So last week, I was lucky enough to be in Walt Disney World Resort, Florida, for the dedication ceremony of Disney’s magical new Pandora – The World of Avatar: a whole, stunning new land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, joined by Avatar filmmaker James Cameron and producer Jon Landau, came together with the cast of the original film to unveil possibly Disney’s greatest triumph so far. So from the must-sees and must-dos to information on where to stay and how to get here, here’s my complete guide to the breathtaking world of Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Pandora – The World of Avatar: a truly immersive experience
From the moment you join Alpha Centauri Expeditions, who together with Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park has made it possible to travel light years across space to explore Pandora, and walk across the rusty old bridge into the home world of the Na’vi people; you feel completely immersed in this magical new world.
Long abandoned by the irresponsible mining operation of the RDA, and supported by the Pandora Conservation Initiative, Pandora is now slowly recovering from the environmental damage caused. The people – some are ‘second generation Pandoran’ – now live in harmony with the Na’vi; all the guides have their own stories to tell. The guides will also talk you through the beautiful plants and landscapes that you can see. I had a fascinating conversation with an Alpha Centauri Expeditions guide who told me all about how the mineral ‘unobtainium’ (the one that originally attracted the human miners to Pandora) deep in the mountains, causes them to break free and float in the magnetic field surrounding the planet.
Na’vi River Journey
The first attraction you find after walking across the bridge is the breathtaking Na’vi River Journey (make sure you save a FastPass+ for this attraction). It reminds me a little bit of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Magic Kingdom Park, but only because it’s a relaxing, night-time boat ride. As soon as you board your reed boat all similarities drift away. As you follow the sacred river through the bioluminescent forest, watching those cute little woodsprites (the ones like floating bioluminescent jellyfish – seeds from the Tree of Souls) pulse above you, creatures scuttle through the canopy overhead, and you catch glimpses of Pandoran animals running through the rainforest. Suddenly you encounter the beautiful Na’vi Shaman of Songs (I’ve never seen such clever technology) and hear her beautiful music. It’s an uplifting and truly magical attraction. As soon as you step off, you want to run straight back and start the journey again.
Flight of Passage
The other main attraction on Pandora really does defy belief. While queuing (brace yourself, it could be a while – again, make sure you use your FastPass+), you hike through the iconic Pandoran rainforest, before discovering an old, abandoned RDA building, already beginning to be reclaimed by the bioluminescent plant life.
You wander through a laboratory, learn more about how humans are matched to their Na’vi Avatar and even discover a real Avatar, floating in a tank. Finally, you arrive at the area where you’re matched to your Avatar and climb aboard your own Mountain banshee, ready to soar high above Pandora, spiralling down through – and under! – the floating mountains, racing to the shore and into bioluminescent caves, encountering a few predators along the way. The whole attraction takes about four minutes but during that time you’re completely immersed in your experience, inhaling the damp earth of the rainforest floor and feeling the sea spray on your face. You even feel your banshee breathing beneath you. It’s a triumph and I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
Food and drink on Pandora
Exploring a new world light years from Earth is thirsty work, and you absolutely must visit Pongu Pongu (which means ‘party party’ in Na’vi). Situated at the entrance to Windtraders, and dominated by a huge, rusting MK-6 AMP suit (Amplified Mobility Platform, for all you Avatar nerds), left behind by the original miners, this cute and quirky quick-service stand sells a range of other-worldly, Na’vi inspired drinks and snacks. My favourite are the beautiful, bioluminescent frozen drinks: the Night Blossom (left) is a non-alcoholic slushy mix of limeade, with layers of apple and pear, topped with yummy passion fruit boba balls that pop in your mouth as you drink. Delicious! Pongu Pongu also serves Mo’ara Margaritas (right) as well as indigenous ales from Pandora and a very unusual local snack, which is similar to a pineapple cream cheese spring roll.
If you want to sit down properly and eat something yummy, then head to Satu’li Canteen: a quick and casual dining location open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which serves a range of delicious Pandoran-inspired food, with loads of really healthy options. We didn’t experience the full menu, rather a buffet selection of some of the items that are going to be on offer. I chose a steamed vegetable curry pod (like a bao bun), which was filled with a delicious mixture of vegetables including cauliflower, carrots and sweet potato in a light, curry sauce (they also do a cheeseburger flavoured version!). I also chose the delicious crunchy vegetable slaw and a delicate, grilled piece of salmon. The food was really good. I can’t wait to go back and order off the full menu.
Bring back your very own banshee
At Windtraders, Pandora’s very own shopping destination, you can pick up all sorts of Pandoran-inspired souvenirs, and there’s even the opportunity to be matched to your very own baby banshee at The Rookery, which will perch on your shoulder, move and even make sounds!
Don’t miss the moss wall!
Just outside the entrance to Windtraders, past the statue of Neytiri, you’ll find the moss wall. It’s a great photo opportunity and there are even Instagram accounts emerging where people can share their #mosswall pictures!
Pandora at night
You just can’t visit Pandora without being there after sunset. The whole Valley of Mo’ara comes alive with the sounds of the Na’vi drums, the calls of the animals and the beautiful natural bioluminescence, from high up in the mountains, to right underneath your feet.
Where to stay: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
At Walt Disney World, we stayed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, one of my favourite Disney resort hotels with fabulous African safari theming. The main reception looks like a wonderful safari lodge, with incredible African art, and the safari-themed resort rooms overlook a huge savanna full of beautiful animals. There’s nothing quite like opening your curtains in the morning and stepping out onto the balcony to watch zebra and giraffes wandering right underneath you!
The dining at Animal Kingdom Lodge is fabulous too: I especially love Jiko – The Cooking Place for delicious, creative African cuisine and a mostly South African wine list.
Extra Magic Hours
I know I’m always banging on about the benefits of staying in a resort hotel at Walt Disney World, but the extras that are included really do add a huge amount of value to your stay (for a full list, check out ‘where to stay’ in my Walt Disney World Top Tips post), including airport transfers on the fabulous Disney’s Magical Express coaches, free transportation to the parks, and – very important now as Pandora is going to be very popular – Extra Magic Hours. These differ according to the day and park, but for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, resort hotel guests will gain entry between 7 – 8am twice a week, including entry into Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Extra Extra Magic Hours!
At the moment, there are also limited-time Extra Magic Hours Evenings for Pandora – The World of Avatar from 11pm to 1am (what an amazing time to visit) – these are running until July 4th, and I’m not sure whether there will be plans to extend them after that.
Getting there, and free dining:
Honestly, I can’t tell you what a magical week I’ve had. Pandora – The World of Avatar really is stunning. If you’ve been toying with the idea of visiting Walt Disney World, I truly feel that this is the attraction that’s going to tip people over the edge into making the decision. I can’t wait to go back! Here are a few details if you need any help with planning and booking your trip. Also don’t forget that if you’re thinking ahead to next year, book your 2018 Walt Disney World holiday package by 6th July 2017 and you can take advantage of Disney’s brilliant FREE dining offer! (terms and conditions apply and certain dates are excluded). It can seem a bit complicated, so why not click here to watch the YouTube video and hear Disney Dave tell you all about it? As always – feel free to contact me if I can help at all or answer any questions.
The Virgin Holidays v-Room
Don’t forget to book the V-room! The new Virgin Holidays v-room at North Terminal is absolutely gorgeous, and perfect as a pre-flight base and to grab a delicious coffee and a good breakfast before your flight. I absolutely love the V-room: I always think that the airport experience should be a part of your holiday and the V-room makes it really special.
Deluxe resort – 7 nights from £1,325pp:
7 nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays including scheduled Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick to Orlando, room only accommodation at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge with car hire included. Price is per person based on two adults and two children travelling and sharing a standard room with Free Disney Dining Plan, and Disney’s Ultimate Tickets, including all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Price is based on a departure on November 17 2018. To book visit www.virginholidays.co.uk or call 0344 739 0025.
Value resort – 7 nights from £925pp:
7 nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays including scheduled Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick to Orlando, room only accommodation at Disney’s All Star Music Resort with car hire included. Price is per person based on two adults and two children travelling and sharing a standard music room with Disney’s Ultimate Tickets, including all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Price is based on a departure on August 31 2017. To book visit www.virginholidays.co.uk or call 0344 739 0025.
The Gatwick Hilton Hotel
Before my Virgin Atlantic flight to Orlando, I travelled down the night before by National Express coach and stayed at the Hilton Hotel. The Gatwick Hilton offers a range of different park and fly options, and it’s as easy as driving to Gatwick, parking your car and then forgetting about it. After staying overnight, you can access the south terminal directly by a covered walkway to check in for your flight. You get a car park exit voucher on check out, and then when you land you go directly to pick up your car. Easy peasy. I stayed in one of their lovely family rooms and it was a wonderful treat. It’s extra fab if you’re flying early as you can pop down for breakfast (or grab a Costa just outside reception) and head straight to the terminal for your flight. For more information, and to book, visit gatwick.hilton.com.
Next up: Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park’s stunning new night-time show, Happily Ever After. Until then, eywa ngahu (Eywa be with you).