Pandora — The World of Avatar is a land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom based on the 2009 film, Avatar. In this post, we provide an overview and review of the land.
Pandora — Background
Pandora opened in Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Memorial Day Weekend, 2017, and has been a huge hit since.
Many were quick to criticize the concept when it was announced in 2011. First, Avatar was not a Disney film (following the 20th Century Fox acquisition, it will technically be a part of Disney’s portfolio). Basing an entire land on a non-Disney movie seemed a strange move.
Relatedly, Avatar would be eight years old by the time the land opened. Rumors of sequels abounded, but nothing had (or has) been completed. Disney had no control over when, if, or how the franchise continued.
Second, Animal Kingdom is inherently a realistic place, as its theme is the relationship between human and nature. Bringing fantasy into Animal Kingdom was an affront to many purist fans of the park.
But when the land opened, the dissenters quickly became silenced. Under the direction of Joe Rohde, Disney imagineers produced far and away their greatest work yet. In the remainder of this guide, we’ll cover what makes Pandora so great.
Introduction to Pandora — The World of Avatar
Pandora is home to: the two most popular rides at Animal Kingdom, two streetmosphere shows, one quick service restaurant, one snack stand, one store, one face painting stand, one gorgeous landscape (well, two, if you count it once in the day and once at night), and one intricate backstory.
The land is located in the Animal Kingdom in the Southwest corner of the park. It is reachable via two paths. First, on the southwest part of Discovery Island is a path along Pizzafari, Tiffins, and Nomad Lounge that serves as the main entrance into Pandora.
Just hug the left side as you enter the park.
Second, all the way on the western end of Harambe (Africa), past Festival of the Lion King, is a long boardwalk that serves as the back entrance to Pandora. Walk past Harambe Theater:
And then around this quiet corner:
Early in the morning this entrance is often closed to those entering Pandora from Harambe. Disney uses the boardwalk for the Flight of Passage queue, and those looking to hop in the queue right at rope drop need to do so by walking through the main entrance to the land and then out along the boardwalk.
Pandora’s rides open right when the park opens and are always the longest two waits early in the day. Flight of Passage will be the longest wait in the park the entire day, but Na’vi River Journey can drop to third (behind Kilimanjaro Safaris) or occassionally lower as the day wears on.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, we'll give a quick look into the setting and backstory of Pandora — The World of Avatar, before moving onto its specific offerings.
Setting & Backstory
Like the other major areas in Animal Kingdom, Pandora actually has a cohesive setting. That is, it isn’t just a collection of rides and themed buildings (like Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland, for example). In the case of Pandora, the specific setting is the Valley of Mo’ara.
The Valley of Mo’ara is a valley on Pandora that was previously mined by the Resources Development Association (RDA, or the bad guys from the film Avatar). Most of the manmade structures in Mo’ara are a product of RDA’s work.
Old RDA insignia appears throughout the land.
Following the Pandoran War, the RDA were driven from Pandora, and the land was reclaimed by the Na’vi. It has been over a generation—about 50 or 60 years—since the Pandoran war. Now, human activity on Mo’ara is generated by two companies.
First, Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) operates tour operations that bring humans to Mo’ara (with the permission of the Na’vi). Letters in the Satu’li Canteen detail the agreement between the Omatikaya clan (the Na’vi of Mo’ara) and ACE.
Second, the joint Na’vi-human Pandora Conservation Initiative (PCI) is a program dedicated to conserving the valley.
The attention to backstory is part of what sets Animal Kingdom apart from most other theme parks. This land is meant to have a sense of place and of history. You see this in details throughout Pandora.
Landscape of Pandora
The natural landscape of Mo’ara is dominated by a floating mountain range. The mountains float due to the magnetic properties of unobtanium.
Throughout the valley, you’ll find Pandoran flora (and even some fauna). These are unlike anything you’d find on earth.
At night, this landscape takes on an entirely new, even more stunning look, as bioluminescence brings the valley to life.
Honestly, the landscape of Pandora, particularly at night, is one of the most stunning features in any Disney park. We can only write so much about it, but here are some more photos (we’re working on getting better nighttime ones, sorry!):
Pandora has two attractions—Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. Na’vi River Journey is located in the far south of the land (just hug the left when entering). Flight of Passage is centrally located, but the easiest route is to hug the right past Satu’li Canteen (restaurant) and Windtraders (gift shop).
Avatar Flight of Passage
Avatar Flight of Passage is currently the most popular ride in Walt Disney World. Before we give a brief overview of the ride, let’s cover how you can ride it.
Flight of Passage is a Tier 1 FastPass+ ride at Animal Kingdom, and it can be challenging (though nowhere near impossible) to find a FastPass+ for it anytime less than 60 days out.
If you’re planning to ride Flight of Passage, you’ll need to do one of five things:
Get a FastPass+ in advance, usually around 60 days
Arrive early (before park open) and plan for a wait of 30 - 60 minutes. We used this approach in our Animal Kingdom One-Day Itinerary.
Plan to wait 90 minutes to three hours during the day
Get lucky and get a same-day FastPass+ (using tap / grab / modify)
Get in line right before park close, waiting between 30 minutes and two hours
Of course, those times are entirely crowd dependent, with heavier crowds requiring longer waits and lighter crowds bringing lower waits. You can read more about crowds at Disney World here.
On Avatar Flight of Passage, you’ll experience one of the tour operations offered by ACE—the experience of the Na’vi ritual of “Iknimaya.” The technology was actually re-developed (based on the tech from RDA Avatar program) by PCI scientist Jackie Ogden, whom you’ll hear from before the ride.
I’ll save you the details of Iknimaya—you’ll learn those on the ride—but the short of it is that you’ll be riding on a Banshee (or Ikran, as the Na’vi call them).
The ride is somewhere in the nature of Soarin’ in that the combined effects of a gigantic screen and a moving ride vehicle create a sensational experience of flight. But really, there’s just no ride like Flight of Passage.
Na’vi River Journey
Na’vi River Journey is a leisurely and beautiful boat ride down a dark river illuminated by the bioluminescence of Pandora’s plants and animals. It’s a stunning ride.
Na’vi River Journey is not as popular as Flight of Passage, but it is still the second most popular ride at Animal Kingdom. It is a Tier 1 FastPass+ ride at Animal Kingdom, but it is much easier to find FastPass+ reservations for it than for Flight of Passage.
You can often find spots on Na’vi River Journey within 30 days—sometimes even a single day—out. Other than that, waits tend to range from 45 to 90 minutes most days. On days with average crowd levels, you can walk right on the minute before the park closes.
Na’vi River Journey is operated as a tourist operation by ACE. The river of the ride is the Kapsavan River, and the ride culminates in an encounter with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs.
Entertainment at Pandora
Entertainment is the only aspect of Pandora we think falls a little short. Currently, Pandora has two entertainment offerings, the Pandora Drummers and the Pandora Utility Suit.
Before we get to these pieces of entertainment, we want to emphasize we do think they’re worth a watch, particularly if you’re interested in the wholistic presentation of the land. Both shows offer key insight into the backstory of Pandora.
The Pandora Drummers show takes place at Swotu Wayä, the heart of the Valley of Mo’ara. Entering the land, it will be on the far left along the way to Na’vi River Journey.
Swotu Wayä is essentially a drum circle (presumably a natural or semi-natural one) with connections to the rest of the island. A Na’vi, with their large size, can play the drums on their own. For humans, a team of three is required.
The show consists of a drum ceremony performed by three local humans, presumably employees at ACE or PCI. Spoiler Alert: When everyone in the audience joins in on the action, the song will earn an audible response from the mountains from the local Na’vi community and a banshee.
The show is fine, but to our mind it just falls short of the Tam Tam Drummers you can hear over in Harambe, perhaps because of the complicated backstory. That said, we know we have a pro-Harambe bias. The drum ceremony occurs throughout the day, including the occasional performance after the park has closed.
Pandora Utility Suit
The Pandora Utility Suit is, frankly, a silly piece of entertainment. The show consists of a human in a giant utility suit. He explains some history of the area, which is why we ever watch it. After that, he “shows off” the suit, which is a pretty disappointing affair.
Nonetheless, kids might be impressed, and the history is worth hearing. The show also occurs throughout the day, though it typically has its last showing earlier than the drummers.
Shopping In Pandora
There is one major store in Pandora—Windtraders. The store is pretty cool itself and offers much of the standard merchandise you’d expect.
T-shirts, mugs, magic bands.
You can get Na’vi ears...
The two truly unique souvenirs, though, are the “build your own” Avatar ($80) and the adopt-a-banshee ($50). These are clearly Disney trying to capture the magic of Harry Potter’s wand pairings, and they’re cool ideas, just a little forced.
Build Your Own Avatar
The BYO Avatar souvenir involves getting your face scanned for placement on an Avatar, which you can then further customize.
The process is a bit lengthy, but $80 for an experience and customized figurine isn’t awful at Disney prices. You can read more about the process at WDWNT.
Adopt a Banshee
If you’re more into toys than figurings, adopting a banshee might be for you. Like getting a wand in Harry Potter world at Universal, the idea here is that you’re supposed to find the banshee that fits you best.
The banshees themselves are pretty cool—they’re controlled by a wired remote and can do various motions—and again the price point ($50) isn’t awful for an Avatar fan. Again, you can go ahead and read more about these at WDWNT.
Colors of Mo’ara Face Painting
Across the Valley of Mo’ara, over by the drums and Na’vi River Journey, you’ll find Colors of Mo’ara. This is a souvenir stand / face painting station where you can get your face painted like a Na’vi. Prices start at $15.
Dining Option in Pandora
There are two dining options in Pandora, one quick service option and one snack stand.
Satu’li Canteen, a quick service restaurant, is the main restaurant in Pandora. Its setting is a reclaimed mess hall that was originally built by RDA (again, this is detailed in the letters on Satu’li’s wall).
Satu’li Canteen offers build-your-own bowls, where you choose a base, a sauce, and a protein. As vegetarians, we can only comment on the tofu, which is great.
Satu’li has a few other small items (you can read the full menu here), but it wouldn’t be a review of Pandora without a picture of Satu’li’s flagship dessert, Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse.
Around Satu’li, you’ll find great detailing, particularly art, celebrating the culture of the Na’vi.
Pongu Pongu is a snack stand just outside Satu’li Canteen, next to Windtraders. “Pongu Pongu” means “Party Party,” and it’s where you’ll find some of the more exciting food items in Animal Kingdom.
Pongu Pongu—a fan favorite spot to grab a drink at Animal Kingdom—is where you’ll find Pandora’s famed green beer.
You’ll also be able to get the non-alcoholic Night Blossom, and the Mo’ara Margarita!
On the food front, Pongu Pongu offers a pretzel and a pineapple cream cheese spring roll (Pongu Lumpia).
Pandora — The World of Avatar Tips
Before we go, we want to give some quick tips about navigating Pandora.
Plan to visit twice—once during the day and once in the evening. Even 15 minutes in the evening is worth it. If you can’t fit it into your preset Animal Kingdom plans, try to sneak over after the park officially closes—you’ll often, but not always, be able to walk through the land.
Rope drop whichever ride you don’t get a FastPass+ for. We cover this more in our Animal Kingdom FastPass+ post, but you’ll ideally have a FastPass+ for one of the Pandora rides and you’ll rope drop the other. On an average day, arrive 45 minutes before scheduled open to rope drop Flight of Passage and 15 minutes before scheduled open to rope drop Na’vi River Journey.
Mobile order and eat at Satu’li. You can mobile order through the My Disney Experience app, and this is a great way to get your food quickly at Satu’li. This is definitely our favorite quick service option at Animal Kingdom.
Pair the shows with a walk around the land. Typically the shows are on the hour and half hour, and each lasts about 15 minutes. Watch one show, walk around for 15 minutes, and then watch the other show.
Consider a last-minute standby wait. If you skip the final showing of Rivers of Light (we favor the last showing by Burudika and/or a Tree of Life Awakenings performance, personally), you can walk into Pandora five minutes before the park closes and wait in line for either ride. Animal Kingdom often closes at 8PM and rarely closes after 9PM, which means you can comfortably fit even a long wait in at the end of the day. You might even find the queue worth your wait…
Above all, have a Magical time, in Pandora — The World of Avatar!
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