Even though Pandora – The World of Avatar officially opens to all Guests on May 27, Animal Kingdom held a dedication ceremony for this new land on May 24, unveiling a world where mountains float in the sky, bioluminescent plants illuminate the forest at night, and explorers can soar above the alien moon on the backs of banshees. When it opens to the public, Pandora will transport Walt Disney World Resort Guests to an all-new land beyond belief, located 4.4 light years away from Earth.
Set with artifacts found throughout the Pandoran landscape, the dedication stage was a tapestry of sights and sounds. Drummers pounded out traditional rhythms, colorfully dressed performers led a procession full of pageantry and artful banners fluttered in the morning sky.
Inspired by the blockbuster motion picture AVATAR from filmmaker James Cameron, the new 12-acre land immerses guests in the lush world of Pandora in a time frame a generation after the human-Na’vi conflict in the Oscar-winning film. In a collaboration of two master storytellers, Disney joined with Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment in a multi-year project to bring to life the mythical world of Pandora.
“Working with Jim and his team was a dream come true for us, as we pushed the limits of creativity and innovation to bring the digital world of Pandora to the real world of Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. “Now anyone who has ever dreamed of visiting this extraordinary world can explore the astonishing landscape and ecosystem, soar on the back of a banshee and actually become part of the AVATAR adventure.”
Na’vi, the indigenous blue people in the film, call Pandora home. Cave paintings give hints of the Na’vi culture, and totems they weaved point guests down pathways threading through the overgrown rainforest, punctuated by bizarre sounds of animals not of this world and alien plants that glow with light. Disney Imagineers created a soundscape meant to evoke an alien jungle.
Some of the most creative sculptors in the world were recruited to help shape the new land, with the overriding message of connecting everything to the value of nature — and the transformative power of adventure and conservation.
“I never thought I’d see the day when the Pandora I imagined could be made physically real,” said Cameron. “Working with Disney to bring this world to life has been an amazing experience, and the result is something I think everyone will love for generations to come. It really feels like you’re stepping into a dream.”
While inspired by Cameron’s film, Pandora – The World of Avatar was not envisioned as an extension of the film.
“It’s not the movie AVATAR that we are portraying,” said Joe Rohde, Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive. “It is the planet Pandora where you can come, you can visit, and have your own unique adventure. Rather than reliving the adventures of characters from the film, you’re going to come to the planet where those things happened — and have your own set of adventures you can own.”
And what an eye-filling, sky-filling planet it is.
Crossing an entry bridge, rusted-over across the years, guests follow a winding forest pathway to where the surreal landscape first comes into view. The exotic Valley of Mo’ara spreads before them.
Other-worldly sights, sounds and scenes abound. Adventurers roam verdant pathways underneath floating mountains laced with waterfalls dropping to quiet ponds. They venture deep inside a bioluminescent rainforest amid the sounds of Pandoran creatures roaming the underbrush.
Two Extraordinary Attractions Anchor the New Land
Avatar Flight of Passage
Avatar Flight of Passage sends explorers swooping and soaring on a simulated flight above the awe-inspiring world of Pandora on the back of awinged banshee. Floating mountains, rushing waterfalls, vast seas and dense jungle pass under-wing. This multi-sensory, wind-in-your-face experience is unlike anything Disney has created before. “You are grounded on a winged predator and flying through these amazing environments with special effects to add to the thrill,” Rohde says.
Na’vi River Journey
Aboard the eight-person reed boats of Na’vi River Journey, families follow a sacred river deep into the bioluminescent rainforest under a canopy of exotic glowing plants, passing rock formations and Pandoran creatures on the move. This mystical journey culminates in an encounter with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs, who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora and sends positive energy out into the forest through her music.
The Culinary Story on Pandora – The World of Avatar
Not only can you explore like a Na’vi and talk like a Na’vi – you can eat like a Na’vi, too, on Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Dining Na’vi-style is at the heart of Satu’li Canteen, the fast-casual restaurant in the new land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The canteen calls out the friendship and cultural kinship that exists between the humans on Pandora and the indigenous Na’vi.
“The setting of Pandora – The World of Avatar is long after the Na’vi and the humans have reconciled their conflict, and we are invited as guests to visit Pandora,” said Stefan Hellwig, executive creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering.
Satu’li (Sa-too-lee) Canteen is the land’s restaurant, with a design inspired by bases set up on Pandora by the Resources Development Administration (RDA) in the blockbuster “AVATAR” film. Once the main mess hall of the RDA base in the Valley of Mo’ara, the canteen is now owned and operated by the Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) tour company and has been redesigned into a beautiful museum-like dining room open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The interior has been transformed with colorful Na’vi items filling the walls and hanging from the ceiling – hand-woven tapestries, natural Pandoran elements and cooking tools decorate the interior.
Satu’li Canteen combines creativity and approachable flavors in a menu inspired by the healthful bounty on Pandora, with wholesome grains, fresh vegetables and hearty proteins. An on-stage grill is a prominent feature in the colorful dining room, “bringing all five senses into play,” said Ed Wronski, director, culinary development for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.
Fast-casual Satu’li Canteen offers bowls that allow diners to customize their meal. Diners start with a base of quinoa and vegetable salad; red and sweet potato hash; mixed whole-grain and rice or romaine and kale salad. Next is either wood-grilled chicken, slow-roasted beef, sustainable fish or chili-spiced fried tofu. And the bowl is finished with charred onion chimichurri, black bean vinaigrette or creamy herb dressing.
“This is one of our first fast-casual restaurants that gives guests the ability to customize their meal,” said Wronski. “We played with the theme of Avatar, and ended up with the bowl concept that is healthful, lighter and with plant-based ingredients to tie back to the World of Avatar.” The guiding principle, he said, was to “balance creativity with dishes that are approachable.”
The menu also offers steamed “pods” – bao buns with either cheeseburger ingredients or vegetable curry served with root vegetable chips and crunchy vegetable slaw.
For little ones, there’s an option of grilled chicken or beef, fish or tofu with greens or rice; a hot dog wrapped in Parker House dough; cheese quesadilla, or a steamed “pod” (cheeseburger bao bun).
Dessert is Blueberry Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Curd or Chocolate Cake with a Crunchy Cookie Layer, Banana Cream and Goji Berries.
Satu’li Canteen offers draft beers, including Avatar Private Label Green Ale and Avatar Private Label Amber Ale; Pandoran blend sangria; wine on tap, including Banshee Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast); Banshee Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast), and a non-alcoholic blend of tropical juices served in a souvenir cup with a removable, playable pan flute.
Satu’li Canteen is also the first Disney restaurant to offer Mobile Order, a new convenient option to order and pay for meals on-the-go using the My Disney Experience app. The service also enables guests to bypass the queue to order when they arrive at the restaurant. Using the app, guests can select menu items, customize their orders and pre-pay for their meals. When they arrive at the restaurant they will tap an “I’m here” button in the app, which will notify the kitchen to prepare the meal. When their meals are ready, guests will be alerted through the app to pick up them up at a designated window. Additional fast-casual and quick-service restaurants will begin to offer Mobile Order later this year. Disney Dining Plan is accepted but Mobile Order only accepts credit cards.
Satu’li Canteen offers 330 seats with an additional 190 seats outside.
Pongu Pongu Kiosk
Adjacent to Satu’li Canteen is Pongu Pongu, Pandora’s specialty beverage kiosk. “Pongu Pongu” means “party party” and this kiosk, as the story goes, was built by a human who befriended the local Na’vi clan and built a place to gather and socialize. The name came from all the “wild and memorable times” Na’vi and humans had together there.
The signature drink is the Frozen Nectar (frozen limeade with layered flavors of Granny Smith Apple and Desert Pear topped with bursting mango boba balls) that glows with bioluminescent colors reminiscent of Pandora’s flora. There’s also a Screaming Banshee Margarita and Avatar Private Label Ale. Drinks can be purchased in a tiki-inspired mug with an Avatar “juju” light-up cube.
For sweet snacking, Lumpia (loom-pee-ah), a pineapple-cream cheese spring roll, is also on the menu.
Pandora Offers Shoppers an Immersive Experience and Unique Merchandise
Nestled under a thatched roof and covered in Na’vi totems, Windtraders is the place for a truly out-of-this-world shopping experience. The one-of-a-kind retail location is located in Pandora – The World of Avatar, a new land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Here, shopping becomes an experience, one that’s every bit as special and unique as the Windtraders merchandise available.
The story of Pandora is one of a planet recovering from the destructive forces of the Resources Development Administration (RDA), a mining company that sowed the conflict in James Cameron’s AVATAR film. That recovery is evident in Windtraders, where an abandoned structure has been largely overtaken by sprawling roots from some of Pandora’s exotic plants. Many of these imposing root structures also happen to showcase Pandora merchandise, creating a truly nature-inspired experience.
The connection to the land is evident with a variety of items celebrating all things that make the bioluminescent world of Pandora special and celebrate the indigenous Na’vi. Look for animal plush, apparel that glows, or drums and other handheld toys that light up when shaken, tapped or activated. Guests can even bring home their own collectible glowing vein pod or helicoradian plant.
A very special feature of Windtraders is the Banshee Rookery. As the name implies, it’s home to some of the winged creatures made famous in Cameron’s epic film. The rookery sits beneath a brightly colored hand-painted map depicting banshees soaring over Pandora. The rookery is also where guests can select their own banshees to care for. The experience begins with a naturalist who helps each guest find the banshee that’s just right for them. Guests are then asked to take the Banshee Pledge, which teaches the importance of the banshee as a symbol of their commitment to the environment.
Continuing their immersion into Na’vi culture, guests can purchase items that let them take on characteristics of Pandora’s blue indigenous inhabitants; Na’vi ears, tails, hooded jackets and cultural items are among the many accessories available.
Guests can also design personalized necklaces reminiscent of Na’vi culture using beads and feathers at the store’s Bead Bar. Here again, those natural root structures creep through the building, offering a dramatic display for various jewels, stones and more.
Those wanting to speak like a Na’vi will find language translators available. These pocket-sized devices use a series of cards to translate common English words into their Na’vi counterparts. Each translator kit comes with 15 cards, and more are available for purchase. With more than 90 cards available, guests will be speaking Na’vi in no time.
Guests will truly feel one with Pandora through the many captivating merchandise offerings. In fact, guests can even become avatars themselves through the ACE Avatar Maker. This immersive experience lets guests take home replica avatar figures of themselves. ACE refers to Alpha Centauri Expeditions, the tourism company working with the Na’vi to present Pandora as a new destination for ecotourism and scientific research.
In this experience, the natural feel of Windtraders gives way as guests step into a futuristic transformation booth. Using a digital process, a custom action figure is created that features a facial likeness of the guest. The 10-inch figures are also revealed in a fun, only-on-Pandora way. Male, female and child avatars are available, as are accessory kits for customizing the figures.
A stop inside Windtraders is the perfect way for guests to feel connected to Pandora and take some of the other-worldly land home with them.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT PANDORA – THE WORLD OF AVATAR
Where Mountains Float in the Sky
Where Mountains Float in the Sky
- The iconic floating mountains in the Valley of Mo’ara – there are 22 – peak at about 130 feet above the valley floor. .
- Sharp-eyed adventurers will see Pandoran Stingbats nesting in the mountains. Despite their lethal tail spines, these animals can be summoned by the Na’vi with clicking sounds made between the tongue and teeth.
- A team of more than 60 artisans from the U.S., Peru, France, Portugal, Japan and Ireland contributed to creating the art-scape of the floating mountains.
- It wouldn’t be an alien planet without bizarre plant life. On Pandora, a diverse ecosystem is rebalancing as a variety of colorful plant life flourishes.
- Plants have names like Puffball Tree, Dapophet, Vein Pod, Scorpion Thistle, Episoth and Flaska Reclinata.
- Humans rapping on the Flaska Reclinata cause this large alien plant to pollinate by releasing spores within the environment. With its wide base tapering to a narrow top, the Flaska Reclinata is found just past the old RDA bridge.
- Many plants are bioluminescent, with internal lighting or material that makes them glow. Plants are interactive. Guests can see and sense the energy of the plants that moves in waves.
- Pandora plays to a surreal soundtrack. Said Matt Beiler, WDI producer: “For the land to feel like a real jungle from another planet, we don’t have traditional background music in Pandora – we have a soundscape designed to make it feel as though it is an alien jungle. We hear vocalization patterns like mating calls and hunting moments, and this makes it feel real. When those moments happen, the lighting ties into that with waves of energy. It gives us a connectedness to nature.”
- At the center of Pandora is a riparian area, where waterfalls cascade from the mountaintops into gentle pools and streams.
- One stream follows a peaceful path along the entry to Pandora. The other flows into the Na’vi River Journey, where guests board reed boats for an excursion to see the revered Shaman of Songs.
- The looming mountains are arid, and guests will hear different animal vocalizations from those areas.
- The Walt Disney Imagineering landscape architecture team worked side by side with the land’s design and engineering teams to ensure that thousands of Pandoran plants, including epiphytes and barnacles, fit into the overall landscape plan.
- For example, the Dapophet plant features a sort of starburst bloom that resembles the live agave planted next to it. The Puffball Tree looks like the family of plants we know as cycads with its fern-like, palm-like characteristics.
- More than 250 varieties of live trees, shrubs and epiphytes mingle with the Pandoran The Disney horticulture team planted more than 500 trees and nearly 10,000 shrubs across the Pandoran landscape.
- Many of the walkways and paths, like the alien plant life that surrounds them, are also bioluminescent. A treatment added to some of the Pandoran walkways gives them that glowing quality. Charged by sunlight and reinforced by black light, the glowing pathways come to life.
- No matter where guests go in Pandora, they will feel the presence of many animal species. Pandora teems with them.
- The pack hunter, the Viperwolf (with six legs and opposable thumbs) communicates with unusual coyote-like yelps. The Direhorse (a six-legged domesticated riding animal) exhibits a gentle demeanor.
- Mountain Banshees, with wingspans averaging approximately 45 feet, inhabit the mountainous regions of Pandora. The most fearsome land predator is the omnivorous, powerful Thanator. And the Great Leonopteryx, larger and more solitary than the Mountain Banshee, is the most formidable winged creature.
- At Avatar Flight of Passage, 48 guests at a time can enter a state-of-the-art theater and board mountain banshees as avatars for the ride of their lives across Pandora.
- Immersion in the world of Pandora is complete thanks to a projection screen 69 feet wide and more than 97 feet high.
- Flight time during the six-minute experience is about four minutes.
- During the 4½-minute Na’vi River Journey, guests will meet an Audio-Animatronics Na’vi Shaman of Songs. At nearly 10 feet tall, the shaman is typical height for a Na’vi.
- New technology programs fluid energy into her every movement and gesture.
PHOTOS: © 2017 Walt Disney World Resort. All Rights Reserved.