Terrific Tuesdays: Exploring Pandora – The World of Avatar

I think by now, most people know that there is a new “land” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Pandora – The World of Avatar opened this past May and has been drawing huge crowds ever since. We finally had the chance to check out this area on our trip last week and I wanted to share our experiences and provide some thoughts and tips.

First of all, understand that photos really do NOT do this area justice. I thought I was prepared for what it would look like and even at that, my jaw literally dropped when we got there. People throw the word “amazing” around a lot, but truly, what Disney has accomplished here is without a doubt, amazing. Everyone involved in the creation of Pandora – the Imagineers who dreamed it all up and included every possible detail; the engineers who had to figure out how to make it all work; and the construction workers and artisans who brought it all to life – together they all created something that is, well, amazing. As the saying goes: “You have to see it to believe it”.

So, you should see it. Now comes the planning, because if you don’t plan ANY other part of your Disney vacation, you MUST plan your visit to Pandora. Otherwise, you are going to spend most, if not all, of your day waiting in line(s).

There are two attractions in Pandora: Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. Of the two, Flight of Passage is, by far, the more popular of the two and the one that will provide you with the most planning issues. The standard solution to anything new and popular at Disney, is to get a FastPass. The thing is, Flight of Passage is SO popular that it is very hard to get FastPasses for it, even when trying the minute your FastPass window opens (which remember, is 60 days for Disney resort guests and 30 days for non-resort guests). Unless you have a longish trip (more than 5 days) where you can plan your Animal Kingdom day for the end of your trip, you will likely not get a FastPass for Flight of Passage as most will be taken by folks who could reserve in the days before you are eligible.  This is what happened to us and despite my many efforts later to see if someone canceled so I could grab one, it never happened. So I made a FP for Na’vi River Journey and made plans to wait in line for Flight of Passage.

We went to Animal Kingdom on an Early Magic Hour day, so the park opened to Disney resort guests at 8 a.m. We arrived around 7:45 and they were already letting folks in the park – and everyone was going in the same direction  we were. We got in line for Flight of Passage immediately  and the line at that point was estimated to be 90 minutes, which I didn’t think was too bad, to be honest. One thing to keep in mind when you ride this without a FastPass, is that you do have a really interesting queue to wait in and can truly see all the details that have been added to this area. In addition, once you get close to riding, you will also learn more about the “story” of both Pandora and Flight of Passage, which I have to say, really pulls everything together (especially if you have not seen the movie Avatar). While there is certainly a benefit to not having to wait in a long line, to be honest, I’d still recommend trying to do this as standby at least once if you can, as the story helps it all make sense.

We ended up boarding the ride at 10 a.m., so in actuality we waited closer to 2 hours. Here is the part you really need to understand when it comes to planning: when we got off the ride (which was just one hour after regular park opening), the wait time was up to 4 ½ hours and apparently it went up to 6 hours later that day. Yes, you got that right. Six hours. What this means if you don’t plan, is that if you get in line to do Flight of Passage later in the day, that’s pretty much ALL you will do that day.

(As a point of reference, crowds in general at the parks were pretty high while we were there, but not what they would be during peak holiday times. So while your mileage may vary, I think you can still assume that even during lower crowd times, planning will be crucial in order to avoid long lines at Flight of Passage.)

All that being said, is Flight of Passage worth the long line? YES IT IS. It’s truly remarkable and unlike any other ride that is at Walt Disney World. Even this Ride Wimp loved it and I wish I had been able to turn around and get right on it again once we were done!

So what about the rest of Pandora then?

Na’vi River Journey is a lovely ride but very short. FastPasses are easier to come by for this ride and would be something I would plan to get if you can, because the standby line for this ride also grew quickly (although nothing like Flight of Passage). Very different from Flight of Passage but still an enjoyable attraction.

Be sure also, to take time to just walk around and explore Pandora. There are so many little details and cool things to see. And be sure to go back to see it at night too, when a good bit of the area is aglow with the bio-luminescent plant life. My only word of caution is that the area will be very dimly lit to highlight the bio-luminescent areas, which, while very cool, also makes it a bit hard to see as you walk around. Be aware of this and definitely watch your little ones as you (and they) could easily lose track of each other if not careful.

All in all, we truly loved Pandora – The World of Avatar. Disney did an amazing job with this area and it should definitely be on your “must do” list. Just be sure to plan well for it!

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