Walt Disney World just released new concept art for its Avatar-land (see below) and also indicated that the whole land would open in Summer 2017. In this post, we share some thoughts on opening, plus new details on Pandora, including a video of the next-gen Audio Animatronics that will be featured on the boat ride!
During his D23 Destination D presentation, Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek shared a look at the progression of construction on Pandora – World of Avatar. He also showed a photo of a scaffolding-less entry bridge into Pandora (near Tiffins), indicating that the removal of scaffolding was a construction milestone.
Apparently there’s a lot to this bridge. In typical fashion, it has a backstory, which is that it was built by the destructive RDA company, but is being reclaimed by nature. This bridge will serve as an entry into the base camp of Alpha Centauri Expeditions, the eco-tourism company that will provide guests with adventures in Pandora. (The wording on all of this, plus a separate announcement that S.E.A. will be further integrated into all parks around the world makes me wonder whether ACE will have a S.E.A. connection.)
While I’m not normally a fan of over-wrought backstory, it does seem like a good transition from the real-world, natural environments featured in the rest of Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the mythical world featured in Pandora. As a reminder, this same(ish) area was set to be home of Beastly Kingdom, a different mythical/imagined land, during the early years of Animal Kingdom.
It was also announced that Satu’li Canteen will be the main restaurant in Pandora. This counter service restaurant will be a sprawling, mess hall style environment with decor featuring Na’vi art and cultural items.
Windtraders will be Pandora’s main gift shop, and if the concept art and previous design plans are any indication, this will be a sprawling store. Think somewhere between Dinosaur Treasures (Dino-Rama) and MouseGear (Epcot). The shop will carry faux Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits, and more.
Finally, Pongu Pongu will be a “drink location” (presumably a lounge) with an eclectic style, operated by an expat owner. If this actually is a full lounge, Animal Kingdom is going to become the go-to park for drinkers, as this will add to an already solid lineup.
UPDATE: On the Sunday panel with James Cameron, footage of the Na’vi River Journey’s Shaman was shared with the audience. Here it is:
Let’s start with some thoughts on this figure. First of all, I did not watch that video, as I don’t like spoilers. However, I have seen the Jack Sparrow AA figure in Shanghai Disneyland, and have heard this is better than even that. Wow.
I’m not surprised to see many Pandora skeptics finally coming around (reminder for future “I told you so” purposes, but we’ve been on board with Pandora since 2011). Every time I share a new Avatar-related post on Facebook, I’m seeing fewer and fewer irate responses. I think that’s a fairly reliable barometer of the evolving fan attitude towards Pandora.
Frankly, if you’ve been paying attention, I think it’s pretty difficult to be anti-Pandora at this point. The level of detail, scale, and visuals of the land look unprecedented. While I think there are still some valid thematic concerns about Pandora being in Animal Kingdom, it seems Joe Rohde and co. have worked diligently to integrate the Pandora into the park.
I think the few remaining anti-Avatar land holdouts will probably come around when they see the first video from inside the land at night. (Now that will be a spoiler video that I will have to really use all of my restraint to avoid watching!)
Suffice to say, we’ve heard some good things about how the land looks–even now–when you’re inside it…
Next, the biggest item of interest for most people: the opening date. We already knew Pandora would have a counter service restaurant. I know the presence of a gift shop in a Walt Disney World land will come as shocking news to some, but we knew that’d be here, too. I don’t recall info about a lounge before, but perhaps I forgot. (Or, perhaps it isn’t a lounge.)
In our Pandora: World of Avatar Construction Update, we predicted a Pandora grand opening date of April 22, 2017, which is Earth Day. Obviously, that’s an important date for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, both thematically and as the park’s anniversary. This year, Rivers of Light was originally supposed to open April 22, and…well, we all know how that went.
Given that fiasco, we aren’t surprised that Disney has not released an exact date for the opening of Pandora. Of course, Summer 2017 could be Memorial Day or it could be Labor Day…or anywhere in between. However, we suspect that they are playing it conservative with the “Summer 2017” opening given what occurred with Rivers of Light. Many fans are still bitter over that, and Disney likely does not want history to repeat itself with Pandora.
Consequently, we think that Pandora is likely earlier in the season rather than later–under promise and over deliver. We still would not be surprised if there’s an internal push to have the opening date be Earth Day, with soft openings occurring shortly before then.
Actually, I’d go further than to say I “would not be surprised” if Earth Day is the opening day. That’s still what I expect. Granted, we don’t really know what’s going on inside those show buildings for the two attractions, but scaffolding is already coming down outside, and the exteriors of the land have been looking really far along since this summer.
Barring a delay on the attractions (which is always possible, as evidenced recently by Frozen Ever After and Rivers of Light), I think Earth Day remains a reasonable bet. If you’re planning a 2017 Walt Disney World vacation and definitely want to catch Pandora, I wouldn’t schedule your trip around this “bet,” as playing it safe is always the smartest option. Again, you only have to look at the openings this year to see why hedging your bets is a good option when planning…
With that said, I’ll go one further and predict that Rivers of Light won’t see a 2016 debut. I know there has been a lot of chatter recently about this being ready to go any day now, but I don’t buy it. There are even some rumblings of it being debuted as early as next week, so I very well could be wrong. Any thoughts/predictions of your own to add?