Review: Pandora – The World of Avatar

by on May 15, 2017 47 Comments

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

How We Got to Pandora

The success of Universal’s Harry Potter lands – Hogsmeade Village at Islands of Aventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios – put the fear of God into Disney’s theme park management. The idea that their closest competitor could turn a worldwide film franchise into an immersive, immense tourist draw probably caused more sleepless nights than a warehouse full of wool pajamas. What Disney wanted desperately was to make sure they got the next big franchise for their own parks.

Valley of Mo'ara in Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The problem that Disney faced was that only a handful of writers like J.K. Rowling can produce globally beloved stories worth billions of dollars: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron are on the short list. With Spielberg and Lucas nearing retirement, however, and Peter Jackson reportedly non-committal, Disney signed Cameron to a theme park development deal for his Avatar film franchise in September 2011.

That Avatar deal puzzled many Disney theme park fans, including us. Yes, Avatar is the second-highest grossing film of all time (Gone with the Wind is #1), earning more than $3 billion in inflation-adjusted ticket sales since its release in 2009. But it did so because of its then-revolutionary 3-D digital effects, not its writing. Avatar, we joked, was the film everyone saw about characters nobody liked. For Disney, whose motto had always been “It all begins with a story,” building rides based on Avatar was going to be its own kind of alien experience.

Disney tapped Joe Rohde, now an industry legend, to bring Avatar to life at the Animal Kingdom. Camp Minnie-Mickey was demolished to make way, its Festival of the Lion King stage show moved to the park’s Africa section. Five years of construction ensued – long enough for Universal to build a couple more hotels, several new rides, and an entire water park. Disney’s gamble on the Avatar franchise seemed riskier by the day.

Is Pandora Better than Diagon Alley?

With Pandora – The World of Avatar now in previews, the obvious question is “Is it better than Diagon Alley?” I think the answer is “Yes, for some people.” And that’s as good as Disney could possibly have hoped for.

Before I explain why, remember that I’m on record saying that Disney charging $120 for admission to Hollywood Studios is “petty larceny with better marketing.” Here’s me quoted in the New York Times, saying Universal’s a better choice right now. I’m perfectly happy to criticize Disney’s theme park decisions when warranted.

Valley of Mo’ara

That said, let’s start with Pandora’s best feature – the environment of the Valley of Mo’ara. What Joe Rohde and team have built here is more beautiful than nature generally produces on its own. (Anyone who’s ever driven through Kansas knows what I mean.) The colors in Pandora are a bit more vibrant, the landscaping entirely more interesting, the sounds more alive, and the details more … detailed, than what you probably see out your window right now. Pandora is intersected by perfectly placed waterfalls, too. And in the middle of it is a giant, floating mountain just like the ones you won’t find outside Topeka.

These literally otherworldly features are grouped into views that are postcard-ready from any angle. There’s always something stunning to see in the immediate foreground, in the middle distance, and far away. And that’s true from anywhere you look inside the land. Diagon Alley is, without a doubt, a very detailed, visually rich urban setting. But it’s space-constrained because of Universal’s limited amount of land – so it doesn’t have much visual depth. In contrast, Disney has the space to build a giant, multi-plane viewing platform from every square foot of Pandora. And they did.

Valley of Mo'ara at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The exquisite detailing extends into the ride queues: the one for Na’vi River Journey displays the weaving skills of Pandora’s indigenous peoples, while the seemingly endless line for Avatar Flight of Passage goes through cave dwellings, nocturnal jungle scenes, and high-tech laboratories on its way to the ride experience. I’ll be surprised if James Cameron puts polar ice caps on Pandora in Avatar’s film sequels if only because the encyclopedic terrain samples in Flight of Passage don’t already show them.

Na’vi River Journey

The Na’vi River Journey is a 4 ½-minute boat ride through the Pandora jungle. You begin by boarding one of two small, hewn rafts joined together. Each raft has two rows of seats, so four people go in each boat. That might seem small, but it’s more likely a nod to authenticity – the Na’vi are unlikely to have invented technology like fiberglass to make larger vessels as in, say, It’s a Small World.

Off you go into the nighttime jungle, past glowing plants and exotic animals. To create these, Disney has used traditional, three-dimensional sets for the flora, coupled with video screens showing the movement of the fauna. Escape from Gringotts, the one ride at Diagon Alley, uses video screens for its action, too. But here again Disney has done Diagon Alley one better – the screens directly in front of you in Na’vi River Journey are semi-transparent, so you can see past them. And what’s past them are more screens, with background scenes that also move. That means you’re seeing action in the foreground and background simultaneously, all surrounded by densely packed landscaping.

Na'vi River Journey

Another bit of technology put to great effect is video projection mapping like that used in the Magic Kingdom’s nighttime show Happily Ever After. Here it’s used to project three-dimensional bugs crawling on tree trunks in one of the ride’s middle scenes.

The ride’s big star, however, is the Shaman of Songs, displayed in the ride’s culminating scene. This shaman is easily Disney’s most life-like animatronic ever created. Its arms move with such grace that the only reason to suspect it’s a robot is because you don’t know any real people who’re that coordinated. (Disney has a history of building advanced but somewhat unmaintainable animatronics for the Animal Kingdom. Expedition Everest’s Yeti was built in a way that repairs to it require much of the surrounding ride’s infrastructure to be removed. The Yeti hasn’t run properly in almost a decade. We’ll give River Journey an extra half-star next year if the shaman stays running.) Yet another nice touch is that the shaman’s voice is off-pitch; Disney didn’t make it sound like a professional singer.

The problem with Navi River Journey is that you go in with no real emotional interest in the character, and there’s not enough story told during the ride to get you interested in meeting the shaman. (If that doesn’t make sense, imagine the same level of detail just described, for a boat ride showing Obi Wan Kenobi performing some heretofore unknown Jedi ritual that’s officially part of the Star Wars canon. The line to get in would stretch to Endor.)

Despite that, there’s enough to see in Na’vi River Journey that it’s worth re-riding. Disney seems to think that lines will not be too long once the initial opening hype dies down – the queue for the ride doesn’t seem built to handle massive crowds. We’d ride it again if the waits are 20 minutes or less. Na’vi River Journey offers Fastpass+, but we don’t yet think it’s a good use.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

Flight of Passage

Avatar Flight of Passage is Pandora’s headliner ride, and one of the most technologically advanced attractions Disney has ever produced. It’s a flight simulator in which you hop on the back of a winged, dragon-like Pandora banshee, for a spin around the planet’s scenery.

Your journey begins with a long walk from the base of Pandora, up an inclined path, and into abandoned cave dwellings. Wall paintings and markings inside the caves tell the story of the Na’vi who first used them. From there, you walk through jungle and more rocks, until you reach the research laboratory of the humans who’ve settled on Pandora.

Inside the lab are various experiments showing how the study of the planet’s wildlife is progressing. Some of the effects are clever little engineering tricks – small, black, amoeba-like creatures scurrying about in the lab are probably made of ferrofluids (bits of metal suspended in a liquid) moved about by specially-shaped magnets. Even if you know how it’s done, it’s a joy to see the idea used this way in a ride queue.

The star of the pre-show, however, is a Na’vi avatar in suspended animation inside the lab. Encased in a giant, water-filled tube, the sleeping Na’vi floats gently, its rest only briefly touched by the occasional finger twitch or leg movement. The people we toured with said it was either mesmerizing or vaguely unsettling.

Once through the queue, you’re brought to a 16-person chamber room to prepare for your flight. A video plays, explaining the concept of an avatar – a way for you to project your consciousness on to another being, in this case a Na’vi riding a banshee. Your preparation includes a parasite decontamination procedure – Pandora is filled with critters, in case you hadn’t noticed. The second part of the video seems to be chosen randomly from a few different scenes, so you’re likely to get a different pre-show experience the first few times you ride.

Flight of Passage Preshow

That done, you’re led into an enclosed room with what looks like 16 stationary bicycles without pedals. You’re handed 3-D googles and told to approach the “bike”, swing one leg over, mount it, and scoot as far forward as you can. The reason for doing this is that padded restraints will be deployed along your calves and lower back, ensuring you don’t fall off during your flight. (The snug restraint system, coupled with the confined space of the room, causes some claustrophobic guests to exit before riding.)

The room goes dark, there’s a flash of light, and suddenly your brain is “linked” to the Na’vi surfing a banshee. You swoop up and down, left and right, on this flying dragon, going over the Pandora plains, through the mountains, and skimming its seas, all through a high-definition video projected on to a giant screen in front of you. As you fly, air bellows at your legs pump air in and out to simulate the banshee’s breathing below you.

The flying effects are very well done – you can turn your head almost 90 degrees either way to survey the Pandora landscape while you’re flying, and about 45 degrees up and down. Riders toward the middle of the room (seats 4 through 8 in one group and 9 through 12 in the other, we think) have better range of vision. At any given time, Disney says, there are 3 levels of 16 riders flying with you. We didn’t see anyone other than our immediate neighbors, but people at the far ends said they could see almost all of the riders when their heads were turned.

If you’ve experience Soarin’ at Epcot, it’s similar technology at work here, with the individual “bikes” replacing the grouped seats. The ebb and flow of the flight, too, reminds us of the Soarin’ film pacing, right down to the finale over the Pandoran beach.

The video is clear and synchronized well with the ride vehicles. We heard no reports of motion sickness during our day-long visit, and that’s uncommon for most screen-based motion simulators. There are two problems with Flight of Passage: One is the convoluted ride vehicles, which more than one person described as “over-engineered” (and that’s coming from theme park nerds).

The other problem, like that of the Na’vi River Journey and the Avatar film, is that we’re not really invested in the story of the banshee or the avatar. Technically, the ride is brilliant, and the visuals get your heart racing. Disney’s Imagineers squeezed every bit they could out of the one Avatar movie completed so far. But it’s got the emotional depth of a Pac-Man video game.

Touring Tips We’re told that if the entire queue is full, the wait to ride Avatar Flight of Passage is between 4 and 5 hours. It’s not worth that much time. As we wrote this, however, Fastpass+ reservations were available for Flight of Passage for almost any time of any day we checked. We think Flight of Passage is a good use for Fastpass+.

Rating: 4 to 4 1/2 stars out of 5

Final Thoughts: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Whether you think Pandora is the most immersive theme park environment ever created will depend on how much you like Harry Potter. Even modest fans of the boy wizard are likely to prefer Diagon Alley’s rich story lines and characters. But if you’re not emotionally invested in Potter, or you prefer nature to city life, you may find Pandora the more appealing place to spend an afternoon and evening.

Valley of Mo'ara in Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

One thing is certain: the opening of Pandora marks the end of 20th-century Imagineering. The days of “state of the art” meaning “passive rides”, even with cutting-edge technology and all the creative decorative techniques ever known, are over. The next generation of theme park attractions, including what Disney is building for its Star Wars land over at Hollywood Studios, starts with Pandora’s scale and detail as a given. On top of that, future rides are supposed to bring never-before-seen interactive effects: you’ll be able to steer the Millennium Falcon in one ride, and if you crash it, the characters you interact with outside the ride will know that and make fun of you for it. It’ll be a hyper-personalized, hyper-detailed adventure game. What Disney’s done with Pandora is told Universal that they’re playing to win.

(We’ll review Pandora’s food and merchandise later this week.)

Posted on May 15, 2017

47 Responses to “Review: Pandora – The World of Avatar”

  • by Rob Crawford on May 15, 2017, at 9:21 am EDT

    The problem with Peter Jackson is he doesn’t own the rights to his biggest franchise. I would dearly love a well-done Hobbiton area in a theme park, but Tolkien Enterprises likely will never let it happen.

  • Question about when you visited. Was this for the annual passholder preview? If so, did you have enough time for both attractions as well as time to look around and eat at Satu’li Canteen? I will be going this week and am trying to see how long each attraction takes(with two toddlers we will have to do flight of passage separately.)

    • by Laurel Stewart on May 15, 2017, at 10:21 am EDT

      Yes, it was during the AP preview on the 13th. We did both attractions plus dining with plenty of time to walk around in the 3 hours we were there. However the previews had very limited crowds.

      We spent more than half an hour in Flight of Passage because our preshow room had a technical problem. Everyone at the preview was given a FastPass return.

  • What I have always appreciated about TouringPlans is that reading the posts makes me feel as though I’m sitting around a table with a group of friends sharing objective thoughts and, yes, even criticisms about a very near and dear part of my life.
    We all want to have that perfect Disney Experience every time, but for me personally, I truly appreciate and respect hearing both the positive and negative perspectives that allow me to better manage both financial and emotional expectations with family members.
    Thank you, Len, for sharing your Pandora insights.

  • Do you know what part of the ride queue gets skipped if you use Fast Pass for Flight of Passage?

    • by Laurel Stewart on May 15, 2017, at 10:56 am EDT

      Yes. We walked the standby line too. It starts out in the Na’vi nature through caves then to what looks like an abandoned military station then into the lab part. There’s lots to see in the queue. The avatar in the tank is part of the standby queue.

  • You mention how there is much more land here than what is in Diagon Alley, but there does not look like there is as much to do besides walk around and enjoy the scenery. Not counting waiting in line, how much time would you expect a family with young kids to really spend here?
    Between the shops, shows, Leaky Cauldron and wand experiences, we spend many hours in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, just thinking my kids will get bored of looking around after just a little time.
    Thanks for the review!

    • I was there Saturday for the preview- depending on the wait for the river ride once it opens to the public and if you have a fast pass for Flights you only need 2 hours. We felt like we accomplished everything (eating,gift shop, both rides) in two hours.

  • “Touring Tips We’re told that if the entire queue is full, the wait to ride Avatar Flight of Passage is between 4 and 5 hours. It’s not worth that much time. As we wrote this, however, Fastpass+ reservations were available for Flight of Passage for almost any time of any day we checked. We think Flight of Passage is a good use for Fastpass+.”

    I just did some random checks and there weren’t any fast pass+ times available for Flight of Passage. I could only check up to Jun 14 though.

  • Len, very good points about the general lack of emotional engagement and the insights about the end of 20th century Imagineering. I’m still not confident that Avatar sequels will help Disney much with attendance and interest in the franchise. But Disney’s level of commitment and the magnitude of innovation is very re-assuring. It’s a fun new world ahead of us!

  • by Julia Mascardo on May 15, 2017, at 2:37 pm EDT

    For us, Flight of Passage was probably the worst experience we’ve had in Disney. Even though we had FP times, we spent about an hour in the outside queue because of “technical issues” with the ride. It was early morning and overcast, so it wasn’t too hot, but in the summer, it may be pretty unbearable even with fans that look like they may have misters on them. Once we got into the “chamber of horrors”, something went wrong and we were left there for quite some time. (Fun fact: They have recorded video for when this happens where the person assisting you with the decontamination process will apologize for the problem and go offline to get some help.) If you’re claustrophobic, spending extra time in that room with no air circulating in it will be problematic. One person in our group said it was like the Escape Room from hell, because you know you can’t get out no matter what you do.

    Once we got strapped in the rides, one kid with another family pointed out that his glasses were way too big and wouldn’t stay on his face. The CMs latching us in said that there are hopefully kid-sized goggles on order, but in the meantime, the kid was told “don’t look down, or if you need to, don’t hang on…just hold your glasses in place.” Knowing my daughter wouldn’t want to let go of the handlebars, it meant that I had to hold her glasses on during the whole ride. Halfway through, I gave up and had her take them off.

    The guy next to me, who wasn’t all that big, needed CMs to push on his restraints to get them to lock. If you’re big (either Pooh-sized or muscular in your calf muscles), they may have to give extra push to get them to latch.

    We were latched in for at least 5 minutes with CMs coming in and out to check on things before they could get the ride started.

    My daughter is 48″ tall, so she’s decently over the minimum height requirement, but because she doesn’t weigh a lot, the restraint latched tighter than it should once the ride started. She ended up not being able to breathe for most of the ride. Afterwards, aside from being understandably upset, she didn’t seem to suffer any long-term problems, although she had some light bruising on her rib cage — nothing too severe, but not pleasant — and it was gone within 24 hours.

    For my husband, who has mild amounts of motion sickness, he was fine when he immediately got off the ride, but ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon with severe head pains and vomiting a short time later.

    I think that for people who like simulated roller coasters (which are the only kind I can do), they’ll enjoy it at least once. I do wonder if other people end up with severe physical problems whether there will be a “Flight of Passage Green” non-moving version for those who end up with physical reactions, and hopefully that will allow other people to ride who currently are shut out. But fair word of warning–bring your own barf bag, as none are currently provided. 😉

    All that said, we love the Pandora area and especially the boat ride, which we rode four times over the weekend.

    • Have any Pooh-sized reviewers tried Flight of Passage yet? One of my biggest selling points for Disney over Universal has always been that Disney is much more size-friendly; the only rides I haven’t been able to do at Disney with my 56″ waist were Sum of All Thrills and Cyberspace Mountain. Universal is better than Six Flags, but from my understanding, three of their biggest rides aren’t going to accommodate me (HP Forbidden Journey, the Hulk Coaster, and Rip Ride Rock-it). I don’t want Disney to start making un-rideable vehicles too!

      • I’ve heard from some folks that it’s more about body shape than weight. Several folks who didn’t think they could make it on, did.

      • I’m 6ft and 330lbs and was ok with the restraints for the most part…the CM did have to push the back restraint to get the final click and it was snug but not uncomfortable (I find 7 Dwarfs lap bar more uncomfortable than this with my bigger upper thighs)…I did feel like ppl with big feet and calves may have some difficulty with the bottom restraint as I felt like like I couldn’t get my size 13s far enough forward but they seemed to have closed up ok…as far as the ride itself I really enjoyed it

    • I also had to hold my child’s glasses on for most of the ride!

  • I think I’m confused about these AP previews. We’re booked for it next Monday, but I didn’t book Fastpasses for it (we’ve got them for MK that evening instead). Is Flight of Passage going to be a prohibitively long wait without FP+, even during the AP preview?

    • by Julia Mascardo on May 15, 2017, at 3:08 pm EDT

      You get a paper FastPass for Flight of Passage upon arrival. It has a 15-minute return time window during the time of your preview. As long as you have your reservation to get into the AP preview, you don’t have to do anything else.

  • we booked a last minute trip over Memorial Day weekend…..which is supposed to be the official opening of Pandora. We haven’t been able to book a FP+ for either of the Pandora rides. The motion simulator ride i’m not that upset about, as many in our party wouldn’t ride it anyway. but i’d like to try the boat ride, assuming we aren’t waiting 4-5+ hours.

    • by Stan Heflin on May 15, 2017, at 9:33 pm EDT

      We also booked a short Memorial Day weekend trip. We are staying off property, so I couldn’t book fastpasses until 30 days out. I couldn’t get either ride in Pandora for any of the days. I made our fastpasses for other parks in the AM and we will check the wait times for AK in the afternoon. If its not too bad we will try it then. If not, we will have to see Pandora on the next trip.

  • I can’t wait to see this! who cares if it’s nowhere in the ballpark of the Potter books/movies? I just recall it being amazing when my wife and i had center seats. the 3D was so good I felt like i could smell the plants and feel the mist. Is this also a ‘5D’ experience?

    We are going the week after Thanksgiving week. Do you think it will still be mobbed that far out? I’m wondering if the projected 3 crowd level the day we plan to go takes Avatar into account, and if crowd level even matters when it comes to a new attraction in a park with few rides…

    Thanks for the detailed description!
    Greg

    • Thanks Greg! That’s the thing about the land – even if you don’t love the characters, there’s enough to see in the landscape to make it totally worthwhile. Personally, I like it better than Diagon Alley. The waterfalls do it for me.

  • by Dave Coviello on May 15, 2017, at 7:05 pm EDT

    Is the FoP queue air conditioned? Hours spent in unairconditiined queues sounds less than fun

    • There are fans throughout all of the outdoor parts of both queues. The indoor parts of FoP are air-conditioned. (There’s almost no indoor queue for River Journey, but it’s a/c’d too.)

  • I am really surprised to hear about the lack of emotional engagement in the Pandora attractions. Although I’m sure Disney didn’t want to make anything too disturbing for families, I thought the movie was over-the-top intense and VERY emotionally impactful — to the point that I said “why did you make me watch this!?!?!” (I don’t like the sad feels!)

  • How are the drops in Flight of Passage? I’ve heard mixed reviews. I do NOT do roller coasters or Tower of Terror. Love Soarin and did reasonable well with both HP rides at Universal. Will I hate this? Are the drops intense?

    • The movement of the ride vehicle is less than Star Tours. My guess is the range of movement is less than 20 degrees in any direction and it is smooth. I never felt like I would have fallen off the ride vehicle without the restraints.

      • by Julia Mascardo on May 16, 2017, at 12:19 pm EDT

        I actually looked back behind me, and you can see how much the platform moves — it’s about 30 degree tilt. Fun fact. When the platform tilts, there’s actually a gap between where you stash your stuff and the platform. I wondered that if stuff fell into that gap from the storage bins and made it so the platform couldn’t fully retract if it would crash the ride system.

      • Thanks, Steve! I appreciate your thoughts here!

  • Is there a benefit to visiting the land during dual or closer to evening? I am wondering if the lighted effects are in the ride and visible during the day or are outside in the walking area. Thanks!

    • Both rides are indoors and time of day will have no impact on their effects.

      The outside walking areas outside will change significantly at night. The alien plant life will glow and the sounds will change. I assume the light on the waterfalls and floating mountains will be breathtaking.

  • Best reviews I’ve read yet. Thanks for posting.

  • I’m glad to hear that the land is incredibly immersive and here’s hoping that the remaining kinks get worked out soon — at least by the time we arrive in November. 🙂

    That said, it strikes me that this is a huge gamble for Disney. As Len observes, there simply isn’t an Avatar fan network out there — I’d also note that the Avatar sequels that Disney expected when they inked this deal haven’t materialized.

    We’re heading to WDW in November with a (first) side trip to see the Harry Potter sections of Universal. I’ll be glad to be proven wrong, but even if Avatar matches or exceeds Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade/Hogwarts as an immersive world, I would be very surprised compete emotionally. I just can’t see the wow factor being so great that it brings people back.

  • Thanks for the review Len-I had a DVC preview ticket for Sunday but couldn’t get out of bed in time-sounds like I should have doubled-down on the coffee and got up. I’d still love to buy you that drink.

  • I don’t want to hijack the thread here, but I thought I’d add my two cents. We just got back from the Pandora preview and we left really impressed. We spent right at five hours in the land and rode Na’vi River Journey twice and Flight of Passage four times.

    I’d advise anyone going to a preview in the coming days to get there a bit early if you want. Our preview reservation was at noon, but a couple of days ago a FastPass reservation for the Na’vi River Journey for 11 a.m. showed up in our itinerary. About 10 to 11, we found a CM in the area and asked about it. He advised it was more or less a placeholder, not really a FastPass, and advised us to get in the long queue that had formed. We walked back across the bridge and claimed our spots in line. Right after we started wondering how long we’d be there, the line started moving and we were inside about 11:05. I think we probably could have stayed as long as we wanted. Our reservation was for two hours, but like I said, we were actually inside a lot longer.

    My thoughts echo a lot of what Len has already said. The land is absolutely immersive. The level of detail is absolutely mind boggling. Joe Rohde and the team have done a phenomenal job. Maybe it’s just because I’m a bit of a plantoholic, but I was completely blown away by the landscape. At times it was hard to tell what where the “Earth” plants stopped and the “Pandora” plants started. Just a measure of how immersive the land is … We stopped for lunch in the canteen and I was sitting, looking out the window at the scenery when an airliner flew over. It was so out of place that it took me a second to figure out what was going on… Oh right — we’re still really in the middle of Florida. It’s that good.

    We both really loved Flight of Passage. My wife said it has usurped Test Track as her favorite ride at WDW. I won’t go as far as to say it’s my absolute favorite ride now, but it is very exhilarating and I hate to say it again, immersive. The length of the queue is substantial. It took us about 10 minutes of solid walking from the entry to the loading area, not stopping for photos or fellow travelers. For those worrying about size issues — I’m very “Pooh shaped” with a 48” waist and serious calves and thighs and I fit in the seat and restraints comfortably and was able to get in and out with absolutely no problems.

    I’ll give spoilers if y’all want them, but I’ll say the ride is Soarin’-esque generally but for us, much more exciting and fun. I will agree with Len’s comments about the emotional connection — it’s just not there. And that’s not to say it’s not a great ride — it is. But here’s the deal, I’ve ridden Soarin’ dozens of times and even though I’m a grown, 40-something manly man, that end scene with Spaceship Earth and the music crescendoing and the fireworks puts a lump in my throat almost every time. If you’re looking for an all-in Disney franchise ride that will leave a tear on your cheek, this isn’t it. But it’s still pretty awesome nonetheless.

    The Na’vi River Journey was beautiful, and like Len said the use of video screens as an added bit of background motion and depth is really cool. Once again, there were parts where I was trying to figure out what was “real” and what was video. The animatronic shaman towards the end of the ride was outstanding. In fact, we took the second ride just to get a better look. We cut through most of the queue area, but it was substantial, too.

    Both queue areas had fans in the parts that were outside, although it seemed there was a lot more shade than I expected there would be. A lot of the queue area for Flight of Passage was inside with blessed air conditioning blowing — maybe the last third of it? There was a covered queue area for Na’vi River Journey, but I didn’t notice A/C until the area right before we boarded our raft.

    The gift shop had tons of fun Pandora-themed merch. We had a beef bowl in the Satu’li Canteen, along with chocolate cake and a Pandoran Sunrise. It was all really good. I thought the bowl could have used a squeeze of lemon or a bit more salt or something, but it was still tasty. The chocolate cake was really delicious — we wished we’d ordered one each. And the Pandoran Sunrise was fruity and refreshing and not too sweet. After we sat down, I noticed the notification on my phone advising me we could place a mobile order. We’ll probably take advantage of than when we go back. And we’ll definitely go back.

    Later we stopped at the Pongu Pongu stand and got a Night Blossom drink and Pineapple lumpia. Both were way too sweet for our tastes. Like cloyingly, make your teeth hurt sweet. Really, the best thing about the drink was the fact that it was so cold. Well that and the popping boba were kinda fun.

    If we had it to do over again, I think we would have tried to get a reservation later in the day. We can’t wait to go back at night and see what everything looks like in the dark. Overall, we were really impressed and while it still seems a little out of place for Animal Kingdom, I can’t think of a better place for it. It’s definitely worth a visit.

  • And just in case anybody’s interested, I just threw a mess of unedited photos from today into a Flickr album. I haven’t added any info other than just the images and I’m sure there are more and better views of this same stuff already online elsewhere, but just in case…
    https://flic.kr/s/aHskZPL66q

  • This experiment on Disney’s part was a huge waste of money and space! Space that could of been reserved for Zootopia! A billion dollar academy award winning Disney film and a film that actually deserves it! This is just horrible!

  • I think better also depends on staying power. I think Harry Potter has shown the stories will be around in a way that is most similar to something like Narnia. I think the problem with Avatarland is that you are tying it to something few to no people care about (no matter how much money it made). It’s beautiful, but it could have been that with an original idea that did not require film rights. Not to mention how long it took. At this point, I’ll wait to see Star Wars Land to determine if Disney is actually “playing to win.”

  • It’s amazing that just on the other side of Animal Kingdom from this is the most unimaginative land of all, Dinoland. Maybe they can upgrade that next!