When a new experience opens at Walt Disney World, people generally fall into three different categories: those who are so excited that they are counting down the days, those who are horrified by the prospect of crazy crowds and will wait until it quiets down, and those who land somewhere in the middle. Count me as someone who falls in the latter category; I am usually excited for a new experience at Walt Disney World, but not willing to stand in crazy lines with thousands of other people to see it. I usually try to get some sort of a preview, and if that fails, I will live vicariously through others pictures and videos until the craziness dies down.
This is how I felt about the new land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Pandora – The World of Avatar, which officially opens to the public on May 27th, 2017. I have never seen Avatar – and honestly, I have no desire to – but I was still excited for this new land that has been in production for such a long time. The land was conceived through the brilliant combination of Avatar director James Cameron and legendary Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, so expectations were high, and demand to get in to the land early for a sneak peek rose as the opening day got closer and closer. Disney opened up preview opportunities for Annual Passholder and Disney Vacation Club Members for the weeks proceeding opening, and then opened a lottery to allow Walt Disney World Cast Members and their guests to get a glimpse at the land as well. It was during one of these previews that we got to go and experience everything Pandora – The World of Avatar had to offer, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Here are my top seven reasons that you should definitely stop by this new area on your next Walt Disney World trip.
1. The atmosphere
One of the general concerns that many Disney fans had once Pandora was announced was that it wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the park. I admit that this was one of my biggest worries too – Animal Kingdom is my favorite park and I haven’t been the biggest fan of some of the nighttime additions they’ve made over the past year; I think that they take something from the immersive feel of the park, and don’t particularly fit in. I couldn’t see how a movie about what seemed like a lot of blue people could possibly add anything positive to a park focused on education and conservation of animals. I’m very pleased to say that my fears were unfounded, and Pandora blew me away with how perfectly it actually fit into the rest of the park. From the lush rainforests to the cascading waterfalls to the incredible floating mountains, the landscape is as breathtaking and immersive as the rest of Animal Kingdom. As easy as it is to cross over from Africa to Asia in the park, it’s just as easy to cross over to this new land and believe that you’re on a totally different planet. While walking around Pandora, it’s easy to forget that the rest of the park is just a few steps away, and it was almost a bit jarring to go back into the rest of the park after spending time in this area. It fits in with the rest of the park beautifully.
2. The rides
Pandora features two brand new rides: the Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage. Both rides were open during our preview, and had considerably shorter lines than I can imagine they’ll have for a very long time once the land opens to the public! Both rides have FastPass+ available for booking now, and I would definitely recommend using that option if at all possible.
The Na’vi River Journey is a boat ride, similar to It’s a Small World, where you journey into a bioluminescent rainforest to search for the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. The ride is pretty short, and easily tame enough for everyone to enjoy. The colors in the bioluminescent rainforest are spectacular, with all kinds of plant and animal life to look at. The end of the ride brings you to the Shaman of Songs, which is hands down the most lifelike audio animatronic I have ever seen; the technology here is beyond incredible,with every movement so fluid and natural, it’s hard to believe it’s not real!
The other ride is Avatar Flight of Passage, where you can fly on the back of a banshee on a 3D adventure. In my opinion, this ride will replace Expedition Everest as the must-do thrill ride at Animal Kingdom, and I would expect lines for this ride to be extremely long for the foreseeable future. Without giving away too many details, the ride is similar to Soarin’ over at Epcot, where you watch a 3D movie on a large screen – except you know, you’re riding on a banshee! The ride does have a height limit of 44 inches, and parts of the ride might be a bit too realistic and intense for very young children. The restraints have also caused a few issues so far; reports from previews have stated that guests who are tall or carry a little more weight might struggle to get the ride restraint to lock in place, meaning they are unable to ride for safety reasons. A ride seat is expected to be placed outside the ride once it opens to the public so guests can try to see if they can ride comfortably and safely before getting in line. This ride has gone straight to my list of the top five thrill rides at Walt Disney World and again, the technology is so amazing, it’s definitely a ride worth waiting for!
3. The food
If you get peckish while visiting Pandora, you’re in luck; one of the best quick service locations I’ve ever tried at any theme park ever (yep, it’s THAT good!) is located within the land. The Satu’li Canteen offers breakfast, lunch and dinner options, and you won’t find your typical burgers and fries here. Breakfast options include Vegetable Goat Cheese Frittata with Wood-Fired Herb Crusted Beef and Chimichurri, and Cinnamon French Toast with Blueberry Cheesecake Dollop, Passion Fruit Anglaise and Sasuage. Lunch and dinner options lean towards healthy options and fresh ingredients, such as the Create-Your-Own Satu’li Bowls (the one pictured above features Chopped Wood-Grilled Chicken, Red and Sweet Potato Hash, and Charred Onion Chimichurri Sauce) and Steamed Bao Buns called Pods. For dessert, try the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse. These options are a far cry from the usual fast food fare available at Walt Disney World quick service, and are a delightfully different choice. The Satu’li bowls were absolutely amazing; fresh, tasty, and healthy enough that you didn’t feel terrible about yourself as soon as you were done eating. We also found the portions big enough to split between two adults, especially if you add in a dessert – the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse was delicious! The best thing about the Satu’li Canteen is the online mobile order system, where you can order and pay for your meal ahead of time via the My Disney Experience app, meaning you can just head to the location to collect your food. This addition is fantastic, as it cuts down on time and gives you more time to explore the new land!
4. The drinks
While this drink does look a little bit like the vaguely horrifying unicorn frappucino that Starbucks recently debuted, this is in fact the Night Blossom non-alcoholic specialty drink from Pongu Pongu, a little hut next to the Satu’li Canteen. The drink is described as limeade with flavors of apple and desert pear, topped with passionfruit pearls. It was quite sweet, but very refreshing on a warm Florida day – and very pretty! There are a number of other specialty drinks in Pandora as well. Pongu Pongu also features a Mo’ara Margarita, and the Satu’li Canteen offers a number of specialty beers and wines, as well as the delicious Avatar Sangria (white sangria with Blue Curacao). A word of caution however: I’ve been told to stay away from the Satu’li Refresher!
5. The merchandise
Walt Disney World merchandise shops are often guilty of carrying the exact same products all over the parks and resorts, with very few specialty items in individual locations. I’m happy to share that the merchandise location in Pandora – Windtraders – is about as far from that as you might get. Not a single Mickey or Minnie item is to be found, but you will find extremely unique Avatar-themed clothing items and toys, as well as some one of a kind merchandise items. The most-talked about item is going to be the banshee; this plastic puppet sits on your shoulder where you can control its movements via a control in your hand. The banshees come in a variety of colors, and once you’ve ‘bonded’ with one – aka chosen the prettiest color – you ‘adopt’ it by saying the banshee pledge. This area is tightly controlled by Cast Members, and if you want to go in and look at a banshee or try one out, you’ll have to wait for someone to help you. I’m sure this is to discourage people from playing with them too much, since they’re pretty pricey at almost $50 each. We ‘adopted’ a blue banshee and I must admit that it is pretty cool! It would be very easy to get carried away and spend a fortune in Windtraders, so just be forewarned, save your pennies to do some serious shopping here!
6. The details
One of the benefits of a preview was that we got to walk around the land without too many people; the day we were there was the very first day of previews and for the first hour, we only say about 50 other people in Pandora with us. The beauty of this was that we could really take our time to look at all of the little details – and what we noticed was incredible. Having not seen the movie, I’m sure some of the finer details were lost on me, but even with my limited knowledge, I was super impressed by how every little thing seemed to have been very carefully thought out. It was hard to tell where the real plant life ended and the Disney-created plants began; in the picture above, I actually couldn’t tell you if that was a real plant or not! If you get chance to visit Pandora, the temptation will be to head straight to the rides or the Canteen, but it’s definitely worth stopping and taking the time to walk around the land to truly appreciate the detail that the imagineers have put into this area.
7. The experience
Pandora is a fully immersive world where it’s really easy to forget that you’re in a theme park. Everywhere you turn there is something incredible to look at and explore; from the sights to the sounds to the whole feel of the land, the experience here is something completely new for Walt Disney World. If you’ve ever visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, you’ll know what it’s like to be completely immersed in an area, forgetting that the rest of the park exists around you – and that’s how Pandora feels to me. The area will for sure be crowded and chaotic in the first few months of opening, but it’s still worth stopping by to experience it – and then be sure to stop back again once the crowds die down and you can really take it in.
Are you excited to see this new land? What are you looking forward to the most? Let me know in the comments!