat the heat in Walt Disney World. What will it be? Tune in to find out!
Thank you so much for joining me again today! I would love to hear your thoughts on today’s ride. Please leave a comment below, be sure and check out our Smart Guide & Gallery, visit our Facebook page, or send me an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For now, this is your Ride Guide Ben Crain signing off. Have a great week and until next time, make each day a ride worth taking!