Pandora – The World of Avatar is my new favorite place in the world! I haven’t been this excited for something new since Diagon Alley. And like Diagon, Disney has created a place I could easily spend countless hours just roaming around to take it all in. The land is gorgeous and everything in it feels organic. I know it can’t all be real, but it feels so real. The detail is so incredible that even in four hours I wasn’t able to take it all in. The new rides are perfect additions to Animal Kingdom. The restaurant has some delicious options that also fit right in at the park. And I was able to adopt my very own banshee that sits on my shoulder, so I couldn’t be happier about the shopping for the new area. This is what Animal Kingdom has been waiting for to complete the park and will be my first stop every time I visit!
Check out the video for a complete tour of Pandora. And read below to see my personal review of each element of this massive new land including both rides, the foods, and gift shop! Plus, see the complete photo report below with nearly a hundred photos (sure to make your computer or device have trouble loading this page!) And stay tuned for more Pandora coverage over the next couple weeks, including the bioluminescence at night and more!
Valley of Mo’ara
The Valley of Mo’ara is the name given to the actual land within Pandora – The World of Avatar. It is here that we get out look at the incredible “floating” mountains. And while they’re not exactly floating, Disney has a backstory for that. See these mountains were floating but have crash landed onto the ground where they now rest. You can see the water stains from the waterfalls are actually askew, showing what orientation the mountains used to be in before they fell. It’s little touches like that that make the land feel completely fleshed out. A good backstory, even if you’re not aware of it, makes a land feel real.
This place is completely immersive. There’s no trace of the outside world while you’re exploring the valley. There’s no signs of Disney World or Mickey Mouse either. Even the shopping bags here are Pandora themed. There’s beautiful alien plants and real plants that feel alien everywhere you look. The soundscape in the background makes it feel like a real lived in jungle. And as you walk around you discover things at every turn. There’s a downed helicopter across the stream, covered in so much moss and vines you may miss it. This is a relic from the battle between the Na’vi and humans we saw in the Avatar movie, now rotting away and reclaimed by nature.
Around another bend are squirting creatures in a pond. They skate around on the surface of the water and if you come close they may feel threatened and spray you! Things like these aren’t listed in any park map or on a directory board. They’re intended to be discovered by accident. And that’s the beauty of this land. I am a big fan of Animal Kingdom, and I love how you can just wander around soaking it all in. Pandora is a great addition to Animal Kingdom as it contains everything that makes this park stand out from other theme parks.
Na’vi River Journey
The first of two new rides in this new land, the Na’vi River Journey is a relaxing slow moving boat ride through a bioluminescent rain forest of Pandora. You will be wowed by the incredible use of technology on this ride – and it’s great that there’s a way to experience the glowing plants of Pandora without having to be there at night… But, I feel that something is lacking from this attraction.
First, the good. The ride utilizes projection mapping like no other ride at Disney World. There’s the illusion of millipedes and other critters crawling over a log that I swore were animatronics at first because they looked so believable. There are lizards that hop along giant leaves above you that seem genuinely real, but are merely projections timed perfectly with the bobbing movement of the oversized leaves. Most impressively, the ride utilizes layered screens to create the feeling of depth without the need for 3D glasses, something I’ve never seen before at a theme park. By now you’ve probably heard about the Na’vi shaman animatronic on the ride. Her movements are incredibly lifelike and when she looks at you you’ll swear she’s real.
Now, the downside. There’s no real story here. I know we’ve been told that Pandora is about creating our own adventure, and in the land itself that’s certainly true. On a boat ride with a predetermined path, not so much. Now, to be fair, it does seem like there is a story here, it’s just not being explained to us. There could’ve been an easy fix too. Throughout the whole ride we see Na’vi and animals all heading towards the same direction, to where the shaman is at the end. At the beginning of the ride there’s a Na’vi guy standing there watching you silently (and his eyes seem to follow you like the busts in the Haunted Mansion.) If he had said just one phrase like “Come, join us today for the celebration. The shaman is awaiting your arrival.” It would’ve made the whole thing feel a little more complete to me.
As it is now, it is still an incredible ride for your eyes and ears, filled with a tremendous amount of Pandoran plant and animal life. It will take a few rides to fully see it all, and that certainly works in its favor. As a lot of people have said, I wish it was a few minutes longer. At only 4 and half minutes long it’s one of the shortest boat rides Disney has ever done. At the end of the day, this is one of two attractions that this new land has to offer (and the only one without a height restriction.) It shows off the glowing environment of Pandora through a relaxing slow moving boat ride, which great for what it is, but the other one is here to knock your socks off.
Avatar Flight of Passage
Before I can even talk about my thoughts on this ride, we have to delve into the incredible queue for a moment. This queue is an attraction unto itself. If you think you may skip this one and someone else in your party will be riding, wait the queue out with them so you don’t miss it! Your long trip to the ride begins in caves covered in colorful drawings, some depicting the banshees and Na’vi riding them. Next you’ll enter a small section of bioluminscent plant life. Again, a wonderful way to get to see glowing plants at Pandora, even during the day! Next is the science lab, an impressive piece of queue that rivals even Hogwarts Castle on showmanship. Here scientists are studying the environmental decline of water quality and how the apex predator, the ikran (or banshee as we call it) are being affected. You’ll see really cool experiments, a huge animal skull, realistic research stations, and an avatar incubating in an amino tube, just like we see in the film! This animatronic figure is suspended in liquid, but still moves so realistically you’d swear it’s dreaming in there.
After waiting what might be hours in the incredible queue, you’re ready to be matched to an avatar before your flight on a banshee. This part is cool in theory, but the actor they got to play the scientist in the preshow is about as charismatic as a bowl of chickpeas. He has you move about, your DNA is scanned, and you’re matched to your very own avatar and ready for the next phase of your training. Again, all very cool, just wish the guy wasn’t so boring during the segment. The next part is one more preshow before we begin. Here we meet a scientist lady who informs us of the important research they’re doing – but more importantly, she does it with pizazz! I like this preshow a lot more than the first in case you couldn’t tell.
Now it’s time to ride. You put all your belongings in a cubby behind the ride vehicles. Sit on the seats like a motorcycle as a backbar and two leg restraints come up from behind you. Many people are having issues with the leg restraints, but most people just need to place your feet as far forward as possible for them to work properly. (The back brace doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as far as I’ve heard so far.) When everyone is ready, we put on our 3D goggles, which look really cool but don’t stay on very well, but that’s only a minor complaint. When the ride begins bright lights and glowing dots can be seen as we “link” to our avatars. The wall that initially was right in front of us is now gone, and we’re flying!
Flight of Passage is a marvel of simulator tech. Unlike Soarin’, which this has been compared to a lot, the screen melts away. There are no feet dangling in front of you. This is what Soarin’ should have been. The unique ride vehicle lets you experience the ride in a new way. In addition to usual pitching and yawing of normal simulator rides, this one also goes up and down. When your banshee swoops down, you go down too. With every flap of its wings you bob up and down, so perfectly timed with the ride film that it actually convinces your brain that you’re really flying. I stopped holding on to the handle bars halfway through to truly experience the weightlessness of flying, the way I do on negative G moments on coasters. You’ll also feel the banshee breathing beneath you, completely selling the effect! The ride film is incredibly detailed. On your five minute journey you encounter dozens of different animal species, some friendly, some dangerous. You feel the ocean mist as you travel by a beach, smell sweet Pandoran plants, and feel the wind in your face as you fly around floating mountains. There’s not much of a story on this attraction either, except that you get to experience the actual sensation of flying, and in this case, that’s all you need.
There are only two places to get food and drinks in Pandora (for now) and Pongu Pongu is the outside tiki bar sandwiched between the gift shop and restaurant. Set to look like an old military style munitions bunker that’s been converted to a fun tiki bar, this location serves frozen drinks and beer, plus one snack food called Lumpia. The Lumpia was the best food we tried in Pandora. It’s a sweet pineapple and cream spring roll, and you get two for the price, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s warm and satisfying as a snack or dessert. We also tried the Night Blossom, a frozen non-alcoholic drink with mainly a sweet limeade flavor. There’s passion fruit flavored boba balls on top to make it look more alien, but I love passion fruit so that’s certainly a welcome addition. I like the drink, but many people say it’s too sweet for their taste. One thing’s for sure, it is a highly photogenic beverage as everyone was taking pictures of it for Instagram!
One of the more interesting things about Pongu Pongu, which means Party Party in Na’vi, is how the area is decorated with old military parts that have been turned into art. You can see Pandoran animals made from old metal parts. Gears and even knives turned into colorful decoration. It’s all very unique, and is meant to be reminiscent of tiki bars started by vets returning from the South Pacific, turning something born of conflict into a celebration of life. A fitting theme here on Pandora. There’s a radio that plays peppy versions of the Avatar film score here as well. It’s one of the only places in the land with background music, which helps to liven up this courtyard and create a fun atmosphere.
The Satu’li Canteen is the main quick service location for Pandora. It has outside and inside seating. The dining room is decorated by Na’vi and is a nice relaxing place to enjoy the exotic foods they serve. The quick service ordering stations and pick up windows are themed to look like the old military style mess hall. The mix of the natural and the futuristic styles works for me, creating a truly unique atmosphere, even for a theme park.
Okay, so the food is pretty good. We’ve only tried a couple things so far, but everything has been decent to great that we’ve tried. I love that you can make your own bowl. Finally customizable options in a theme park! You can choose from chicken, beef, fish and tofu as your protein, different veggie and grain options for your base, and a choice of sauce. A tip, you can order your sauce on the side, and even order two sauces if you’re not sure which one you’re going to like. We tried the chicken bowl, and it was good, but the meat has a smoky favor from the grill that is a little odd. But what do you expect, it’s food on another planet! I will definitely try the beef next time as everyone says it’s the best.
I did try the cheeseburger steamed “pod” boa buns, and they were really good. A little odd texturally, but the taste is spot on. It’s like eating a burger with ketchup and mustard all at once in this cool pod thing. The pod was more bread-like than I was expecting too. All of it’s great with the slaw they serve with the meals. The slaw includes boba balls on top that not only look cool but have dressing inside that bursts open when you eat it all together. It’s a fun meal for sure.
The greatest thing here is the blueberry cream cheese mousse. It tastes like a blueberry cheesecake cream with a fruity sauce. It’s really delicious and worth trying even if you don’t like cheesecake. We also tried the chocolate cake, which is pretty but not as tasty as the other dessert. It wasn’t sweet enough if you ask me, tasting like bitter coccoa powder. Dark chocoholics may like it, but try it before you take a bite of the cream cheese dessert or it’ll seem like a shock given how not sweet the chocolate is. I can’t wait to try more foods here. They also serve breakfast, so my next visit may involve eggs and bacon steamed pods!
I love this gift shop! I love the theming that makes it look like roots have overrun an old military outpost. The roots are even part of the displays in the shop that hold the merchandise. I love the Avatar themed toys and there’s some great shirts and hats I may have to purchase next time I’m here. But most of all, I love the mini banshees!
These mini banshees will be a big hit when the new land officially opens in a few days. There was a line to “adopt” them during the previews that was exceeding thirty minutes at some points, and that’s with a limited amount of guests allowed into the land! There’s even been talk of them running out because demand is so high. For about $50 you too can “adopt” a banshee. And I say adopt because that’s what they call it. This advanced toy is actually a puppet, a wire puppet to be precise. You can choose from one of 10 different color patterned banshees. Using a magnetic plate under your shirt, the banshee is placed on your shoulder and a cable running down your back leads to a remote you hold in your hand. The remote is not electronic. Instead it has three different triggers you can pull on with your fingers to make the puppet react via wires being pulled: mouth open/close, head turn right/left, and wings flap up/down. If you play with it for a bit you can really create the sense that it’s alive and doing its own thing.
Before you’re allowed to purchase the banshee, after they teach you how to “train” it using its “leash,” you will need to recite the “banshee pledge.” This is you promising to take care of the environment here on Pandora, and also back on Earth. Yea, it’s a little heavy-handed, (especially for a major theme park,) but whatever, now I have the coolest souvenir at Disney World (at least since they got rid of those invisible dog leashes they used to sell at the Magic Kingdom 20 years ago.) I love walking around the park with my new pet banshee on my shoulder. Everyone asks about it and I get a lot of jealous looks. It gives you something to do while waiting in line too, so that’s nice! These are going to fly off the shelves.
In addition to the greatest toy ever, Windtraders offers a few more interesting and customizable items. One of which is a build-your-own necklace station filled with beads, trinkets, and feathers you select to make your own Na’vi style jewelry. They also offer the “ACE Avatar Maker.” Using a big machine your face is scanned into the computer and then mapped onto your very own Avatar action figure. They’ll actually 3D print your action figure while you wait! There’s definitely some unique things here you don’t see every day. One more thing I think is pretty cool is a base with a levitating piece of unobtanium, just like in the movie! I like the shop’s wide selection of things based not only on the land, but also from the movie, and there’s some stuff that’s just plain out cool like venus fly traps! Why not?
I love exploring Animal Kingdom. It’s already my favorite place to unwind in the entire world. Pandora not only feels like it belongs in Animal Kingdom, but it epitomizes everything that I love about this park. The land lends itself to exploring. The waterfalls cut off noise from the rest of the world. The land is not just about escapism, but also about getting closer to nature. For the same reason I love wandering around the Tree of Life or Harambe Village I will love wandering around Pandora. For the same reason I love the exotic foods of Yak and Yeti Outdoor Market or Harambe Market I love the exotic foods of Satu’li Canteen. And for the same reasons I love Dinosaur and Expedition Everest I love the new rides of Pandora. They are technologically advanced and fun rides with just the right mix of adventure, learning, and thrill.
Pandora is a land I will not only visit every time I go to Animal Kingdom, but it’s a land that will get me to visit Animal Kingdom more often. Disney has hit a home run here, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Check out my article on Best of Orlando for more information about this new land. And stay tuned for more details about the rides, restaurants and gift shop over the next few weeks as we delve even deeper into everything! Subscribe to the news feed so you never miss an update! And subscribe to my YouTube channel for more Pandora updates including the bioluminescent effects at night coming soon!