Disney Animal Kingdom’s VP Djuan Rivers is a high-flying adventurer

Disney Animal Kingdom's VP Djuan Rivers is a high-flying adventurer
Djuan Rivers (Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Company)

“People around the world consider us the family destination of choice and for good reason. We have four theme parks, two water parks, golf courses, 26 hotels and 27,000 hotel rooms. It’s the largest single site work location in the entire United States,” Djuan Rivers informs a group of journalists during the grand opening event for Pandora: The World of Avatar. Disney has 73,000 cast members, i.e. employees, at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Rivers serves as the vice president of the Animal Kingdom at The Walt Disney Company. Prior, he served in a host of vice presidency roles including Hotels and Business Solutions, the Disney Vacation Club and Resort Hawaii, New Business Development for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, where he worked on a broad range of new business initiatives to drive continued growth for the segment. Rivers has served as the vice president and general manager for the Downtown Disney area which is now Disney Springs, where he oversaw the resort’s premier retail, dining and entertainment district.

He was also the general manager of Operations for the Disney Reservation Center, a 2,000 seat multi-site contact center. He was named vice president of Disney’s first Hawaii resort nearly three years ago before Disney began construction of the resort on 20 acres at Ko Olina Resort. He has been a director of Child And Family Service Inc. since 2009.

“I first met Djuan in the Disney-supported program, YMCA’s Black Achievers. It was my first opportunity to see how entrenched he was in the community. He went on in his quiet way, making things happen. I was so proud of him,” says Annette Gibbs, public relations manager at Walt Disney World.

Leadership at Animal Kingdom is a perfect fit for Rivers. The 20-year veteran continues, “We’re finishing up our 45th anniversary, headed toward out 50th. As we progress to our 50th anniversary, we will expand upon where we’ve started and continuing to grow Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Up until now, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been considered a daytime experience. For the last couple of years, we have fought hard to change that image. It’s all about expanding it and for you to think of it as a complete destination both day and night. We’ve added all types of nighttime experiences including the Kilimanjaro Safari.

“Right along the banks of Asia, we have this beautiful show called Rivers of Light, the tree awakens every night and gives guest great stories. Tiffins … we opened that restaurant last year and it is now the No. 1 restaurant at Walt Disney World for a table service restaurant. We’re getting great reviews.”

Rivers has always valued his commitment to the community. He has volunteered through Disney’s Reading Together program and the Orange County School system as a mentor for the COMPACT program, working with at-risk students from Dr. Phillips High School. He was also nominated as the Walt Disney World representative for the YMCA Black Achievers program in 1998, where he still participates as a member of the board of directors and served as the Executive Champion for Walt Disney World Resort’s VoluntEARS program. Rivers received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Emory University and is a graduate of the Executive Management Program at the Crummer School of Business at Rollins College.

Animal Kingdom’s latest opening is all the buzz. “To cap it off is the world of Pandora. It’s something we have thought about for quite some time and now it’s coming to life. This beautiful movie that hit the screen is [reimagined] here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” he adds. Pandora offers two rides: the Na’vi River Journey, which floats families through Pandora and Avatar Flight of Passage, which is a 3-D augmented reality flying simulator attraction that allows guests to take flight on a mountain Banshee and soar across the landscape of Pandora. The Flight of Passage, or as this writer likes to call it, #BansheeRide is right up Rivers’ ally.

An adventure traveler, Rivers skydived over Mount Everest at 30,000 feet. He also shares, “I have had a chance to run a marathon at the South Pole, Antartica, climb the seven summits. I am the guy who likes to do all kinds of things. To be able to get on the back of a Banshee and soar across Pandora … by the way, I have already started saving to take the flight into space … to be able to go to Pandora on a daily basis, is a dream come true both personally and professionally.”

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