My family and I were fortunate to be part of the first DVC preview of Pandora: The World of Avatar. By now I’m sure you have seen anything and everything that you have wanted to about Pandora (please don’t call it Avatarland)…but here is some more.
We arrived before EMH, rope dropped DAK, and promptly walked toward where the Pandora previews were being queued (across from Pizzafarri/Tiffins). At 8:01 am we were about 5th deep for our 9-11am “reservation”, and they told us the plan was to let everyone in early (to get a jump on the whole day of previews ahead). We were let in at 8:30am and were handed a paper Fast Pass for our Flight of Passage time (the “E-ticket” headliner attraction for Pandora).
Now, with any land or attraction coming from Disney Imagineering, there is always a back-story to help develop the environment and give it meaning and depth. For Pandora: The World of Avatar, the story flows that we are Eco-tourists on a trip with ACE (Alpha Centauri Expeditions). When we are walking over the bridge, we are being teleported over 4 light years from Earth to the moon of Pandora…specifically, in the Valley of Mo’Ara.
At this point, it’s important to know that Disney intends this area to take place 30 years after the movie Avatar. Being tied to the Avatar movie franchise is fraught with controversy…but the bottom line is…WHO CARES! Once you step foot in this immersive world, the movie will be far from your thoughts. Just know that it is a foreign world where every sight and sound is unique…a similar feeling like entering any Disney immersive area (i.e. Carsland).
Rides for the History Books
There are two rides in this new land: Na’vi River Journey (slow boat ride), and Flight of Passage (headliner flight simulator). I am not going to spoil the rides…but I will spout off technical details. For River Journey, Disney introduces some amazing detailed and layered storytelling. They really display their technology advancements to date in one ride, including arguably the most advanced animatronic ever implemented. The ride comes across to people as short and without a traditional narrative…hence people come away confused. But I feel like this ride will grow in stature over the years as people understand the flow and story…and appreciate the vast detail. There was a story that came out a few years ago, people thought that Industrial Light and Magic (former Lucasfilm special effects group) was creating an advanced boat ride for StarWarsLand…but I think this is that ride! Don’t expect anything special from the queue on this one…plus it is primarily covered outdoors…but hey, so are Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, and Kilimanjaro Safari.
Flight of Passage is…well it’s hard to put into words other than…ZOMG, THIS IS MY NEW FAVORITE RIDE IN THE WHOLE WORLD! Yeah…that about sums it up. I went into this ride as skeptical as anyone…I am so over screens, I thought they were lazy design and merely cost cutting measures. I still think that to a degree…but just like the 3D animation of the movie Avatar was groundbreaking in its depth and “immersive-ness”, so too is Flight of Passage. I’ve heard: “Soarin’ on steroids”, “Soarin’ meets Star Tours”, etc…but it’s so much more than anything Disney has offered. It starts with the highly detailed and deep Standby queue (and yes, you have to experience this at least once). Incidentally, I heard it was designed for a 5 hour queue…which tells two things: they really know they have something big on their hands, AND they themed 5 hours worth of queue line and it shows! Once again, I won’t spoil the ride here…there’s plenty of places to go for that. But I will say that a person working on the animation said it has more pixels than the entire Avatar movie! I did some rough math and I suspect that it is ~8K (8 times HD resolution). That would allow them to have 4K per eye of a 3D projection (alternating each eye to achieve the 3D effect)…this makes this projection the first 8K public projected display on the planet!! I am somewhat of a videophile…so I was ready to attack this assessment. I can report back that it is indeed the best 3D projection I have experienced…full stop! That is the secret sauce to immersion…the technology plays in concert with the graphics (which were fabulous). There are lots of other little secrets that I won’t divulge…but WOW, they do impress. There are some rumblings from journalists that put the ride around 3.5-4 stars (something akin to most average rides at WDW). But I am here to tell you, it is on par with Tower of Terror and Splash Mountain (two of my favorite 5 star rides)…but quite honestly, with the queue it blows them out of the water.
I could go on and on about the detail and advanced interactive elements of Pandora (plus no signs of traditional Disney)…but this blog is running long. I will leave with a smattering of pictures (including some amazing food from fast casual Satu’li Canteen). We were not made to leave at our designated time…so we lingered in the area until nightfall. The CM’s told us that the night features will not be activated yet for this preview (only some black lights for the pathways)…so we have a lot of more to look forward to in future visits. For Flight of Passage, There is some controversy of minimal ADA compliance, and fears of slow rider rates…but as of right now it is the best attraction in Orlando in my opinion.