The Mythical Land of PANDORA
Explore the magic of nature in a distant world.
story and photography by Karen A. Avitabile
From the excitement of Hollywood Studios to the wonderment of Epcot to the fascination of Magic Kingdom and even a unique safari adventure in Animal Kingdom, there’s an entire world of entertainment waiting to be discovered at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Walt Disney World, one of the premier destinations in Florida, keeps getting better with the addition of new attractions, including the awe-inspiring Pandora — The World of Avatar, which opened in May and can now be explored at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
In an unknown, distant world called Pandora — The World of Avatar, considered light-years away, visitors enter a land that celebrates the magic of nature with soaring dragons called banshees, floating mountains and an unforgettable bioluminescent rain forest. This world may seem similar to Earth, but it won’t take long to realize that The World of Avatar is different in so many ways.
Based on filmmaker and director James Cameron’s 2009 box-office, epic motion picture, AVATAR, Disney’s Pandora — The World of Avatar, gives guests the opportunity to join Alpha Centauri Expeditions as eco-tourists for an unforgettable experience exploring the values and culture of this lush, natural world.
“I was 19 years old and I had a dream, literally a dream of a bioluminescent forest with glowing trees and little spinning, glowing fan lizards. And I woke up very excited and I sketched it, and I painted it. And I remembered those images,” said Cameron, standing in the middle of Pandora during its inauguration last May. “Here we are, years later literally, a dream has come true all around me. It’s an amazing experience.”
To enter Pandora — The World of Avatar, guests to Animal Kingdom must first cross a bridge over the park’s Discovery River and enter the Valley of Mo’Ara, where a wall of jungle music fills the air. Then suddenly, the mountains appear to be floating in the sky above, and waterfalls cascade down the mountainside into meandering streams and pools below. Continue along a winding rain forest path that leads to Mo’ara, where the adventurous can experience two thrilling expeditions: Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey.
“We are taking our guests on a journey to this world in an experience that’s as realistic and immersive as possible,” said Joe Rohde, Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive. “In the movie, the world of Pandora is a setting for the action and characters whose story we follow. Here, (in Pandora), guests are the primary characters immersed in an extremely vivid, authentic experience.”
What was the rite of passage for Na’vi in Cameron’s film, AVATAR, had been transformed into a multisensory, wind-in-your-face experience on Avatar Flight of Passage, where riders encounter the most feared predator of Pandora, the large Great Leonopteryx.
The riders begin the journey by walking through an old laboratory now being used by scientists from the Pandoran Conservation Initiative who are conducting experiments. They are trying to determine the effects of damage inflicted on the habitat, and how to ultimately improve the land. There is even a floating corpse of a blue-colored Na’vi man.
For their flight through the Pandoran landscape forest, riders sit on the backs of high-flying banshees (best resembling a motorcycle), which breathe and have a heartbeat, and then soar past floating mountains in the Valley of Mo’ara with a goal of participating in a tribal coming of age ceremony. It’s an extraordinary journey that will leave you with the illusion of flying.
On the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey, riders board a boat in a crystalline cave and move through the bioluminescent forest — guided by a mystical singing figure — past exotic, glowing plants and Pandoran creatures in the middle of a musical Na’vi ceremony. The journey culminates in an encounter with a realistic — and mystical — Na’vi Shaman of Songs, who sends positive energy into the forest through her music.
“This is an attraction that the entire family can enjoy,” Rohde said. “We put you into a magical experience that comes to life through the bioluminescence, the plant and animal activity and the shaman’s music. There’s a wonderful harmony in the entire glowing scene during this lyrical, uplifting journey that builds to a really beautiful crescendo.”
The landscape of Pandora is lively with bioluminescent plants, including what’s called the spiny episoth with its distinct sticky seeds, gigantic puffball trees that can grow more than 20 feet tall, and the dapophet tree, resembling an agave that’s growing on a long stalk. Animals appear out of the underbrush, and they communicate back and forth through their distinct calls — barks, bleats, chirps, squawks, and even a territorial cry.
Nighttime transforms Mo’ara into what appears to be an amazing alien land, with bioluminescent flora and fauna and special nighttime experiences not to be missed.
The story of Pandora continues at the Satu’li (pronounced Sa-too-lee) Canteen, a Quonset-hut style building with a spacious dining area that pays tribute to the Na’vi and their culture through special decor and special beverages — some bioluminescent frozen cocktails and indigenous beers — and desserts guests can’t find anywhere else. Indulge in the decadent blue cream cheese mousse with a passion fruit puree and passion fruit on the top.
For the youngsters, Pandora offers a Wilderness Explorers Program where participants can earn sticker badges for their activity book. For a keepsake to remember your visit to Pandora, purchase unique Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits and even mountain banshees from the Windtraders store that can’t be purchased anywhere else.
The creative team for Pandora – The Land of Avatar, took field trips to Hawaii, Bali and China for design inspiration to develop the realistic appearance of Pandora, a fictional exoplanetary moon mined by humans in Cameron’s AVATAR.
“The attractions have very deliberate emotional moments crafted into them, the way a good story does, the way a good film does,” Rohde said. “It’s not as simple as just coming to a place that looks realistic. It’s a place that’s been deliberately imbued with the emotions of awe, of wonder, of respect, of harmony.”