Thoughts on Pandora – Our Initial Review of Avatarland

Queue Selfie
Queue Selfie

I feel like I’m in the distinct minority as to James Cameron’s Avatar. I didn’t hate it, and I actually kind of enjoy watching it. Elyssa, on the other hand, thinks it’s terrible (mostly because she says that you never relate to any of the characters.) However, as for Disney’s take on the planet at the heart of Avatar, Pandora, I think Elyssa and I both agree that Disney knocked it out of the park. In other words, the Imagineers did Cameron’s concept justice.

Attractions

The two major attractions in Pandora are Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey. If you are walking into Pandora as you read this and are trying to decide if a 50 minute wait is worth it for Flight of Passage, the answer is yes. Go get in line and you can read the rest as you walk through the queue (you’ll probably want to pay attention to all the detail in the queue though.) For everyone else, below are some more in-depth thoughts.

At the outset, we’ll note that we’re aware of the reviews that focus on operational issues making it hard for people to ride the headliner attractions, etc. Among other things, there were issues with people being able to fit in the Flight of Passage ride vehicle were a concern. When we visited a few weeks after the official opening day, that particular operational issue seemed to have been smoothed out . And, from what we’ve heard, the day-to-day operations continue to improve.

As far as Flight of Passage goes, it’s already one of our favorite rides at Disney World. We rode it 5 times over a three-day weekend, and opted to wait about 50 minutes to get that last ride in. The various “Soarin’ on steriods” takes are actually a decent way to describe the experience. It’s a ride that makes you feel like you’re flying, but the ride vehicle and its restraints allow for some far more exhilarating moments than Soarin’ provides. I won’t spoil any of the ride itself (I’m sure you can find that if you want it), but I’ll say it’s definitely worth doing, and probably worth waiting for 70+ minutes if that’s the only way you’ll get to ride it.

Thankfully, if you are forced to endure a long wait, the queue for the ride moves you through a good variety of environments: the initial outdoor section gives you excellent views of Pandora; the indoor cave tells the history of the Na’vi in wall art; indoor bioluminescence abounds; there’s a laboratory that includes interesting experiments; and, of course, this guy hangs out in the queue:

That guy!
That guy!

Overall, Flight of Passage is a headliner attraction that everyone (who doesn’t mind a little bit of a thrill) should try. Frankly, I just don’t understand people who say they had no connection to the ride because they didn’t care much for Avatar going in. Even someone like Elyssa, who has no love lost for James Cameron’s film, thought the attraction was fantastic. (Quick note: I’d follow Disney advice and empty your pockets during the ride. I rode once with my wallet still in my shorts and feared the whole time it was going to fall.)

The Na’vi River Journey is the second attraction in Pandora, and, for better or worse, it is a relaxing BOATRIDE through a bioluminescent environment and it features a showcase of the most advanced animatronics that Disney has ever revealed. If you’re the type to nit-pick about the lack of a defined “story” for an attraction, here’s your chance. The ride is simply a pleasant journey through a cool forest that uses the whole gamut of theme park ride technologies to transport you to another word. As you might guess from that, I enjoyed it. I might not wait 60 minutes for it, but 20-30 is probably fair.

Here are a couple of pictures to give you a flavor for what you’ll see. On a moving boat in the dark, my camera was taxed to get a decent result. Consequently, these pictures might not do justice to how pretty the ride is:

Na'vi River Journey
Na’vi River Journey
Trying to do her justice...
Trying to do her justice…

Environment

There have been (garbage) articles that claim the pictures of Pandora do the land “too much justice.” Aside from how asinine that concept is, the idea that photographic wizards are somehow making this place look better in still capture form than it looks when you’re actually visiting is ridiculous. During both day and night (and, yes, it does really look quite different at night), the landscaping, plant life (both living and “imagineered”), and overall environment are fantastic. I would argue that these pictures don’t capture it enough:

Day
Day
Night
Night

At present, the newness of Pandora means it’s pretty much always crowded. These crowd levels can make it a little tougher to just “enjoy” your surroundings in the land. As time goes on, however, and crowds stabilize to “normal” levels, I can imagine night time strolls through Pandora are going to be a great way to end a day at Animal Kingdom. (I have a feeling that we’re going to end a lot of future nights at Disney World by having a drink at Nomad, strolling through Pandora, and then watching some Tree of Life Awakenings.)

Food

While visiting Pandora, we, of course, had to try the food. We tried Satu’li Canteen’s custom bowls, the Cheeseburger pods, and the Chocolate Cake dessert. Personally, I think the bowls are going to be a nice change-of-pace option for me going forward. The chicken was quite good and all the ingredients seemed a step up from standard quick service options. The cheeseburger pods were also tasty (Yes, they taste like McDonald’s cheeseburgers), even if I wish the pod-to-meat ratio didn’t so heavily favor the pod. Elyssa gave a thumbs up to the Chocolate Cake, with a surprisingly crunch cookie layer, but it’s tough to get her to give any chocolate item a thumbs down. Personally, I might pass on getting it again, but if you’re in the mood for a bitter chocolate something, you could do worse. (Elyssa’s note: it wasn’t bitter – it was just not milk chocolate)

Pods
Pods
Bowl
Bowl
Cake
Cake

Strategery

As you would probably expect from something new at Disney World, people want to experience Pandora. That means, the usual advice applies: get there early, stay really late, and/or try to get Fastpass+ reservations for the primary attractions (NOTE: You can only get 1 of the Pandora attractions for your initial 3 selections. I’d try to get Flight of Passage because of its higher demand and wait times.) Josh over at easyWDW has outlined a number of strategies concerning timing, including arriving about an hour and fifteen minutes before the park open (on non-EMH days.) If you’re planning to visit, I suggest reviewing Josh’s posts in-depth.

Elyssa and I had a great bit of success taking advantage of the morning extra magic hour (7:00am opening on a Saturday when the park opens at 8:00am.) We arrived about 6:10am via our own car, which got us there before any of the resort buses. (I’d recommend driving yourself or getting an Uber instead of using a resort bus. Being ahead of that crowd can be a huge help.) That put us about 2 parties back at the tapstiles. They let us into the park about 6:40am, where they scanned our Magic Bands again to make sure that we were entitled to EMH access, and then held us at the Tree of Life until about 6:50am. At that point, they began walking us to Pandora and, for almost everyone, Flight of Passage. We briskly walked through the Flight of Passage queue and were part of what felt like the first group to ride for the day. We then headed over to Na’vi River Journey and, essentially, walked onto that. We then exited Pandora, and had time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris twice before our 9:20 Tusker House ADR. It was a fantastic morning.

We also tried the evening extra magic hours, but had a little less success with them. It seemed like most people went to the earlier showing of Rivers of Light and then headed over to Pandora after that. This mean waits of 90+ minutes for Flight of Passage right when EMH started (though, the end of FP+ return could make that go quicker.) If we were willing to stick around until later in the night, we might be able to get a lower wait. We actually found, however, that riding around 9 (while people were occupied with Rivers of Light) actually worked out better for us, but, based on Josh’s wait time chart, that might have just been an anomaly in the standard wait pattern.

In summary, your best bet is probably to get there early and then also try to get a FP+ for Flights of Passage. Not shocking advice, I know, but, it bears repeating.

Conclusion

As far as the swatting of Potter goes, I’ve been to Diagon Alley, and I prefer Pandora. I think Len Testa best summed it up when he talked about how he prefers nature to a cityscape and Pandora is actually “better nature than actual nature” as far as immersion goes. Also, much like Elyssa has no connection to Avatar, I have no connection to Harry Potter. I’ve seen the movies a couple of times, never read the books, and, for better or worse, am kind of shrug emoji about all of it. Elyssa, on the other hand, is a huge Harry Potter fan, but still had a hard time deciding which immersive land she liked better. In the end, her connection to the word of Harry Potter wins out, but for something to have even been that close shows just how great Joe Rohde and his team did. (Elyssa note: no, but seriously, I frakking LOVE Harry Potter and walking into Diagon and Hogsmeade makes me cry, so this is a big deal.)

Regardless of which land you think is “better”, Diagon Alley, and now, Pandora, seem to be the pinnacle of this generation of theme park design and execution. Pandora is an immersive environment that rewards repeat visits with its intricate detail, quality food offerings, and enjoyable attractions. Until Star Wars Land opens with its new concept of “memory”(i.e., it knowing your history within the land), Pandora is pretty much the best of what theme parks have to offer.

Flare
Flare
Too much justice?
Too much justice?

Pandora Fastpass+ to Open Tomorrow – March 24

BREAKING! Pew, pew! Lasers! (Not really) EXCLUSIVE!! Here at Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ we don’t really try to be the FIRST to break news, but, sometimes, we want to share something special with our readers that has a time component. In this case, it’s that Fastpass+ selections for Pandora (Avatarland) open tomorrow, March 24, 2017.

The anouncement is little weird, since 60 days from tomorrow (the length of time in advance that onsite guests can book Fastpass+ selections) is Tuesday, May 23, 2017 (i.e., before Pandora is supposed to open on May 27.) I wonder if this is an indication that Disney is going to be allowing guests to get Fastpasss+ for various “soft opening” periods prior to the official opening. Also, as (kind of?) expected, you can’t book both Avatar attractions on the same day with Fastpass+ in your first 3 selections. It’s not a full on “tier” structure, but it’s close.

Relatedly, Disney has made it official that Animal Kingodm will have special Pandora-only Extra Magic Hours every night from (at least) May 27th through July 4th, 2017. For people like Elyssa and me who usually stay offsite, this extra benefit is enough to make us consider an onsite resort for a quick “hop” down to experience Avatar once the land opens.

BREAKING!!
BREAKING!!

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s that time of year (no, not time for the annual News Nuggets post…), time for Disney’s annual attractions bracket. I’ve bought a few of these shirts in the past, but nothing stands out as “must have” for me this year. (WDW News Today has images of all the designs.)

Also, since it’s St. Patrick’s day, you might want to check out the Raglan Road Mighty St. Patrick’s Festival at Disney Springs and all the other Disney Springs St. Paddy’s day festivities.

Now, on to the rest of the nuggets:

We’ll finish things up with this video from Disney about the construction of Star Wars Land: (The AT-ATs do look pretty cool):

Enjoy the Tournament!

Recapping All the New Pandora – Land of Avatar Previews

Yesterday was “Pandora preview day” across Disney-owned ABC. That means a ton of new imagery and videos of what we can look forward to in Pandora when it opens on May 27th.

The first look came on Good Morning America, with a few clips that would be involved in some of the later videos and an appearance by Joe Rodhe (of Iger, Rodhe, Lombrowski fame):

Next came a James Cameron-led walk-though to see the floating mountan landscape (both during the day and at night) that ended with a trip down the Navi river:

Coverage continued with the crew from the Chew tasting some one of the food items available in Pandora. (Unfortunately, I ran screaming from the video when I heard “pineapple cream cheese”):

Finally, the most extensive preview came from Nightline and it featured a walk-through of the new land (again) with James Cameron and then Joe Rodhe. The BOATRIDE, as expected, looks spectactuar and the ride vehicle for the Banshee ride does seem designed to give you the feeling of being on a Banshee:

If you want even more previews of Pandora, Disney issued a press release with a lot of details, including:

Avatar Flight of Passage launches each guest on an exhilarating, wind-in-your-face experience on a winged mountain banshee over the awe-inspiring world of Pandora. Guests will actually feel the banshee breathe beneath them as they soar through the forest and past floating mountains. What was a rite of passage for Na’vi in Cameron’s film becomes a multisensory experience for guests seeking the ultimate adventure – a faceoff with the most feared predator of Pandora, the Great Leonopteryx.
On the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey, guests travel down a sacred river deep into a bioluminescent rainforest. The eight-seat reed boats float past exotic glowing plants and Pandoran creatures into the midst of a musical Na’vi ceremony. The mystical journey culminates in an encounter with a breathtakingly realistic Na’vi Shaman of Songs who is deeply connected with Pandora’s life force and sends positive energy through her music into the forest.

With 4 (!?!?) Avatar movies in preproduction, hopefully, there is a real interest in people experiencing these new things.

Target Openings for Pandora (Avatarland) and Star Wars Land Announced

 

UPDATE: For more information Pandora, check out the newly launched VisitPandora.com.

During Disney’s earning call today, CEO Bob Iger announced that Avatarland (i.e., Pandora – The World of Avatar) will open on May 27 of this year. This is (suprisingly?) in line with some of the rumors associated with the opening date, and, obviously, is just in time for the busy summer season. Disney’s press release on the opening again mentioned the major attractions coming to Pandora:

First, the family friendly Na’vi River Journey will send guests through a bioluminescent rainforest. Their journey will end in an unforgettable encounter with a Na’vi Shaman, a figure who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora. And second, Avatar Flight of Passage will offer guests the jaw-dropping experience of exploring the world of Pandora atop a Banshee.

Actually surprising, however, was Iger’s announcement that Star Wars Land would open in 2019. Most people (either joking or otherwise) seemed to think that Star Wars Land would open in 2020, so this the actual 2019 opening is ahead of that “schedule.” More surprising, however, is that Iger made an announcement at all. Clearly, Disney is confident (or willing to spend extra to ensure–if necessary) that Star Wars Land will be completed in 2019. I’m sure there are people out there waiting to come down hard on Disney if it doesn’t make this date.

*Not* Coming to Star Wars Land :-(
Not Coming to Star Wars Land 🙁

Looking at What Is Coming to Disney World in 2017

Disney recently issued a press release entitled A Breathtaking New Land of Fantasy Highlights A New Year Full of Magical Additions, Openings at Walt Disney World Resort in which it listed the various “additions” that are coming to Disney World in 2017. Here are some of the highlights and my thoughts:

Pandora – The World of Avatar – A transformational experience unlike any other, Pandora – The World of Avatar, opens in summer 2017. In collaboration with filmmaker James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment, Disney is bringing to life the fantasy world of Pandora, inspired by Cameron’s epic film AVATAR, in a breathtaking new land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Avatar Flight of Passage will send guests flying above the jungles of Pandora on a Mountain Banshee. Bioluminescent rainforests dramatically wrap around Na’vi River Journey, a family-friendly boat ride. Hungry adventurers can recharge at Satu’li Canteen, the main dining location, or Pongu Pongu, a drink kiosk with a design as eclectic as its expat owner. Shoppers can stock up on Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits and more at Windtraders.

None of this will come as a surprise to readers of the site, but it’s nice to have everything summarized so neatly. A Soarin’-like adventure and a BOATRIDE are fantastic anchors to this land. Also, it will give a preview of the new immersive theming that (I believe) will also be present in Star Wars land. (By immersive theming, I mean a little less pushing of the overall Disney brand in the land, with cast members acting more like you are really on Pandora.

More Additions to Disney Springs in 2017
Paddlefish – Sleek and modern after a bow-to-stern transformation from the former Fulton’s Crab House, Paddlefish will serve fresh seafood, steaks and chops. Unique menu choices for seafood lovers include a build-your-own boil. A new rooftop lounge will serve up a late-night menu and shipshape views of the water and Disney Springs. Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

The standard of quality at Disney Springs ended up making Fulton’s obsolete. With the BOATHOUE already offerring a combination of seafood and steak, it’ll be interesting ot see what Paddlefish does to set itself apart.

The Polite Pig – A sister restaurant to the Ravenous Pig, a favorite with Orlando locals, The Polite Pig will bring the same focus on genuine Florida cuisine to a broader global audience at Disney Springs. Lunch and dinner menus will feature a variety of wood-fired smoked and grilled items as well as an innovative beverage program that serves all drinks on tap, including beer, wine and cocktails.

Though I’m not particularly excited about the Guy Fieri menu at the newly revamped Planet Hollywood Observatory, the Polite Pig seems like it might be a nice option. (Of course, I have never to the Ravenous Pig, so what do I know?)

Rivers of Light – Coming in 2017, this powerful theatrical production takes Disney’s Animal Kingdom guests on a magnificent emotional journey – a visual mix of water, fire, nature and light choreographed to an original musical score. Continuing the park’s transformation from a day-into-nighttime experience, the amazing after-dark show on the banks of Discovery River celebrates the majesty of nature and the connection between animals and humans in the world. (emphasis added)

“Coming in 2017.” Sigh. That said, I still wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a trial or two during the holiday season (though, I’m not holding my breath.) Of course, if no one is at Animal Kingdom later in the evening but Elyssa & me over Christmas, I’m fine with it.

New Cabins and Deluxe Villas coming to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – In 2017, a proposed new Disney Vacation Club Resort, Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort, is scheduled to open, featuring new Resort accommodations that include plans for Deluxe Villas and unique waterfront cabins. Other enhancements coming to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge include a brand-new bar & grill, in addition to a quick-service restaurant. A sweeping re-imagination of the former Hidden Springs Pool, part of Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, is also scheduled to open in summer 2017. Named Boulder Ridge Cove, this area will feature an expanded sun deck and zero-depth-entry pool.

If Elyssa and I were to buy DVC, this would be where we do it. We love Wilderness Lodge, and the information on these Deluxe Villas makes them seem like they’re going to be top notch. I am looking forward to seeing an actual demo.

Of course, there are a a bunch more announcements in the actual press release, but these were the ones I am most interested in. Regardless, 2017 seems like it could be a big year.

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

Here are Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ we’re still recovering from the price increase that happened this weekend. Of course, even 8-10% ticket price increases can’t stop us from publishing the next edition of the News Nuggets!

Phew. That was a lot of News Nuggets. Let’s take a quick break to relax in the early morning glow of World Showcase:

Early Morning at World Showcase
Early Morning at World Showcase

Now, back to the News Nuggets!

We’ll finish things up with a couple of “events” from Disney World. First, they recently had a DVC 25th Anniversary “party” at the Magic Kingdom. It featured, among other things, a rare appearance by the Haunted Mansion’s tightrope girl and a special fireworks show. Here are the videos of that show from DVC News, Inside the Magic, and The DIS:

Also, Flower & Garden festival starts tomorrow. There’s a nice primer to the festival at TouringPlans and Denise at Mouse Steps has put together a really nice preview. If you’re still looking to get more hyped for the festival, I’ll leave you with this video from The DIS:

Thanks for reading!

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

Elyssa and I have a big week ahead of us, so we figured we would try to start it off on the right foot…with another edition edition of the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets!.

There isn’t a ton of major news to start the week, but the time changes at Epcot might indicate that things are going to be a little over there until for a few months.

Let’s take a look at that and some of the other news:

That’s it for now. Stay tuned tomorrow for a little Rope Drop [dot] Net special feature!

Haven't you always wanted a monkey?

D23 Might Have Left Me a Little Excited

Approaching AT-AT
Approaching AT-AT

This weekend was Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA. There was tons of Disney theme park related news at the event, but here is what has got me the most excited:

Star Wars Land at The Studios

The rumors are now a reality: Star Wars land is coming to The Studios. In what is being described as 14-acre, immersive experience, The Studios is getting a whole section dedicated to one of my favorite film franchises. I expected the land to have great theming, retail, and dining, but I didn’t expect these kinds of attractions:

These authentic lands will have two signature attractions, including the ability to take the controls of one of the most recognizable ships in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon, on a customized secret mission, and an epic Star Wars adventure that puts guests in the middle of a climactic battle.

I get to fly a Millennium Falcon? Are you kidding me? That sounds amazing. With the level of detail expected in this area, it will come as no surprise that Jim Hill has recently said Joe Parinella, who was one of the keys to bringing Harry Potter to Universal Orlando, is the one leading this effort.

Relatedly, and in order to satisfy Star Wars fans while Star Wars land is being constructed, Disney also announced the Star Wars Launch Bay for later this year. The Launch Bar will feature “special exhibits and peeks behind-the-scenes, including opportunities to visit with new and favorite Star Wars character.” It also sounds like Star Wars Weekends will be upgraded to the new Season of the Force promotion in “early 2016”, and will include new fireworks show set to Star Wars music.

If you want to hear more about Star Wars land, here a

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbOgVOIBPD0)

Toy Story Land at The Studios

Though I heard rumors that there might be something Pixar-related coming to The Studios, I did not anticipate it would be an area completely focused on Toy Story. That said, I am pretty pleased with what it appears that we are getting. Yes, the green aliens attraction is only a spinner, but the Slinky Dog coaster looks pretty cool. Also, anything that increases capacity at Toy Story Midway Mania is a welcome addition.

Much like Star Wars land, what really impresses me here is how much detail is being paid to the theming. For example, the story being the coaster is that Andy used a roller coaster set in his back yard, but decided to use Slinky Dog instead of a regular coaster car to go around the track. I love it.

Also, Jim Hill has already said that Toy Story land is just the beginning for Pixar at The Studios. He is still hearing rumors about some kind of Cars Land being added, as well as one other Pixar section (which currently hasn’t been decided.)

If you want more details about Toy Story Land check out this

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3JA2NUN0Dg).

Jungle Cruise Restaurant at Magic Kingdom

The rumors about this were pretty spot on: [Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen] is coming to the Magic Kingdom. The restaurant is described as follows:

At the Jungle Skipper Canteen, guests will be able to experience “World Famous Jungle Cuisine” in one of several unique dining rooms – including a crew mess hall and a once-hidden secret meeting room of the famed Society of Explorers and Adventurers. The restaurant will also be staffed by Jungle Cruise Skippers.

I would assume that means we get the campy humor that the Jungle Cruise is known for, but the announcement is kind of light on details. For example, will this be a table service only restaurant? Or will it be similar to Be Our Guest, with quick service lunch (and breakfast?) and table service dinner? Personally, I’m kind of hoping they follow the Be Our Guest model.

Pandora – The World of Avatar

Disney announced the official name of Avatarland: Pandora – The World of Avatar. Until I have time to create an auto-replace (and to keep from confusing things with the jewelry brand of the same name), however, I’m going to just stick with Avatarland .

The model of Avatarland was spectacular. The idea of floating mountains, the special animatronic animals and Na’vi, and the change over from day to night make this place seem like it could be really special. Of course, the new land also includes a couple of new attractions: AVATAR: Flight of Passage that will “allow guests to experience what it’s like to fly with a banshee”, and a currently unnamed (??) boat ride.

Here’s a

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWivSgWdP0M) if you want to see more of the model and its exhibit.

Night Time Activities at the Animal Kingdom

In addition to Avatarland, Disney also provided more details on two new nighttime editions to Animal Kingdom. Rivers of Light “will combine live performers with floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery”, while Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris will be “a new nighttime adventure that will allow guests to travel through the African savanna amid the orange glow of the setting sun.” As someone who has enjoyed Animal Kingdom the first day I visited it, I cannot wait to have additional nighttime entertainment to keep me in the park longer. I am especially interested in seeing how they extend “the orange glow of the setting sun” into the night.

Soarin’ Around the World Coming to Epcot Next Year

The original rumors were that Disney’s new Soarin’ Around the World film would be exclusive to Shanghai for five years. Thankfully, those rumors turned out to be false and Epcot will see the new Soarin’ film and a digital projection upgrade “beginning next year.” I am, of course, excited to see this upgrade to Soarin’, but I am also excited to see this pattern of Disney updating or enhancing attractions at multiple parks at the same time. I understand the logic behind having certain parks be “the place you go to see Attraction X”, but I feel like this new approach of updating things everywhere is going to cause more overall excitement to Disney fans.