I used to think of Animal Kingdom as the optional Disney park. We’ve enjoyed it when we’ve gone, especially since it contains one of my favorite rides in all of Disney World, Expedition Everest. But there were a couple of factors that used to put it at the end of our list of parks. For one thing, it just wasn’t open all that late, and sometimes we don’t really get moving until after lunch (hello, we’re on vacation). When Animal Kingdom used to close at five, that put it out of reach if we didn’t try hard. It also didn’t have any big evening shows (again, it wasn’t open late enough). And one of its two thrill rides—Kali River Rapids—was only an option if the weather was spectacular, since you can get soaked.
But there have been some big changes to Animal Kingdom, thanks to new technology. When the park opened twenty years ago it simply couldn’t stay open after dark, because of the animals. In the other parks, when the sky gets dark they just turn up the lights so that you can get around and see things. That wasn’t an option in Animal Kingdom until recently. They’ve figured out how to produce enough light for people without having an adverse effect on the animals. That’s opened up Animal Kingdom to a whole new world of after-dark activities.New at Animal Kingdom this summer is Pandora: The World of Avatar. Check it out! Click To Tweet
New At Animal Kingdom
Last year I got a special press preview of the Rivers of Light show, which is amazing, and the nighttime projections set to music on the Tree of Life. I got to ride Expedition Everest in the dark, which makes an already thrilling ride even better, and I saw animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari that I’d never seen in the day time. And now there’s about to be so much more!
At the end of this month, there will be a huge new addition to Animal Kingdom: Pandora, The World of Avatar. I got to talk to the amazing Joe Rohde, the man behind Animal Kingdom, about all of the new things that are coming. He worked with Avatar’s director James Cameron to create a 12-acre world that has the look and feel of the movie, without being a rehashing of the movie’s plot. The Pandora that we can visit in Animal Kingdom is set a generation after the events of the movie, and you don’t have to know anything about the movie in order to get something out of it.
The detail of Pandora is incredible. It’s really difficult to tell what is real and what has been created by Disney’s Imagineers, since the manufactured plants have details that rival the real thing. But the Pandoran plants are bioluminescent, giving you a big reason to check out Pandora after dark.
Food and Shopping
There are foods and crafts throughout Pandora that have been created in conjunction with artisans and craftspeople around the world. Pongu Pongu is a drink stand serving, among other things, a bioluminescent cocktail. Satu’li Canteen is a fast casual restaurant with plenty of choices, including two vegetarian options and a lot of alcohol.
And no area of Disney is complete without a gift shop: Windtraders caries a variety of items celebrating Pandoran culture.
The big thrill ride in (on?) Pandora is Flight of Passage, where your avatar rides a Banshee as you experience it in chairs that will be moving you in all directions and giving you other sensations. There’s also Na’vi River Journey, a boat ride through a bioluminescent forest. Both rides will be accessible through FastPass.
And like other parts of Disney World, there are things to see, do, and explore other than the rides. According to Joe you could easily just wander around Pandora for an hour looking at plants and handcrafts, gazing at floating mountains, stopping by a drum circle, or engaging with “characters” living on Pandora.
Pandora officially opens on May 27th, and there will be extended hours of 8am-11pm through July 4th. During that same period, Disney Resort guests can enjoy Extra Magic Hours from 11pm-1am!
Let me know if you get to go. I haven’t been to Disney World in a year, my longest stretch in almost a decade, and I’m dying to know what Pandora is like in person!
Interested in hearing more? My co-host Rebecca and I did an episode of the Parenting Bytes podcast all about Pandora and other new things coming to both Disney Parks this summer! You can listen right here.