When Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom introduced Pandora – The World of Avatar, we knew we had to make a trip down to the Mouse to check it out. After watching the “making of” videos at the end of the Avatar movie, I was strangely excited.
Since I’m not a huge fan of rides, I hadn’t anticipated a theme park visit this much since our first time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando. But the theming and craftmanship looked so extensive that I had high expectations.
Well those expectations were met and exceeded! Hands down, Avatar Flight of Passage is the best ride at Animal Kingdom — heck, it is definitely the best ride at Disney period. It is no surprise this made it to the top of the list for our best rides at Disney for teens too! (Although we haven’t had a chance to visit Galaxy’s Edge yet.)
But first, let’s look inside the new Pandora – The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom — or Avatar land or Pandora land as some might call it. Newly opened in May 2017, Pandora raised the bar and expectations for all future “lands”.
When you enter Animal Kingdom and get to the central “Tree of Life”, hang a left and follow the crowds to Pandora – The World of Avatar. You will first encounter the Valley of Mo’ara and will be immediately entranced by the floating islands and attention to detail given throughout this section of the park.
It definitely helps to have recently seen the movie so that everything has a bit of a familiar look.
You will want to make a beeline for Avatar Flight of Passage, because that is where the lines are the longest. But don’t worry, it is totally worth the wait (I did tell you it is the best ride in Disney World right?)
Avatar Flight of Passage – Best Ride at Disney
Everything about Avatar Flight of Passage is amazing from start to finish. When we joined the queue (at 7:30 am before the park was even officially open), we were told to expect a 1.5 to 2 hour wait. I don’t think we stood still for longer than a minute or two the entire time and we were finished the ride before 9:00 am.
On a return visit, we bought tickets to Animal Kingdom After Dark and we were able to ride Flight of Passage multiple times in a row with zero wait — it was so worth the ticket price!
All throughout the first part of the queue you are busy looking left and right taking in the elaborate surroundings and the floating islands of Pandora.
Once you move inside the building, you are greeted by the glowing plants of Pandora as you wind your way through the barriers of the line.
Soon, you enter the lab and are introduced to the scientific study of the world of Pandora. It helps to have seen the movie here because it will make a lot more sense.
Again, the level of detail is stunning. Everything looks like real scientific samples and equipment — especially down to the Na’vi “Avatar” floating in its tank.
In case you haven’t seen the movie, the premise of the ride is that you will be linked to a Na’vi Avatar, just like happened in the movie. So you will be mentally linked with a Na’vi, taking over their body as your own. Once linked, you will take part in the coming-of-age ritual of riding a banshee (a dragon-like creature.)
You are taken into individual rooms in groups and assigned a spot to stand. You are then “scanned” and matched with an Avatar. It is a very cool technology that is similar to a Kinect where you see the outline of your body and you see if you are a “match.”
Next, you are shuttled into the next room to see your Avatar match and given instructions about riding a banshee. When you are entered into the ride room, you first store your belongings in a cubby and then mount the ride vehicle the same way you would get on a motorcycle.
In fact, in some ways it is similar to riding a motorcycle simulator arcade game that leans from side to side.
You lean forward into the ride vehicle and put on your flight “goggles” (3D glasses.) Almost immediately, you are immersed into the world of Pandora. You easily forget that you are on a simulator ride because the world presented in front of you is so real.
On your flight, you dip and lean and “fly” across the beautiful world of Pandora. The graphics are stunning and the ride engages nearly all of your senses. As you fly past water, you feel the spray of the mist.
As you stop in the nighttime forest, you can smell the air around you. But the most amazing effect is that when you pause, you feel the banshee breathing underneath of you as you feel the pressure pushing in and out against your legs. I have never experienced anything like it.
As we exited the ride, all we could say was “WOW!”
You may want to grab a meal at the Satu’li Canteen, located just outside of the Avatar Flight of Passage ride exit. I noticed that they follow a similar expediting process that I saw in Universal’s Volcano Bay.
First they have greeters to hand you a menu and once you make a decision, you are directed to a cashier to place your order and then a station to pick up your food. It wasn’t crowded at all when we were there but I imagine this process comes in handy at lunch and dinner when it is crowded. They also offer mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app.
We have eaten both breakfast and dinner at the Satu’li Canteen and thought both were outstanding for theme park food. A healthy and interesting selection of options with very generous portions.
After fueling up, we headed out to try out the second ride in Pandora — The World of Avatar.
Na’vi River Journey
Unfortunately, the line at the Na’vi River Journey ride doesn’t move as quickly or is nearly as entertaining as Avatar Flight of Passage. Luckily, most of it is shaded and usually the line isn’t as long either, but you will want to keep an eye on the Disney Experience app to check for wait times.
This is a very simple ride and suitable for all ages, but still an amazing experience. You will board a boat for a slow and peaceful cruise through the Na’vi River, where you will see the glowing plants and creatures of the rainforest.
Then you will be entertained by the song of the animatronic Na’vi Shaman of Songs. The ride is over pretty quickly but it is still so much more immersive than other Disney rides.
Afterwards I heard some people complaining about the ride not being worth the wait but I was still impressed. You may not want to wait hours, but definitely give it a try.
Take a look for yourself:
Make sure you give yourself time to enjoy the other aspects of the Valley of Mo’ara, like the Na’vi-built drum circle and totems that can be found throughout the land.
And even if you come early to beat the crowds, you will want to find time to return at night to see the bioluminescent plants light up.
Tips for Visiting Pandora at Animal Kingdom
- Arrive early. Even if the park opens at 8 am, you’ll want to arrive by 7:30 am. Chances are, they will let you through the gates and you can be in the queue before the park opens.
- Head straight to Avatar Flight of Passage — lines near opening can be up to 270 minutes so you will want to hit this first.
- Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort — this will get you the “Extra Magic Hours” so you can have time in Pandora with fewer crowds. Although, right now those extra magic hours are from 11pm to 1am so it may not work as well if you have younger children.
- Book your FastPass + early — if you stay on property, you can book your FastPasses up to 60 days in advance. Jump on those as soon as you can because when they open up to the other ticket holders at 30 days, they will be gone (trust me!)
- Get our tips on the best Walt Disney World hotels
- Learn how to plan your first Disney World vacation
- Consider taking a Disney VIP tour to streamline your visit
- Make a fine dining reservation at Tiffins
- Purchase discounted tickets on Getaway Today
Note: We were given one-day media passes to experience the Disney Parks and facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.