Watching Jake Sully enter the world of Pandora through his genetically engineered Na’vi body makes you wonder what it must be have been like. How did it feel to walk in the Pandora forest, run through the fields, or fall through the trees? How would it be to smell the air, to see the plants glow at night, to ride the Ikran, the predatory banshee that can fly? If you ever wished for that experience then your dreams have come true! You can now experience Pandora, The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida. It’s the perfect fit for Avatar fans, like me and my wife!
I had the most amazing opportunity to visit Pandora during its Grand Opening and walk around the Valley of Mo’ara. I was amazed at the mystery of its floating mountains alive with the sounds of life, drumming along like a beating heart. The flora and fauna glow both day and night, move and breathe like the native plants in Pandora. Many adventures wait for you here. Children and parents alike can paint their faces to resemble the Na’vi people. Take the look further with a souvenir T- shirt resembling the Na’vi skin color and war paint, or add a head band adorned with the ears of the Na’vi people. Complete the costume with Na’vi necklaces, bracelets and more. I had the chance to get my face painted at “Colors of Mo’ara” and bought the head band to match. But as soon as my wife saw it, she stole it from me and wore it for the remainder of our trip! People loved the look. We were met with curiosity all day as tourists and Disney Cast Members asked us where we got our Na’vi ears, wanting to know how much we loved Pandora! They wanted to share in our experience, even the face painting and ears! It was a thrill!
The food in Pandora is great as well. I had a delicious meal at the Satu’li Canteen. This restaurant looks just like the former RDA mess hall from the movie and the food was delicious. Satu’li has meal options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here you can find a few favorite classics, while some meals have an Asian flare. A unique snack stand can be found around the corner at a place called “Pongu Pongu”, which means “Party Party” in the Na’vi language. Here they sell a popular drink that looks something like large colorful caviar, only they call them ‘boba balls’, it tastes fantastic! The boba balls glow with “bioluminescent” colors as do some of the other drinks at Pongu Pongu. You will also find another sweet treat here called Lumpia. This is created after a popular street food in the Philippines and looks like egg rolls, but these rolls are filled with pineapple cream cheese. Can you say ‘Delicious’!
The best part about Pandora is feeling like you are literally inside the World of the Avatar. I really got that sensation when I rode the “Na’vi River Journey”. My wife and I sat in a comfortable, slow moving river boat that floats around Pandora vegetation, alive with the sights and sounds of the jungle, accompanied by Na’vi culture ceremonial music. The plants and animals glow and breathe, while natives beat their drums to the music of the Na’vi Shaman. This ride is a relaxing, slow moving experience. Disney representatives shared with us that this ride has one of the most complicated Audio-Animatronic figures it has ever created. Their star feature is waiting for you at the end! You can’t miss it!
But don’t leave Pandora yet! You haven’t heard the best part! You HAVE to ride on “Avatar, Flight of Passage” before you leave planet Earth, not just Pandora! Put it on your ‘Bucket List’! It’s the most amazing Disney experience you will ever have! Before we got on the ride, we walked through a forest of waterfalls, bridges, and beautiful gardens native to the moon of Pandora.
Then we were led into a cave with amazing cavern walls, complete with paintings of the Ikran. The cave paintings signify how the Na’vi people honor these amazing winged Jurassic-looking banshees. As you continue, the cave turns into the old ruins of the abandoned RDA facility (from the movie) complete with airlocks, rust, and old electrical equipment. You begin to see how this building is breaking down as you enter the next area, a bioluminescent mining pathway which leads you to the Pandora Conservation Initiative (PCI). Talk about experiencing the Avatar movie! This queue sets the stage that the RDA has been taken over by conservation efforts from the PCI. In the PCI lab you see how its scientists are conducting research into water purification, habitat restoration, and study of the Mountain Banshees. You even see a life sized Avatar floating in a tank of life preserving liquid. How cool is that! My wife and I loved it!
Leaving the science lab, we entered the Banshee Tracking room. Continuing on, you are finally led to a decontamination area where you get matched up with an Avatar body in a simulation lab experiment. The scientists use computer programs to match your body type to one of the Na’vi people so that you can be connected with one of the Mountain Banshees and ride on its back. Once we were ready to ride we are given a set of 3-D glasses and sit on a vehicle much like a motorcycle. Straddling your own seat, you lean your chest on a rest support, hold your grip on handlebars, feet firmly on the ground. Talk about anticipation! You can’t help but look at the expressions of the other riders sitting next to you! Are we doing this right? When does this thing start? Are we going to take off from the ground? What about the wall in front of us that we are all staring at, does it move? Do we get a warning before the ride starts? Are we going upside down? Suddenly I am having so many questions!
You are grouped in a row of vehicles, side by side together in the same room. Your bags and personal belongings stay on the wall in cubbies behind you. Each vehicle has its own video display showing you what your personal Banshee looks like and tells you when you are connected with it. Once restraints position around your back and legs, you know this ride means business! You feel apprehensive being so tightly connected with this machine until suddenly you feel it breathing! The Banshee’s lungs are inhaling and exhaling against your legs! How amazing is that! Hats off to Disney engineers! And then the ride begins, everything goes dark and somehow the wall in front of you has disappeared and you see stars, hundreds of miles away, in 3-D! But the ride has begun and you are now flying, in 4-D!
The first lift-off takes your breath away, not only are you soaring and falling, but you are screaming! And then you experience the wind in your hair, smelling the spray of the sea, feeling its watery mist on your face. Your Banshee lands on tree branches, you are able to look around for a second and then you take off again. Another breath of exhilaration and you are flying with a group of Na’vi who are on their Ikran Banshees as well. They are yelling, shouting, screaming with laughter. You laugh as well. You fly through the forest trees, smelling the pine, the earth, the dirt on the rocks. The Banshee will land on a cliff or tree top and dive back down again. It’s amazing! The imagery in this 3-D film makes you feel like you are right in Pandora, consistent with scenes from the movie. The wind, the scents, the water effects, it all brings this world to life. This ride is obviously comparable to Soarin’ but doesn’t move as slow and peaceful, you are in for a totally different experience! The London Symphony Orchestra has performed the musical score to the film, adding to the beauty of this thrilling flight. The 4 ½ minute ride leaves you with a high and an expression of wonder stuck to your goofy face that you can’t shake off for hours. You can’t stop talking about it! We are still talking about it! James Cameron says “it’s like dreaming with your eyes open!” It sure is!
Thank you to Disney for the opportunity of letting us share in the Grand Opening of Pandora. We will be taking our whole family back to Disney World in just a few months, and you know where we are going first! Can’t wait to show them Pandora – the World of Avatar!