Step Back (February/March): Kali River Rapids

Joan Feder

Feature Article
This article appeared in the February 23, 2021 (#1125) edition of ALL EARS®

Editor’s Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

Kali River Rapids


Join us on our monthly journey into the past as we explore the history of Walt Disney World and the Walt Disney Company. This time we explore the Kali River Rapids which opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in March 1999.

According to Disney, the Kali River Rapids is a “thrilling whitewater adventure through a lush jungle in the heart of Asia.” But that was not the original plan.

Initially, the attraction was going to be named Tiger Rapids River. It would be the sister attraction to the Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa. It would also fulfill Walt’s abandoned dream for Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise: a river safari that showcased living, breathing animals.

Guests would float downstream while viewing Asian animals including elephants and rhinoceros. They would see the splendor of an Indian Palace and witness the dangers of destroying the environment. The ride would end with a plummet through whitewater rapids.

Imagineers soon realized that this concept would not work. The rafts would move too fast to give guests enough time to see the animals. Also, the constant noise from the ride, including the sound of guests’ screaming during that final plunge, would be traumatic for the animals.

So, the water-based safari idea was out, along with the name, Tiger Rapids River. Instead, it would become Disney’s very first river rafting attraction.

Kali River Rapids opened on March 18, 1999. The ride is themed as a rafting expedition that travels down the Chakranadi River. In keeping with the Animal Kingdom’s theme of conservation, the focus is on the dangers of deforestation.

According to the backstory, a local woman, Manisha Gurung, founded Kali Rapids Expeditions. She wanted to teach visitors about preserving wild places like the jungle. She also wanted to show her neighbors that they could earn a living with eco-friendly alternatives to illegal logging.

Guests enjoy the expedition on round, 12 person rafts. The boats all have fanciful names like “Sherpa Surfer” and “Kathmandoozy.”

The ride starts with a 90-foot lift hill. The raft floats past a waterfall, gushing geysers and lush vegetation. Suddenly the atmosphere changes. The water gets rough. The scent of jasmine and ginger give way to acrid smoke, and the jungle becomes a bleak landscape of charred logs and tree stumps.

The river drops, and the raft plummets 20 feet down the rapids. Riders are drenched by waves as the boat bumps and spins through the whitewater.

The raft and its passengers continue on, getting wetter and wetter as they go. There are drips, water jets and spraying elephant figurines. After a ten-minute trip, the soaked explorers are returned to dry land.

In short, if you like to get wet, this ride is for you. There are seven pumps that push about 150,000 gallons of water on this attraction. There is no way to ride Kali River Rapids without getting drenched.

But for now, Animal Kingdom explorers will have to stay dry. Kali River Rapids is closed for refurbishment. It is currently scheduled to reopen on April 1, 2021.