Life on Pandora: Exploring Disney’s World of Avatar

Pandora Collage 1

Kaltxi!  And welcome to what I’m sure you are hoping is going to be one of the final posts you have to endure on the subject of my Christmas trip to Disney World.  Except I still have so much to say!  Particularly on the subject of a very special (and very, very busy) place we visited at the Animal Kingdom on the final day of our holiday, Pandora – The World of Avatar (I’m sold already; gotta love a title that contains a hyphenate.)

The World of Avatar opened in June 2017, and just seven months on, it remains THE hottest ticket in the entire Walt Disney World Resort.  And I do mean that literally – FastPasses were not to be had for Flight of Passage, the most popular ride in any of the Disney parks, although I did manage to nab early evening FPs for Na’vi River Journey, a stunningly gorgeous dark boat ride, and my pick for the better of the two attractions anyways (hard not to go with the one that didn’t make me want to hurl all over the back of a banshee, but more on that in a second.)

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Right, so before I get to the breathtakingly beautiful landscape and design work (Disney calls this “Imagineering”) let’s get to what I know you’re really here for, TIPS AND TRICKS ON HOW TO TACKLE PANDORA – THE WORLD OF AVATAR WITHOUT LOSING THREE-QUARTERS OF YOUR DAY AND/OR YOUR SANITY.

First, stay on property at a Disney resort.  This gives you the ability to book FastPasses 60 days out from your vacation.  You may be able to get a FP for Flight of Passage this way.  I was not able to get any, but I was on the hunt “just” 30 days out.  You should be able to get a FP for Na’vi River Journey with little to no trouble 60 or 30 or even 10 days out.

Staying at a Disney resort also gives you access to Extra Magic Hours, extra in-park time extended to guests of Disney resorts either first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  Find out which day the Animal Kingdom is offering their Extra Magic Hours (owing to what I’m assuming are the actual animals’ nocturnal schedules, they tend to offer them first thing in the morning) and get there early with a mind to hitting Pandora.

No, really, get there EARLY.  Earlier than you think reasonable.  If you’re taking Disney transportation, you’ll find yourself sitting at a dark and foggy bus stop at 6 in the morning with 100 other stressed out people (and that’s just your resort!) also all fretting  about how quickly they can sprint through the Animal Kingdom and directly onto Flight of Passage.

I actually really wish that my fellow guests would not do this.  Moods at Disney are highly contagious, and listening to some teenager joke-mock his walker-enabled grandmother about the hustle she’s going to have to put on the second they step off the bus is dispiriting.  Listening in on other people’s neuroses leaves me feeling highly anxious and unnecessarily fretful.

So it turns out my very best tip is actually to calm the eff down.  Please.  With our ultra early start to the day, we were on and off Flight of Passage in a little under 45 minutes.  And our evening FP for Na’vi River Journey freed us up to then explore the rest of Pandora, and indeed the entirety of the Animal Kingdom.  So no need to go all wackadoo.

Having said all that, I am so freaking glad we got that jump start to the day, because by the time we exited the ride 45 minutes later, the wait time had climbed to three hours.  An hour later the estimated wait time had vaulted to five incomprehensible hours and the lineup stretched all the way to the front gates.  When we took this picture, roaring in front of the Tree of Life, we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves for having conquered at dawn what everybody else was now going to spend the entire day slogging to complete.  Mean?  Maybe!  But the early bird rides Flight of Passage with only a 25-minute lineup. 🙂

Morning Animal Kingdom

Less roar-worthy is the fact that Flight of Passage KICKED MY ASS.  It’s a motion simulator, and a deeply immersive one at that – the screen wraps from top to bottom and then side to side.  The story is that you’re riding on the back of a flying banshee through the alien landscapes of Pandora.  Sounds incredible, and I can confirm that the minute or so of ride I actually experienced was next level amazing.  But oh sweet Jebus, the plummeting dips and drops and that nauseating thrusting motion of takeoff and the gigantic, sloshing wall of water…oof, I may need to stop talking about this, right now. 😦

So yes, I closed my eyes through roughly 60 percent of an attraction that I waited half an hour to ride and that some people waited up to five hours to ride.  But I felt myself begin to break out into a cold sweat, my number one tell, and decided to instantly bow to the warning signs I was too daft to heed on Star Tours.  You’re welcome.

I actually have precious little footage from the exterior or interior of either ride; we really hustled through both lineups, and there was no time to stop and smell the alien roses.  But Na’vi River Journey was definitely the more palatable of the two rides for me, a return to those classic, ultra detailed dark rides that have always set my Disney-loving heart aflutter.  Plus, Na’vi River Journey just looks like the best rave you’ve never been to.  Kind of sounds like it, too.  Gosh, I wish I had pictures of this one – it is a boat ride through a black lit, neon alien jungle, and that’s just as pretty as you might imagine.

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We quite shamefully made incredibly poor use of Pandora’s other amenities.  We didn’t go to Pongu Pongu for refreshing Night Blossom slushies and we also didn’t get to Satu’li Canteen for what is some of the only vegetarian food in the Animal Kingdom (for a place devoted to caring for all manner of wildlife, I find their reliance on BBQ to be quite odd.)  I blame Flight of Passage – my best laid Pandoran food plans went out the window the moment I emerged from the ride whiter than a ghost and (as always) cursing James Cameron’s name.

This is the part where I should probably mention that I hated Avatar, the movie.  Like, LOATHED it.  And I will never not be boggled by its inexplicable (clearly just to me!) popularity.  I remember when I first heard about the blue kitty person movie that James Cameron was making, I said to Mr. Finger Candy, “Mark my words, this thing is going to make, like, $17.38 total.”  And I was wrong.  So very, very wrong!  Wrong to the tune of about $2 billion, but hey, you can’t have $2 billion without $17.38, right?  Anyhow, my seeming ineptitude at making box office projections aside, I really, really hated Avatar and I’ve watched maybe just 35 minutes of the stupid blue kitty people total (side note: Do you know how hard you have to work to get me to hate a cat?  Even an 11-foot tall blue cat with a pervo tail?  HARD!)

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But I was neither too nauseous nor so much of a hater that I couldn’t appreciate the outstanding Imagineering at work in Pandora – The World of Avatar.  Holy cats (11-foot blue cats?) this place is incredible!  And no matter your area or areas of interest (horticulture, set dressing and design, food, music, computer tech, storytelling and world-building, architecture and engineering or simply the films themselves) there’s a little something for everyone to be dazzled by in Pandora.  I was particularly taken with the floating mountains, which I know are no such thing – I watched enough videos of them going up to know they’re engineered marvels of rebar and concrete designed to look like a craggy, levitating precipice.  But when you’re standing beneath a giant, floating chunk of earth, out of the top of which is growing a massive alien tree, its gnarled roots draping down over the edges and bursting through the underside of the rock, it’s hard not to be impressed.

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I kept thinking how much my grandfather, a lifelong gardener, would have loved the seamless blending of our real world flora with Pandora’s Imagineered alien blooms.

Pandora Collage 2

Ah, yet another way to tell you’re getting on in years – when the behind-the-scenes, technical aspects of a theme park are more interesting to you than the actual attractions (see also the Seed Tour at Epcot’s The Land, where you take a mini class in Disney agriculture.)

Pandoran Pond

It’s really just the most stunningly gorgeous world, and so very beautifully executed.  I wish we had been able to stay into the evening when Pandora begins glowing under black lights, the “bioluminescent plants” throwing off alien neon light.  Even the splatter effect walkways (already super cool in the daylight) glow after dark!

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And the waterfalls!  Oh my gosh, so many waterfalls!  I feel like this entire post has been me excitedly pointing out yet another thing that blew my mind about Pandora, but that’s exactly what exploring the World of Avatar was like in the first place – what gorgeous, infinitely clever marvel will I find around this next corner?

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It seems the World of Avatar also brought out the Pepe Le Pew in Mr. Finger Candy, who laid a giant one on me as we stood in front of a lush Pandoran pond, prompting the cast member taking our photo to mock-admonish that “this is a family park!” and for a nearby group of Japanese tourists to spontaneously burst into delighted applause. 🙂 Apparently Pandora is for Lovers.

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So would I go back, even knowing what I know about my ability (or lack thereof) to handle Flight of Passage?  Yes, if only to cover myself with about two dozen anti-nausea patches to see if that makes a difference.  But also to check out some of the food and beverage offerings, and get a glimpse of Pandora after dark.  It’s also just a lovely and beautiful spot to chill out and people-watch for a bit; all those waterfalls make for a very relaxing place to wile away a bit of time.  Big recommendation on the World of Avatar; Disney, not too surprisingly, done good. 🙂

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Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part III

“They see me ridin’/my Buggy/Magic Kingdom ’cause I’m just a nerdy girl at Disney/just a nerdy girl at Disney/look at me, I’m a nerd at Disney!”  No, not how that song goes?  Huh, strange. 😉

Welcome, friends, to the third and penultimate installment of my is-it-ever-going-to-end? series on our recent anniversary trip to Disney World.  Today we finally get down to the good stuff, the rides!  If you’re at all interested in hearing me blather on about our stupendously gorgeous accommodations and the tasty nibbles we picked up whilst running the theme park gauntlet, you can find those posts here and here.

Outside the Mansion

First, as detailed in this post, we rode the Haunted Mansion 13 times on our 13th wedding anniversary, which falls on Halloween.  HUGE, crazy accomplishment, this – a lifetime bucket list item nicely checked off (one that’s been cooling its heels on my list since I was a wee, weird little lass of just two years old.)  We actually rode the Mansion 16 times over two days.  It’s my favourite spot on the planet; sounds a bit a lot strange, but nestled in the dark in a jittering little Doom Buggy, passing the hall of endless staircases as the Ghost Host intones not-so-dire warnings about the restless spooks who inhabit the Mansion, I am complete.  Giant goober alert here, but our last ride, I cried.  It all felt very overwhelming.  See, Disney nerd!

That was our second day at the Magic Kingdom.  Thirteen runs through the Haunted Mansion ate up the majority of the day, but we did find time to squeeze in a couple of non-Mansion rides, in addition to a mid-day repast at Gaston’s Tavern.  I wish the big tool himself had made an appearance; Gaston’s just the worst, and I love him for it.  But this lady waits for no man, not even the super bulgy, dim bulb variety, and I had places to be, bucket lists to conquer!  Next time, Gaston, next time.  Maybe we’ll even sit in your chair together.

Throne Alone

But our first day at the Magic Kingdom, we hit it HARD – 8 am to 11 pm, TAKE! NO! PRISONERS!  You know, except for the 40 minutes or so we were held hostage on a broken-down Pirates of the Caribbean, but more on that (surprisingly fun adventure) in the next, final installment!

Smudge Out Castle Shot

Our first day at the Magic Kingdom we banged out 17 rides.  We also dropped in on a couple of stage shows, caught the midday parade, watched most of the evening’s fireworks display, shopped up and down Main Street, got stuck on Pirates for the better part of an hour AND made our inaugural visit to Gaston’s.  So how did we cram all that fun into one day?  Well, here’s a few tips:

1: Be as serious about your footwear AND care as Lieutenant Dan screaming into Forrest’s face about fresh socks.  You won’t get anywhere if you’re hobbling around with sweaty, blistered tootsies, so plan ahead and pre-game your feet – comfy shoes (Vans for me, Chucks for the Mr.) and adhesive callous pads applied to known trouble areas kept us up and comfortably pounding the pavement from rope drop to park close.

2: Abandon any notion of sleep or peace or rest.  That goes double for you lazy sods all crashed out in the middle of the day on the Hub grass.  You’re at Disney – why are you napping?!  Just come to terms with the fact that to experience all that Disney has to offer, you’re going to have to temporarily sacrifice the routines and comforts of home.  We certainly did – I don’t know what else you call being up and on your feet from park open (8 am!) to close (11 pm the first day) each day.  Bonkers?  Yeah, that works!

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3: Work those FastPasses.  Disney hands out a large – but limited – number of jump-the-line passes every day for nearly every attraction in the park.  You can book three FastPasses per attraction, per guest, per day; a particularly useful little perk for those rides with stubbornly long wait times (Peter Pan’s Flight, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) that hold fast throughout the day.  And not everyone knows this, but after you’ve used your third and final FastPass of the day, you can then begin booking additional FastPasses, one at a time.  And once you’ve used up that fourth FastPass, you can then book a fifth, and so on, until they’re shooing you out the front gates with brooms!

4: Most importantly, stay flexible.  If you roll up to the Mine Train at 9 am to find it offline, with a two-plus hour lineup already snaking around the entirety of the ride, say, “Oh, bugger this, we’re not starting our first day in a friggin’ two-hour lineup!” (actual quote) and move on.  With the exception of one 30-minute wait for the Mansion on Halloween, we never waited any longer than 15 or 20 minutes for any ride, and many of them were virtual walk-ons.  But we maximized our ride time precisely because we were willing to move – as in move on to something with a slightly more manageable wait time.  And invariably, we’d come back a short while later to find the wait time halved or better.  This is also how we wound up walking at least seven miles our first day; we crisscrossed the park more times than I can count!

Magic Kingdom Docs

5: Also, in as much as you can, stay out of the sun, particularly if you are of pasty, Celtic-Canadian descent.  I ended our first day at the Magic Kingdom with a chest redder than Sebastian the crab and Merida’s hair combined.  Wear sunscreen.  Buy some dorky matching hats, if you must (and we really did!)

Need Sunscreen

Jack and Sally Hats

Okay, so it would seem I didn’t actually get around to really talking about any of the rides this time, but I think I’ve given you a good overview of how we accomplished so very much in such a short amount of time (“Really dragging this out, ain’t you?” some of you may be thinking.  And the answer is yes, YES, I AM!  I had the very best time on this impromptu little trip, and I’m going to storytell it into the ground, yo.)  Next time – the last time, though definitely not the last Disney time – we finally go ridin’!