We’ll begin coverage of the Pandora – World of Avatar opening in “reverse spoiler order,” beginning with a review of the Land’s quick service before moving on to the two rides and a look around outside. For those who want as little spoiled as possible, but still would like some information and tips on how to experience the various attractions and other sights with minimal fuss, I’ll open each post with the main points before arriving at a preliminary conclusion. Then we’ll take a more detailed look at what’s offered via pictures and what is assuredly lousy commentary.
If you would like a preview of what Pandora looks like, each of these eight pictures offers a pretty glimpse. Click at your discretion:
As far as Satu’li Canteen is concerned, it’s Pandora’s principal quick service outlet and the only place to get “real” food outside of next-door Pongu Pongu, which just serves a dessert, in addition to drinks. It’s located in the far right hand corner of Pandora, past the entrances to the Flight of Passage ride and Windtalkers, the main store.
The restaurant’s main offering is a “Create-Your-Bowl” that’s similar to Qdoba, Chipotle, or what have you, in addition to two Bao Bun offerings:
The meats and other proteins are grilled and prepared in-house in an open kitchen off to the side of the ordering area. And there’s a decent amount of customizability with the base and sauce options. Smaller versions of each are also available under Kids’ Meals for smaller appetites, in addition to the hot dog and quesadillas. For a picture-free, spoiler-free review, see this. Otherwise, I’ll come back to these points throughout the post.
It looks like at least half of the seating at Satu’li Canteen is outside, though it’s well-covered and didn’t “feel” hot, even given the 92-degree high. Some interesting stuff is hanging from the ceiling, but it has a distinct mess-hall vibe and there isn’t a whole lot to the long tables and chairs. It may be reminiscent of a food court in that respect, but then this “is” a reconfigured mess hall.
Bathrooms are located outside.
Indoor seating looked to be rather minimal, even given only a few hundred people present as part of the cast member preview. Pandora is expected to hold 6,000 guests “comfortably,” so you would think that a lot of people will find themselves eating outside. On the plus side, soft drinks are refillable.
According to Disney, this is a “Quonset-hut structure called Satu’li Canteen—long ago an RDA mess hall, now a peaceful dining facility adorned with Na’vi art and cultural items. Owned and operated by Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), Satu’li Canteen supplies travelers all the comforts of home—courtesy of a unique, fast-casual menu that’s been crafted from Pandora’s natural abundance. Featuring international-inspired cuisine, vegetarian options and specialty libations, it’s the perfect place to refuel as you venture through the Valley of Mo’ara.”
And that’s accurate – there’s a ton of cool stuff to see inside.
The ordering area reminded me a lot of Cosmic Ray’s, down to the blue menu screens and wide grey ordering podiums. Disney is making a substantial push for guests to order on their smartphones via the My Disney Experience app and there’s a separate line for guests that order ahead. We’ll see how that works come opening day.
Otherwise, ordering is the usual gig – place it at the register with a cast member and proceed to pick it up immediately after.
It will be interesting to see how the menu “plays” with your typical guest. A number of on-property locations have tried to move to menus that stray from your typical hamburger and chicken nuggets, but they all seem to return to just that. After moving to a burrito-heavy menu a couple of years ago now, Pecos lasted just six weeks before being “forced” to add not one, but two burger options. I’m all for offering something different, but it seems like a lot of guests would be happy to see “or substitute fries” underneath the Base options. In that respect, you’re not really denying guests something different, while still catering to the comfort food many people are looking for in the middle of a hot summer day.
One perk right off the bat is the “real” plates and silverware. This is the $12.99 “Slow-Roasted Sliced Grilled Beef Bowl topped with Crunchy Vegetable Slaw and Boba Balls served with your choice of Base and Sauce.”
Here with the Red & Sweet Potato Hash and Creamy Herb Dressing.
The beef was pretty lean, but a few pieces still suffered from some gristle around the edges. And while it all “appears” to be cooked to a nice medium, some pieces were actually cooked more to a medium rare while others were well done. But the beef was tender and enjoyed a nice, flavorful, nuanced marinade with some garlic, red wine vinegar, and pepper notes. And there was a considerable amount of it on top of the hash, which featured some softer, sweeter orange root vegetables, in addition to the firmer red potato, both of which were spiced up with some red pepper, onion, and herbs. The slaw added some more vinegar and a nice contrasting crunch that we’ll see alongside each bowl. Pretty terrific, really, especially at a theme park at this price point. And given real silverware, it’s easy to trim the meat a bit.
The $11.49 “Chopped Wood-Grilled Chicken” with the same base and sauce. The chicken does an admirable job of soaking up the flavors from the herb-y creamy sauce, crunchy slaw, and potato base, in addition to offering some garlic and olive oil notes in its own right. It’s a lot of fresh, flavorful food for the money. Really fantastic.
The “Sustainable Fish Filet with Romaine and Kale Salad and the Charred Onion Chimichurri.”
The panko breading on the mahi-mahi gives the exterior of the fish a nice crunch before giving way to the flaky, meaty, slightly sweet fish inside. The chimichurri sauce adds garlic, parsley, oregano, and lemon juice, in addition to a slight piquant quality from the onion.
I was impressed by the salad underneath too – extraordinarily fresh leafy greens with thick slices of bright red tomato, in addition to cucumber and red onion. Really fantastic. Each dish is also served with about four of those small boba balls on top. Each pops nicely when bitten into with a sweet juice inside. Kind of fun and a nice way to get a little sugar with all of the savory elements going on.
We were particularly interested in the $10.99 “Cheeseburger Steamed Pods – Steamed Bao Buns stuffed with Ground Beef, Ketchup, Mustard, Pickle, and Cheddar Cheese.”
And while it might not look like much cut in half, the buns were surprisingly satisfying – packed with delicious, lean hamburger meat inside of the soft, chewy bun that did a nice job of keeping it and all of the spices inside.
The chips were made with a variety of vegetables, each offering a really crispy bite and a variety of earthy flavors with just a sprinkle of salt and spice. Really impressive.
Overall, I think Satu’li continues Disney’s trend of pushing the envelope as far as the quality and variety of theme park fast food is concerned. Nearly everything impressed, at prices equal to, or less than, similar offerings at other theme park outlets. Every entree is less expensive than a Restaurantosaurus hamburger for example, and the food is much higher quality and served in large portions. Depending on how much of a hassle it is to eat here given the capacity, I don’t see any reason not to carve out some time to eat at Satu’li.
We were a bit less impressed by the $5.29 “Chocolate Cake with a Crunchy Cookie Layer and Banana Cream Topping.” It is quite attractive as far as fast food desserts go, though.
The “cake” is more like a bitter chocolate cream with the crunch of the cookie on the bottom, which didn’t seem to sweeten things up at all. The banana cream on top didn’t seem to add much flavor either and I’m not sure what the red topping on top of that is, but it seemed to add little more than a very small bite of slime for whoever sucked it up (me). The pineapple was a nice fruity complement and the chocolate piece on top was good, but this didn’t come together for us on this particular evening. I’ll return to it on opening day.
The $5.29 “Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse with Passion Fruit Curd” on the other hand was everyone’s favorite, marrying the fruity, delicate flavor of the blueberry against the soft, sweet passion fruit curd on top along with the crispiness of the meringue hat above that.
It had a really nice, naturally sweet fruitiness and the cool temperature made it all the more refreshing. I’d urge you to pick up at least one to share.
I’m less enthusiastic about the $4.49 “Pandoran Sunrise – Refreshing balance of Tropical Juices blended with Powerade Melon.” Cloyingly sweet, it was little more than pineapple juice stirred in with some Powerade. Altogether skippable.
My eyes lit up when I heard that the specialty beers were brewed by Terrapin out of Georgia. This is the $9.50 “Hawkes’ Grog Ale – 22 oz. Golden Ale Draft with a brilliant green color and flavors of Wheat and Citrus followed by a creamy finish.” I thought it was pretty mediocre – not a lot of flavor with just a bland sweetness up front and some generic corn flavor to back that up. It finishes with an unnatural creaminess and the incredibly high carbonation makes it difficult to drink. This is otherwise just Terrapin’s Golden Ale with green food coloring. Disappointing.
The $9.50 “Mo’ara High Country Ale – Draft Beer 22oz. – Rich amber color with a spicy Hop aroma and notes of Caramel, Toffee and Nuts.” This had some IPA characteristics, but at 5.1% ABV, not the higher alcohol content. I thought it was overly bitter without the sweetness of the caramel or toffee showing through, making it difficult to drink given the high carbonation and heat. I think a pilsner-style beer would have worked better. Not a favorite, either.
The $9.50 “Dreamwalker Sangria – Refreshing White Sangria with a hint of Blue Curaçao” was the worst of the bunch. It tasted like generic store-brand blue Kool-Aid, somehow watered down but with more table sugar added, mixed in with grain alcohol.
The off-putting artificial sweetness was so overpowering that nobody but me would take a second sip. A big miss.
Pongu Pongu is located to the left of Satu’li.
Here, you’ll find the same two beers, both available in a souvenir mug with glow cube, in addition to the dessert spring roll and frozen drinks.
Translating to “Party Party,” the Avatar OmniMech outside is kind of fun.
But with just two ordering stations, it seems likely that waits will be on the long side considering there’s nowhere else to get the dessert or frozen drinks.
Overall, at least on the food and cheesecake front, I think Satu’li is a big win for Animal Kingdom, as the Park adds even more quality quick service food. If mobile ordering turns out to be efficient, it may also be one of the easier overall experiences. And refillable soft drinks are always a nice touch. I’m looking forward to returning during the Annual Passholder preview next week and then during opening weekend at the end of the month.