Animal Kingdom

SATURDAY SIX: 6 Amazing Details in Disney’s Pandora: The World of Avatar

by on July 22, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Amazing Details in PANDORA: THE WORLD OF AVATAR!  A little while ago we looked at Disney’s incredible new land at the Animal Kingdom, Pandora: The World of Avatar. We gushed about the rides, and since that article was written Flight of Passage has become the #1- rated attraction at all Disney and Universal theme parks, per TouringPlans readers. Today we are going to take a deeper dive into Pandora, and check out some of the unbelievably cool details found throughout the land, and let’s kickoff the countdown with….

# 6 – The Handprints

The queue for Flight of Passage is hands-down the best ever done by Disney. The depth of detail and overall amount of unique elements is right up there with what Universal has accomplished with Forbidden Journey and Escape From Gringotts. Among these details are the cave drawings early in the queue, where on the rock work you’ll see Na’vi paintings of banshees, woodsprites, and even handprints of Na’vi, humans, and the human-made avatars. However, after you have finished riding Flight of Passage, on the ground floor of the exit corridor you will find three more handprints. These particular handprints are from James Cameron (the director of Avatar,) Jon Landau (the producer of Avatar,) and Disney Imagineer Joe Rhode.

James Cameron, Joe Rhode, and John Landau handprints. (photo by Brandon Glover)

(photo by Brandon Glover)

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Pandora’s Effect on Walt Disney World

by on July 5, 2017

 

Pandora – The World of Avatar has been open for a month, and we now have enough data to see the initial impact  the new land is having on attendance at Animal Kingdom and at Walt Disney World, in general.

Before I get into the analysis, I want to cover what we do know and what we don’t. We don’t know Disney’s attendance numbers. Disney does not release daily attendance numbers. We do know posted wait times, actual wait times, ride capacity, and ride duration. Since we don’t have continuous user input for actual wait times, we use our actual wait times and estimate actual wait times based on posted wait times. With this information we can estimate the number of people on each ride, as well as how many people are in the ride queues. We make the assumption that a park’s attendance is proportional to the number of people at its attractions. The proportion is not important for this analysis, but for those who are curious, we believe it is 1-to-3. So for each guest at an attraction, there are two guests shopping, eating, walking, waiting, watching a show, or doing anything else in the park. To fine-tune our estimates we assume the average attendance for the first four months of 2017 is the same as it was for the first four months of 2016.

When I use the term “attendance” below, I mean the hourly average number of guests at attractions. I am NOT referring to the total number of people at the parks.

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Five Things You Need to Know About Flight of Passage

by on June 26, 2017

Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar officially opened on May 27th; and apart from the floating mountains, Flight of Passage has generated most of chatter and acclaim. This new attraction grants guests the experience of flight aboard a banshee. Flight of Passage has been described as a combo of Soarin’ and Star Tours, which is a fair comparison. Sort of. Flight of Passage uses both 3D and simulation, but is so unique and advanced that it’s changing the theme park game. After a flight or two on a banshee at Pandora, I’ve compiled a list of Five Things You Need to Know About Flight of Passage for those of you about to take flight and rise to the challenge!

1. You Are Riding Solo

Unlike other attractions at Walt Disney World, each guest riding Flight of Passage has their own ride vehicle or link chair. Guests straddle the link chair as they would ride a bike and both leg and back restraints keep guests sitting securely. The link chairs are positioned in rows and situated close to another; however, Flight of Passage is very much an individual experience. I believe this is worth noting for guests apprehensive about certain attractions or who are claustrophobic and for kids. The height requirement is 44″, about the average height of 7 or 8 year old. Be sure your child is prepared for the restraints, which limit movement, and riding relatively separate from you and others.

Note: Some larger or taller guests have had difficulty with Flight of Passage’s ride vehicle restraints to the point where some haven’t been able to ride. A test seat of the ride vehicle is located outside the attraction for guests to try out; however, it only provides an idea of the ride vehicle’s seat. This means guests who had no issues with the test seat may experience difficulties with the actual ride vehicle and still could be prevented riding.

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Reasons We LOVE Pandora – The World of Avatar

by on May 27, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Pandora: The World of Avatar!  It seemed like just yesterday that Disney announced it was going to make a land based around James Cameron’s Avatar (it was actually 2,078 days ago, but who’s counting.) The new area would be replacing Camp Minnie-Mickey, a cute stop during a day at Animal Kingdom, but certainly not a land anyone is going to chain themselves to in protest of its leaving. Now, on the day of it’s official grand opening,  we ask, was it worth the wait? In a word: YES.

A look into Pandora: The World of Avatar. (photo by Michael Carelli)

For many Animal Kingdom fans, talk of the unbuilt Beastly Kingdom brings the same gritted teeth reactions that you’ll see when someone brings up the broken Yeti. However, with Pandora – The World of Avatar, we have our Beastly Kingdom.  Today we’re going to take a look at some of the greatest parts of this new land, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Connect With a Banshee

Before the details of Pandora were released many people – including Your Humble Author  – wondered what the area would do in terms of merchandise. While the film it is based on is the biggest grossing movie in the history of cinema, ancillary sales were almost non-existent. There were plenty of Avatar t-shirts, books, and even a full action figure line to buy, but most went unsold. Would Disney, quite possibly the worldwide leader in merchandise sales, be able to develop Avatar-related items that would get guests to open up their wallet like Universal did with Harry Potter?

Time will tell on the bigger picture, but one thing we already know for sure is that Disney created a huge hit with the Connect With a Banshee toy available in Pandora’s only gift shop, Windtraders. Sharing many similarities with the Wizarding World’s the wand chooses you gimmick, the cute Banshee toys are scoring high with both kids and adults. Guests can make their Banshee move their mouth, head, and wings, not to mention roar, while perched on their shoulder. It is a great souvenir that ties into the film, delivers a personal experience, and even allows “the opportunity” to buy a stand for your Banshee to sit on when not on your shoulder. In the marketing world we call that a home run.

A Banshee at The Rookery. (photo by Michael Carelli) – If you get a Banshee, be sure to follow @DisneyBanshees on Twitter and post pictures of your own Banshee.

Banshees await to bond with their human at The Rookery. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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Daisy’s Best Week Ever, May 25, 2017: Steam Trains, Pandora, and Magic Kingdom

by on May 25, 2017

Best Week Ever at Pandora and Magic Kingdom

Hello, friends! I have another amazing week to share with you, but first a confession. These things didn’t all happen in the space of one week. They were so cool I couldn’t not include them here. So let’s start with a view of the Magic Kingdom and what it looks like at 7:00am where we were taking the Magic Behind the Steam Trains tour! We easily found the rest of our tour group since there were so few people at the gates. We lined up and waited to get started at 7:30am.

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Additional Attractions Open During Extra Evening Extra Magic Hours at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on May 19, 2017

Disney's Animal Kingdom

©Rikki Niblett

A while back, the news came out that from May 27 through July 4, Disney’s Animal Kingdom would be open for extra Evening Extra Magic Hours. Resort Guests would have the exclusive opportunity to be in the park from 11:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. to enjoy the beauty and splendor that is Pandora – The World of Avatar at night.  Well, due to the expected heavy crowds, Disney has announced that a few more attractions will be open, in addition to the attractions found in Pandora.

Guests will now also be able to experience the following attractions during these extra late night hours:

Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
Primeval Whirl
TriceraTop Spin
Fossil Fun Games
Tree of Life awakenings
Rivers of Light
Discovery Island Carnivale

 

In addition, select Food and Beverage locations and Merchandise options will be available, as well.

Looks like it will be a good time to visit the park if you are staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel and plan on visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

Unique Way to Contribute to the Disney Conservation Fund

by on May 19, 2017

©Disney

With the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar rapidly approaching, Disney has announced a creative way for Guests to help contribute to the Disney Conservation Fund, which supports conservation efforts here on Earth.

With the new mobile adventure called Connect to Protect, when Guests enter the land, by utilizing the My Disney Experience app, Guests are invited to participate in conservation missions to help protect the habits of at-risk animals. During the missions, you will be able to interact with a digital scientist all while exploring the land. Guests will instant message with one of the moon’s ecological specialists, Fitsimti “Fits” Buckley. Fits will share information about conservation along the way that applies to both Earth and Pandora.

Once Guests complete at least one mission, they will be able to unlock a $10 contribution from Disney Parks. If you just discuss conservation, you’ll be able to contribute $5 through the Disney Conservation Fund. Guests will have the option to choose where their money gets donated. They can choose from one of 10 threatened animal categories – butterflies, apes, coral reefs, cranes, elephants, monkeys, rhinos, rays and sharks, sea turtles, or tigers.

Pretty cool way to help raise funds for endangered animals, right? I know I’m going to make sure to complete a mission when I’m visiting Pandora on opening day!

 

Julia’s Best Week Ever, May 18, 2017: A Mother of a Weekend

by on May 18, 2017

You know that whole “need a vacation to recover from a vacation”? I think I’m there after this week. It isn’t often that a new section of a theme park opens, so we decided to make the most of it. As locals, we don’t spend as many DVC points, so when we heard that there was a DVC preview in Pandora for Mother’s Day weekend, we booked a room at the Beach Club and signed up. (And consider this the spoiler alert–there will be some mild spoiler pictures later on in the article.) Our time slot was for 9 AM on Saturday morning, so in theory we needed to get an early night’s sleep. But Friday night was also the first night of Happily Ever After. My husband and I had seen some of it when it was in testing at 1 AM, but our daughter slept through it. We let her stay up to watch, and she had fun making “water effects” for it in the pool.

Thankfully, even with all that excitement, she was able to get some sleep. The next morning we got up and arrived at Animal Kingdom around 8:30. We walked over to the Annual Passholder line and there was a crowd just hanging out. The Cast Member there asked if we were Passholders, and we said yes. She asked if we were staying on property, and we said yes, but were a little confused how she knew. She scanned our Magic Bands and it occurred to us–everyone else was standing around because they couldn’t go in yet. It was a morning Extra Magic Hour for resort guests. Yay! In we went. Getting in early meant we could say hi to the animals on our way to Pandora. Specifically, an anteater came to say good morning. He certainly looks like he would belong on Pandora, doesn’t he?

It was about quarter of nine, but they let us walk right in. We got a FastPass return slip for Flight of Passage and admired the landscape as we walked over to the Na’vi River Journey.

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Satu’li Canteen And Mobile Ordering Rejuvenate Quick Service Disney Dining

by on May 17, 2017

Pandora - The World of AvatarRecently, I was lucky enough to attend an Annual Passholder Preview for Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and of course, as your resident dining reviewer, my first priority was trying out all the new food options available at the land’s quick service restaurant, Satu’li Canteen. I was also excited to try out the new mobile ordering option from the My Disney Experience app, currently exclusively used at Satu’li Canteen. I’ll run through the process of how to use mobile ordering (it’s super easy!), and give a few first impressions of the food I sampled in this Satu’li Canteen review.

Mobile Ordering Basics

First things first, you have to have the My Disney Experience app installed on your mobile device, and for optimal use, you’ve got to have location services and notifications enabled for app use. Currently, mobile ordering does not support the use of the Disney Dining Plan for payment, either – only credit cards, so keep in mind if you want to make use of your plan credits, you’ll need to order at the counter as you would normally at a quick service location. Also keep in mind, mobile ordering is only available for guests taking part in a preview of Pandora at this time, as the land is not yet open to everyone (May 27th is almost here, though!)

Mobile ordering is a pretty straightforward process (if you’ve ever used UberEats, you’ll be an expert already) – essentially, you order your food on the app, then once you arrive at the restaurant, you click “I’m here!”, at which point they’ll make your order. They’ll notify you once it’s ready, and since you’ve already paid through the app, you simple pick up your food and you’re on your way. Think of mobile ordering as a FastPass+ to skip the sometimes-lengthy ordering lines at every quick service restaurant.

The app will remind you what menu you’re ordering from (breakfast vs lunch/dinner), and will tell you the cut-off time for picking up your mobile order from Satu’li Canteen. At the top of several pages in the process, I saw a warning saying I had to pick up my order before 8:00 PM (when the restaurant closes). Basically, once a meal period starts for that day, you can order anytime between opening and close, and just show up when you’re ready. Simple, right? Very… I was really impressed that I didn’t have to pick a time to return, but I’d also warn to keep in mind that the food isn’t made until you arrive (more on that shortly), so if you pick a busy time of day to return, you’ll still wait a little for your food.

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Review: Pandora – The World of Avatar

by on May 15, 2017

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?

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