In late September, I visited Pandora at Animal Kingdom for the first time! Read on for my review!
General Impression – Daytime
The floating mountains were not quite breath-taking but they nevertheless made for some pretty stunning shots against the Florida sky.
As soon as I stepped into Pandora, the My Disney Experience app notified me that I could help out Alpha Centauri Expeditions (click for the backstory on ACE from the D23 convention in 2015) by searching for fauna and flora. It was supposed to link via Facebook Messenger but my Messenger app was being buggy so this did not quite work. I think would have enjoyed it and look forward to seeing how this extra bit of immersive theming works in the future.
Phd Pointer: There are a few spots scattered along the paths where the Pandoran wildlife will interact with you if you move just right!
Na’vi River Journey
Queue: I had a FP+ for this ride but ended up only riding it via standby during Early Magic Hours. It was under a 60 minute wait when I got in line around 8:15. The theming of the queue was really impressive and quite fun. Absolutely everything – from the centerpoint of the circular queue, the roof, the surrounding walls, to the ties on the queue fences – appeared to be woven from real reeds and leaves of some sort and actually felt like the right texture. Additionally, there were plaques mounted on the queue fences describing various flora and fauna of Pandora but the line was moving so quickly that I hardly had time snap a picture much less read the actual information. I think these would be useful for participating in the immersive piece I mentioned above because it would help you identify the right plant when you’re walking around.
Ride: Because I was traveling alone, I was placed in the front row of a boat with the couple in front of me, with another group of strangers sitting in the back row. The scenery was quite beautiful and there was a ton to look at in every scene. In a few places, there are a couple of mesh screens at various depths with different creatures projected onto them to give a 3-D effect. Although the animations make it so each ride through might have something different to see, the screens were not even close to transparent so the mechanics of the effect were very obvious. Many of the lights responsible for the luminescent effects were also quite visible if you were looking for them. But not everything was completely de-mystified. Keeping my head on a swivel, I noticed that there were even glowing plants in the water! One of my favorite effects were the suspended flowing lily pads closer to the end that seemed to have creatures jumping to and fro on them!
The shaman at the end was just as impressive as people were saying she was. The arm movements were very fluid and she is huge! But the most impressive piece for me was the tiny facial movements that made even the smallest lip twitch possible so that she truly looked like she was singing along. I did not really notice the music until the shaman was visible but the continuation of the music and theming throughout the last stretch of cave before returning to the loading zone was a nice cherry on top of a lovely ride.
PhD Pointer: Ride this with kids at night! They’re more likely to get the feeling that they’re actually still outside in Pandora!
Flight of Passage
Queue: My friend and I entered the standby queue around 5:15 pm with a posted wait time of approximately 120 minutes. Thankfully, the end of the queue at this time was approximately 20 yards inside the regular queue area rather than all the way at the front entrance of Pandora. Looking up at the waterfalls was nice too because it was a much closer view than from outside the queue and Imagineers used the forced perspective trick quite well.
The queue moved very very slowly. Although being outside allowed us to marvel at the engineering and construction of the floating mountains and admire the emergent and hand-crafted nature of the paths, there were stretches of fifteen minutes where we felt like we did not move at all. Once inside the caves, it felt like we moved even slower and a cast member said we would still have approximately another hour and a half to wait.
The queue was well-crafted in that they do a really good job at hiding how much farther you are from the front of the ride. Each room you go into, you think you’re that much closer. Be warned, you aren’t close until you’re in the room with the lab equipment and Avatar and you still might have to wait another 30 minutes from that point. However, I was very confused as to what the story of the queue was – we went from the natural beauty of Pandora, through some caves to what looked like some overgrown bunkers before entering the lab and hangar. If someone could please explain the story, that would be greatly appreciated!
When we were about halfway through the queue, the announcements that the ride was not operating at full capacity began and continued for the next hour. In total, we ended up waiting for about 3 hours instead of the 2 hours we were expecting.
Ride: I consider the ride to start from the terribly acted pre-show that you watch once you are directed to your number. I got overly excited and participatory during the avatar and banshee matching process and they seemed to do a good job of actually matching the features of the avatar to the person. One complaint is that we did not actually get to see our banshee which I think are some of the most majestic creatures in the whole Avatar universe (for now). Actually getting into the seats for the ride itself was a bit of a struggle for the non-English speaking people in our group so I would encourage others to be patient and help the cast members help these guests so you can board more efficiently. I found the seat to be quite comfortable and secure, but the 3D glasses were quite large and slipped down my nose any time I tried to glance down.
Once the flashing lights distracted us from the screen becoming visible, the views of Pandora were breath-taking and very thrilling. I actually felt like I was flying for a good portion of the ride. All of the little effects, from feeling your banshee’s breathing, to the wind in your face, and the gentle spray from waterfalls and crashing waves were really enjoyable but not quite magical. I could still look around and see other people sitting on bikes and the picture wasn’t as crisp or enchanting as I remember the movie being when I watched it years ago. The soundtrack was nice but not as moving as I thought it would be.
Overall, I still like Soarin’ more as a ride because of the music, the smells, and the lack of annoying 3-D glasses. I would wait in line again for this ride for two hours max, but definitely not three.
PhD Pointer: You might not like this ride if you aren’t a fan of heights! Motion sickness is less of a concern than Star Tours.
General Impression – Nighttime
The land seemed much much darker than I anticipated from everyone’s pictures of the bioluminescence. It was hard to see my friend a few feet away because there were so few lights turned on; I am not sure if it was because I got out of Flight of Passage a few minutes after 9 pm (park closing) or if the land is always like this at night but I would recommend trying to come as soon as the sun sets for optimal night time exploration.
PhD Pointer: Be careful with younger kids at night; it can be easy to lose sight of each other!
The few plants that we could see illuminated were really pretty but the ground was not as luminescent as I thought it would be. The black lights weren’t as precisely directed as they were in the River Journey ride so white and light colored clothing of passers-by also glowed which took a bit away from the overall effect (but made my already glow-in-the-dark shirt with a zebra glow even more!).
As soon as I got to Animal Kingdom for Early Magic Hours, I was allowed into the left paths through the Oasis. I believe guests without Early Magic Hours were still let through the gates but had to wait just inside the entrance. There were definitely other people in the park but it did not seem too crazy (granted, I’ve only been to Animal Kingdom one other time and that was during the week before Christmas).
During Early Magic Hours, Flight of Passage was over an hour wait, closer to 2 hours, and I had a dining reservation that I would miss if I got in line. Throughout the day, the wait for Flight of Passage was consistently between 120 and 180 minutes long, hovering around 150 most often. As I was leaving Na’Vi River Journey right around 9 AM when the park opened to all guests, cast members were alternating between allowing people in the queue to cross a through-path and letting people on the through-path walk past the queue. Walking along the path from Pandora to Harambe Village, the queue was on both sides of the path with only a third of the path allocated for people to walk-through. There was a drink and ice cream cart conveniently stationed just before the Harambe restrooms.
Na’Vi River Journey was always a shorter wait than Flight of Passage but not by much. I was never inclined to give up something else in Animal Kingdom for Na’Vi River Journey because the rest of the attractions were all under an hour wait.
PhD Pointer: Go to the bathroom near Satu’li Canteen right near the exit from the ride before getting in line! It’s a very long line with a water fountain (and water bottle re-fill!) but no restrooms.
The area itself did not feel too crowded at any point but the paths were difficult to navigate – I only accidentally found Satu’li Canteen without trying but the outside tables looked pretty full around 5:30 pm.
I unfortunately did not have an opportunity to try any of the Pandoran food because I had other reservations in Animal Kingdom that I was really REALLY excited for (I’ll write about them soon in another post!). Even though I got to the Pongu Pongu window as soon as I could after our 3 hour wait for Flight of Passage, I was a minute too late and the manager said they were closing. I will have to try that Night Blossom drink some other time! I would have also loved to spend more time absorbing the general ambiance during dusk.
Overall Impression: Accept with minor revisions!
What did you like most or what are you most excited about Pandora?