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Visiting Avatar’s Pandora Vs. Pandora: The World Of Avatar At Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom

It’s been almost eight years since we first caught a glimpse of Pandora, the fictional world 4.37 light-years away from Earth that’s the setting for director James Cameron’s opus, Avatar.  And it looks like we’ll be waiting at least another two years before seeing it again via the first of many planned Avatar sequels.

But if you’re jonesing to get your Na’vi on, you can literally do so now at Pandora: The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. Those clever folks at “The Most Magical Place on Earth” have created a world you can fully experience with all five senses from one previously only accessible via James Cameron’s brain or over $200 million in special effects.

But is it worth a plane ticket to Florida to step into a movie you likely haven’t seen in a few years?  Once you’re greeted with, “Zola’u nìprrte’”—the Na’vi word for “welcome”—you’ll wish Mr. Cameron would go full-throttle on his Banshee and pick up the pace a little.

Walt Disney World / Preston Mack

Development

Although Cameron initially wrote a treatment in 1994, once it was officially started Avatar took four years to complete. The creation of Pandora: The World of Avatar followed a similar path. While the concept art was unveiled in October of 2013, development began back in 2011 and the attraction officially opened to the public on May 27, 2017. Pandora: The World of Avatar reportedly cost almost double Avatar’s documented budget of $237 million to build, but the infusion of 1,500 jobs to the Central Florida area, including 800 construction roles and 700 operational staff including engineering, attraction hosts, and food and beverage and leadership positions, means the investments in Avatar as a franchise are boosting a number of industries.

Walt Disney World / David Roark

Getting There

In the Avatar movie world set in 2154, getting to Pandora involves interstellar space travel, since it’s an exoplanet located in the Alpha Centauri A system that’s 4.4 light years away. In 2017, travel to Pandora: The World of Avatar involves deciding between a large number of plane, train, or automobile options, since Orlando, Florida is a mecca for family vacationers from around the world. As a bonus, Disney’s Pandora atmosphere is fully breathable for humans, so no Exo-Packs are required for visitors.

Walt Disney World / David Roark

What to Do

The first visitors to movie Pandora are employees of the fictional Resources Development Administration (RDA), who are thrilled to discover a biosphere teeming with lush and unique flora and fauna, including vast stores of the mineral Unobtanium rife for the taking.

The first (and subsequent) visitors to Pandora: The World of Avatar are discovering Disney’s magical real-life recreation of the movie’s special effects, including bioluminescent gardens, alien wildlife, and a waterfall gushing through the Valley of Mo’ara and its floating mountains.

Disney’s Pandora is set 100 years after the movie. RDA has abandoned its mission and its facilities, and a new fictional company, Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), is facilitating trips to Pandora in conjunction with another new fictional organization, the Pandora Conservation Initiative (PCI), which is, “a collective of scientists, xenobiologists, and conservationists. From the plants and animals to the soil, water, and air, you’ll find members of PCI researching every aspect of this mysterious and alien world.”

Thanks to ACE and PCI, you can explore the bioluminescent rainforest via boat on the Na’vi River Journey—a Pandoran take on Disney’s classic it’s a small world ride and a must-do especially if you won’t be visiting Animal Kingdom at night. The other new ride, Avatar Flight of Passage, utilizes PCI’s “Mountain Banshee Project” that’s preventing the extinction of the creature also known as Ikran. The queue takes you through the ruins of the old RDA facilities, which PCI have converted into labs dedicated to restoring and conserving Pandora’s ecosystem. Once through the line, you will climb onto a stationary-bike thing and, after being paired with your own avatar, you’ll experience flight via the back of a banshee and a state-of-the-art 3D motion simulator ride. It’s an intense ride. And pretty amazing. And it conveniently lets out into a gift shop featuring exclusive items only available at Walt Disney World like your own miniature robotic banshee that’s been matched to you.

Walt Disney World / Steven Diaz

Where to Stay

In Avatar, everyone visiting Pandora was there on behalf of the Resources Development Administration, and stayed on-site in various camps. But the closest you can get to staying on-site at Pandora: The World of Avatar, is Animal Kingdom Lodge, one of the 18 resort properties owned and operated by Disney. The Orlando area has a bajillion accommodation options ranging from Airbnb rooms to 5-star hotels, but staying at a Disney property provides access to “Extra Magic Hours” where parks either open early or stay open later exclusively for resort guests. It’s the best way to access rides like Avatar Flight of Passage, since wait times for the more popular attractions can sometimes exceed two hours. Florida’s Walt Disney World also employs the FastPass+ system for all of their parks, allowing visitors to pre-book ride times up to 60 days in advance after purchasing their park tickets.

Walt Disney World / David Roark

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