Flight of Passage is the flagship attraction in Pandora – World of Avatar, and the one that will undoubtedly set a new ‘wait time record’ either this weekend or perhaps on New Year’s Eve. It reminds me a lot of Soarin’ mixed with elements of the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. For Disney fans who grimace at the mention of something from Universal, Spider-Man is arguably one of the top 10 attractions in Orlando–and inarguably superior to Soarin’.
This is already getting long, so now is not the time that we’ll reopen a debate on the merits of Soarin’. Suffice to say, Flight of Passage takes the blueprint of Soarin’, analyzes its weaknesses, and eliminates them in an attraction that is far more immersive and engaging.
I’d also argue that Flight of Passage takes the strength of Avatar (the eye-catching imagery) and eliminates the aspects that are less engaging (everything else about the movie) to create an experience that surpasses the original movie itself. I’m not kidding.
Even if filmgoers didn’t explicitly realize it at the time, a big part of the appeal of seeing Avatar in theaters was being engrossed in the visuals. There’s a reason why Avatar made a boatload of money at the box office, but sputtered afterwards: it offered an unprecedented in-theater experience that was lost when watching at home. Flight of Passage once again captures that lightning in a bottle, and actually exceeds it.
In other words, the main attraction experience on Flight of Passage really is engrossing and…well, pretty. After getting off to a rocky start with the pre-show, I was concerned that the ride itself would similarly falter. It did not. Quite the contrary, as you completely buy into its world-building, and by the end are enamored with the place you’ve just visited and creatures you’ve seen along the way. This is all thanks to the merits of the attraction itself, not thanks to any connections I felt to the movie. I never expected I’d want to spend more time in the world of the Avatar films, but that’s how Flight of Passage makes me feel.
The pacing of Flight of Passage is also excellent. While it’s action-packed, it’s not overly frenetic. I feel this is an issue with Transformers at Universal (an attraction that otherwise shares some similarities with Flight of Passage). It’s nice to see Flight of Passage put the brakes on at a couple of points, because it makes the experience so much better, and the rider really savors a couple of scenes that way.
A quick note before we back-track into the pre-show: if you’re concerned about early reports of ‘Pooh-sized’ individuals not fitting on Flight of Passage, I would be cautiously optimistic. During our rides on it (the last night of Annual Passholder previews), there was a considerable amount of latitude in what the back and calf restraints could accommodate.
There likely are upper height and weight limits, but I’d suspect some of the inconsistency over who could and could not ride is at least in part due to training and hiccups during ‘technical rehearsals’ of the attraction. Hopefully, this is an issue that has been or is being addressed.
As much as I’m gushing over the ride experience, I was underwhelmed by the pre-shows. Actually, underwhelmed is way too charitable. The pre-show videos are downright bad. And uh, felt choppy and amateurish in places. And uh, there was too much exposition. And uh, you’re beat over the head with the how and why of connecting to an Avatar (we get it–we’re not actually flying a banshee). And uh, it just really doesn’t set the appropriate tone for what’s otherwise a graceful and downright majestical ride experience. Quite bluntly, the pre-show needs serious retooling. And uh.
Fortunately, most of the queue leading up to Flight of Passage’s pre-shows is excellent, and will be a fun way to kill ~5 hours once the attraction opens. There are a range of environments in the queue, and it’s neat to mentally process the why of it all as you pass through. Also, some cool effects. In our Top 10 Queues at Walt Disney World, I ranked Tower of Terror #1. I’m not sure whether Flight of Passage surpasses that (I want to take some more time to digest the experience), but it’s definitely top 3.
Overall, Flight of Passage is a top-tier attraction. I’ve heard some already proclaim it the best attraction at Walt Disney World. I would not, but that’s mostly a matter of personal preference and bias towards more physical environments. (It also loses some points for me due to the pre-show.) I do think it’s in the upper echelon and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who ranks it #1. It’s good enough to belong in that conversation.
Pandora – World of Avatar’s other attraction is Na’vi River Journey. This is a slow-moving family boat ride through a bioluminescent forest. It’s like a shorter version of Living with the Land featuring alien plants and a cool Audio Animatronics figure.
Out of the two attractions in Pandora – World of Avatar, I was most excited about this. Being a total dork, this type of boat rides are my jam. I was hoping for an extended version of the ‘Mushroom Forest’ in Journey to the Center of the Earth, except via a leisurely boat ride. After my first ride-through, I was disappointed.
Part of this is my own fault–expectations so high are a recipe for disaster, especially when they’re that specific. I doubt I’ll be alone in my initial disappointment, though. I think this will be especially true for visitors to Pandora in the first few months when Na’vi River Journey’s lengthy, plain queue will undoubtedly hold long lines. (Given its high capacity, I’m guessing this will be a Little Mermaid dark ride scenario–high wait times early on and during peak season, but ~15 minute waits thereafter.)
On paper, Na’vi River Journey has everything I possibly could’ve wanted: vibrant colors, magic plants, creepy little creatures, etc. I’m not joking–these are things I actually like about the aforementioned Mushroom Forest. It feels enchanted, and is mesmerizing as a result.
I think part of the problem is that Na’vi River Journey does not resonate emotionally as it could or should upon an initial ride-through. Along the way, you see some of the creatures from Avatar (I assume they’re in the movie?), but they are fleeting and don’t stick with you. For me, these moments would’ve been more effective if those creatures displayed some emotion or quirkiness along the way, capturing my intrigue or sense of wonder.
It’s all technically impressive (aside from one definitely-not-an-AA “figure” at the very beginning that’s poorly done), and the layers of visual detail are a treat. If you read the Disney Parks Blog or watch television, by now you’ve no doubt heard about what’s at the end, and that is very, very impressive.
This is not the end of the story with Na’vi River Journey, though. I found that on each subsequent ride-through, the attraction has grown on me more and more. I notice idiosyncrasies of particular critters, and I’ve found the end more…seductive? With each subsequent ride, I’ve felt more of an emotional connection.
To be frank, I’m not sure why Na’vi River Journey is growing on me. I’d like to think it’s because it ages well with repeat ride-throughs or maybe because I’ve been able to cut past my own outsized mental hype. Conversely, it might be that I really want to love it. This is part of the “danger” in reviewing theme park experiences so early in their existence. Once you’ve experienced them over a longer timeline, your opinion can change. Irrespective of that, I can say that I enjoy Na’vi River Journey, and I’m looking forward to this being our ‘escape the humidity and relax in the dark’ attraction a few years from now once the lines die down. On Page 3, we’ll offer some final thoughts, including how Pandora compares to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.