Theme Park Insider

Let's recap everything we know about Disney World's new Avatar land

March 9, 2017, 5:13 PM · The Walt Disney Company is intensifying its media push to promote its upcoming Avatar-themed land at Disney's Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort, which opens later this spring.

Pandora - The World of Avatar opens officially on May 27 and will features three new attractions in what Disney's calling the largest expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom to date. Visitors will fly through the skies of Pandora on Flight of Passage, drift down a Pandoran river at night in Na'vi River Journey and walk through the exotic flora of the land via the Valley of Mo'ara. Disney gave fans a new look inside the land in a story today on ABC's Good Morning America. (If you didn't know already, Disney owns ABC.) Take a look, if you missed it... or want to watch it again.

Here's what we learned from the video that we didn't know before: The video confirms that visitors will be assigned an "avatar" for their ride on Flight of Passage, during the pre-show for that flying theater experience. We only got the most fleeting glimpse of the ride vehicle, but they do look a bit like the Tron roller coaster seats from Shanghai, where you lean over and straddle a seat to ride. Put the two together, and it appears that it's your avatar that will be doing the actual ride on the back of a Mountain Banshee, but that you will experience it virtually with your flying theater seat and the 3D screen in front of you. Here's how Disney describes Flight of Passage, in a release sent today:

Avatar Flight of Passage launches each guest on an exhilarating, wind-in-your-face experience on a winged mountain banshee over the awe-inspiring world of Pandora. Guests will actually feel the banshee breathe beneath them as they soar through the forest and past floating mountains. What was a rite of passage for Na’vi in Cameron’s film becomes a multisensory experience for guests seeking the ultimate adventure – a faceoff with the most feared predator of Pandora, the Great Leonopteryx.

We first detailed the show building for Flight of Passage in the Avatar construction plans we leaked back in 2013. We expect Flight of Passage to have four show theaters, with multiple levels of ride vehicles within each theater. (For a rough point of reference, think of the way that The Simpsons Ride at Universal loads.) The ride will have a 44-inch height restriction.

Na'vi River Journey will provide a more "restful" experience than the dynamic Flight of Passage. It's an indoor boat ride with no height restriction. Here's Disney's blurb:

On the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey, guests travel down a sacred river deep into a bioluminescent rainforest. The eight-seat reed boats float past exotic glowing plants and Pandoran creatures into the midst of a musical Na’vi ceremony. The mystical journey culminates in an encounter with a breathtakingly realistic Na’vi Shaman of Songs who is deeply connected with Pandora’s life force and sends positive energy through her music into the forest.

The animatronic Na'vi Shaman of Songs will be the central character in the ride, which will carry visitors through the bioluminescent forest of Pandora. You'll also be able to experience that bioluminescent forest with a night-time walk through the Valley of Mo'ara. Disney's promoting repeat visits to the land by pointing out how its appearance will change from day to night, as the exotic plants created by Walt Disney Imagineering from concepts by Avatar creator James Cameron glow and react to visitors' presence.

The Na'vi native from the Cameron's 2009 film, the highest-grossing movie of all time, will be found only in the two rides — they won't be walk-around characters in the land. But their presence will be obvious throughout, designers promised, with their craftwork and artifacts on display in the Valley of Mo'ara, the Satu’li Canteen restaurant and the Windtraders shop.

Disney hasn't announced it yet, but we've heard from multiple insiders that the land will feature interactive merchandise that will allow visitors to engage as more active participants in the land, rather than just tourists passing through. The obvious reference here is the interactive wands available at Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but insiders promise that Avatar's interactive merchandise will be even more technically impressive.

The land's restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, will be located in a Quonset hut that's been refurbished as a dining hall, now that the conflict between human miners from Earth and the Na'vi has been settled. Disney is calling the restaurant "fast-casual," suggesting a Be Our Guest lunch-type of ordering system, with counter ordering followed by delivery to your table. The menu "is inspired the healthful bounty of Pandora – wholesome grains, fresh vegetables, and hearty proteins," Disney says. The nearby Pongu Pongu bar will serve fanciful, Pandoran-inspired drinks.

Guests will enter Pandora via a bridge next to the new Tiffins restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom. The story is that you are traveling with Alpha Centauri Expeditions and the walk across the bridge will transport you light-years away, to the Alpha-Centauri solar system and Pandora. Across that bridge, visitors will find mountains floating more than 100 feet in the air, with cascading waterfalls, streams, pools and an overabundance of Pandoran flora.

With four theaters on the 3D attraction, plus a boat ride, and a walk-through, hour capacity should be robust for the new land. But with Disney's PR channels dropping full throttle to promote the land, we expect the number of visitors to far exceed that capacity for at least the first summer of its operation, leading to some epic wait times.

But will those Pandora visitors be new visitors to the Walt Disney World Resort, or people just switching from other Disney attractions to this one? In other words, will wait times go down at other Disney attractions as people queue for Pandora, or will wait times across all parks increase as new fans flood into the resort?

We'll find out in May. Until then, what are your Pandoran travel plans?

Update: Here's the second promo story from ABC this morning, featuring James Cameron with Whoopi Goldberg from The View. This one includes some on-ride video from the Na'vi River Journey.

And here's the Nightline story, which is an expanded version of the GMA spot:

Replies (27)

March 9, 2017 at 5:20 PM · September 20-27!!
March 9, 2017 at 6:14 PM · Just you wait ... Just you wait ...
March 9, 2017 at 7:58 PM · Just one Na'vi animatronic on the river ride? Im excited for the new land, but if they have the new technology and made one, why not have a few throughout? Maybe there wil be lots of other cool creatures inside. :)
March 9, 2017 at 9:10 PM · Eliza Doolittle is from Pandora? Who knew?

(I've been up too long today... Seriously, though, very excited for this one!)

March 9, 2017 at 9:37 PM · It's great how The Walt Disney Company is showing NBC Universal's Steve Burke how to deliver cross promotional hype.

A few months ago, it was Steve Burke reminding everyone of the power of Comcast's Project Symphony, aka the exact same cross promotional hype.

March 9, 2017 at 10:08 PM · No Na'vi walk around characters, no surprise there, how are you going to have a 10 foot tall person walking around?

So your Avatar is the one who is really riding the banshee, and you're just experiencing it virtually - I don't remember exactly how the movie worked, but it sounds like they found a way around having to actually ride the banshee yourself.

March 9, 2017 at 10:30 PM · Weren't they lying in some type of bed when operating their avatars in the movie?
March 9, 2017 at 10:43 PM · They were. If the seating is TRON-style the ride vehicles will likely play into this. Perhaps it will be explained as a larger capacity version of what was in the movie, kind of like the eight-seater DeLoreans on Back to the Future: The Ride.

I'd imagine the ride film will begin with us opening our eyes for the first time, so to speak, as we see what our Na'vi avatars see.

March 9, 2017 at 11:55 PM · This makes me soooo excited to go there. Will visit Oct. 26 - Nov. 10 with my wife. Hopefully queues will be a little less then than during summer month.
March 10, 2017 at 2:50 AM · "Alexander Hamilton ... My name is Alexander Hamilton... And there's a million things I haven't done ... But just you wait ... Just you wait ..."
March 10, 2017 at 8:58 AM · I thought it was interesting that Cameron stated the setting for Disney's Pandora would be in the time period AFTER the four sequels currently in production. There's been very little released regarding the plots and direction the 4 Avatar sequels will take, but the fact that the Na'vi are non-existent outside of the rides is interesting.

@TH - I really hope Pandora is not Disney's Hamilton, because as much critical acclaim and popularity the Tony-award winning musical has achieved, only a very minuscule percentage of people wanting to see it have actually seen it live. I have dozens of friends that have traveled to NYC with the sole purpose of seeing Hamilton, only to succumb to the sticker shock of $500 nosebleed seats and the improbable odds of winning the daily lottery, even after Lin Manuel Miranda has left the cast.

Pandora, in order to be truly successful, needs to be accessible, and if millions of people are flocking to Orlando to see it, they need to be able to get in and experience it. IOA took extreme measures to limit access to WWoHP, and I would hope Disney learned some lessons. A friend of mine actually spotted Joe Rhode in Diagon Alley about a month after its debut. However, early reports seem to indicate Pandora is surprisingly tight (probably to force viewing angles to deliver the illusions), so Disney will have to do some serious work with their crowd control to provide an optimal experience for guests arranging trips just to see Pandora. With an IP that many guests will not have a connection to (like HP), the tolerance for shoulder to shoulder crowds and obscene lines just to cross a bridge into the land is going to wear thin very quickly.

As with WWoHP, we're planning our first experience in the new land in the October following the debut. While crowds were still present in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley 4 and a half months after they opened, they were significantly more manageable. Particularly, the queue just to enter Hogsmeade was gone by October 2010. If Disney takes a similar route for Pandora by forcing guests to queue outside by Tiffins to limit the number of guests in Pandora when it first opens at the end of May, our hope is that line is gone by October.

March 10, 2017 at 9:28 AM · While there "won't be walk-around characters in the land", my preference is they have a meet and greet character interaction. Some may say the 10 feet Na'vi is hard to do, but maybe not so much. The Chewbacca character meet and greet at Disneyland was really tall. I would estimate he is at least 7 foot tall. He's at least 1 foot taller than me at slightly under 6 foot tall.

They can boost their height with platform shoes and upper body armor and head dresses. The actual height of the character is unimportant. They just have to be taller than the average guest. Maybe get some extra crates when the NBA drops by.

Harry Potter land doesn't have any characters so it takes away the immersive experience.

I hope the new interactive devices are cheap to buy and easy to use. The Harry Potter wands are quite expensive and seems to be hard to use.

March 10, 2017 at 9:34 AM · Oh, cool, let's make this a Broadway reference thread! Maybe we can get Cameron to do Avatar: The Musical at some point, too.
March 10, 2017 at 9:48 AM · As--admittedly--a Disney news junkie I am now officially hypersensitive to the term, "bioluminescent." Every single piece of marketing manages to drop the word into its message. Even press releases about the food served in Pandora manage to mention biolumescence.

I feel like I get that the plants glow in the dark. I also don't feel like that's the worlds greatest selling point. Bioluminoscity is pretty and everything, but most of the time Animal Kingdom will be open will be in daylight. Of course there's perma-night in the boat ride and the Mo'ara walkthrough, so they've designed for that.

It's intriguing to me that the attractions are designed to be so high capacity! Disney is certainly learning from its past and implementing proactive design.

Anyway, those are some barely cohesive thoughts but once you notice the careful Marketing placement of the word "bioluminoscity" it starts to get on your nerves. Perhaps I can make a drinking game out of it.

EDIT: in terms of Broadway stylings, "Bioluminoscity" would be a great title for a Sherman Brothers-type song. A quick rewrite of "Fortuosity" may be in order.

March 10, 2017 at 11:06 AM · @Anton - Height for walk-around characters is not a problem at all. Universal has been using walk-around Transformers characters for years that are pretty impressive (some 8-10 feet tall). Also, Disney used to have DiVine strolling the paths at Animal Kingdom. Creating a life-size Na'Vi would not be that challenging, so I'm guessing their absence has something to do with the storylines of the 4 sequels, or Disney is deliberately holding back to allow the land to speak for itself. Humans cannot live on the surface Pandora without life support, so if that conceit holds, as we walk around the land we become the Na'Vi.
March 10, 2017 at 11:55 AM · After watching the videos, they look like they're finished. I wonder why they are holding back until May 27th. They should already begin the soft openings. The ABC News and The View exclusives are stepping on the opening of Jimmy Fallon's new ride.

Okay so here's a theory, they aren't done yet with the new interactive devices. They would have featured them if they wanted to show it to Whoopi Goldberg.

I found the fancy drinks to be quite interesting. I didn't know the Na'vi liked tropical drinks with fruit bubbles. The Na'vi didn't want their planet to be exploited so they have to settle for tourism instead.

While on my last trip to Disneyland, I saw some drink from the new tall Tiki cups. They were impressive.

March 10, 2017 at 12:20 PM · Will exopacks be available? The atmosphere on Pandora is toxic to humans!

I'm looking forward to visiting World of Avatar, my family and I will be there at the end of June. However, the thought of insane crowding and wait times is worrying. If things are too hectic we may just take a pass. My kids haven't seen the movie and I don't have any real affection for it either.

March 10, 2017 at 12:48 PM · Considering that the Avatar sequels have been delayed again today, "just you wait" may very well be the mantra of the IP.
March 10, 2017 at 1:22 PM · @Russell Meyer: It is ashame that the actions of a few abusive idiots caused RN to take down the one-on-one messaging function. "However, early reports seem to indicate Pandora is surprisingly tight (probably to force viewing angles to deliver the illusions), so Disney will have to do some serious work with their crowd control to provide an optimal experience for guests arranging trips just to see Pandora."

SPOT ON!

Again, it will be the 'Hamilton' of themed entertainment.

March 10, 2017 at 2:56 PM · The difference between Na'vi characters and other tall characters is that they are very skinny, and don't wear much. Small stilts or platforms are pretty easily concealed in a transformers robotic "shell" outfit or chewbaccas shag pile, but I can't see how they could do na'vi walking around without them looking weird and losing the immersion.
March 10, 2017 at 3:05 PM · I'll withhold judgement until after I've visited (currently planned for September/October), but a few thoughts based on what we've seen here:

-At night, this land is going to look absolutely amazing. This very well could be the most visually impressive thing Disney has done. That said, during the day it looks a bit dull to me. Perhaps it is just from what we've seen in the videos, but other than the floating mountains there isn't much that screams Pandora unless you look very, very closely.
-I'm very curious to see what Flight of Passage is like. The seats look very much like those found on Zamperla's Disk'O attractions, so this will definitely have a different feel than most other simulators. To me, the big question is how convincing the ride will be. This would have been a perfect attraction to use full VR.
-Na'vi River Journey looks beautiful, but not the E-ticket level many speculated. I heard more than one "inside source" claim this was supposed to be the US equivalent to Battle for the Sunken Treasure, but it looks more like a Pandora version of an Epcot ride. It should be fun, but I hope capacity isn't an issue as I could see significant disappointment here from 60+ minute waits (unless there's a lot more to it than we've seen).
-The food options look very interesting, but if crowds are as high as expected it probably won't be worth the time investment if your visit isn't solely for Pandora.
-Overall, from what I've seen, I'm definitely more interested in this project than I was before. That said, I don't see enough here to make me want to rush out and book a trip now (especially with Star Wars and Toy Story Land opening in the next couple years), but it is something I think will make Animal Kingdom a must-do park for anyone who is visiting Disney World this year.

March 10, 2017 at 4:17 PM · AJ Hummel writes: "... it is something I think will make Animal Kingdom a must-do park for anyone who is visiting Disney World this year."

I Respond: Actually, it is a "must-do" for anyone who is a fan of themed entertainment.

March 11, 2017 at 12:15 AM · I'm sorry, but those floating mountains are just not convincing to me, they didn't look that great in the model at the D23 Expo, and don't look that great in the pictures, they just look like a mass of rocks with jumbles of vines.

I know it's hard to do, but Legoland Water Park has some floating rocks that are supported by a column. I know it may not be as convincing as something that is really hanging, but the Avatar floating mountains just look too bulky.

But maybe it will look different in person, when you have this mass of rock over your head. But the floating mountains in the movie were much more separated and more elegant looking, and they only had a few vines separating them.

March 11, 2017 at 11:02 AM · With the expected huge wait times, it's going to be "Fast Pass + or bust", for these new attractions.

It all sounds great, but I hope they will have some animal AAs in the boat ride. If not, that would be a huge missed opportunity. The movie has some very cool looking animals. And, after all, this is Disney's ANIMAL Kingdom.

March 11, 2017 at 3:31 PM · We are planning a trip down from Jacksonville (Annual Passholders) just on June 10 to hopefully experience Pandora. I know the crowds will make me want to hang myself from one of those floating rocks, but I'm truly hoping we score at least one FP+ otherwise I'm not wanting to wait in 120 min lines. Mine Train at MK still has 105+ min waits after being open a few years now.
March 11, 2017 at 8:39 PM · I agree! I really hope they have some animal AAs. Battle for sunken treasure looks amazing and has lits of screens but also many AAs
March 14, 2017 at 8:21 AM · I wonder what has happened to the hazardous atmosphere that was dangerous to humans in the movie. Hence they had to use Avatar's. And now ACE are allowing tourists without breathing apparatus? Maybe it's all the bioluminescent negotiation proving a breathable atmosphere in this valley only. Musical song No Air by Jordan Sparks

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