Disney’s Pandora Land — the Good, the Bad and the Really Long Lines
I have a confession: I’ve never seen the movie “Avatar.” I somehow missed it in its heyday and it’s one of those movies I tend to forget about until it pops up on TV. So, from the few minutes I’ve caught in channel flipping, this is the extent of what I gathered: it’s about blue creatures that are really tall and live on a planet that people get to by lying in a weird glass chamber. I have no idea if any of that is right. Needless to say, with my lack of knowledge of the “Avatar” franchise, I was a bit curious as to why Disney was building a whole land around it in the Animal Kingdom. After all, it’s just one movie that was released close to a decade ago. Were there really that many fans still? Well, I can’t say for sure, but I’ll tell you what there are super fans for: 1. Anything Disney. 2. Anything new. And therein lies the magic of this shiny new land. It turns out, people are such big fans of Disney + new that they’ll wait for hours in a line to enter a gift shop to buy a special edition t-shirt. It’s marketing magic people (magic ... get it?). Nevertheless, Pandora land has some cool elements, and despite the ridiculous lines, it was fun experiencing the atmosphere and drama on opening weekend in May. Read on for the best and worst of Pandora — The World of Avatar.
Avatar Flight of Passage. By far and away the best part of Pandora land is the 3D ride Avatar Flight of Passage. For evidence, I present the 5 hour wait time we encountered. Don’t worry, we stayed out of that queue! It got so bad that the entrance to the land had to be closed at least once to let the lines die down. We finally got to experience Flight of Passage during “Extra Extra Magic Hours” (when Pandora stays open after the park closes for resort guests only), though we still waited a couple hours even then. But back to the ride. After walking through cave dwellings and an elaborate lab with a Na’vi in one of those chambers I know nothing about, groups of 16 are led into a holding space to watch a video about avatars and get matched up with one. Next up is the the screen room, where you’ll mount a bike-type seat that turns into a banshee (the flying dragon-like things on Pandora) during the ride. Pretty cool. What’s not cool is how tight the restraints are. I was warned a second too late by a fellow rider not to lean too far forward (though the instructions say to), and the claustrophobic restraint around the midsection had me on the verge of a panic attack as we waited to start. The ride is a 3D sensory experience of flying around Pandora on the back of a banshee, with special effects like sea breezes, water splashes and pleasant aromas. The stomach drops were enough to make me feel like I was really flying; and a couple of dramatic declines even had me shutting my eyes to keep my nausea in check. Epcot’s Soarin’ is the closest comparison to this experience, though Flight of Passage is way more intense and technologically advanced.
Valley of Mo’ara. Disney definitely knows what it’s doing when it comes to designing an appealing atmosphere, and Pandora is no exception. With a giant, floating mountain as a visual centerpiece, and added touches like a waterfall and vibrant greenery, this land certainly fits the Animal Kingdom vibes. Make sure you stick around after sunset to see the walkways glowing in the dark.
Satu’li Canteen. I’m putting this restaurant in the “good” category with a big disclaimer that we didn’t actually try the food (re: lines). BUT this was the first eatery to offer mobile ordering via the My Disney Experiences app, and anything that cuts down on lines gets an A+ for effort from me. As of summer 2017, there are a few more places you can order and pick up from, mostly in the Animal Kingdom, which to me says they’ll be the first park to have this service down to a T. Satu’li is a fast casual eatery open for breakfast (with French toast and a steak and goat cheese frittata that has me drooling) as well as lunch and dinner (options include create your own bowls and bao bun pods). Vegetarian and allergy-friendly dishes also are available. I recommend checking out the Disney Food Blog’s review for more about the menu.
Na’vi River Journey. This is the second and only other ride in The World of Avatar, and ... it’s a tad disappointing. Essentially a boat trip through the Valley of Mo’ara, the best features are the glowing faux flora and fauna and the stirring music that leads the way to an animatronic “shaman of songs” near the end. It gets bonus points for having a shaded line and being a great napping ride since it’s cool and dark inside. But that’s about it. While plenty of endearing attractions in Disney parks involve boats (It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean), I assumed that both new rides in a land that cost hundreds of millions to build would be state-of-the-art and entertaining, and only one was. Na’vi felt more like an afterthought and with only two rides, it’s quite disappointing for one to fall flat.
Not enough rides. On that note, there just aren’t enough attractions in this land. There’s plenty to look at, sure, but only two things to do, besides shopping, posing for pictures in front of all the weird looking plants, or playing on some big drums. Could we not get a show (other than the drumming musicians)? Or a Dumbo-esque flight ride? ANYTHING to split the lines up a little?
The lines. Shocked. Stunned. Flabbergasted. No word is strong enough to describe the jaw-dropping moment when I saw hundreds of minutes on the wait time board above Avatar — Flight of Passage. I literally stood squinting at it convinced it was malfunctioning. Sure, visiting opening weekend contributed to the madness, but a couple of months later, I’m still seeing reports of lines well over 2 hours. It’s hard to justify waiting that long no matter how great a ride is, so let’s look at some ways to avoid it.
The Really Long Lines
Use FastPass+. If you’re a Disney regular, just skip to the end. But for everyone else, let’s talk about these magic line-hopping tickets. Well, they used to be tickets, but now they’re just codes embedded in MagicBands and park passes. The secret here is to plan way ahead of time to get the most bang for your FP+. Walt Disney World Resort guests can book FP+ up to 60 days in advance, while everyone else has to wait until 30 days out. So, those staying on property can take advantage of this free perk and probably land some of the best rides. If you think it doesn’t matter, it does. If you think you can wait, you can’t. OK, some FP+ options might still be available once you get to the park, but I almost guarantee Flight of Passage or any of the other top attractions won’t be, and those are the ones with really long lines. As of right now, you’re only allowed to book one of the Pandora rides ahead of time. I cannot stress this enough: BOOK FLIGHT OF PASSAGE. Not only is the ride way better, but the lines are way longer.
Go during Extra Magic Hours. Again, Disney regulars know all of this, but for those who don’t, Extra Magic Hours are when the park opens an hour early or closes a couple of hours late for resort guests. Animal Kingdom has been keeping Pandora — The World of Avatar open until midnight (it was 1 a.m. for a short time) all summer. This is a great time to try out the new rides, as anyone not staying on property has to clear out and since it’s pretty late, many young families leave as well. This perk will be wrapping up Aug. 19, but hopefully once the summer crowds die down the wait times will too. The rest of the year, Animal Kingdom’s Extra Magic Hours tend to be in the morning, so arrive early and run to one of the new rides before a line forms. Check which days have magic hours here.
Wait a couple of years. Alright this may be a little tongue in cheek, but novelties eventually wear out, right? My biggest takeaway from our opening weekend experience? Stay far, far away when Star Wars land debuts in 2019. Disney + new + generations of superfans will = one magical mad house.