The question many Walt Disney World fans might undoubtedly be left wondering is whether Pandora is the so-called “Potter-Swatter” for which they’ve been pining. Yes but no.
It’s patently obvious Avatar is not a cultural touchstone like Harry Potter. No news there. As such, Pandora won’t be the impetus for people who have never visited Walt Disney World before making trips and buying tons of merchandise. It’s also pretty unlikely that guests will break down in tears, overcome with emotion at finally being able to step inside Cameron’s world (let’s be real, there’s only one Cameron world into which we all want to step, and that’s the post-Skynet wasteland).
Rather, the impact that will be felt as a result of Pandora is Animal Kingdom attaining full day status from the theme park-going public. I’ve previously emphasized that “I was wrong about Animal Kingdom” and it was a full day park all along. I still feel that way, but the general public has never been there. Even as we arrived for our Pandora preview at 4 p.m., there was a mass exodus of guests.
Rivers of Light and other nighttime offerings last year were a good start in the road to making Animal Kingdom an all-day park, but for many people, it still needed something to bridge the gap between mid-afternoon and night. Guests who were otherwise done with Animal Kingdom at 3:30 p.m. were largely not going to loiter about until Rivers of Light.
Pandora bridges that gap. Not only does it provide 3-4 hours of entertainment (and lines!), but it provides diversity in the attraction roster. This diversity lessens the probability that guests will succumb to “animal fatigue” during the course of their visit to Animal Kingdom.
I can pretty easily envision a scenario where guests do Pandora – World of Avatar first thing in the morning, stay there through lunch, then head to Animal Kingdom’s other lands before returning to Pandora at night, and then head to Harambe, the Tree of Life & Rivers of Light. Animal Kingdom occupying an additional 4-5 hours of guests’ time as a direct/indirect result of Pandora should be viewed as a win by Disney.
The other question is whether Pandora – World of Avatar is better than the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. The easy and obvious answer: “Who cares? Both are awesome. Don’t skip either.” It’s not a zero sum game. However, Universal and Disney fans have concocted a faux rivalry, so I’ll play along…
Which is “better” is a loaded question, and one that will hinge upon your interest in Harry Potter. I cannot fathom a single Harry Potter fan preferring Pandora. To be blunt, this is due to the emotional attachment to the environments formed years before Universal ever started building these lands. That’s not meant to diminish the quality of what Universal created–they’re exceptional lands–it’s just an “is what it is” type of thing.
I can envision a scenario where someone who is not a Harry Potter fan prefers the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter to Pandora – World of Avatar, but I think that’s less likely. My personal take is that Pandora is substantively superior to Diagon Alley, but it’s a pretty close call. I could see someone with zero knowledge of Avatar and Harry Potter being almost equally likely to prefer either land. Realistically, it probably depends more on their personal biases than anything else: to wit, do they prefer natural landscapes or urban ones?
This is all a really long winded way of saying that Pandora – World of Avatar is arguably better than Diagon Alley, but also arguably not better. I’m not sure if it’ll be the smash hit Disney was hoping for when signing this deal with James Cameron 6 years ago, but I do think it’ll live up to whatever hype there is and be a hit among both Disney fans and the general public. Perhaps more than anything else, it showcases just what level of immersion, detail, and world-building Imagineering is capable of in this era with an IP-centric land. Given that this is the archetype for Star Wars Land, I think fans are absolutely going to lose it when that opens in a couple of years.
Have you had a chance to preview Pandora – World of Avatar yet? If so, what did you think of it? (Please be sure to avoid spoilers.) Did it exceed or fall short of your expectations? Does seeing the technology on display in Pandora make you more excited for Star Wars Land? If you’ve yet to experience Pandora, are you looking forward to it? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your questions or thoughts in the comments below!