Spoiler alert! This post contains a lot of information and photos about Disney’s new Pandora, World of Avatar. If you want to be totally surprised, then probably best not to read this post!
Tuesday, our self designated day in the theme parks. Up early (for us anyway) and out shortly after 8:00 a.m., arriving at Animal Kingdom by 8:30ish. Parked the car, caught the tram to the entrance. Surprised that the park was already open (official open time was 9:00 a.m.). No surprise that hoards of people were racing, galloping, running and walking in such a hurry they barely noticed any of the bird and animal displays along the way.
Why? Because of the newest themed area which opened in May, 2017 inside Animal Kingdom – Pandora, The World of Avatar! Based on the record-breaking, box-office hit film Avatar, a creative collaboration of Walt Disney Imagineering, James Cameron, and Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, this newest land has breathed new life into Animal Kingdom, boosting attendance by 15% in 2017.
But more specifically, Disney’s newest thrill ride, Flight of Passage, was the reason for all the hurrying! Wait times can range from an hour to up to six hours. Yep, you didn’t read that wrong – six hours! Now as much as I love Disney, there is no way I would stand in line for six hours to enjoy a 5 minute ride. So our plan was to get there when the park opened and make a bee line for Flight of Passage – just like everyone else. Yes you can do a Fast Pass for this ride but even two weeks before our arrival none were available. Besides, the Fast Pass bypasses much of the interesting and detailed pre-ride theming.
Although we had seen Avatar when it was first released in 2009, we had read if a visit to Pandora was planned, it would be a good idea to view the film again. So glad we did since we had forgotten much of the story.
But we quickly learned that the premise of Pandora at Disney isn’t based on the story line presented in the original film where the corporate bad guys from the mining company, RDA, attempted to blow up the Na’vi, a race of sentient extraterrestrial humanoids. At Disney’s Pandora, it is one hundred years after RDA left and never returned. Here the people of Earth are welcomed by Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), a fictional tourism company, to travel to the Alpha Centauri star system 4.4 light years from Earth to not only learn about the culture of Pandora’s indigenous people but to also focus on studying Pandora’s ecosystem of plants, animals, and other creatures.
Oh, boy, where to look first! An incredible, mystical landscape greeted us as we crossed the bridge from Discovery Island into the Valley of Mo’ara on Pandora. Walkways were bordered with gardens of real native plants and flowers intermixed with exotic, strange looking and colorful flora that apparently had been created specifically for Pandora by Disney Imagineers. It looked totally surreal!
WOW! How did they do that we wondered? Ask no more – some of it is explained in this fascinating YouTube video, The Making Of Pandora.
Finally we were at Flight of Passage. Well sort of, the queue was already way outside of the built-in queue area and stretching almost all the way back into the Africa area of Animal Kingdom. As usual Disney does a fantastic job of managing the queues for their rides, and although we knew we had a wait of at least an hour, the time passed quickly, especially as we got closer to the mountains. Hard to believe the incredible detail surrounding us both inside and out.
The queue was filled with things to look at including walking through a tunnel to a research lab where scientific experiments were in progress by the Pandora Conservation Initiative, all focused on habitat restoration, the ecosystem, water purification and the connection of all living things.
Finally after only about an hour in the queue we were divided into groups of sixteen and ushered into an airlock where we were matched with an onscreen avatar’s face and led to a room where we each straddled our own banshee or what the Na’vi call an Ikran (which was actually a vehicle or link chair similar to a moped).
Then our adventure began! Oh, no, please don’t let my fear of heights cause me to not enjoy this I thought as I felt that initial sinking feeling in my stomach and laughed nervously (or did I scream) as we plunged straight down a cliff top into a valley, swooped through an alien rain forest with gargantuan trees, swiftly swerved around massive mountains, glided over an ocean with breaching whale-like creatures and soared dangerously close to massive herds of stampeding beasts and then zoomed through the curl of a towering emerald wave. And to further enhance our sensory experience, we experienced a breeze gently blowing in our faces, a mist as we soared over the ocean and smelled the pungent odors of the rain forest. And as if that weren’t enough, we could even feel the banshee breathing under us! WOW! Sensory overload!
Exhilarating! Incredible! Awesome! Unbelievable! Wondrous! Epcot’s Soarin’ on megasteroids! Disney’s ultimate best ride! What adjectives could even begin to describe how we felt once it was over. Once we caught our breath and came down from the high we were on, we wanted more, uttering “let’s do that again” at the same time! But reality quickly squashed that idea – now there was a 175 minute wait. Nope, I don’t think so!
To see what the ride was like, check out this YouTube video. Obviously it won’t be a totally immersive experience as it was in person (thanks to a projection screen 69 feet wide and more than 97 feet high) or as thrilling without the 3D effects or realistic motion (you can really feel some G’s during turns and dives for example), but it will give you a sense of the ride. Easy to understand how Disney has won all sorts of awards for Flight of Passage.
From there, we made our way to another ride, Na’vi River Journey, where we would venture deep into a bioluminescent rainforest in search of the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. Once again no Fast Passes were available so it was over an hour’s wait. Unfortunately this wait seemed much longer because, except for a few signs describing the Na’vi weaving techniques and the flora and fauna, there wasn’t much to entertain us to make the time go quickly. Except watching everyone around us especially families with young kids playing the Ellen DeGeneres game, Heads Up on their cell phones. That sure was entertaining!
No real thrills here, just a gentle 4 1/2 minute ride in a reed boat downstream on the Kapsavan River through the jungle with scenes of Na’vi tribespeople, holograms of Viperwolves and other creatures and the vibrant colors of the bioluminescent flora. No sign of the expensive $10 million, 10 foot tall Audio Animatronic, the very realistic Shaman of Songs, until close to the end of the ride. Very lifelike! To see it, check out this YouTube video. For those of you interested in the mechanics of the animatronic, this YouTube video explains how it was created.
After we were done with the two primary rides, we wandered about, stopping at Swotu Wayä, the “sacred place of song” to watch a performance of local musicians performing a traditional Na’vi Drum Ceremony (video). That was pretty cool!
Now that my stomach was restored to normalcy, it was time for lunch so we wandered over to Satu’li Canteen, housed in a Quonset Hut type building which was long ago an RDA mess hall but now a peaceful dining facility adorned with Na’vi art and cultural items.
Here we both had the Chopped Wood-Grilled Chicken Bowl, wood-grilled chicken thighs marinated with garlic and olive oil topped with crunchy vegetable slaw and boba balls served with your choice of Base (rice and black beans, red & sweet potato hash, noodles or salad) and Sauce (charred green onion vinaigrette, black bean vinaigrette, or creamy herb dressing). We both chose noodles and the charred green onion vinaigrette. Delish!
Leaving Pandora, we strolled over to the Tree Of Life so we could once again enjoy “It’s Tough To Be A Bug“, one of our favorite shows. Even though we’ve seen it a number of times before, it was still amusing and didn’t disappoint once again!
From there we headed over to see the show UP! A Great Bird Adventure. Although we had seen a bird show during one of our previous visits, it appeared that this show had been revised to be more kid friendly so a lot of goofin’ around between the Senior Wildlife Explorer who hosted the show and the characters, Russell and his furry side kick, Dug. Of course, the birds were the stars of the show!
By now it was around 2:00 p.m. and we were tired, good time to return to the coach for a few hours of rest. But our day was far from over, stay tuned!