Pandora: World of Avatar Construction Update
We spent a couple of days in Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in last week and were surprised by the construction progress on Pandora: World of Avatar as of July 2016. I hadn’t been paying attention to construction updates on Pandora, but as soon as we approached Animal Kingdom and saw the floating mountains looming over the park from the road, I was wide-eyed.
Our last update on Pandora was back at last year’s D23 Expo, when I saw models of the land for the first time, and was able to go through a walk-through exhibit/presentation on the land. At that time I reiterated my optimism for the land (for like the hundredth time) and here I want to once more express my excitement. Part of this is because there are a lot of naysayers about Pandora. The complaints are mostly holdovers from the original announcement 5 years ago (it’s been a long time!), which included the following:
- “Why didn’t Disney use one of its own movies?”
- “What does Avatar have to do with the animal kingdom?”
- “No one remembers Avatar. Why base an entire land on it?”
- “Something something…Blue Smurf Cat joke…WHY?!”
- “Why not do a Star Wars expansion?”
For obvious reasons, we can eliminate that last concern as now being moot. As for the others–except the the Smurf Cat one which is really just a guised attempt at being clever by making the same “joke” as everyone else–for me the model demonstrated that Pandora has the potential to be so much more than an “Avatar Land” if done well.
As was evident from the model, this is not going to be some in-your-face Avatar Brand Land that explicitly reminds you of film(s) about which you probably don’t care around every corner. Instead, the presentation minimized the connection to the Avatar movie and played up the ecotourism to the environments in that movie.
The model showed a land rich in details that would be Pandora: mythical land with floating mountains, waterfalls, and a lush bioluminescent forest. That certainly sounds pretty good when you take the Avatar name out of the mix, right?
In terms of how it ‘fits’ into Animal Kingdom, I think when you compare it to the original concept for the plot of land, fan darling Beastly Kingdom (above; concept art from The Making of Animal Kingdom book), it is a comparable ‘mythical’ land. While it probably includes fewer attractions, I’d go as far to say the concept Pandora has a greater wow-factor than Beastly Kingdom.
The point of this post is not for me to defend Avatar Land yet again so I can shout “I told you so!” once we can finally step into the land (although you can be sure I will do exactly that if I end up being right–I really don’t want to have to eat crow on this one). Rather, the point here is to highlight construction progress with photos I shot last week, as I haven’t seen many updates on it.
Although Pandora’s floating mountains tower over Animal Kingdom on the drive into the park, views of the land are minimal once you’re actually inside the park. The one exception to this is from the top of the lift hill on Expedition Everest. Nothing can hide from the Forbidden Mountain.
Over at the construction walls by Tiffins (right next to Pizzafari), you can see a bit…and hear even more. It will be one of the entrances to Pandora once open.
At the front of the park, just outside the turnstiles near the restrooms on the far side is the best in/near-park view of the construction. I stood here for about 5 minutes and caught glimpses of several construction workers actively working on the project.
When we got home, I decided to do some searches to see if I could find progress photos to see what I had missed in terms of progress. This tweet showed the best view, aerials taken from a helicopter in April:
Latest Helicopter Photos of Pandora: Land of Avatar at #WaltDisneyWorld #DAK @officialavatar Photos taken by WOLF GT pic.twitter.com/y3vtHD947A
– MickeyXtreme (@MickeyXtreme) April 14, 2016
Compare those to March aerial photos of Shanghai Disneyland:
Aerial shots of Shanghai Disneyland under construction. https://t.co/S64QBU1wAm pic.twitter.com/daMduDeVHq
– Fergus Ryan (@fryan) March 2, 2016
You similarly see scaffolding, unpaved walkways, and construction equipment, and that park opened in June 2016, 3 months after those photos were taken. In fairness, Shanghai Disneyland does look farther along that Pandora in those photos, and it was purportedly an “all hands on deck” situation to get the Shanghai park ready in time for its trial operations in May. The point remains that Pandora construction has made considerable progress since last year.
So far, Disney has been quiet as to an opening date–or even season–indicating only that Pandora would open in 2017. (Note: what follows is purely speculation on my part, and should not be construed as rumor/news/etc. I have no sources on this.) Given construction progress, it seems like a forgone conclusion that it will hit its target year. It’s obviously impossible to gauge attraction progress inside the show buildings, but assuming it’s on par with the exteriors, I’d say we are looking at an opening date in the first half of the year. There have been whispers of an internal “Spring 2017” target date, and that definitely seems reasonable.
The exuberant optimist in me wonders whether we might see soft openings even earlier than that. I think December 2016 is a pipe dream–even if the land is finished by then, it likely wouldn’t be until the very end of the year, and soft opening during the busiest two weeks of the year seems like a recipe for disaster. However, the doldrums of January could be the perfect time for a test-run.
That still is probably overly-ambitious. Disney has released details about the various effects of the land itself, including bioluminescent flora and pavement that lights up as you walk on it. In other words, this isn’t going to be a simple matter of pouring concrete to finish the walkways, as was the case in Shanghai. The nighttime effects and details in Pandora are going to require a lot of late-stage work, so the current progress likely appears deceptively farther along than it actually is.
With all of that said, I think Spring 2017 remains a very safe bet for the opening of Pandora: World of Avatar. With Disney’s Hollywood Studios struggling and Animal Kingdom’s current nighttime entertainment failing to draw guests as projected (aside from Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, the park is a ghost town at night. Expect those 11 p.m. closings to disappear for the remainder of the year come September), there’s strong incentive to get Pandora open as quickly as possible to buoy attendance numbers. Having Pandora open in time for Spring Break season (potentially in low-key soft opening mode) would be a big win for Walt Disney World.
We’d be surprised if the grand opening of Pandora: World of Avatar and official re-launch of Animal Kingdom does not occur on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.
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Do you agree or disagree with my take on Pandora? Are you excited for it to open? Would you still rather have Beastly Kingdom? Share any questions or additional thoughts you have in the comments!
Im confused on cars land yal are talking about.. Is that the area that used to be at Hollywood Studios but now you can’t get back to that same area since it is all under construction now..
Any new info on opening date for this? We are planning a trip for late August 2017 and my husband is worried this won’t be ready in time.
Thanks for the update. I’ve been pushing our next family WDW trip to after Pandora opens. Very excited about it.
I was unaware until a couple of weeks ago that the “floating mountains” will actually move, although hopefully they are designed properly and won’t break down soon after opening (I’m looking at you Yeti). Overall I’m pretty excited for this to open and I’ve not seen any of the Avatar movie.
I didn’t know they’ll move, either. Are you sure that’s the case? That seems like a tricky proposition (except for maybe the smaller ones) with vines and waterfalls carefully concealing their support columns.
You can get a great view of the “Floating Mountains” and other progress from the top of Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach.
I figured that was the case, but didn’t have time to test myself. I’m honestly a bit surprised none of the other bloggers have tried that, but I know most stay away from the water parks.
Which is interesting.
Because floating around lazy rivers would seem right up the alley of many Disney Bloggers.
Perhaps I should take insult to this, but as both a lover of lazy rivers and a Disney blogger, I’d say you’ve hit the nail on the head (with me at least). 🙂
Thanks for the pictures and your take on the time projection. We didn’t visit WDW this year and would like to next year, but would obviously like to plan the trip for after this is open if possible.
The optimist in me sees the exterior progress (especially, as you show, compared to SDL) and is excited. The pessimist in me looks at Frozen Ever After, which required minimal external work and still took forever.
Overall, I cautiously share your optimism for the land. I have to say those mountains look awesome – the scale fits in well. As bit as they are, it’s a bit surprising they aren’t more visible around the park, but AK is pretty well grown over with big trees and bamboo.
With Frozen Ever After, I think there were logistical difficulties with trying to modify/patch the existing ride system to lengthen the attraction that caused some headaches. I’m sure a new build has problems of its own, though…
So the movie is just the general direction of Pandora, somewhere we can open our imaginations toward. That makes sense. I didn’t hate the movie, but the storyline was meh. The plot cost .00009825% of the total budget.
Scary thought… What if Pandora is one of the worlds in peril during an intra-galactic takeover during the next StarWars movie?!
So the *land* (not movie)
Scarier thought: what if Star Wars Land declares war on Pandora, or vice-a-versa? ONLY ONE THEME PARK WILL SURVIVE.
I would rather they fix the Yeti, do away with that Dino Land disaster, and spend the money on a few more countries for Epcot.
I think that ship has sailed at this point…
The yeti isn’t broken. So long as the hardcore fans are thinking differently than Disney, they will always be disappointed. Sure the yeti worked differently at one point, and then only briefly, but now it works different.
Maybe we wish it worked the old way still, like Journey into imagination. But that won’t change it. Disney decided for whatever reason that the current operation is better. Therefore it isn’t broken. Accept it.
Well, at the last D23 Expo, Joe Rohde indicated that there are still plans to fix the Yeti. It’s pretty difficult to “fix” something that isn’t broken, so…
Those mountains look great. I like how they are giving you a tantalizing sneak peak as you are coming into the park, but aren’t actually visible in the park. Reminds me of Hogwarts at Universal, you can see it from the interstate and it gets you excited, but once you get into the park, you can’t see it until Hogsmede.
I believe the permits end in November, of course Disney has the option of extending them, but so far they have not. That doesn’t mean that it will be ready by December, as they will need to do extensive staff training and testing before any soft openings. Right now I think April is probably a good target date. Easter is April 16 which means spring break before and after the 16th, and Star Wars Celebration is April 13-16 in Orlando. I could see them opening by then to get the Spring Break families, the Star Wars fans, and the entertainment reporters and bloggers who will be in town for the convention. Three groups that if they enjoy it, will definitely spread good word of mouth. Part of that is also personal hope, because I’ve already bought tickets for Celebration and I’m hoping it will be open by then.
I think that’s a very logical expectation. Disney likely realizes it’s going to take strong word of mouth to make Pandora a hit, as there is not the same built-in audience as with the Wizarding World(s) of Harry Potter. Getting entertainment reporters is a good start, but perhaps even better than that is getting families on spring break who will go back home and spread the word with family and friends, who might still be considering fall/Christmas vacation destinations.
Waiting until the start of summer to start building that hype is probably not an ideal situation from Disney’s perspective.
Personally I wish Disney would focus more on rides or lands that didn’t have a movie tie-in, like Expedition Everest, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain etc. I thought it was a bizarre choice to theme a whole land on the Cars movie, and now a land based on a property Disney doesn’t even own is even more strange to me (plus who knows what gigantic turds the sequels might turn out to be). Having said that, I think for the most part Cars Land is great and Avatar land will be awesome especially at night, and the attractions sound fantastic (not where you thought this was going is it?). It seems like you don’t have to be an Avatar or Cars fan to really enjoy these additions. Maybe even love the lands despite the movies.
I think you’re on target with your point about Cars Land. We aren’t Cars movie fans, probably the only Disney movie franchise no one in my household cares for. The original was fine, but my kids just never found it that interesting and never re-watched it or cared about Cars 2, Planes, etc. The latter 2 are in a very small group of Disney movies we haven’t seen at all, much less multiple viewings. However, we LOVE Cars Land. It doesn’t even matter to us that we can’t connect it to the movies. It’s just an amazing area to be in, and we all love RSR. To us, it’s no different than so many other Disney experiences that have nothing to do with movies (or at least pre-existed movies based on them). So even though none of us have seen Pandora, if Pandora land is done well – I am expecting we’ll react the same to it as we do to Cars Land, especially if it’s as awesome at night as we’re all hoping.
Gotta say, those “floating mountains” look pretty dope. Thanks for this update! 🙂 I’m starting to get excited about Pandora…especially as this will be a nice holdover until we get the Star Wars land.