We just got back from experiencing Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We tried really hard to avoid spoilers beforehand, pretty much avoiding Disney related social media once all the Passholder previews started, because we wanted to be surprised. So, this article won’t have many pictures in case you are just like us! Also, now having looked at pictures and videos of the land since having visited, nothing comes close to capturing what it’s really like to be in Pandora. We were a little worried that crowds might be an issue, as there were long waits even just to get into the land when it opened Memorial Day weekend, but walking around the land itself was easy and crowds were not an issue. The attractions did have 1-2 hour waits, but we used fast passes which made it easy to get on the attractions.
We were among the many who questioned this land when it was announced six years ago. Why would Disney be making a land out of a James Cameron film? It didn’t quite make sense. But after seeing some of the presentations at the recent D23 Event, we started understanding the reasoning and getting really excited for this land.
In short, this land is spectacular and fits perfectly within the overall theme of Animal Kingdom. The transition between the areas adjacent to Pandora is perfect. Walking along the pathways to Pandora, you can’t see into it. You are surrounded by greenery and start hearing animal sounds. When you are in Pandora, you feel like you are in another world, and cannot see out into any of the other areas of Animal Kingdom. This is an immersive environment to take in slowly; it is a feast for the senses. This land was described as having all the beauty of nature on Earth, but better. The integration of real flora and fauna along with the imaginative species of Pandora is seamless. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not real. No matter where you are and which direction you look, the views are layered with all sorts of beautiful and interesting scenery. Water features are everywhere you look: giant waterfalls cascading off the floating mountains, streams and smaller water features are found throughout the land. The sound of water is extremely relaxing. At times we would have never guessed we were at one of the largest theme parks in the world. The land isn’t massive, but you could spend hours just exploring and taking it all in. There are so many details we know that we missed, as this land is rich with story, but it just gets you excited to go back and explore.
Our first visit was during the daytime, and everywhere we looked we found ourselves saying, “this is going to be amazing at night.” As Pandora transitions to the bioluminescent forest at night, everything is aglow. The effects are amazing. Everything from the pathways up to the floating mountains is illuminated in various ways. Once we experienced Pandora at night, we went back the next day and felt a greater appreciation for the beauty of it during the day. It definitely must be experienced both in daylight and at night.
Another striking feature of the land is that all along the pathways there is no background music. You just hear the audio of the various creatures of Pandora. And it changes during storms and at night. The soothing background music can be heard in the restrooms (the restrooms are quite wonderful in this new land) and in the gift shop and restaurant. Walt Disney World can be quite a stressful park with all the hustle and bustle, but Pandora is a place where you can relax.
We dined twice at the new quick-service restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, for breakfast and dinner. Both meals were excellent and the Canteen has some really different dining options for the more adventurous palate.
Now, for the attractions. We rode both the Na’vi River Journey and Avatar: Flight of Passage twice with fast passes. We want to come back when there are shorter standby times to experience the regular queues, because they have a lot of interesting details that are missed when you use a fast pass. The views and scenery in the Flight of Passage queue are really neat because you ascend into the floating mountains. We had heard that the best way to describe Flight of Passage is it is like Soarin’ on steroids. How can that be? Well within seconds of the experience beginning, you realize it is just that! Sites, sounds, smells – it truly was a thrilling experience riding on the back of a banshee. The second time around we also were able to notice that the ride is actually just as high up off the ground as Soarin’ is. If you are up to it, feel free to look down and to the right and you’ll realize this. This is easily a new favorite attraction of ours and we can’t wait to ride again!
The Na’vi River Journey is a slow moving boat ride through the bioluminescent forest. One thing that was very important to Walt was that every inch of an attraction be themed, and this attraction lives up to that standard. It is more of a tour of the area rather than an attraction with a story, but that was just fine with us. It is relaxing and enjoyable.
There has always been a discussion within the Disney community as to whether or not Animal Kingdom is a full day or half day park. If you’re exclusively into thrill rides, this is probably still a half day park for you, but if you love exploring immersive environments this is now a multi-day park. On our trip, we spent three days at Animal Kingdom and still didn’t experience all the attractions. Because it had rained one of the evenings, the park at night was empty and we really enjoyed ourselves.
One last thing that we want to note is that you don’t have to have seen the movie Avatar to understand and/or appreciate the land. All in all we give Pandora: The World of Avatar an enthusiastic two thumbs up! Joe Rohde and his team of Imagineers really hit a home run with the design of this land, and we can’t wait to return!