If you’ve ever been to Animal Kingdom and came across a beautiful hidden land with breathtaking floating mountains and some of the most exotic looking plants you’ll ever see, you have stumbled upon the land of Pandora. Pandora is one of the most incredible and immersive spots in the whole park. You will really feel as if you are in the blockbuster hit movie (which the entire land is based off of), Avatar.
Disney wanted to turn Animal Kingdom from a half-day park to a full-day experience. Many ideas were thrown around to see what can be done to bring guests to the park and have them stay all day. In 2011, then Disney CEO and COO, Bob Iger and Tom Staggs approached Avatar director James Cameron to see if he would be interested in helping create an Avatar themed attraction at the Disney parks. Originally, they were in discussions to develop an Avatar attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios but the idea was ultimately scrapped. It was then suggested that the film could be incorporated to bring a new land to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to boost attendance. Avatar was the highest grossing film of all time and Disney executives believed that it would be a huge crowd pleaser. On September 17, 2011, Disney, James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and 20th Century Fox entered into a long term licensing agreement for the worldwide theme park rights to Avatar. In the agreement, Disney would pay Cameron and Fox a licensing fee and percentage of merchandise sales. The deal was announced to the public on September 20, 2011.
Construction began on January of 2014 and the park was originally slated to open in 2016. The land was also supposed to cost an estimated $400 million to build, but when all was said and done, it was well over $500 million. The land was so enormous and took so long to build that the completion date was revised to February 2017. After another small delay, Pandora-The World of Avatar finally had a confirmed opening date of May 27, 2017. There was a special dedication ceremony for the land on May 24, 2017 and included very special guests Bob Iger, James Cameron and Jon Landau. The cast members from the Avatar movie, Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver were also in attendance. ABC promoted the opening of the park on The View, which was filmed live from the park.
Designing the Park
The beautiful world of Pandora was design collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineers and Lightstorm Entertainment. The driving force behind the visionary design was a combined effort between James Cameron, Jon Landau and Disney Imagineering legend, Joe Rohde. The land was built on top of where Camp Minnie-Mickey used to exist. Interestingly, there was other plans for the land before it became Camp Minnie-Mickey. The land was originally slated for Beastly Kingdom, a land based around mythological creatures. In fact, you can still see a little reference to Beastly Kingdom in the signage for Animal Kingdom. If you look in the center of the line of animals, there is a dragon (meant to be the mascot for that land). Instead of continuing the story of Avatar and planning a park around story lines from the movie, they focused heavily on the Na’vi people of Pandora and their environment, culture, the animals and the beauty of their world. The design team ultimately decided to have the land’s timeline take place a generation after the war between the Na’vi and the Resources Development Administration (who tried to destroy the Na’vi and their land for unobtanium in the movie). The backstory is that the Na’vi teamed up with Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) to present Pandora as a destination for ecotourism and scientific research.
Pandora is home to the most popular rides in all of Walt Disney World. Avatar Flight of Passage is a ride unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Riders climb aboard a banshee (a fictional flying creature) and embark on a thrilling, depth-defying adventure in front of a giant 3D simulator screen. Rider will fly across the skies of Pandora and the Valley of Mo’ara. You are sure to experience breath taking views and feel like you were transported right into the movie. The second attraction in Pandora, is called Na’vi River Journey. Na’vi River Journey is a family-friendly dark boat ride that takes riders through the Kapsavan River. It showcases the beautiful and exotic animals and plants of Pandora in a bioluminescent light. Perhaps the most amazing visual on this ride is the extremely realistic and most advanced Disney audio-animatronic to date, Shaman of Songs. The effortless fluidity of her movements will have you thinking that she’s a real person!
Where to Eat
Pandora has one quick service restaurant and one food and beverage stand. The quick-service restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, offers healthy and hearty dishes from the world of Pandora. Their most popular menu item is their protein bowls and cheeseburger pods. The food has a unique look but it is delicious. The restaurant is set inside of the Quonset-hut structure, which-according to its backstory- was an RDA mess hall and is now a peaceful Na’vi dining facility. Pongu Pongu is the food and beverage stand at Pandora and offers some really cool looking snacks and drinks. A fan favorite and highly recommended drink is the Night Blossom, which is a delicious frozen concoction blend of apple and desert pear topped with passion fruit boba balls. If you are craving a sweet snack, the pineapple lumpia is a great choice from Pongu Pongu. It’s a delicious pineapple cream cheese spring roll. You won’t find snacks or beverages like these anywhere else in the parks and they are unique and delicious.
There are a few cool things to see while in Pandora. The Swotu Waya Na’vi Drum Ceremony is a daily outdoor drum circle performance that is fun for guests of all ages. This fun show is held at the Valley of Mo’ara and it is meant to replicate a traditional Na’vi drum ceremony. Guests are encouraged to come join in on the fun and play some drums and dance. It is a fun experience that everyone should do at least once. From time to time, you will also see a person walking around in a Pandora Utility Suit. It’s meant to be a streetmosphere performance where a Pandoran Conservation Initiative scientist wears an AMP mech suit and interacts with guests all the while teaching them about Pandora.
With four more sequels to the Avatar movies in the works, many fans are wondering, will there be an expansion to the park or will they at least add another ride? While all of this is pure speculation and nothing has been confirmed, there are many rumors swirling around that at least one more attraction is in the works for this amazing land. Once you enter the World of Pandora, you really do feel as if you were transplanted right there. It is a beautiful and immersive land and I cant wait to see what they do with it.The Orlando Real on