During the summer months, Pandora – World of Avatar is also likely to offer Evening Extra Magic Hours to guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort hotels. (As of February 2018, evening Extra Magic Hours are not scheduled for Pandora–Animal Kingdom closes pretty consistently at 9 p.m.)
At first blush, that might sound great. Late hours with limited access means this might be the best time to visit to avoid the hordes of crowds. I think that’s likely to be a miscalculation. Even though the number of guests with access to this will be a subset of all day guests, the subset of guests is larger than the subset of capacity.
Given that most nights there will not be any other park open during this period, Walt Disney World is limiting its subset of resort guests who will stay up this late to one land in one park. This is a high occupancy time of the year for Walt Disney World, so let’s say there are (ballpark) 60,000 guests who are eligible for these Extra Magic Hours each night.
If 20% of those guests show up, that’s 12,000 people in Pandora. We’ll operate under that assumption for the numbers that follow, but for the first few weeks of operation, it’ll likely be a significantly higher percentage (as demonstrated by the first couple nights of Extra Magic Hours in Pandora).
Let’s further assume that at any given time, half of those guests will be in line for Flight of Passage or Na’vi River Journey, and the other half will be wandering the land. Flight of Passage has an hourly capacity of ~1,500 guests and Na’vi River Journey has an hourly capacity of ~2,500.
However, this assumes all theaters in Flight of Passage are running and all boats on Na’vi River Journey are full, and dispatched efficiently. This spells hour-plus waits for Flight of Passage (the more popular of the two) with maybe ~45 minute waits for Na’vi River Journey.
In reality, those waits will likely be longer because the guest count will likely be much higher. This is because day guests will already be in line for Pandora attractions at park close. (For now, Disney is ‘closing’ Pandora before park closing to cycle day guests through for the start of evening Extra Magic Hours, but we would not expect this trend to continue indefinitely.)
Even if wait times for Flight of Passage drop to 2 hours, day guests won’t start clearing out of the line until the end of Extra Magic Hours (again, assuming Walt Disney World reverts to standard procedure for EMH and stops closing the land early–maybe this early land closure for Pandora will be the new normal. We’ll update once it’s been operating for a full week). If EMH policies do return to normal, day guests will be able to wander Pandora without doing anything as long as they’d like making the land itself crowded.
This is not to discourage you from visiting Pandora – World of Avatar during Extra Magic Hours. To the contrary, the land is beautiful at night, and this is basically “free” time beyond normal hours at other parks. Moreover, Walt Disney World has already announced other attractions will be open in Animal Kingdom during Extra Magic Hours during the Memorial Day weekend, and we’d expect this to be extended beyond opening weekend because Extra Magic Hour crowds have been chaotic already.
All we are suggesting is that you go in with realistic expectations. Attraction wait times are going to approach what they are during the day–you won’t be able to do Flight of Passage 6 times in a row without getting off. More likely, you’ll be lucky to do each attraction once during the entirety of Extra Magic Hours.
During evening EMH, we’d recommend doing Avatar Flight of Passage first as its line is more likely to be cut early (no jumping in line at 12:59 a.m.), followed by Na’vi River Journey.
Dining in Pandora
There are two dining options in Pandora: Pongu Pongu and Satu’li Canteen. The former is really just a window where you can order drinks and one snack, so calling it a “dining option” is a bit of a stretch.
The highlight at Pongu Pongu is the Pongu Lumpia, which are delicious pineapple cream cheese spring rolls. I had about a dozen of these during our preview (doctor’s orders–I’m not getting my daily recommended intake of fruit) and I have no regrets. Unique snack with a great, light flavor. Highly recommended.
In terms of drinks at Pongu Pongu, the mixed drinks (both alcoholic and non) are extremely sugary and are bound to leave you with an upset stomach if you finish either.
The only rationale I can see for ordering either is that you “need” an Instagram photo of you holding a colorful drink in front of that moss wall. In which case, go for the non-alcoholic version: it’s cheaper, prettier, and has just about as much alcohol as the other one, anyway.
Satu’li Canteen is the counter service restaurant in Pandora, and is the latest excellent addition to an already formidable dining lineup at Animal Kingdom. (People always cite Epcot as having Walt Disney World’s best dining scene, but I think that’s only because no one stays at Animal Kingdom long enough to fully explore its exceptional restaurant roster.)
The highlight at Satu’li Canteen is the “Create-Your-Own-Bowl” option, which lets you select a protein, base, and sauce. If you’re a health-nut like Sarah, you can order the chicken with quinoa and chimichurri sauce. If you’re more interested in foods that taste delicious like me, the beef with potatoes and creamy herb dressing should be your pick.
In addition to these bowls–which offer and exceptional blend of quality, size, and price–there are a few other menu items, like steamed pods, which are Pandora’s twist on burgers. These are good, but not nearly as filling as the bowl. The Blueberry Cheesecake is definitely the way to go in terms of desserts.
We’ll have a full review of Satu’li Canteen at some point soon, but for now, I’d strongly recommend it. In addition to the good food and neat setting, it’s also one of the few Walt Disney World in-park counter service restaurants to offer free refills on soft drinks. The big question is whether this ambitious menu will still be around in 6 months.
Satu’li Canteen is bound to be the busiest restaurant in Animal Kingdom for the foreseeable future, and picky eaters are sure to whine about having to walk all the way to Restaurantosaurus for a crappy burger and hot dog. (I kid, I kid. But seriously, if you’re unadventurous, the beef, potatoes, and cream dressing is literally “meat & potatoes” just with slightly different presentation.)
Satu’li Canteen is also the first restaurant at Walt Disney World to support the new mobile ordering feature in the My Disney Experience app. We’d highly recommend doing this to bypass the line. We ordered our food upon arrival in the restaurant, and it was ready before others who arrived at the same time, waited in line, and ordered from Cast Members. It could’ve been even more efficient if we ordered from the Flight of Passage queue or what have you.
Shopping in Pandora
There’s only one gift shop in Pandora, Windtrader’s Shop. This is located at the exit to Avatar Flight of Passage and adjacent to Pongu Pongu and Satu’li Canteen. The premise is that it’s an old RDA compound that’s now being reclaimed by nature. The style is fitting for Animal Kingdom.
Windtrader’s sells a bunch of different merchandise, ranging from Na’vi “artifacts” to Alpha Centauri Expeditions gear. Most notably, Windtrader’s contains an area called the Rookery. There, guests can choose an interactive banshee to purchase, but with a twist akin to the wands sold in Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal.
At the Rookery, a Naturalist from Alpha Centauri Expeditions assists guests in “connecting” with a banshee and identifying the right one to “adopt” from 10 unique breeds. Each interactive banshee includes three ranges of motion (mouth, head, and wings) that guests control by hand; the banshee also makes sounds.
Initially, I was apprehensive of this. Disney is no doubt envious of how Universal has duped guests into paying obscene amounts for glorified sticks, and this whole process seemed like their answer to that. The difference is that those ‘sticks’ have emotional resonance for guests and unlock aspects of the land.
Well, I’m still not a banshee owner (the $50 price tag is too much for me!), but after spending some time in the Rookery, they won me over. Those little banshee are quite endearing, and I think they’re going to be a hit with kids.
Honestly, as optimistic as I was about the land, I thought merchandise for Pandora was going to be a huge bust. I assumed it would be a lot of items with explicit tie-ins to a movie about which I could not care less.
In large part, this is accurate. If you’re an Avatar fan, you’ll go nuts for the merchandise in Pandora. If you’re not into the movie, the items that will interest you are fairly scarce.
To my surprise, though, there’s a lot of ACE merchandise that minimizes the Avatar connection, and is just reminiscent of the kind of apparel you’d find offered by an ecotourism to other destinations. The designs are clean and if you wore them to the grocery store, people are just as likely to think they’re from Costa Rica as Walt Disney World.
That’s my litmus test for the coolest Disney merch. To this day, the clerk at our local Trader Joe’s thinks Grizzly River Run is something he once did at Yosemite National Park; I don’t have the heart to correct him. 😉
Flora & Fauna of Pandora
In our review of Pandora – World of Avatar, I commented on the land’s ecosystem, and how I’d love to know more about it, as I felt like there were parallels to earth’s ecosystem. I actually was given a “Field Guide to Pandora” after that, which includes an overview of Pandora’s plant life, as well as information on specific species.
Here’s the introduction to flora on Pandora from that guide:
“Plant life on Pandora is strange and even fantastic. Yet some plants on Pandora bear striking resemblance to plants on Earth. The diversity of plant life and its range of size and complexity suggest that, as on Earth, the environment on Pandora acts as a strong force for natural selection. The environmental factors that plants experience on Earth—radiation, water, atmospheric gases, and gravity—are present on Pandora, as well, although their characteristics differ profoundly, as the resulting plant life shows.
The atmosphere on Pandora is denser than on Earth, with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide as well as elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and xenon. Gravity is weaker, while the moon’s magnetic field is incredibly strong. All of these factors have determined the evolution of plant life on Pandora.”
The pages that follow identify specific plants, their purpose, counterparts on earth, etc. Interestingly enough, this all was not developed by Walt Disney Imagineering for Animal Kingdom’s Pandora. It was all created as world-building by James Cameron and his team for the original release of Avatar. You can find everything from the field guide (and much more) on “Pandorapedia.”
Moreso than watching Avatar, I think browsing Pandorapedia is helpful before visiting Pandora to understand some of the mythos and background that Imagineering used as the basis for Pandora. Some of it’s a bit hokey, but there are worse ways that you could spend 20 minutes. (You did just read this guide, after all.)
I’m sure there’s potentially more to cover about Pandora – World of Avatar here. I mean, I didn’t even make a single Smurf joke or mention their tails, etc. However, this post is already 4,500 words, and there’s a fine line between a guide and a treatise (probably a line I blew past 2,000 words ago) so I think I’ll cut this off here, and address any other points or questions via the comments below.
Suffice to say, despite it being a single land with “only” two attractions, there’s a lot to see and do in Pandora – World of Avatar, and it’s going to require some planning and strategy to experience the land to its fullest, and in a way that doesn’t consume half of your day. The good news, though, is that I think the payoff on Pandora is worth it. As we’ve already seen, there will be a good number of people who will dismiss it out of hand “because Avatar” but if you’re willing to go in with an open mind, it’s likely to be a fun experience that demonstrates what Imagineering is capable of.
Any tips or tricks of your own to add for best experiencing Pandora – World of Avatar? Thoughts on how to minimize waits for Avatar Flight of Passage or Na’vi River Journey…or whether they’re worth the waits, in the first place? What do you think of this new addition to Walt Disney World? Does it make Disney’s Animal Kingdom a full-day (or more) park for you? Any questions this ultimate guide did not answer? Hearing feedback from readers is both helpful and interesting, so if you have thoughts to share (including ones differing from ours), please share them in the comments below!