Wider and uncensored: https://i2.wp.com/easywdw.com/reports14/pandora_panorama.jpg
Here’s what I’ve already written about Pandora: World of Avatar, each of which goes into more detail:
- A review of the major quick service, Satu’li Canteen.
- A review of the boat ride, Na’vi River Journey.
- Pictures around Pandora.
- Pongu Pongu, the takeaway bar.
- Avatar Flight of Passage review, queue photos, and strategy.
- A followup review of Satu’li Canteen covering the items not previously reviewed, including the Tofu Bowl and Curry Bao.
- 140 pictures of merchandise in the Windtraders store pus some sass.
But I have more than 200 photos I haven’t yet posted and once Pandora opens, I’ll be focusing on what operation is actually like. So I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss what I think the Land offers and how it fits into Walt Disney World, however vapid those thoughts may be.
Atmosphere – 14 out of 10
Pandora’s beautiful outdoor areas are where the Land shines brightest. You’ll find the best photos I’ve taken so far in this post.
Philosophically, you could probably make the argument that Avatar doesn’t “belong” in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
But physically, I was impressed by how well all of the alien flora fit in with the theme park’s aesthetic.
It “feels” natural, even if the alien life bordering the water isn’t of earthly origin.
One thing that isn’t captured so well in pictures is sound.
And that plays a large role in Pandora as the cascading waterfalls make so much noise that it helps mask the sounds other people are making. It’s hard not to “feel” enveloped in the world.
Of course, it remains to be seen what it’s like with 6,000+ more people around.
Pandora is relatively easy to navigate once you realize that the attractions, quick service, bar, and store are all located along this walkway towards the back of the Land.
Probably by design, the entrance is a bit convoluted if you take a right after crossing the bridge, as the paths wind around and around.
Here’s how Disney has it laid out from the air and it’s largely accurate. The main entrance from Discovery Island is located just before Pizzafari. To get to the feature attractions, you head straight back with the River Journey ahead and Flight of Passage will then be down a ways to your right.
But that helps make the Land all the more explorable.
It took four visits to find the bridge over water where this picture was taken.
A few more pictures shot with inappropriate settings:
Overall, I think the environment will exceed expectations, however high they are going in. The pictures are pretty, but there’s so much more to the experience that can’t be captured in over-saturated jpegs.
Na’vi River Journey – ? out of 10
I’m not sure where I come down on the Na’vi River Journey, a beautiful ride without much heart or soul, which I review in more detail here. Charm is, of course, earned. For me, Peter Pan’s Flight is a 9/10 – charming, quaint, whimsical, and most importantly, fun. In Avatar the Movie, the “I see you” scene is one of the more powerful. Which, admittedly, isn’t saying much. But I see the Na’vi River Journey. And nothing makes me care about it.
But it’s really pretty.
And the pictures here don’t do the sound and movement any justice. In places, the way the screens intertwine with the environment is really neat.
But it just seems unfathomable to me that in 1967, Disney was able to open Pirates of the Caribbean, a 15-minute boat ride with over 120 animatronics and a robust story. And in 2017, we get a 4-minute boat ride with one animatronic and no story whatsoever. One of the reasons why theme parks use well-known intellectual property in their attractions is that the characters and stories don’t need to be introduced. On Mine Train, you know who the Seven Dwarfs are. When you see Snow White dancing at the end, you know why. At Universal, Jurassic Park would still be fun if it was themed to a Generic Dinosaur Takeover. But it’s more fun because you’re traveling through Jurassic Park, and that’s really cool. But I’m not sure they even tell you who the animatronic is during the ride. And I’m not sure how many people would independently be able to figure that out if the “Shaman of Song” wasn’t plastered in so many places online, including Disney’s own attraction page.
But my biggest problem with Na’vi River Journey may or may not be realized. And that’s standby wait times. With long waits come higher expectations. And I’m not sure how River Journey is going to fare. Theoretical capacity is robust. Each boat holds as many as eight guests and two are dispatched at a time, ideally every 25 seconds. But you can see that there are six people in the boat in front of me. And there isn’t a whole lot of room to add a seventh or eighth. So I don’t see Disney trying to pair two separate parties of two adults in a single row. Which means two groups of two adults would occupy one boat. Then if you have two more individual couples next, you’ve got a total of eight people across two boats.
And there are no boats where you can drive an ECV or wheelchair onto it. You have to transfer into the boat. Low in the water. Which is going to take some time for some people. And there is only one loading platform. So it isn’t like there’s an area off to the side where people can take their jolly time getting in and out without holding everything up.
So over the two boats that dispatch together, let’s say you have a row of three, a row of two, a row of four, and a row of three. That’s probably somewhere between what will actually happen and optimistic. And on average, let’s say they dispatch every 30 seconds. That puts the hourly capacity around 1,440 riders. 70% of that capacity is going to FastPass+. So 432 standby riders per hour will ride. And FastPass+ for this attraction, which is easier to get than Flight of Passage, are gone for every date at least 29.9 days in advance.
But we’ll see what actual waits look like in just over a week.
The queue is 99% outdoors and it looked like a little more than half is covered. It looked like there was a well-hidden extended queue off to the left of the entrance, though that could also be for the bathroom.
It’s going to be a hot summer.
So I’m just not sure how much payoff there is going to be here for people.
I’ve seen a lot of people trying to say that “not everything has to be an E-Ticket.”
Well…sure…but when your C-Ticket has an 80-minute average wait, you may not be meeting expectations.
But we’ll see. The ride left me disappointed given high expectations and the longest I’d wait to re-ride it is probably around 20 minutes, if that. It’s a 5/10 from me.
Flight of Passage – ? out of 10
I reviewed Avatar Flight of Passage, and included more than 100 pictures, in this post from earlier this week. I don’t have much more to say about it. Like Soarin’, the vast majority of reviews seem to be raving and it’s hard not to be impressed by what Disney has achieved technically.
But the screens just don’t do much for me.
But the queue is very cool.
Pandora seems like prime real estate for some kind of treetop roller coaster.
If you’re able to walk through Flight of Passage’s standby queue and enjoy the attraction with a relatively short wait, I think the experience nears a 9/10 for me. And for a lot of people, it’s easily going to be a 10/10. Just the ride experience itself may be a 9/10 for most people, but is more like a 6/10 on my radar. I can watch cartoons and sway my head at home.
Food and Drink – 8/10
I’ve written two extensive reviews of Satu’li Canteen, the first being here and the second found here. I think it’s an excellent addition with fresh-tasting, relatively healthy food, and the addition of mobile ordering should improve experiences as well. Breakfast is supposed to be very good too.
My review of Pongu Pongu is located here. While I think Satu’li itself is close to a 10/10, I’ve deducted a point for the quality and lack of variety at Pongu Pongu. And a second point for a lack of a table service restaurant or a second real food outlet. But what is available here is excellent, for the most part. Tiffins and Nomad Lounge are just outside and if you include those, it’s a 10/10 for food in this area.
Shopping – 8/10
I have 140 pictures of stuff in this post, along with some sarcastic comments about why you don’t want any of it. But given the fact that the general population has 0% interest in anything Avatar, I thought Disney did a decent job of creating merchandise that people might at least consider. The shoulder-banshees in particular are incredibly popular. I’ve seen some complaints that Pandora needs more shops a la Harry Potter World, but I would disagree with that sentiment. I think it’s a much easier experience to spend a few minutes in a well-organized store rather than trying to figure out ff Banshee’s or Jake Sully’s is the store that sells t-shirts. Windtraders is richly themed and at least appears to be large enough that browsing will be easy. And if you don’t want any of it, the Land isn’t riddled with shops, which seems positive.
Versus Wizarding World of Harry Potter at ********* *******
I hope that’s enough asterisks to spell out “Universal Studios.” It actually had not occurred to me to compare Pandora with Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. I don’t think there’s anything Disney can do to keep people that want to visit Universal for the Harry Potter stuff away. Or what they’re doing via pricing incentives and MyMagic+ is the extent of it. Even if there were three of the greatest rides ever created inside Pandora, it still doesn’t lessen Universal’s accomplishments or the staying power of the Harry Potter franchise.
Is Pandora “better” than Harry Potter? Probably not…at least not currently with the two Potter Lands connected by the Hogwarts Express. Pandora is a fantastic addition, no doubt, but it’s not Ollivanders and Frozen Butterbeer across two theme parks.
I think Pandora is going to end up being more than the sum of its parts. Animal Kingdom is already such a beautiful theme park with such a varied lineup of attractions from Kilimanjaro Safaris to Flights of Wonder to Expedition Everest to Rivers of Light to Kali River Rapids to Finding Nemo the Musical to Burudika to DINOSAUR to Maharajah Jungle Trek to the Tree of Life and on and on and on. Pandora adds at least three hours to most guests’ days and in turn extends the daily Park hours by at least that much. And we haven’t even seen the extent of the nighttime bioluminescence or live entertainment.
I do have reservations about the capacities of the attractions and whether Animal Kingdom’s infrastructure will be able to hold up against such an increase in crowds. Just wait until you try to get out of the parking lot at night. It’s also going to be an incredible strain on cast members, many of whom will have to park in the Villains Lot at Magic Kingdom, go through security there, and then be bused over to Animal Kingdom. That’s going to add two hours to many people’s days, of which only 40 minutes is paid. Animal Kingdom will be open from 7am until 1am on the day Pandora opens with three Rivers of Light shows. It’s going to be strenuous any way you look at it.
But it’s an exciting time. We’ll see how much of a disaster it is come May 27th.