The new ‘Avatar’ theme park is open and we’re totally here for it

A view of the new Pandora: World of Avatar attraction inside Disney's Animal Kingdom during the dedication ceremony on May 24, 2017
Image: Getty Images

Yesterday was a big deal for all the fans of James Cameron’s Avatar.

Pandora The World of Avatar located in the Animal Kingdom Park in the Walt Disney World Resort opened to guests staying at Disney resort hotels at 7am, and then to the general public an hour later. Needless to say, people were eager to get in on the action.

The main attractions of the park are the two rides, Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey, and people lined up to get on them early. Like really early.

One of the first people to enter the park said he got there at 5 a.m. He told the people cued up on line just to get into Pandora that their patience would pay off.

“The ride (Flight of Passage) is worth the wait,” he assured us enthusiastically. “It’s insane!”

His friend added, “Technology, man!”

Knowing little about what the ride actually entailed, I was completely intrigued by this comment. There was a long wait ahead of me, but luckily I had a lot to look at in the meantime.

The park is a tremendous homage to the film, incorporating beautiful and iconic scenery like the Hallelujah Mountains the floating mountains of Pandora. There is gorgeous plant life everywhere, and you can hear various creatures from the movie making noise in the brush, as if they’re just out of sight.

The craftsmanship is unbelievable. You’d swear everything in there is completely organic. It’s difficult to tell where the real plants end and the synthetic ones begin, which is quite an accomplishment when guests have a lot of time to scrutinize everything while waiting to board a ride.

After weaving in and out of rich locations, such as a room full of bioluminescent plant life, I was ready to get on Flight of Passage. This is a very intense 3D thrill ride that allows you to fly on the back of an Ikran, or “banshee” a dragon-like flying creature from the movie.

A look at the floating mountains of Pandora

Image: nicole Herviou/Mashable

Guests are first assigned an Avatar, since a human couldn’t possibly ride a banshee without getting eaten, and that would definitely ruin your day. They’re then instructed to get on a seat that is similar to a bicycle or jet ski, where restraints hold you in from the front, back, and sides.

What follows is possibly one of the best thrill rides I have ever been on. The journey on the back of this banshee presented as a research mission for a project with the Pandora Conservation Initiative is extremely realistic and just as fun as you would expect. You completely forget you’re looking at a screen.

As you weave through mountains, trees, and even other wildlife, you’re hit with gusts of winds and sprays of water. You can hear Na’vi yelling and whooping all around you as they fly at your side. All the while, you can literally feel your banshee breathing underneath you.

Fans of the film will be excited to know that you’ll get to see all new locations and creatures that aren’t in the film along with some of the things you’d expect to see, which keeps the attraction both true to the source material and fresh at the same time.

It also feels like this ride will do for theme parks what the movie did for film encourage others to innovate in order to keep up. It’s definitely raising the bar for all the thrill-seekers out there.

The only downside was that you don’t actually see the Ikran you’re flying. If you could see its head and neck in front of you on the screen, it would definitely feel more authentic. That being said, it was one hell of a great time and more than worth the wait.

A frighteningly real Avatar animatronic you get to see while on line for Avatar Flight of Passage

Image: nicole herviou/mashable

The Na’vi River Journey, however, was not really anything to write home about.

It’s a lovely boat ride through the world of Pandora, offering flora and fauna that you’re sure to recognize from the movie. Since it takes place at night, there were a lot of opportunities to show of the bioluminescence of the world.

It’s a feast for the eyes for sure, and the animatronic Na’vi were astoundingly lifelike.

But it simply is not exciting enough nor long enough to warrant a wait time of over 30-40 minutes. By about noon, it would take you about 190 minutes to get on a boat. (That’s definitely because it was opening day, but still.)

One of the other highlights of the park is the drinks inspired by the world of Pandora. My personal favorite was the Night Blossom drink at the Pongu Pongustand. It’s a super refreshing frozen limeaid with apple and desert pear flavor, topped with passion fruit boba balls. It tastes great, and it’s ridiculously Instagram-able.

The Night Blossom frozen drink. Get me another one of these now please.

Image: nicole herviou/mashable

There are also a couple other nice touches, like a really entertaining drums show that feels like it came right out of a Na’vi ceremony.

All in all, Pandora is an obvious attempt to add more appeal to Animal Kingdom, which is not the most robust park in Disney. It was reasonably difficult to spend a full day there before, but this section may help change that. It honestly makes you wish the movie held up a little bit better than it does.

The park is small, but immersive and worth a visit when the crowds start to die down in a few months or so. In the meantime, only pop in here if you’re a true fan of the movie or if you don’t mind braving a hefty wait time.

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