Pandora – Everything You Need To Know

by on March 21, 2017 8 Comments

Filed under: Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World (FL)

Pandora – Everything You Need To Know

Disney’s collaboration with James Cameron, Pandora – World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom park is the biggest expansion we’ve seen at Walt Disney World since New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. It was first announced in 2011 (yeah, it blew our minds that it’s been nearly 6 years too).

Want more Pandora, and then some? Listen to The Disney Dish Podcast with Jim Hill, produced by TouringPlans. Find episode 123 on iTunes or on all fine podcast apps.

We also recommend this video from Brian McNichols on Pandora touring strategies. It was made before we knew details about how FastPass+ will work with the new attractions, but the advice is still sound.

Check out our Pandora page for the latest news on Animal Kingdom’s newest land and attractions.

When will Pandora open?

The official opening date is May 27, 2017. However, media is invited on the 22nd, and the land should be in soft open. When an attraction is in soft open, it’s accessible to guests, but can be closed at any time for testing. This lets Disney work out the kinks of something new before its grand opening. Disney Vacation Club owners, Annual Passholders, and Cast Members can expect their own previews of Pandora, possible as early as the last week of April. We will post more information to the blog when we hear it.

What attractions does Pandora have?

Pandora will open with two major attractions AVATAR – Flight of Passage and Na’vi River JourneyFlight of Passage is similar to Soarin’ except you’re on a “banshee” not a hang glider, and you’re “soarin'” over Pandora, not Around the World. There is a 44″ height requirement to experience this attraction, which is higher than the 40″ required for Soarin’ indicating a slightly more intense ride. Unlike Soarin’, this attraction will use 3D goggles to enhance the visual effects.

Na’vi River Journey is a boat ride attraction (“it’s a small pandora?”). Previews on ABC feature shows that this is the most technically sophisticated attraction of this type at Disney World. Both attractions are housed a single show building.

Then what’s the “Valley of Mo’ara” I’m hearing about?

This is the non-attraction part of Pandora with bioluminescent plants, water features, and general atmosphere. If you’re familiar with Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, Flight of Passage and River Journey are to the Valley of Mo’ara as Escape from Gringott’s is to the rest of Diagon Alley. You’ll definitely want to allow time to experience this.

Valley of Mo'ara in Pandora

Valley of Mo’ara ©Disney (David Roark, photographer)

What About FastPass+ at Pandora?

Both Flight of Passage and River Journey will offer FastPass+. These are not currently available to reserve in MyDisneyExperience. Look for FastPass to come up 30 days before the opening of Pandora.

Smart money says Animal Kingdom will move to a tiered FastPass+ system.

Wait, what’s a tiered FastPass+ system?

Basically it means when you’re initially picking your three FastPass reservations for the day, Disney asks you to choose 1 from the most popular and 2 from the less popular attractions. This could mean you’ll be asked to pick either Flight of Passage OR River Journey. As an example, here’s how it works at Epcot, where you need to choose between Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After.

How do I get in and out of Pandora?

Pandora will have two entrances – one close to Tiffin’s, Nomad Lounge, and Pizzafari as you leave Discovery Island and head toward Africa, and the other from Africa’s new Harambe section (where Festival of the Lion King now plays). If you haven’t been to Animal Kingdom in a while, Festival of the Lion King moved from Camp Minnie Mickey (current site of part of Pandora) to Africa in 2013.

What’s the best plan for seeing Pandora?

Because the two attractions in Pandora are inside show buildings, the time of day won’t impact your experience. The rest of Pandora, on the other hand, will be different before and after dark, and we definitely recommend experiencing both.

Here are three plans – one for guests who want to see Pandora and experience the rest of Animal Kingdom, and one for those who ONLY want to see Pandora.

I want to do all of Animal Kingdom including Pandora AND I have a FastPass+ for one of the Pandora attractions:

  1. In the morning when the crowds head to Pandora and Africa, head to Asia to ride Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids (bring a change of clothes if you plan to ride Kali, because you’ll get wet and there are few things more miserable than walking around a theme park with wet clothes and shoes).
  2. After Asia, head to Dino-land for DINOSAUR.
  3. Afternoon, go to Africa for Kilimanjaro Safaris
  4. At your FastPass time, experience Pandora
  5. Evening, see Rivers of Light (arrive at least 30 minutes before showtime).
  6. Return to Pandora after Rivers of Light if it’s still open after the show.

I want to do all of Animal Kingdom including Pandora and I DON’T have a FastPass+ for one of the Pandora attractions:

  1. Arrive at Animal Kingdom an hour before park open.
  2. Go straight to Pandora and do Flight of Passage, then River Journey if you’re among the very first to enter the land. Reverse this if you’re not. (Why? Because the line for Flight of Passage will grow more quickly and for River Journey)
  3. Then as crowds continue to fill Pandora, head to Asia to ride Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids (bring a change of clothes if you plan to ride Kali, because you’ll get wet and there are few things more miserable than walking around a theme park with wet clothes and shoes).
  4. After Asia, head to Dino-land for DINOSAUR.
  5. Afternoon, go to Africa for Kilimanjaro Safaris
  6. Evening, see Rivers of Light (arrive at least 30 minutes before showtime).
  7. Return to Pandora after Rivers of Light if it’s still open after the show.

I only want to see Pandora:

  1. Arrive at Animal Kingdom an hour before park open.
  2. Go straight to Pandora and do Flight of Passage, then River Journey if you’re among the very first to enter the land. Reverse this if you’re not.
  3. Return to Pandora after dark to experience the rest of the Valley of Mo’ara.

For adding moving parts to these plans – incorporating Extra Magic Hours, dining reservations, and adding your FastPass+reservations after they’re available –  just check out our custom touring plans and plug in your info. This will come up with the best solution for you. Note – adding FastPass+ for the Pandora attractions won’t be available until Disney announces how they are handling these. Using the custom plans requires that you register an account with TouringPlans.

With Rivers of Light, The Awakening, and the nighttime effects of Pandora, it’s going to be very difficult to experience all that Animal Kingdom has to offer in one day.

How crowded will Pandora be?

Very. May 27 is already a peak day for Disney tickets, which means they expect higher crowds. Before the official opening, when word of soft openings comes out, expect every blogger in Central Florida with a camera phone and a WordPress account to be out there to be #First (maybe even us). This is the biggest thing to happen at Disney in years. Get to the parks early.

What’s there to eat and buy in Pandora?

There will be a quick service dining location, Satu’li Canteen, and a lounge, Pongu Pongu, for your dining pleasure. Tiffins’s and Nomad Lounge are also nearby.

Windtraders is Pandora’s main gift ship.

What else do we know about Pandora?

ABC/Disney has been advertising Pandora very heavily (though perhaps not the results they were looking for), and we’ve been scouring the press materials to see what else we can find out before Pandora’s soft open. ABC’s news division and shows “The View” and “The Chew” featured sneak previews the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Opening May 27, 2017 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Pandora – The World of Avatar will bring a variety of new experiences to the park. (Disney/Handout)

Rikki Niblett covered many of the details in her comprehensive post on the various shows. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to go read her piece first. What I would like to do here is to drill down to some of what you may have missed if you weren’t watching closely. We’ll see what questions were answered and what questions remain.

Grand entrance(s)

Late last year, Disney released an image of the bridge that will take you from the Tiffins/Nomad Lounge area into Pandora. A recent ABC News video takes you along on a walk from the Tree of Life over to the bridge and into the very edge of the land. Here’s a screen grab of the area of Pandora closest to the bridge, dubbed the Valley of Mo’ara. In this image, you can see lush foliage, both real and man-made.

Valley of Mo’ara sign, just over the bridge to Pandora (ABC News)

Initially, the walkway looks fairly wide to accommodate crowds. You can see a large pod to the right, one of the many sculpted plants that will light up with bioluminescence at night. The area also includes a Na’vi drum circle with instruments to play and other cultural totems.

From this entrance, the floating mountains are mostly hidden, but can be glimpsed in the distance to the right. I’m guessing that this setup holds back the full breadth of the structure until you get further into the land.

The Valley of Mo’ara

That brings us to an interesting preview shown on “The View” with “Avatar” director James Cameron taking Whoopi Goldberg on a tour of the land. The pair don’t enter from the bridge we’ve seen. Instead, they emerge from a small opening in a rock structure seen here in this screen grab.

James Cameron gives the big reveal to Whoopi Goldberg. (“The View,” ABC)

Here, Cameron makes a big deal of revealing the floating mountains, which could barely be seen from the end of the bridge. This indicates that, rather than being wide open, Pandora – The World of Avatar has structures to explore, which hide the floating mountains initially for a big reveal later. In a way, it’s reminiscent of what Universal did with the entrance to Diagon Alley in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Chasing waterfalls

Now, back to those floating mountains. If you’ve been to the park over the past couple years, you could see the structures being built with the framework holding those mountains skyward now camouflaged by “vines.” But what we had not yet seen is captured in these screen grabs: the waterfalls coming from the mountains.

Waterfall feature in Pandora. (“The View,” ABC)

Floating mountain waterfalls. (“The View,” ABC)

It’s a pretty neat trick, managing to get water pumped upward and piped through the structure. The result is this majestic bit of Imagineering.

From the clip, which also shows flowing brooks, it appears that water will play an important role in this area. The effects add a layer of realism and kinetic energy that can’t help but draw your eye. And, at the height of the summer, the waterfalls may also provide a cooling mist when you’re sweating down below.

What about the rides?

In segments on “Good Morning America” and “Nightline,” Paula Faris toured the land and experienced both attractions. She rode the Na’vi River Journey with Imagineer Joe Rohde and Avatar: Flight of Passage with “Avatar” producer Jon Landau.

Viper wolves in the Na’vi River Journey. (“Nightline,” ABC)

As you can see in this screen grab from the Na’vi River Journey, more than the traditional Disney audio-animatronics are at work here. The fluid-moving “viper wolves” seen here look like a projection effect. We do not see the Na’vi audio animatronic, whose face has been featured in other previews, in these clips.

On the Avatar: Flight of Passage attraction, Landau guides Faris through a scanning process for the creation of an avatar, then a process where she is “decontaminated.” I’m not sure exactly what that involves.

Jon Landau and Paula Faris seated for Avatar: Flight of Passage (“Nightline,” ABC)

In this screen grab the pair sit in “link chairs,” individual seats with armrests and handles. They then put on their “riding goggles,” which I assume are 3-D glasses. That was as much as they would reveal, though. We’ll have to wait to find out what the visual look like and what kind of motion effects will be used to simulate riding on a banshee.

And the food?

ABC’s “The Chew” got in on the act, sampling one of the dishes to be served in Pandora. Here, you see Lumpia, pineapple cream cheese spring rolls to be served at the Pongu Pongu snack stand. The host described the dish as Chinese in origin, and popular street food in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Lumpia from Pongu Pongu. (“The Chew,” ABC)

On “Nightline,” Faris sampled a Na’vi blueberry cheesecake that will be served at the Satu’li Canteen. She also enjoyed a glowing specialty drink from Pongu Pongu. The chef described it as nectar of Pongu Pongu, topped with passion fruit boba balls.

This post has more details on the dishes at Satu’li Canteen, which will have an option to order your meal using your mobile device.

Na’vi blueberry cheesecake and Pongu Pongu nectar with passion fruit boba balls. (“Nightline,” ABC)

Unanswered questions

Though we saw expansive daylight views, we didn’t see a wide shot of the bioluminescence at night. A few closeups, however, give us a hint of what we’ll see. Either Disney is saving the full effect for later, or they’re still putting the finishing touches on the landscape. We did get a glimpse of the bioluminescent effects in the pavement, which look like the fiber optics in Epcot’s pavement taken to a whole other level.

Bioluminescent plants and pavement in the Valley of Mo’ara. (“The View,” ABC)

 

While we got a glimpse of some dishes, the tours did not enter the actual dining locations, the Satu’li Canteen and Pongu Pongu. Also, Disney hasn’t shown the Windtraders gift shop or its merchandise beyond an illustration.

We’re anxiously awaiting Pandora’s previews and will be have more information as it comes in.

Stay tuned.

Robert Blaszkiewicz is on Twitter @RobertBlaszk and Facebook.

Posted on March 21, 2017

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