I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’ve heard a little something about this new Pandora project at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Disney’s partnership with James Cameron and its decision to create a new world based on his Avatar movie(s) was first announced years ago. It’s a quite some time for the project to progress and suffered many delays along the way. But it last it’s finally here and set to officially open May 27, 2017. I had the amazing opportunity to attend a preview event yesterday and here’s my honest review.
Pandora Like the Charm Bracelets?
Yes. I mean NO. But yes. That was an actual statement from a tourist in the parks. So just in case you don’t know all ready let’s first get a quick overview. As I said it’s based on the James Cameron movie Avatar and the idea is that you are visiting Pandora, the planet that is home to the Navi (they are those super tall blue alien people in case you didn’t know). Pandora is a new land inside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park at Disney World. It features two attractions, one counter service restaurant, and a gift shop.
So How Was It?
Pandora was, in a word, INCREDIBLE. I was thoroughly impressed and really blown away with the scale of the project. It really feels like you’ve entered another world as soon as you walk in. Everything around you from the plants that you see, to the music that’s playing, to the animal sounds that you can hear are completely alien and new. You know immediately that you are not in Animal Kingdom anymore.
While you don’t have to be a fan of the movie Avatar to enjoy Pandora I do think it would help you to understand the culture of the Navi and the back story, especially the Flight of Passage ride. So I’d recommend seeing before you visit if you never have. I liked Avatar back when it first came out. I thought it was visually cool but the story didn’t interest me a ton and yet I still loved this land so being a big fan of the movie definitely isn’t required.
It’s hard to convey the scale of the floating islands that are the key feature of the landscape. The pictures look pretty, but they don’t really show how tiny you feel standing under them or how REAL it all looks. It always amazes me that they can make something look like it’s been growing there for thousands of years when you know it was just built. But that’s how it feels- very organic and old. I know I said there’s technically two attractions, but really, the floating islands are an attraction in themselves. I really enjoyed just walking around and soaking up the amazing atmosphere. For that reason I’d say if at all possible, try to visit Pandora when the weather is nice enough for you to enjoy the scenery and take lots of pictures. Pandora is essentially a giant travel postcard in its beauty. (Speaking of pictures, just a side note but this place is a photographers dream. Even with a phone you can get incredible looking shots but someone with real skill can spend hours just capturing it all.)
Let’s Get to the Best Part
The highlight of Pandora is the attraction Flight of Passage. This is a flight simulator ride. Now I know, I know. Lately theme parks are doing way too many 3-D movies and simulators and it can feel like a cop-out to designing an actual thrill ride. But, trust me when I say this ride is far beyond what you’re thinking and really couldn’t have been done any other way. The idea is you will be paired with your own Navi Avatar (body double) to bond with and ride a Banshee. (This is where seeing the movie really helps.)
The queue for the stand by line is pretty cool- there’s a lot to see. Which is a good thing since it’s extremely long. They are obviously planning for some long wait times for this ride. You can see some of the bio-luminescent plant life, as well as see an actual Avatar floating in some kind of tube. It looks straight out of the movie.
You board what looks like a motorcycle type thing, and that’s how you sit during the “flight”. I loved it because it really helps you feel like you’re there. You can even feel the sides of the Banchee “breathing” against your legs during the ride. It’s incredible. The scenery of Pandora and the feeling of flying is so exhilarating that it almost becomes an emotional experience. Seriously. It’s that good.
Who Can Ride Flight of Passage?
Flight of Passage has been compared to Soarin’ and I can understand why but it’s so much better. Soarin’ has some of that feeling of Flight but it’s nowhere near as immersive as this experience. You can tell that the technology is just far superior. If you can handle the ride Star Tours then you should be totally fine on Flight of Passage. I can sometimes get a little head-achy after Mission Space at Epcot, and had zero trouble with this ride. If you’re on the fence I would definitely say to try it because worse case, if you feel a little motion sick you can always just close your eyes since your actual “motion” is minimal. The height requirement for Flight of Passage is 44 inches. As far as intensity, children will be completely fine on this ride- there’s no scary scenes or animal endangerment involved, (something I always worry about even for myself). Sometimes creatures come close and may seem a little intense for just a minute but there’s no real sense of danger just the wonder of flying and adventure. They will love it.
Navi River Journey
The second attraction is the Navi River Journey. This is a slow-moving boat ride that takes you through some pretty scenes of the nighttime bio-luminescent landscape. It’s more relaxing and pretty than anything else, and is something the whole family can ride together. There is an amazing animatronic Navi woman towards the end that pretty cool to see. I’m not sure this will be a ride I feel inclined to ride often. But it is enjoyable to see. The real headliner though is Flights of Passage.
Coolest Pandora Souvenir
If you enjoy riding the Banchee on Flight of Passage then check out the Banchee Rookery in the gift shop when you exit. The hottest selling merchandise in Pandora is definitely these small puppets that you can “adopt”. They are $50 which is a little steep but they are super cool and I saw so many people of many ages having a ball walking around with these on their shoulder. It could be a great take home souvenir.
There’s a counter service restaurant in Pandora called Satu’li Canteen. I only tried one dish but everything I saw looked really good. As with most things at Animal Kingdom expect non-traditional theme park food. I tried the cheeseburger pods which were delicious! I would absolutely get them again. You can get the entrée that comes with sides or you can get the pods by themselves. They’re meat and cheese inside a steamed bun. So so good. This is also a great choice if you have any food allergies as they have an extensive menu of alternative choices. Make sure you ask for that menu if you need it. It’s also themed really well inside the restaurant with plenty of seating making it a good choice to take a break and cool off.
There’s also the Pongu Pongu beverage stand which had several things that looked good here. I opted for the Night Blossom, a non-alcoholic slushy described as “Limeade with apple and pear flavors topped with passion fruit boba balls”. It tasted similar to the Violet Lemonade at Epcot- kind of a fruity berry slushy with little bob as that have fruit juice inside them. It’s delicious! Perfect for a hot day and has a bonus feature of being very Instagram worthy. I want to try the Hawks Grog Ale next time which is basically green beer.
I am so incredibly impressed with Pandora. With the many delays on opening this project, the theme park cynics and the twitter trolls have been very quick to criticize. I knew if it was anything less than outstanding it would be a huge click bait fest of negative reviews. But after seeing it myself I can say that it absolutely lived up to the hype and the anticipation. It truly is a marvel of Disney imagineering. You’ll want to set aside plenty of time to visit Animal Kingdom on your next Disney World trip. Not only is there more to see, but the new land will draw crowds to the park as a whole. Also keep in mind you still have Rivers of Light playing nightly at Animal Kingdom and it’s a great compliment to Pandora.
I hope you enjoy visiting Pandora as much as I did. As always if you have any questions or comments leave them below!