Exploring Pandora – The World Of Avatar At Disney’s Animal Kingdom

If you haven’t had a chance yet to check out the latest masterpiece in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Pandora – The World of Avatar, you are in for a real treat during your next Walt Disney World vacation. I’ll admit it…I have never seen the film and I’m not really a fan of the sci-fi/fantasy genre typically anyway, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this new land, even if I had no clue about the back story of what I was seeing. Walt Disney Imagineering, as always, does an extraordinary job of drawing guests in and immersing us in this intricate and magnificent world. Here’s everything you need to know about Pandora – The World of Avatar courtesy of Disney:


Pandora – The World of Avatar immerses guests in a mystical world of massive floating mountains, bioluminescent rainforests and breathtaking new experiences. Fun and adventure await in this entirely new land found in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort. Here guests explore an awesome alien landscape, encounter a larger-than-life Na’vi shaman and soar over Pandora on the back of a fearsome mountain banshee.

The largest addition in the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Pandora carries on the park’s tradition of celebrating the intrinsic value of nature, transformation through adventure and a personal call to action.

Based on Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron’s record-breaking box-office hit, AVATAR, the new land welcomes guests to the lush world of Pandora long after the human conflict with the Na’vi has ended. The dramatic daytime beauty of the land transforms to glow by night when bioluminescent flora and intricate nighttime experiences add a dreamlike quality to Pandora.

Pandora – The World of Avatar is a creative collaboration of Walt Disney Imagineering, Cameron and Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment.

“We are taking our guests on a journey to this world in an experience that’s as realistic and immersive as possible,” says Joe Rohde, Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive. “In the movie, the world of Pandora is a setting for the action and characters whose story we follow. Here, guests are the primary characters immersed in an extremely vivid, authentic experience.”

Guests to Disney’s Animal Kingdom cross the park’s Discovery River onto Pandora – The World of Avatar and continue along a winding rainforest path for their first glimpse of the land’s iconic “floating mountains.”

“When guests come across the bridge, they are transferred light-years away, to the Alpha-Centauri solar system and Pandora,” says Jon Landau, AVATAR producer, Lightstorm Entertainment. “It’s an otherworldly, fully themed experience.”

As guests explore the verdant terrain sprawling beneath mountains that appear to float in the sky, they see waterfalls cascading down the mountainside into meandering streams and pools, and they discover two thrilling new expeditions: Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey.

Avatar Flight of Passage launches each guest on an exhilarating, wind-in-your-face experience on a winged mountain banshee over the awe-inspiring world of Pandora. Guests will actually feel the banshee breathe beneath them as they soar through the forest and past floating mountains. What was a rite of passage for Na’vi in Cameron’s film becomes a multisensory experience for guests seeking the ultimate adventure – an encounter with the most feared predator of Pandora, the Great Leonopteryx.

On the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey, guests travel down a sacred river deep into a bioluminescent rainforest. Aboard reed boats, they float past exotic glowing plants and Pandoran creatures into the midst of a musical Na’vi ceremony. The mystical journey culminates in an encounter with the breathtakingly realistic Na’vi Shaman of Songs who is deeply connected with Pandora’s life force and sends positive energy into the forest through her music.

“This is an attraction that the entire family can enjoy,” Rohde says. “We put you into a magical experience that comes to life through the bioluminescence, the plant and animal activity and the shaman’s music. There’s a wonderful harmony in the entire glowing scene during this lyrical, uplifting journey that builds to a really beautiful crescendo.”

In addition to the bioluminescent plants of Pandora, with species names like Spiny Whip, Dapophet and Vein Pod, other wonders of the land include the creatures that guests encounter and, in some cases, interact with.

“The landscape will be alive with creatures,” Rohde says. “We’re bringing to life everything from the largest creature you might encounter to the most microscopic. Animals will appear out of the underbrush – big Pandoran animals will appear at the edge of the forest, and you’ll hear the very complicated calls they issue back and forth.”

The thriving Pandoran landscape reinforces messages intrinsic to Disney’s Animal Kingdom such as transformation through adventure and conservation and stewardship. A similar value system underlies the AVATAR film, Landau says, and he’s hopeful guests are inspired to find meaning in their expedition through Pandora.

The artful storytelling on Pandora continues as guests stop for sustenance at the land’s Satu’li Canteen (pronounced “Sa-too-lee”), a Quonset-hut-style building with a spacious dining area that pays tribute to the Na’vi and their culture with special décor. The menu at this fast-casual restaurant is inspired by the healthful bounty of Pandora – wholesome grains, fresh vegetables, and hearty proteins. Guests can also grab a drink at nearby Pongu Pongu, where a friendly expat serves out-of-this-world beverages including a bioluminescent frozen cocktail and indigenous beers. There’s even a sweet snack that guests won’t find elsewhere.

Windtraders is a shopper’s delight where guests can choose from Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits and more.

The creative team employed exhaustive research to develop the realistic appearance of Pandora, a fictional exoplanetary moon mined by humans in Cameron’s movie. Set a generation after a great conflict, the Na’vi and humans are at peace, and the land is experiencing a rebirth. Pandora now welcomes Disney guests as eco-tourists.

Since 2012, Walt Disney Imagineering and Lightstorm Entertainment have collaborated to imagine and create Pandora through the talents of a team of designers, artists, sculptors, structural engineers, robotic technicians and a host of other professionals. The team traveled to rainforests and tribal areas and worked with artisans, weavers and carvers, including Bali artisans who contributed works to Discovery Island when it opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998.

Authenticity and realism were drivers in the creation of Pandora, and the result truly is a world beyond belief.

“The attractions have very deliberate emotional moments crafted into them, the way a good story does, the way a good film does.” Rohde says. “It’s not as simple as just coming to a place that looks realistic. It’s a place that’s been deliberately imbued with the emotions of awe, of wonder, of respect, of harmony.”


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Na’vi River Journey At Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Finally in May after literally years of waiting, the highly anticipated Pandora – The World of Avatar area opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and along with it Na’vi River Journey. I was fortunate enough to be there opening weekend with a Fastpass+ booked for this attraction. Having never seen the film, I had no idea what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised. It may not be the most thrilling of attractions, but Na’vi River Journey is certainly peaceful, beautiful, and a perfect escape from the heat and crowds of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Here’s everything you need to know about the new attraction courtesy of Disney:


Set sail on a river journey unlike any other. On a moon that is light years from Earth.

You are not alone, either. This riverscape pulses with sensational sights and sounds that fill your senses. And, at journey’s end, a very special surprise.

Aboard the reed boats of the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey, adventurers float through an alien world beyond their imagination. That wonderment begins in the very heart of Pandora – The World of Avatar, the all-new land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

As guests approach the iconic floating mountains and waterfalls on Pandora, a towering totem beckons. Paying homage to the mystical Shaman of Songs, the massive totem was delicately woven by the Na’vi, the indigenous people of Pandora, and celebrates the shaman’s deep connection to the life force of Pandora.

The totem also invites guests to venture further into grottos that lead to the mystical river – and an eventual encounter with the shaman.

At the water’s edge, guests board those reed boats. Barely have the boats cut the first ripples of water when a Na’vi warrior appears. With a nod, he grants passage to the human voyagers, and soon an amazing scene unfolds. A spectacular bioluminescent rainforest surrounds guests. By day or night, boats pass through this darkened world, pushing deep into a jungle alive with exotic glowing plants and traversed by Pandoran creatures.

Keen observers will notice that the animals and Na’vi are moving in the same direction as they make their way to see the shaman. Music is heard, which means the shaman is not far off.

“Na’vi River Journey is a very sweet, lyrical adventure through a spectacular visual environment that just becomes more and more spectacular as you go on,” explains Joe Rohde, Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive. “The bioluminescent activity of the plants around you unfolds in richer and richer scenes in really just a very uplifting, wonderful kind of journey.”

The journey builds to an encounter with the remarkable Shaman of Songs. Like most Na’vi, she is nearly 10 feet tall.

Music is central in Na’vi culture. Guests observe the shaman in the midst of a musical ceremony, playing an instrument and singing. This mystical journey culminates in an encounter with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs, who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora and sends positive energy out into the forest through her music.

Disney technology put fluid energy into every movement and gesture, Rohde said.

“The shaman is even more extraordinary than we expected,” said Rohde. “Her facial expressions, little movements in the cheek, tiny movements in the eyelid – each one of these carries an emotion she’s capable of conveying.”

It is part of Disney’s attention to detail that makes Pandora a world of adventure, he added.

“There is a real edge to our Pandora,” he said, “just like the rest of Animal Kingdom. When guests get here and really look around, they will see there’s this edge, this little adventurous edge on the land. Na’vi River Journey helps complement that edge.”


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