Ultimate Guide to Pandora – World of Avatar
Pandora – World of Avatar is now open in Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This guide will offer tips and time-saving strategy for efficiently experiencing Disney’s new “Avatar Land.” In so doing, we will share photos of the land, offer details you should stop to check out, make dining recommendations, and much more. (Last updated February 1, 2018.)
First, for those unfamiliar with Pandora, no, it’s not a planet of adorable space pandas. (Although that would be an exceptional idea for an overlay if the Avatar sequels don’t come to fruition.) Rather, it’s a land based on the “hit” film Avatar, albeit with sufficiently loose ties to the film universe that no prior knowledge of the movie is necessary. In other words, don’t worry if, like the rest of the world, you forgot about the blue aliens of Pandora.
Pandora – World of Avatar was created as a partnership between legendary filmmaker James Cameron (and co.) and legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde (and co.), and it’s pretty easy to feel the influences of each within the land. Pandora blends perfectly with the rest of Animal Kingdom in a thematic and stylistic sense, while also having the distinct DNA of a James Cameron film. For all of the skepticism with which this project was met, the end result is something impressive…
That’s another topic for another post, though. If you’re more interested in critique or praise of the new land, check out our Spoiler-Free Pandora – World of Avatar Review. While we’ll touch on some of the pros and cons of Pandora and its attractions in this post, we’re mostly assuming that you’ve already made the decision to see Pandora, and now just want tips on the best ways to experience Animal Kingdom’s newest land.
Note that this Ultimate Guide to Pandora is essentially spoiler-free. There are no on-ride photos from either attraction, and rather than posting a ton of epic and wide landscape photos from every angle in the Valley of Mo’ara, we are instead illustrating this post with only a handful of photos, mostly detail-shots.
A bit boring, but seeing Pandora for the first time in person is breathtaking, and minimizing exposure to its landscape ahead of time will make it more impactful. (At least, that’s what we think.)
If you’re looking for this same guide, but with spoilers aplenty, check out our free eBook: Pandora – Expedition Guide. It features tips, info, and our thoughts on Pandora, along with over 100 photos I captured during our time there.
One of the first things you might want to do before your 4.4 light year voyage to Pandora is learn some common Na’vi phrases! Or not. Cast Members in Animal Kingdom have learned Na’vi and will speak some of it to you. Depending upon your perspective, this is either a cool touch or annoying.
I think it’s mostly cool, but the last thing I’m going to waste my finite mental resources on is a fake language. What if this info pushes something important out of my memory, like a good Seinfeld quote or Sarah’s birthday? Nevertheless, it’s neat and simulates the feeling of being in one of the international Disney parks and not knowing what Cast Members are saying to you.
Alright, with that, on to some things to know about Pandora – World of Avatar that are actually important…
Avatar Flight of Passage
Flight of Passage allows guests to board the back of a banshee by linking to an avatar already in flight on one above the Valley of Mo’ara. Guests participate in a first-person simulation of flying on the back of one of these powerful winged creatures high above Pandora in an experience that represents an important rite of passage for the Na’vi.
In other words, this is a simulator attraction somewhat along the lines of Soarin’. Similar to Soarin’, the action is set in a large theater with multiple rows of banshee link chairs. Because of this, fans dubbed this “Soarin’ Over Pandora” before the attraction opened.
Unlike Soarin’, Flight of Passage is an intimate and immersive experience. Even though it’s a giant theater, each link chamber is fairly small, with only 8 seats. Each of these seats is a stand-alone, bike-like banshee, rather than being a connected row of hang-gliders.
Then, once your flight begins, there is a rang of motion, plus wind and ocean spray effects that make you feel like you’re actually on the back of a banshee, flying over Pandora. I don’t know anyone who has ridden Flight of Passage that is still calling it “Soarin’ Over Pandora” in a dismissive way.
We’ve heard many people call this their new #1 attraction at Walt Disney World. I think it’s a bit too early for that, both because the hype of anything new can tend to bolster things and because I wonder how it’ll stand the test of time, but I do think it’s one of the top 10 attractions at Walt Disney World. (It’d be towards the bottom of my list, whereas it’d be near the top of Sarah’s.)
Flight of Passage is really that fun of an attraction. This will be one of the most popular attractions–and the one with the longest wait times–at Walt Disney World for years to come.
Na’vi River Journey
Na’vi River Journey is a slow-moving family boat ride through a bioluminescent rainforest. It’s a meandering journey in a true sense of the word; there’s no plot or story to the attraction–it’s an atmospheric experience past the flora and fauna that builds to an encounter with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs.
Unlike the incredibly detailed (and long) queue for Avatar Flight of Passage, this one is much shorter and fairly basic. After weaving through a series of switchbacks, guests board reed boats and drift downstream on their journey, passing through a series of caves, maneuvering under exotic glowing plants, and spotting rainforest critters. The experience culminates with the aforementioned Na’vi Shaman of Songs, the most advanced Audio Animatronics figure Imagineering has ever created.
It’s a peaceful experience, but one that could leave guests disappointed for a couple of reasons. First, the fact that there isn’t really a linear story to the attraction. It’s beauty for its own sake, something that’s meant to evoke a sense of wonder as part of a relaxing experience.
The problem is that too much of its scenery is static to evoke this sense of wonder. The attraction is staged to direct guest’s attention to specific spots, which works in a textbook design sense, but not so much on a boat ride that embraces exploration and discovery. Simply put, too much of what you discover is uninteresting.
This would all be fine if it nailed the “relaxation” element, but it’s only around 4 minutes long, which is fairly short by boat ride standards. Just as the attraction seems to be finding its groove with the Shaman of Songs, it’s all over.
With wait times during its first year of operation that are likely to regularly exceed an hour, Na’vi River Journey is likely going to disappoint some guests. In fact, right now Na’vi River Journey wait times are only slightly lower than Avatar Flight of Passage. If it came down to doing Flight of Passage twice or each attraction once, we’d probably choose two rides on a Flight of Passage banshee.
Wait times should drop quite a bit for Na’vi River Journey over time, so if you’re a Walt Disney World regular, it might behoove you to wait. It’s a much more enjoyable attraction when it’s a walk-on. 😉
In our preliminary Pandora – World of Avatar FastPass+ Strategy Guide, which we wrote in anticipation of Pandora FastPass+ becoming available for the first time, we speculated a lot about best practices. Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but this is in large part redundant to that because we speculated correctly on quite a bit.
For starters, Flight of Passage is unequivocally the flagship attraction of Pandora – World of Avatar. This is going to be the more popular attraction of the two, and by an incredibly wide margin. Guests are going to love this, and that coupled with its low capacity (which becomes even lower when one of its theaters is invariably down) is going to be a recipe for incredibly long standby waits.
Flight of Passage’s queue can reportedly accommodate a 4+ hour line, and there have already been times when it has hit that number. By contrast, the Na’vi River Journey queue is fairly modest, looking like it can accommodate around 90 minutes’ worth of guests (plus FastPass+).
Flight of Passage has had maximum wait times of 250 minutes during its opening weekend, and I suspect these would have been worse if the land itself did not hit capacity, preventing new guests from entering. Right now, many people are entering Pandora just to see the land itself; it would not surprise me if Flight of Passage peaks at 300 minute wait times during actual peak seasons, like the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
In the medium-term future, I’d expect Flight of Passage to settle into wait times of around 160 minutes, with Na’vi River Journey averaging around 60 minute waits. I would not expect these numbers to drop precipitously until early 2018, when the “new land smell” has worn off of Pandora a bit.
Without question, get a FastPass+ for Flight of Passage if you can. If you’re going to do Pandora – World of Avatar at rope drop (highly recommended–see below), I’d recommend a time slot around 11 a.m. (or later), and nothing earlier if you can avoid it. This will allow you to Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage as much as possible before the wave of crowds hits.
When/How to Tour Pandora
With minimal wait times and crowds, we think you could easily spend 3 hours in Pandora – World of Avatar. Thanks to the attractions, dining, and general sense of wonder and exploration about the land, it’s an easy place to get lost in.
The exceptional ambiance and downright fun of exploring Pandora is something that we don’t really delve into here, so it’s worth reading our Pandora – World of Avatar Review for more on that. Suffice to say, we spent well over 15 hours in Pandora over the course of 3 days during our recent trip. That was during previews, so none of that time was spent waiting in lines.
If you’re visiting anytime within the next year, lines will be part of the experience, and will add-on another couple of hours to however long you intend upon spending in Pandora – World of Avatar.
Our recommendation would be to visit Pandora – World of Avatar first thing in the morning. If you’re a resort guest, go on a day when it has morning Extra Magic Hours. On some days, these start at 7 a.m. (on other days, it’s 8 a.m.). Get in line for the turnstiles at least 30 minutes in advance, as they often open early.
Unfortunately, even as of February 2018, Extra Magic Hours for Pandora are incredibly popular. It’s a bit like organized chaos, and while you can ride Flight of Passage with a shorter wait this way, you still might have a wait time of 30 minutes or more. By the time you’re done, both lines will (typically) have wait times of over an hour.
If you’re a non-resort guest, avoid morning Extra Magic Hours days, and get to the park turnstiles 45 minutes before opening. Again, the park tends to open early, so don’t wait until 5 minutes before rope drop. You might have more difficulty doing each attraction first thing before the wave of crowds descends upon the land, but it might be possible.
In this scenario, you’ll want to do Na’vi River Journey immediately upon entering. The reason for this is that the experience from start to finish takes far less time than Avatar Flight of Passage. If you do Flight of Passage first, by the time you’re done, Na’vi River Journey will have a long line.
It will literally take longer to walk through the Flight of Passage queue when it’s empty than it will to walk through Na’vi River Journey’s line, board the boat, do the attraction, and leave. Assuming 0 minute waits for each, Na’vi River Journey will take 10 minutes from start to finish, whereas you’re looking at 30-40 minutes for Avatar Flight of Passage.
The lengthy queue plus two pre-shows plus a long boarding process makes Avatar Flight of Passage significantly more time consuming even with “no” wait. During that 30-40 minutes, more and more guests are entering Pandora, and getting into lines.
Because Flight of Passage is a significantly longer time commitment even with a 0 minute wait, by doing Na’vi River Journey first, you can potentially be done with that quickly-enough to jump in line for Flight of Passage before its posted wait time is over an hour.
Now, if you don’t have a Flight of Passage FastPass+ and are not willing to wait in a line that’s over 60 minutes long, you might just want to do Flight of Passage first. It is far and away the better attraction in Pandora, and should not be missed.
Do as much as you can before the crowds hit; even once wait times start getting too long, you’ll still want to spend some time wandering the land to see its flora and details. You’ll be back at night, but the area has a totally different vibe during the daytime versus nighttime. Once crowds are too heavy, it’s time to bounce, heading to Kilimanjaro Safaris for a morning ride to see the animals at their most active…
Visit #2 to Pandora should be for an early dinner. Head to Satu’li Canteen for one of their build-your-own bowls, but be sure to finish before sunset. You’ll want to be out in Pandora by then so you can watch the sky light up overhead as the landscape of Pandora slowly comes alive in beautiful bioluminescence.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll want to spend a bit of time snapping some photos of the land at night. It’s best to do this right around dusk, when there’s still a bit of ambient light. Once night falls over Pandora, the area is significantly darker and taking photos becomes really difficult (especially if you’re relying on your phone or even a camera without a tripod).
This is part of the reason for a second visit prior to evening Extra Magic Hours. Dusk is also the perfect time to soak up the atmosphere of Pandora. The temperature is starting to cool, the lights are bringing the land to life, and you can still see all of the details that are not artificially illuminated.
Visit #3 to Pandora is for evening Extra Magic Hours, which we’ll cover next. You’re going to want to spend the entirety of this time doing attractions (warning: do not expect everything to be a walk-on).
This might sound like a lot of time in Pandora, but each visit is distinct and brings something different to the table. Plus, you’re probably not doing all three in the same day, as that would mean arriving to Animal Kingdom super early and staying super late. Props if that’s what you do (it’s our plan), but the more likely scenario is doing the first two visits one day and park hopping to Animal Kingdom for evening Extra Magic Hours another night.
Hopefully, the popularity of Pandora will die down at some point this year, but as of now it’s still (shockingly) popular. You’re going to encounter crowds no matter how early or late you do the land. Short of using FastPass+, we still recommend going early or going late…and packing your patience. We’ll offer our thoughts on doing Extra Magic Hours in Pandora on Page 2. It’s not as simple/awesome as you might be thinking…
We just went to AK and HS Jan. 14-15, 2019. There are still unbelievable wait times for Avatar. We planned this trip last moment, so had no FP+ for Avatar, Na’vi River (or Slinky Dog). We went o AK during morning extra magic hours, got there about 30 minutes before park opened, and went straight for the Avatar line ride (like everyone else arriving). We were done with the Avatar and Na’vi River rides both within the first 30 minutes of the extra magic hour.
Hi Tom – thanks for these great tips! For anyone who really wants to do Flight of Passage without standing in line plus enjoy Animal Kingdom with no crowds I recommend splurging on a Disney’s Animal Kingdom After Hours ticket (they are doing several this fall – not sure specific dates). The cost is $125 plus tax/person for a 3 hour opening, so not cheap, but we loved it. It gave us pretty much unfettered access to the entire park (only a couple of rides weren’t open) from 9 pm – midnight and we were able to do Flight of Passage 3 times with basically no line-up plus enjoy several other of our favourite rides (Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, etc.) a couple of times each. We were not staying at a Disney resort so had no access to Extra Magic Hours so it was a great way to avoid the waits. Plus Animal Kingdom it is cool at night. The Pandora area is beautiful, the temperature is cooler, and they throw in popcorn, ice cream and soft drinks/water with the cost of the ticket!
I’m going to Disney World with some friends over the weekend and we’ve checked and eveyr day has extra magic hours for animal kingdom.
We could’t score fast passes for Flight of Passage. What would you suggest we do? Should we go to the park early in the morning and wait until we can enter even though there will be people inside because of the extra magic hours?
Really great review. Looking forward to visiting world of Pandora when we go in September.
Just went to Pandora for EMH yesterday at 7 am. Got on the bus from Beach Club Resort at 6:05 and stood in line with the masses. They let us into the park a bit early…So many people body to body!
We enjoyed the ride immensely and were finished by 7:18 am! Then to Nav’i River Journey. Did most everything at the park and left around 1:30. EMH is the way to go! So worth getting up early.
Another fantastic review Tom. Thank you,
ARE there any days between July 5-8, 2018 that are not Early Magic Hours? We would like to try entering AK/PANDORA/FOP THEN.
We have emh from 8 to 9 am. I plan on going about 7:15 or so to get in line. I’ll get in FOP then, won’t I????
We waited four hours to experience the Banshee Flight. Once it was our turn, my friend did not get to ride because his calves were too big for them to lock him into his “seat”. He is a physically fit man. Not huge… not weight lifting athlete… but fit. I repeat the word “fit” because you may assume he is fat if his legs are “too big”….. not so! It was a huge disappointment after waiting all that time. I expect more from Disney than that. They need to have adjustability on those connection stations. They gave him a couple of fast passes in compensation but i found it to be unacceptable that he didnt fit! If you saw him you would agree!
Dang, can you post a pic of his
Legs! My Dad has huge calves, not fit just fit. I’m scared…0
For what it’s worth, I have pretty large calves (I’m a swimmer, skier, and hiker), and had no issues when I rode FOP during the soft opening back in May 2017.
I think they have a seat to try out near the entrance well before you enter.
Hi Guys, quick question, for those of you who have been to the parks in December, is the weather typically still pretty warm? Or will kids need a jacket once the sun starts to go down?
It’s unpredictable. You should DEFINITELY pack a coat or some warmer clothes, just to be safe. We have more tips here: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/packing-disney-winter/
I am not sure if this thread is still active. If yes, I have a question for anyone with some thoughts on the matter. We (2 adults, 2 kids) are planning to visit AK on 11/3. We were not able to get a FP for FOP. We do have an 8am breakfast at Tusker House. From past experience I know it is unlikely we will be seated by 8am. But, if we were seated on time, ate fast, and were done by say 8:30am to 8:45am can one then go wait at/near FOP? Thus getting ahead of the rope drop crowd? Just wondering if being in the park could/would provide us an advantage towards a shorter line if we were willing to cut the actual meal short? Thanks so much!!!
If you couldn’t get a FastPass for Flight of Passage and can’t be at Pandora for rope-drop, I would do everything else first and check for a FastPass after using your original three. That was the strategy we used and it couldn’t have worked better. My husband and I were in Animal Kingdom on 10/9, and were at the park within 5 minutes of park opening. On the bus ride over I watched the wait times for Flight of Passage go up and up on the app, and it was at 180 minutes by the time we got there. We also could not get a FastPass for FOP ahead of time, but we did have one for Na’vi River Journey. We decided to do everything else in the park in the morning instead of waiting all morning for one ride. We did every single attraction except for Nemo and Lion King by lunch. For the first two hours everything was a walk-on because most people had flocked to Pandora. FOP never got under 130 minutes the entire day. We figured we would ride it in the afternoon after doing everything else so that we wouldn’t mind the long wait time as much. On a whim we checked with a FastPass cast member at 3 pm, and there was a 6:40pm FastPass slot for FOP! We ended up going back to the hotel and relaxing for a couple of hours and then went back for the FastPass. The entire day we never waited more than 20 minutes for anything. We found that the cast members refresh the FastPass screen several times because sometimes something good comes up on the 5th or 6th try. We used that trick on our own and got some great FastPasses that didn’t show up on the first try.
Thank you so much for this tip! I was unable to get FP for FOP even with weeks of advance ability!
i am wondering if you were able to get to fop. i am trying this strategy as well
Hi Tom, I wanted to thank you for all your tips. They were spot on! Our trip was 5 days after Pandora opened. I was not able to get fast passes for FOP but I did for River. Figured it would be crazy and the crowds were, but It really worked out great. I allowed 2 days for Animal Kingdom due to crowds. 1st priority was FOP, so as you advised, I avoided the extra morning hours and was at the park 45 minutes before rope drop. We (along with a hundred or so closest friends..ha ha) were allowed up to the bridge entrance to Pandora. Once the land opened, we were able to walk directly on to FOP. We only waited 10 minutes to ride. By the time we got off FOP, the wait was well over an hour and built throughout the day. Exciting ride enjoyed by us all! So, don’t panic if you can’t get a fast pass for FOP, just follow Tom’s tips and it’s all possible and very worth it! Attention to detail in the land was unbelievable!
Tom, your pictures are amazing! They really capture the “feel” of Pandora. Thank you so much for sharing them. Any plans to add more to your Flickr account for purchase?
Any opinions on how long a wait is ‘worth it’ for FOP?
I know that people are different and usually the most I would be willing to wait is 30-40 minutes for a ride, but today was my 60 day FP reservation and there were none available when I logged on (right at 7am) Apparently there were enough people with vactions that extended into mine to use them all. It never occured to me 6months ago when I made dining reservations that I should have put animal kingdom at the end of my vacation not the begining.
Anyway – for people that have done it – 1hr, 1 1/2hrs? I think that is about as long as I could deal with, but is it worth that much time?
I am going with my BF & his DDs 13 & 10
Same exact thing happened to me. I put AK at the beginning of our vacation and 60 days out, there were ZERO Fastpass available for FOP. I took one for Na’avi but I wish I could switch it. Would love to know the answer to your question as well, no way we are waiting 200+ minutes for an attraction.
Well worth the wait! Done this ride 11 times (4 times during pass holder preview on 5/18/17). You. Won’t. Regret it. And the line always moves faster than the posted wait time.
Why did you say you should have put animal kingdom at the end of your vacation? I’m confused by this. I don’t want to get to my 60 day FP reservation day and mess things up!
Because the fast pass allotments for the most popular rides are the first to become unavailable a good strategy is to plan on doing your must do experiences closer to the end of your trip. This way when your designated fp day rolls around and everyone else is trying to reserve that coveted seven dwarfs mine train fp at MK on Monday morning you can be trying to reserve your Flight or Passage fp for Thursday morning . Theoretically this puts you ahead of the crowd but remember nothing is guaranteed and lots of people read the park blogs in preparation for their trip and so these strategies are also used by lots of other visitors. With that said I have had good success in the past for ADRs as well as FP reservations. And like a Tom said if you don’t get one right away reserve other attractions for the day and keep checking back for new fp times or consider trying to get on the popular rides during the evening shows when most other guests are on the other side of the park.
Are there limitations to either of the popular rides in pandora for people in wheelchairs?
I actually think the River Journey is at the right length. As you say, there is no plot and I’m not emotionally attached to the alien landscape. any longer and I think nit could risk moving from “relaxing” to “boring”.
That said, on our second ride we got to go through the attraction twice – it was the end of the night (maybe 12:56 AM) and there was literally no on in line so when we finished the ride they sent us back around. It was still nice the second time.
HI Tom. I love your photography and your insider tips. I have a Pandora strategy question. We are doing our first WDW trip 9/16-9/23 with our 5 year old twins. Going to AK on 9/19 (Tusker House ROL pkg @ 1 pm) and on our departure day 9/23 (will do EMH & late lunch at Tiffins). On 9/19, would having all 8:30 am Rainforest Cafe ADR help us get into the park before rope drop so we can get into Pandora early and in line for rides? Or would it hinder our plans? Thanks!