Although I’ve covered Walt Disney World many, many times on my blog, there’s a distinct lack of content dedicated to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In fact, a recent search pulled up only one article, dated back to December 2012. But there’s a reason for that; the truth is, as recent as a few months ago, it simply wasn’t my preferred park. Sure, I love the symbolism represented by the Tree of Life and Dinosaur is probably my son’s favourite ride – but otherwise, there wasn’t any one thing that attracted a high level of fanaticism in me.
With the addition of Pandora – The World of Avatar, all that has changed.
It’s been a few weeks since I had the incredible opportunity to attend the world media preview, and if you’ve been keeping tabs on the new expansion, you may already have read a few articles on this brand new world. However, rather than simply give you a laundry list of reasons you should visit (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or provide a creative re-telling of the press release (that’s a little more lazy, but also, no shame in that game), I thought I’d simply wait and provide answers to some of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked since my return. It seemed to work well for my Star Wars Day at Sea coverage, and if it ain’t broke, I don’t fix it.
And so, my friends, I present to you: Everything You Want to Know About Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Q: Do I need to watch Avatar before visiting?
A: Short answer: YES.
Long answer: The entire land is based on Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron’s record-breaking box-office hit. Together, Walt Disney Imagineering, James Cameron and Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment have gone to excessive lengths to create an experience that’s as realistic and immersive as possible – which will be lost on those who aren’t familiar with the movie. Now, this is not to say that you should skip Pandora entirely if you’ve never seen the film; you will still enjoy the experience, but only fractionally. At the very least, a partial understanding of the movie is essential to make the most of your visit. (Diehard fans will be in seventh heaven.)
Q: Does a visit to Pandora require separate admission? How long should I plan to be in The World of Avatar?
A: Although once you step into Pandora you will feel like you’re in a completely different world, it is nevertheless part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and admission to the park is all you’ll need to discover this breathtaking new land. Plan to immerse yourself in Na’vi culture for at least half a day; between the two blockbuster attractions, indulging in a meal and discovering numerous totems, bioluminescent plants and Wilderness Explorers challenges throughout the Valley of Mo’ara, you can easily spend 4-6 hours taking everything in.
Q: How can I maximize my time while I’m there?
A: Great news! For a limited time until July 4, 2017, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open from 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM, giving you more time to explore Pandora – The World of Avatar. And, for guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort hotels, you’ll have the chance to enjoy “Extra” Extra Magic Hours available exclusively in Pandora – The World of Avatar from 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM until July 4, 2017. (I recommend visiting Pandora at night! The bioluminescence is a sight to behold!) Plus, both Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey are eligible for FastPass+, so be sure to book a time before you arrive and skip the long lineup.
You can also save time by ordering from Satu’li Canteen using the My Disney Experience app on your mobile device; simply select the restaurant, review your food options and once you’ve added everything that your family cares to enjoy, you can review your order and purchase it right from the app. When you arrive at the restaurant, open the app, tap on the image of your character and press the “I’m Here, Prepare My Order” button. Easy-peasy and no more waiting in line!
Q: Let’s talk about rides. Na’vi River Journey or Avatar Flight of Passage?
A: Don’t make me choose! Okay, I’ll choose. Avatar Flight of Passage, hands down. I truly believe it’s the best ride at Walt Disney World – heck, it’s the best ride I’ve ever been on. Avatar Flight of Passage is a multisensory experience that will leave you breathless; explore Pandora’s incredible landscape while flying on the back of a mountain banshee, which represents an important rite of passage for the Na’vi. Technically, it’s classified as a 3D motion simulator ride. But realistically? You’re going to feel right there on the back of a banshee. The actual journey itself is pretty smooth (no aggressive, jerking movements like Star Tours) and if you make the height requirement (44 inches) you’d better be queuing to ride this attraction.
Now, this is not to say that Na’vi River Journey isn’t spectacular – it is. Fans of Avatar will be particularly impressed with scenic immersion and tie-in to the film; as your expedition begins, you’ll climb aboard a reed boat and drift downstream. After gently coasting through a series of caves (key word, gentle – think “It’s A Small World” for comparison), and passing by exotic glowing plants and amazing creatures of the rainforest, you’ll soon find yourself face-to-face with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. There is no height restriction for this ride, and it’s a great way to find relief from hot and humid Orlando weather while experiencing the magic of the bioluminescent rainforest.
Don’t forget to schedule FastPass+ times for both attractions!
Q: What are my dining options in Pandora?
A: I thought you’d never ask! The way to my vacationing heart is through good food, and I’m pleased to share that Satu’li Canteen and Pongu Pongu do not disappoint. The menu at Satu’li Canteen, a fast-casual restaurant, is inspired by the healthful bounty of Pandora, so you can expect a menu rich in wholesome grains, fresh vegetables and hearty proteins. I customized a bowl with a base of quinoa and vegetable salad, and topped it off with chili-spiced fried tofu. Delish!
To quench your thirst, grab a drink at nearby Pongu Pongu (which translates to Party Party), where you’ll find out-of-this-world beverages including a bioluminescent frozen cocktail and indigenous beers. And if you visit Pongu Pongu and don’t try their signature drink, a Night Blossom, we can’t be friends. I loved it! It’s a mix of limeade, combined with apple and desert pear flavours, and finished with passion fruit boba balls. Yummm.
Q: What’s the must-have souvenir?
A: You’ll want to pop into Windtraders – the gift shop at Pandora offering an array of exclusive new merchandise. From Na’vi cultural artifacts and animal toys to science kits and Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) apparel – and even customizing your very own Avatar – you’re bound to find a keepsake you’ll love.
However, the “big ticket” item is the interactive banshee, found in The Rookery within the store. A naturalist from Alpha Centauri Expeditions will assist you with identifying a favorite banshee from among 10 unique styles; you can either display it on your shoulder or cradle it in your arms. Each interactive banshee includes three ranges of motion (mouth, head and wings) that are controlled by hand, and of course, make authentic banshee sounds.
Q: I want to book an expedition to Pandora! Where can I find more information?
Visit www.disneyworld.ca or leave a question for me in the comments! I’m happy to help you plan your next Walt Disney World vacation.
Special thanks to Walt Disney Parks & Resorts for inviting me to #VisitPandora. Thanks to this exciting new land, my entire family has now ranked Disney’s Animal Kingdom a must-do! We can’t wait to return.