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. 😉

FastPass+ Strategy

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…

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