What to see and do at Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando

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Trupti Devdas Nayak

Traveler . Writer . Photographer . Artist . I write about outdoor adventures at http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/blogs/trailbound and my travels at http://www.exploringthebluemarble.com
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Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

So you have half a day or maybe a day and are keen to check out Disney’s newest addition Pandora – The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida? Maybe you’re in Orlando for a conference and have just a few hours on the weekend or in the evening post-conference to check out the park?

Ticket booth at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Look no further than this post on how to efficiently maximize your time in the park and see most of the highlights, in a matter of a few hours. ProTip: Mid-week evenings are probably the best time to visit since the crowds are fewer and there will be shorter lines at the rides.

Tickets are expensive at $99 for an All-Day regular pass, the Multi-Day tickets and FastPass (which allows you to bypass lines for rides) cost even more. There was no discount for half-day tickets or for conference attendees. We bought the All-Day pass even though we knew we wouldn’t be spending more than half a day. If you come on a weekend, you’ll be able to maximize your stay and make full use of the All-Day ticket.

Once inside the park, we entered the centerpiece Discovery Island. You’re given a map to help navigate between the many worlds inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom and there are plenty of signs all around as well.

We amused ourselves in Dinoland for a bit and did the customary Dinosaur ride which was a lot of fun! The line was very short for this ride, merely 10 mins, so it was a win-win to get into the mood of the Disney theme park.

I love seeing the candid camera photos post-ride, they always capture the funniest expression on everybody’s faces. After the Dinosaur ride, we headed towards an imposing snow-capped mountain in the distance before realizing that it was a mini-replica of Mount Everest.

Everest in Asia at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Just as we were admiring the realistic mountain, a rumbling sound was followed by the appearance of a rollercoaster through the mountain with a bunch of people screaming in glee as their ride brought them from great heights atop Everest to the valley below.

Replica of Asia and Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom

What really astounded us was the attention to detail. From serene lakes with tethered boats to stupas that looked like the ones seen in Nepal, authentic looking architecture, wall murals, even signboards and props like colorful prayer flags strung up and fluttering around in the wind. Almost like the real thing!

Looks like the real Asia in Disney's Animal Kingdom

We wandered around, awestruck at seemingly suddenly being transported to Nepal. Backpackers bags and shoes and trekking poles lay around, hanging from wooden buildings that were adorned with carvings and painted colorfully, so realistic looking that these might have been transplanted from Asia down to the last nail.

Great attention to detail at Disney's Animal Kingdom

We got to see monkeys swinging around temples and walked through an aviary full of exotic birds that were flying around. There was even a tiger den and we got to see a sleeping tiger for real and a naturalist showed us photos of two tiger cubs that had been born there at the Animal Kingdom.

African Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom

After exploring Asia, we walked through to the Africa section as we wanted to do the Safari ride to see the wild animals on the savannah. The safari ride is in a rugged truck and was totally worth the long wait in the line.

Flamingoes at Disney's Animal Kingdom

We saw hippos, hyenas, rhinos, lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, springbok, wildebeest, cows (sacred to the Masai), baobab trees, flamingoes and more! It was like a mini-trip to Africa and back.

Giraffe spotting on safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom

With a few hours left till park close time, we made a beeline straight to the main feature of our visit, The World of Avatar – Pandora. Entering Pandora is a surreal and special experience as larger-than-life exotic plants and flowers bloom and hiss out smoke and change colors. It’s really like stepping into the world of Avatar.

Entering world of Avatar - Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The part of the movie that fired up most people’s imagination were the floating islands of the Na’vi and here too, they take one’s breath away. Magically suspended above our heads, the floating islands looked lush, green and throbbing with life. It was an otherworldly feeling to walk beneath the gushing waterfalls and stand underneath these floating islands of stone.

The world of Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

There was so much to see and do but we were keen on the Avatar Flight of Passage ride which is a 3D augmented reality flying simulator attraction. Even though we got to the ride 2 hours before closing, the line was long with a predicted wait of 120 minutes (2 hours!). Wow, this ride sure is popular!

In line for Flight of Passage ride at Pandora, Disney's Animal Kingdom

We resigned ourselves to waiting in line because of all the things at Pandora, this was one of the things we really wanted to do. There was another Na’vi river journey ride that also had a 60 min wait in line, and we could choose only one, so we opted for the Flight of Passage.

Glowing flowers inside Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney and most theme parks do a great job of concealing how long the actual line is. Even though we knew it would take 120 mins for us to get our turn, our brains tricked us into reasoning that the line would move fast or it wasn’t really going to be 2 hours of a wait and so on. We were impressed by how cleverly the line appeared to be broken into self-contained sections that made it seem like our turn to ride was imminent.

Floating islands and lush greenery in Pandora

While in line, we were surrounded by Pandora’s world, and were able to fully admire the floating islands above our heads. Then we entered a richly decorated and painted cave with bioluminescent flowers and plants which looked natural and organic. Then things got interesting at the next section of the line as we entered the “Pandora Conservation Initiative” which is a lab chock-full of interesting experiments in progress.

Getting closer to Flight of Passage ride!

The Mountain Banshee Ecosystem was highlighted to familiarize us about Pandora and for additional context since we would be riding a banshee during the 3D ride.

An actual Na'vi at Pandora - Exciting!

An actual Na’vi (full-sized) was inside a chamber and moving realistically in his asleep. I almost expected him to open his eyes at any moment. We finally made it to the last section just before the entrance to the ride.

So ready for Flight of Passage, flying on a Banshee in 3D ride! Disney's Animal Kingdom

It really did take us 2 hours, but it really was worth it. Even as we stepped out after the ride, all we could say in awestruck voices was how amazing of an experience that was and the 2 hours in line had vaporized leaving no memory of the tedious wait.

I didn’t take any photos beyond this point so that I could be fully immersed in the experience. But if you’re really curious to know what the ride is like before you experience it, there are plenty of videos on Youtube. I won’t link to them here because seeing what the ride is like on your computer screen does not do justice to the actual 3D experience!

Instructions prior to the ride

Trust me, just go and see Disney’s World of Avatar – Pandora for yourselves! While on the 3D ride, you will be able to smell Pandora’s oceans, rainforests and flowers, see wild animals like you’ve never seen before, feel the actual breathing of your banshee as you sit on its back and soar above the breathtaking landscapes of this gorgeous paradise. The ride showcases the real power of virtual reality and that was a mind-blowing experience for me.

The Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Have you already experienced Pandora and the Flight Of Passage ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

Keep Exploring,

~ Trupti

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