I was lucky enough to be at the grand opening of Disney’s latest attraction, Pandora: The World of Avatar, last week.
There are two new attractions in Pandora: The Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage. The first ride, Na’vi River Journey is rather self explanatory – you journey through a magical world on a boat, passing some of the best animatronics I’ve EVER seen. There’s some really cool effects, like riding below huge plant leaves while seeing the shadows of little creatures jumping around on top of them, and a tune that will stay in your head for a long time.
But it’s fair to say that the real flagship of Pandora is Avatar Flight of Passage – an attraction that isn’t immediately obvious what it is. As you enter the queue line the only real clue comes in the form of the ride vehicle at the entrance that gives people the opportunity to see how it works before they commit to the queue.
The best way of describing it is somewhat like riding a bike – there’s a central saddle and your legs go either side, with handles at the front to hold on to. When you’re on the ride itself, a back support pops up and leg supports hold your legs in place. But anyway, back the queue experience…
The first part of the queue sees you passing through the beautiful lush landscape of Pandora – exotic flora and fauna that is breathtaking in it’s spectacle, before passing in to a cave, where carvings and murals adjourn the walls. From here, you pass in to ACE’s lab – with lots of scientific equipment and experiments – including a breathtaking Avatar, floating in a tank.
From here, you pass through in to a main hall, with a giant screen on one side, and a breathtaking mural of a Banshee on the other. This is where you remember you’re actually queuing for a ride, as the queue becomes divided in to various rows, ready to get you into the right numbers to board the ride.
You’ll then be divided into groups, and sent to a room, where a video will start to play. You have to stand on a number (and the clever system knows whether there’s someone standing on each number or not). The video that plays here is different each time you ride, which is incredible, and this is where each rider is paired with their own avatar. The room is scanned until each rider has their own Avatar, and then you’re asked to proceed to the next room.
You’ll be handed flight goggles (3D glasses), before being asked to watch a second video. This is where how to ride a Banshee is explained – and riders are prepared for the journey ahead.
From here, you pass in to the actual ride itself. There are various safe places to put your belongings along the back wall, before you’re asked to board the ride vehicle corresponding to your number. The position you sit in kind of naturally makes you look down, where you’ll see your own face next to the face of the Avatar you were matched with in the previous section. There are a number of other chambers where the same thing is happening (if anyone has ridden The Simpson’s Ride at Universal, it’s a similar setup to that), and a loading bar goes up the side of the screen to reach 100% – presumably as the other chambers are ready with everyone seated and strapped in.
And then it begins.
What follows is one of the most incredible ride experiences I’ve ever had. Sites, sounds, smells, water and motion are combined to create a truly fantastic and breath-taking ride which lasts for what feels like a lifetime. You’ll fly through the gorgeous world of Pandora, and part way through will feel yourself smiling, for no apparent reason, because of the sheer joy this ride brings. The level of detail is absolutely mind-blowing – even the ‘saddle’ pulsates in and out against the side of your legs to simulate the breathing of the Banshee you’re riding.
It’s hard to describe how you’re left feeling after flying on the back of a Banshee; amazed, blown away, happy, joyful, emotional, amazed are just some of the words I could use. It was so breath-taking that we chose to ride it another four times afterwards!
There are some spoilers on YouTube where you can view the whole experience from beginning to end, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. Next time you visit Orlando, make sure you visit Pandora!