Early look at Disney's Pandora-The World of Avatar

By Scott Fais , Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, May 12, 2017, 5:25 PM EDT

Sitting roughly 4.4 light years away from Earth rests a fictional alien realm, known as Pandora.

After five years of planning, designing and building, Pandora has come to Central Florida.

It is now the largest expansion in the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Visitors will venture down a quiet trail where what is familiar on Earth starts to blur into what’s out of this world.

“They are walking into a world where Pandora is starting to take over from the human destruction that’s happened a generation ago,” said Matt Beiler, show producer with Walt Disney Imagineering.

Set after the final film (scheduled for release next decade), visitors will behold floating mountains, towering trees and a babbling brook.

However, there may still be room to grow.

"We’re looking at this as a long term relationship with Disney,” said "Avatar" movie producer Jon Landau.

Landau was a surprise visitor at a press event on Friday, giving an impromptu press conference. 

When asked, Landau dropped a hint that the theme park attraction has inspired the next four films.

“There are things that Disney created that now we are taking and putting into the films,” he said.

He also mentioned several other themed-entertainment providers were interested in creating an Avatar-based experience, but shared he is a Disney fan at heart, as evident of the ornaments used to decorate his family Christmas tree.

Some of those details headed to the films may come from the two new rides inside Pandora. The family-friendly “Navi River Journey” is a slow moving cruise in the spirit of classic rides like It’s a Small World.

Visitors board a small boat consisting of two rows before disembarking inside a darkened route.  Soon after leaving the boarding platform, a bioluminescent forest comes to life.

Three-dimensional props and digitally created animals spring to life.  The highlight is when a signing shaman serenades passengers. 

Landau hinted some of the creatures here might come to life in future films.

Hidden behind several waterfalls and lush landscaping awaits "Avatar Flight of Passage," a ride that lets you fly on the back of a banshee.

Spoiler Alert: people who have been on Soarin’  at Epcot will find Flight of Passage to be the next generation of the ride system. 

Visitors enter an elaborate queue system that appears to be the laboratory from the first Avatar film.  A giant Na’vi figure is still “growing” inside a tank.

Some of the best and most believable pre-show graphics ever created await visitors before boarding.

Once seated aboard what can feel like a motorcycle seat, riders put on 3D glasses.  When a screen opens, riders feel as if they are placed on the back on the back of a flying banshee.

“Can you put your hands up?” I asked Beiler.  His response? “I would want to hold on!”

The flight is incredibly real, with several moments of simulated airtime, dips and leaps.

Like any good theme park attraction, Na’vi Flight of Passage passes right through a gift shop, named "Windtraders." In the center of the retail environment, your facial features can be scanned and turned into a Na’vi warrior.

“Ten minutes later, you are going to leave with this possible, ten inch tall, action figure,” said Steven Miller, a Walt Disney World merchandise manager.

Also created just for Pandora, a new selection of tastes.  A new style of dining at "Satu'li Canteen" allows visitors to choose their protein--like chicken, tofu, roast beef and fish--before adding vegetables.

A full offering of Pandora is almost too good for the man who heads back to work shooting the next movie later this year.

“This is a pinch me moment,” said Landau.

Pandora-The World of Avatar completes Animal Kingdom’s evening enhancements, turning the park into a nighttime venue. Imagineers say Pandora will take on a whole new look at night, when the plants and walkways glow in a bioluminescent glow.

Pandora opens May 27.