I attended an Annual Passholder Preview for Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I’m going to start this post off with some spoiler-free thoughts on Pandora: The World of Avatar. Then I’ll get into more detail and spoilers after that, so if you want to be surprised when you visit Pandora, don’t read past the first few paragraphs.
The first thing that will strike you when you cross the bridge from Discovery Island into Pandora is the scale and size of it all. It’s like you’re stepping onto another planet. The landscaping here is beautiful, with a mix of real plants and artificial Pandora plants. The Imagineers undoubtedly succeeded at creating a place the feels like nothing else ever seen at Walt Disney World and immediately transporting you to Pandora. Pandora sets a new bar placemaking in themed entertainment.
The attractions are equally as immersive. The Na’vi River Journey is an enjoyable family-friendly attraction the takes you through the bioluminescent forests of Pandora. Avatar Flight of Passage is an exciting flight through the world of Pandora. This ride is the more intense of the two and will instantly become a top attraction at Walt Disney World.
There is a quick-service restaurant on Pandora, Satu’li Canteen, as well a drink stand that also serves a delicious snack, Pongu Pongu. All of the food I tried on Pandora was excellent. Satu’li Canteen is now the best quick service restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom by far and could be considered the best quick-service restaurant in Walt Disney World. The food was that good.
There is one merchandise location on Pandora, Windtraders. It is an excellent shop because everything sold here was unique to this store and has not been sold in Walt Disney World previously.
Ok here come the spoilers, so if you want to be surprised when you first visit, you might want to stop reading and come back after you’ve experienced it for yourself.
Avatar Flight of Passage
Avatar Flight of passage is one of the most exciting to come to Walt Disney World. It seems like a combination of Soarin’ and Star Tours, which combine to Soarin’ on steroids. Similar to Soarin, it’s a motion simulator where everyone is facing an enormous IMAX size screen. However, unlike Soarin’, you’re sitting on a “Link Chair” that moves you up and down to amplify the sensation of motion. The Link Chairs are all next to each other. However, once the action starts, you won’t even notice the people beside you. It’s that immersive.
In the context of the story, the “Link Chair” is connecting you to your Avatar. You’ll experience everything as if you were your Avatar. This includes feeling the breadth of your Banshee beneath you, the smell of the environment of Pandora, and the spray of mist as you fly past waterfalls. These elements are all seamlessly integrated into a realistic flight around Pandora. Along the way, you’ll come across familiar creatures from the 2009 film. Others were not in the original movie, so this might be a sneak peek to the sequels.
This attraction has the most detailed queue I have ever seen at any theme park. It could be a walkthrough attraction on its own. You’ll start by making your way up the mountains and then into some caves. There’s a section of the queue that looks like the bioluminescent forest, but the real highlight is the researcher’s labs. Guests can view experiments that the scientists have been working on and see a full-sized Avatar floating in some sort of container. The last room you’ll travel through is the Banshee tracking room, where the researchers can track the flights of all their Avatars. You can view a video below of the complete queue and preshow experience.
Na’vi River Journey
The Na’vi River Journey is a slow, gentle boat ride through the bioluminescent forest. It culminates in seeing the Shaman of Songs performing a ritual song to honor Eywa. Unfortunately, that’s all there is to this seven-minute ride. I felt it was a little underwhelming, but that might just be because I was expecting more. I thought they could have had some more animatronics of Pandora creatures and added some surprises to make it a little more exciting. It’s still a good ride that should be enjoyable for the whole family, but I felt there were some missed opportunities.
Like I said above, this is now the best counter service restaurant in the Animal Kingdom. The quality of the food was outstanding, and there are near endless combinations that you can create. Guests can choose a protein (Grilled Chicken, Grilled Beef, Fish, or Fried Tofu), a base (Potatoes, Quinoa, Rice and Gains, or Romain and Kale Salad) and a sauce. There’s also Cheeseburger Steamed Pods and Vegetable Curry Steamed Pods on the menu. I had the Grilled Steak over Romain and Kale with Chimichurri Sauce, and it was prepared perfectly. We also tried the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse and Pandoran Sunrise (tropical juices blended with PowerAde Melon). You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu here.
I haven’t had breakfast here yet. However, with items like Steak and Eggs, Breakfast Steamed Pod, and French Toast, it looks like this should be a good option for breakfast too, especially if the quality is up to what they serve for lunch and dinner.
Pongu Pongu is a small drink stand between the Windtraders gift shop and Satu’li Canteen. They serve refreshing frozen beverages and a unique selection of beers. We tried the Night Blossom (a Mixture of Limeade with Apple and Desert Pear flavors topped with Passion Fruit Boba Balls) and the Pongu Lumpia (a pineapple cream cheese spring roll). The Night Blossom was outstanding, combining sweet flavors of apple and pear with the tangy lime flavor. Pongu Lumpia was likewise very delicious, combining the wee and savory flavors of the pineapple with the fried casing.
Windraders is Pandora’s gift shop. It is located at the exit of Avatar Flight of Passage but can be accessed by anyone through the entrance near Pongu Pongu. This store is full of unique items that can only be purchased in Pandora (Update: Some merchandise is now available in other Animal Kingdom shops).
Guests can purchase their own Banshee (puppet) that will perch on their shoulder. The Banshee is operated by a handheld controller that can move the head, wings, and mouth. Just a word of caution, I had to try three different Banshees before finding one that would work correctly. Therefore, be sure to test your Banshee out before purchasing (or adopting as the cast members will say). There also some cool things for sale like Na’vi Language Translators and trading cards, floating unobtainium, and an Avatar figure with your face on it. They also sell plants and snacks that look like they might from Pandora. See below for pictures from the shop.