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Previewing Animal Kingdom\'s Pandora!

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Animal Kingdom’s new land, Pandora. The new land, taken from the mind of James Cameron’s movie, Avatar, takes up the old Camp Minnie-Mickey area of the park. If you ever visited this land, it didn’t seem big at all with just an open air theater and a cramped wait area for the old Lion King show theater. But, if you took out those two buildings, it is actually a pretty large area and that is one of the first things you notice when you enter the land. Getting to the land is a pretty short trip, you just come into Animal Kingdom and head to the left. Right when you see the tree, keep to the left and you will see the Pizzafari restaurant and Tiffin’s (the new restaurant opened last year) right behind it. Passing Tiffin’s, you get to the bridge over the “river” and it sort of serves as a gateway to the new land. You start to notice immediately that things have sort of changed.

The Land

As you head into the land, you first notice the bridge. The bridge itself has a sort of “rusted” look, covered with flora from the distant planet. You start to hear strange animal calls and noises and you start to see plants that are a little strange. You even look down as you walk into the land and you notice that the sidewalk below you has cuts and gashes filled with green and pink areas. As you enter the land, to the right is a huge “rock” for lack of a better term and in its side is a big oozing red goo. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Continuing in and wrapping around to the right you see the first big visual impact of the land, the floating “boulders” somehow dangling in the sky. This huge feat of engineering is amazing and awe inspiring all at once as you notice the huge waterfall pouring out of the biggest boulder. It will all simply make you stop in your tracks and stand there with your mouth open. So many colors, so much to see, such HUGE plants, and so many odd things that just take your breath away in this large area. To put it simply, you absolutely have to see the land, pictures don’t do it justice! And the best part? Seeing during the day is only half the story! The whole land completely comes alive at night! The sidewalks glow, some of the plants come alive (and do things, you have to see, or feel), the queue areas have visually amazing elements, and the whole land just has a different feel at night! You really have to go both times to get a feel for this new land, finally making Animal Kingdom a full day park!

The Rides

There are two rides in Pandora, the Na’vi River Journey and the Flight of Passage. Both are amazing feats of new technology and design and a great collaboration between James Cameron and Joe Rohde (more on Joe later).

The Na’Vi River Journey is right to the left in the land as you come in, just past the first bathrooms in the land. There was no sign as to what this ride was, just a queue beacon giving wait times and identifying which is the regular line and fast pass. The queue itself is beautiful and has TONS of visual sites to take in as you wind your way into the ride. One little oddity you will notice is the “upside down saxophone” things every 10 feet that look odd, but fit in with their surroundings. These are the lights for the sidewalk at night, and are very odd but neat to see. After about 100 yards of queue, you head into the rock building and get on the ride. The boats themselves are 2×2 small boats and it has a “Pirates of the Caribbean” feel as you head out. This ride to me needs something. It is massively visually appealing with a ton of beautiful things to see, but that is really all there is to it. It is just a boat ride through the flora and fauna of the new world. There are some really neat effects with the projections of the animals on integrated screens, and literally tons of things to see, but overall there is no real story to the ride. At the end you do see the best animatronic ever at Disney, a Na’vi shaman who sings a catchy but weird song, but other than that, you get off the ride going “ooookay, where is the story?\” I rode it twice and really loved the view, it was just missing that “thing” that is special. But, there is one more ride!

Flight of Passage is the main attraction of the new land. The back story is that all Na’vi warriors must complete a right of passage and ride a Banshee to become men. You will enter the ride, and integrate with your Avatar, who is already on the back of the Banshee and complete the right of passage yourself. Like the River ride, there was no sign for this ride, only a queue beacon leading you into the world’s longest queue. You will wind and meander through they said .75 miles of queue area as you head into this amazing ride. Yes, it is that long, but the queue area is actually more visually appealing and interesting than the River journey itself. The entire journey through the line will keep you visually entertained as it goes from forest themed, to mountain themed, to cave themed, and then into the Pandora scientific lab where they are studying the animals of the planet and building the Avatar which you will integrate with.

The interior of the lab is absolutely amazing and will draw you in with the theming. You could spend hours in this area alone just checking out the amazing small details they have implemented. Finally you will be split into 6 lanes of wait until you go into the videos introducing you to the ride. The first video will give you some background on the Avatar integration process and how it works. They will split you into groups of 16 to enter the theaters and they will “analyze your DNA” to pick the perfect Avatar. You stand on a circle and move around a bit as they do the analysis. It is pretty neat. After that, you head into another video room and get your glasses you will need for the ride. They give you some more info on how to get on the ride (yes, you need instruction) and then you are ready to get on this unreal ride.

The unusual ride vehicle

The ride “vehicle” itself is like a motorcycle. You will sit down, straddling the seat, and slide your legs into two open areas, knees first. You will slide your chest up to this broad beam and reach your arms over and grab the handles. Then, they will lock your back into place, and restraints will come behind your knees. Some have complained this is tough and they can’t fit, but I am 6’ and 250lbs and it was no sweat for me at all. Then, you don your glasses and the ride begins. There is only ONE way to explain this ride: INTENSE. Your “bike” moves around as the banshee dives, turns, flies, and stops suddenly. While the room tilts and moves very much like Star Tours, it is the visuals that really draw you in. The ride is like Star Tours, Soarin\’, and a motorcycle got together to have a baby, and it will simply blow you away! While you are riding, also pay attention to your motorcycle, it is alive with the Banshee!! I don’t want to give it away, but you actually feel like you are synced with and riding a real Banshee. While the ride made me nauseous (Star Tours does, too), many said they had no issues at all. There is nothing scary, or too rough with the ride, and it is fine for kids as they will love the movement, but it is definitely a ride that hits all of your senses!

You will love this ride!

The Gift Shop

Coming off the Flight of Passage ride, of course you in Disney fashion you will enter a gift shop. But, it is a pretty neat little shop. There are TONS of t shirts and themed items. You can buy small Banshee models or play toys, and you can even make a Pandora necklace. But, the big item everyone is dying for is the Baby Banshee puppet you can buy. This thing is massively popular with a big line waiting to get one! The puppet has a hidden control going down your back so others can’t see it, but it perches on your shoulder and moves just like a real banshee would seem to! It is a very neat toy!


Right outside of Flight of Passage is a small drink station named Pongu Pongu with two kinds of beer and two mixed drinks. The two mixed drinks are the Night Blossom, a non-alcoholic rainbow colored frozen drink, and a Mo’ara Margarita, which is blood orange/strawberry flavored. We sampled both and they were great! They also have these little bursting berries that float on the drinks and are really great! One thing to note with the area is that drinks do NOT have lids as they are trying to be conscious of the environment and the straws are made out of paper. So, drink these drinks pretty quick as they straws can get soggy. The other two drinks are two kinds of beer, Mo’Ara High Country Ale, and Hawkes’ Grog Ale (which is green). While the High Country Ale is a little hoppy and great, the Grog is fantastic in my opinion, with a hint of Apricot and Peach taste. Great drinks and a neat part of the land. They do have some food items at this stand, but we didn’t get to sample them.

Yummy desserts!

Right next to this drink stand is the restaurant for the land, Satu’li Canteen. It is a quick service restaurant that you can actually pre-order from your phone. It is actually a very large space with seating inside and out and was very visually neat and a great treat! I would say it is like a foreign planet built of stone type building inside with tons of seating. We chose to sit outside and loved watching the view of the new land. The will serve Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, and it is a great stop to grab a bite to eat. We got a chance to sample all of the lunch/dinner food and it was really good! Sort of an Indian meets Chinese fare and it was all tasty. They specialize in bowls such as Chicken bowls and Beef bowls with rice and vegetables. One of the neat things in the land was the Pods. They are like Chinese buns and they had two different versions, a veggie version and a Cheeseburger version. When they say it is cheeseburger, it isn’t like you think with just meat and cheese, it is really like a great cheeseburger, filled with meat, ketchup, mustard, pickles, cheese, you name it! I was blown away by these and I can’t wait to eat there again.

Delicious Satu\’li Canteen foods!

Final Thoughts and Joe Rohde

All in all I think the land is pretty amazing and a great addition to Animal Kingdom. Out of 25 trips to this park, it has always been a half day park for me. I would go first thing in the morning and ride the Safari, ride a few other things, see the Lion King show and then head out of the park. They have FINALLY made AK a full day park and it is worth it. Pandora and the new tree show coupled with Rivers of Light and other night time treats will really make this park interesting now for your family. It is absolutely worth the ticket!

Joe Rohde! Amazing!

One last note, Animal Kingdom and its twenty year run has all been the brainchild of one man, Joe Rohde. Joe, known by many as the “earring guy, is one of Disney’s main Imagineers. He developed the concept and design, and ultimately built Animal Kingdom and its former best ride, Expedition Everest. He even traveled to Tibet and collected items to give the park an authentic feel. He is known as a true Disney legend and one of the forerunners in making the parks as magical as they can be today. We had seen Joe many times during the Pandora preview day, but he was always being mauled by crowds or having his name yelled from afar. I never thought I would get to meet him. However, as we were eating in the Canteen, I looked up and there was Joe literally standing a foot from us. We took a moment and said “hello” and told him he had done a fantastic job with the park and the new land. He was like a proud parent and as gracious and kind as possible and took a moment to take a photo with me and sign my press pass to the land. He was a SUPER nice guy and a true hero to many that were there, so much so, that people were not even paying attention to James Cameron, the famous director, and were dying to meet Joe. Meeting Joe was a great way to cap off the day and I simply can’t say enough what a great experience the day was.

I hope you have as great time in Pandora as I did! It is magical!

Wishdrawals Owner, Corey Townsend, has been to Disney many many times and can’t get enough.  He says, \”We go every opportunity we get, and we leverage our hard fought info to help people plan amazing vacations through our company Wishdrawals Travel. They say it isn’t work if you do what you love, and we are lucky that we can do that.\” Contact Corey to help plan your next Disney vacation!

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