Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Ten Expedition Tips for Pandora
Pandora – The World of Avatar opened on May 27, 2017 in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. While fans of “Avatar” and the Animal Kingdom wondered how this mythical land would come alive, the unveiling of Pandora quieted the skeptics with out-of-this-world scenery. Nearly ten years after “Avatar” touched viewer’s hearts at cinemas, Pandora is now experiencing intense fandom.
With peak crowds rushing to Pandora and waits for Flight of Passage over two hours, I wanted to share these tips before you journey to this exotic land. Don’t miss a thing; Pandora is worth the effort!
It’s time to step inside the Valley of Mo’ara; here are your expedition tips:
Welcome to the Valley of Mo’ara.
FastPass Plus for Pandora Attractions
My Disney Experience and FastPass+ (FP+) are going to be your must-use tools for a visit to Pandora.
I recommend narrowing down your FastPass+ choices before your booking window opens. Book your Animal Kingdom day first, and grab any availability for Flight of Passage. If it’s not available on your first-choice touring day, go to your second choice, and so on. You can go back and edit your FastPasses and touring plans once you secure a FastPass for this incredible attraction.
Flight of Passage Queue.
What if you don’t secure a FastPass+ before your Walt Disney World Arrival day? Don’t panic. In fact, the same thing happened to us recently. I kept looking for availability and one popped up while we were at Walt Disney World. It was about midnight when I secured the FP+ for a late Animal Kingdom morning that was three days away. Score!
What if you are unable to reserve a FastPass for Flight of Passage? You have two options: one, plan to be at the Disney’s Animal Kingdom one hour before opening and put yourself in the swarm of early-risers headed for Flight of Passage. Two, enter the standy-by line about 60-90 minutes before park closing.
To appreciate Pandora’s beauty and excitement, it’s not necessary to see the film. However, your personal journey to Pandora will be somewhat richer after seeing the movie. Consider “Avatar” to be a familiarization travel video. Then, let yourself wander Pandora and experience the interactive power of nature.
The power of nature.
Visit Pandora Day and Night
Repeat visitors to Walt Disney World already know that many attractions should be seen in the daylight and after nightfall. However, this is absolutely a must for the bioluminescent world of Pandora.
You’ll see and hear details by day and by night that are of otherworldly beauty. Visually inventive, Pandora’s emotional resonance is memorable for the whole family.
Sample the Unique Food and Beverages at Pandora
Fortify your troops at Pandora’s Quick Service Restaurant — Satu’li Canteen.
The friendly expats working at Pongu Pongu have concocted some unique frozen cocktails. Get one with a glowing Unadelta Seed!
Pongu Pongu in Pandora.
Bonus Tips: Satu’li Canteen is a welcoming refuge from the elements. However, this place gets jam-packed by lunch time. A word of caution: signs note that tables are for the canteen’s patrons only. Really need a respite? Get a beverage and small snack!
Dining Room at Satu’li Canteen.
To save time, use Mobile Order to pre-order your meal at Satu’li Canteen.
Save time with Mobile Order.
Plus, you’ll want to see the morning “entertainment” here:
Yes, we did jump the “rocks”!
Avatar Flight of Passage – a Pandora Thrill Ride
Relive one of the film’s powerful scenes by taking your own flight atop a banshee. Imagineering marvels outdid themselves when they created this 3-D simulator. It’s a multi-sensory thrill ride like none other at Walt Disney World.
RDA – Mining the Universe, together
So, there are no disappointments, note before your visit that the minimum height for riders is 44 inches.
Na’vi River Journey through Pandora
Gently floating down this mysterious river, your reed boat will journey through exotic caves filled with wondrous plants and creatures. Through music, the Na’vi Shaman of Songs fills the rainforest with positive energy.
Watch the Weather on Pandora
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has always been the park that our family avoids on rainy days. It’s also a really tough park to tour in the Florida heat and humidity. While the park is lush with greenery, it’s difficult to find air-conditioned spots to recharge and dry areas to get out of storms. This is even more of a concern in Pandora.
On a recent visit, we had to wait for our FastPass+ time at Na’vi River Journey underneath a sparse tree that did little to keep us from getting soaked in the pouring rain. After the attraction, we found a hidden cave to escape the downpour and lightning. Yet, a lot of Pandora visitors were heading to Discovery Island to seek shelter. Expect long walks to find a place to take cover and be prepared with rain jackets or ponchos.
Shop at Windtraders
Even on Pandora, the main attraction, Flight of Passage, dumps you right into a gift shop. Or you can enter at your leisure.
Windtraders has an assortment of mystical treasures to take back to Earth. Look for items that glow in the dark, an Avatar Maker, Adopt a Banshee opportunities, and all kinds of souvenirs.
Take a souvenir back to Earth!
Be an Explorer
Informative Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) guides can teach you Na’vi phrases, point out special plants and creatures, and answer your questions about this exotic land.
In this interactive world, find the creatures and plants that react when touched by a human. Will it light up, mist, or spit? You’ll only find out if you take time to explore!
Flaska Reclinata, near the entrance to Pandora, sprays a mist of spores when humans transfer their energy by touching it.
The landscaping is stunning!
Lush landscaping and floating mountains.
Bonus Tip: Look for two Wilderness Explorer stations in Pandora. Kids can begin Wilderness Explorers at any station throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These are fun and free activities for young trekkers.
Earn Wilderness Explorer Badges.
Visit During Extra Magic Hours for WDW Resort Guests
While you’ll be arriving Pandora with many other excited trekkers, Walt Disney World hotel guests can still get ahead of the masses by touring on a day that Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a scheduled morning Extra Magic Hour.
Explore nature in Pandora.
Bonus tip: Get a FastPass+ for later in the morning so that you can ride Flight of Passage twice!
With some advance planning, your adventure to Pandora can be stress-free.
Contact Us, Friend Us on Facebook, or comment below to share your tips for exploring Pandora. Let us know when you’ll be traveling to Pandora!
Now that our family has made the exciting trek to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to explore the all-new Pandora – The World of Avator, it’s time to take a look at some of our latest Walt Disney World trip highlights. We discovered the treasures within this new land by day and by night, including a visit to Satu’li Canteen.
Pandora’s night time illumination is awe-inspiring.
During a quick walkabout to get more photographs, Michael and I surveyed the provisions available at Pandora’s Quick Service Restaurant — Satu’li Canteen.
As expected, the bounty grown in Pandora boasts fresh ingredients of wholesome grains, crunchy vegetables, and hearty proteins. Satu’li Canteen, therefore, features many health-conscious menu items that can be customized at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Upon arrival, you’ll first notice the outdoor seating area tucked inside the Quonset-hut.
Tables for Satu’li Guests only.
Indoor seating is also available. High chairs are stocked for smaller Pandora tourists.
Weary travelers will discover that the venue is now owned and operated by Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE). ACE is the sole provider of eco tours to Pandora from Earth. And you’ll be so glad that you took the tour!
Photos and letters are framed near the ordering queue.
Look for documents that explain the backstory of Satu’li Canteen, including a document signed by Marshall Lamm, ACE’s founder. Pictures show his successful efforts to partner with the Na’vi.
Backstory items are on display in the queue.
Upon closer inspection, Na’vi artifacts such as tapestries and cookware decorate the canteen.
Satu’li Canteen Decor.
Na’vi art and culture is celebrated throughout this former RDA (Resources Development Administration) mess hall. Look for Earth references as well.
Some equipment has been offworld tested.
Former mess hall for the Resources Development Administration (RDA).
Na’vi cultural influences.
Our first visit to Satu’li Canteen was for an early afternoon snack accompanied by thirst-quenching beverages. We needed a quick recharge and hydration as the summer heat was zapping our strength as we hiked through the Valley of Mo’ara.
Valley of Mo’ara.
My husband and I shared a Chocolate Cake, Pandoran Sunrise, and Diet Coke from the fast-casual menu. One of the nice perks of dining here — your food selections will be served on beautiful dishes with nice cutlery. After dining, return your Earthly materials to these bins.
Return dishes here.
The chocolate cake was quite airy. And while I wasn’t sure how the crunchy cookie layer would play out, it was an absolute winner. You’ll want to get some of that scrumptious banana cream topping and crunchy bottom in every bite.
Even if you are a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, you may find it difficult to unwind when you have nearly 50 square miles with very tempting shopping, dining, rides, food, and recreation to explore. Can you really find relaxation during a theme park vacation?
Just today, I was planning my FastPass+ selections and itinerary for a quick trip that we are taking at the end of August. And guess what? I found myself quickly filling up my Disney days from morning to night. Sigh; I know better.
Some of the most priceless moments that I’ve savored at Disney World are those that were during break times. And so, just as soon as I fill you in on these tips, I’m going to revisit my August plans and make sure I’ve allowed time for relaxation at Walt Disney World.
Leave the Real World Behind
Most of us find it fairly easy to purchase and don Mickey Ears. We’re all pretty good at embracing Mickey-shaped food. And I think WDW newbies and veterans alike have no issue with shrugging off stress while riding our favorite attractions.
Mickey Waffle are always fun and delicious to eat!
But, what about technology? Some of us need it for work (even at Disney!). Some of us love sharing our family moments (and favorite Disney snacks!!) on social media. And now, My Disney Experience and other apps make it actually easier to tour Disney World with the use of our smart gadgets.
Meet Anna and Elsa using the convenience of FastPass+
Still, try to allow some time during your Disney days to unplug. Silence your phone while at the pool with your family. Keep your electronic tools quiet during meals. Try taking an entire morning or evening unplugged. After the initial withdrawal, you’ll find these moments liberating.
Nanea Volcano Pool at Disney’s Polynesian Village.
The Road Less Traveled
While you watch the herd of guests run to their first attraction, linger on your way into the theme park. With your FastPasses pre-selected, go ahead and browse the nooks and crannies on Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom. Grab a morning pastry and actually sit at a quiet table while the magic wakes up all around you.
Enjoy a pastry with a magical view early in the morning.
Some of my favorite pathways for calm moments at WDW include:
Along the boardwalk at the Rivers of America in the Magic Kingdom
In the back of Fantasyland (near the train track) to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom
The trails at Epcot’s Canada pavilion
The Hyde Park area and maze at Epcot’s United Kingdom pavilion
The quiet nooks and crannies within Epcot’s Morocco pavilion
The off-the-beaten trail between Animal Kingdom’s Africa and Asia
The walkway between Disney’s Polynesian Village and Grand Floridian resorts
The walkway between Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter resorts
The walkway between Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness
The walkway from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to the BoardWalk area
A quiet morning in the Magic Kingdom enjoying one of our favorite walkways.
There are always secluded areas at the resorts to settle back and talk about your day.
Chill out at our resort; I love the Beach Club nooks and crannies for quiet respites.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to dine early or late. If you are touring in the busy season, you really want to grab your quick-service lunch meals right at 11AM. This dining strategy not only saves your family from the chaos of long lines but also gives everyone a chance at unwinding in quieter restaurants. Refreshed and refueled, you’ll be back to touring the park while the crowds are at lunch.
We also like the early strategy for table service lunch as well. We were one of the first patrons at Epcot’s Via Napoli in the picture below and while the restaurant filled up quickly, most of our meal was extremely quiet.
Dine early for quiet dining rooms.
At dinner time, dine early or late. Your hotel’s food court will be chaotic after the parks close, especially when closing hours are early in the winter time. Dine before the crowds return to the resort.
Resort dining will be more relaxing before the crowds return after the WDW parks close.
Try late night dining for empty dining rooms — whether you stop by for a full meal, snack, or beverage, quick service dining rooms are usually quiet later at night.
We like to take a breather at Backlot Express in Disney’s Hollywood Studios before this restaurant closes. Watch the park’s Times Guide for official hours as this venue often shuts down before park closing time.
Late night dining in crowd-free restaurants is a great chance to relax while touring.
Be strong. Fill out your itinerary and then check it over for downtime opportunities. If you are repeat guests, would the family benefit more from riding a couple of your not-so-favorite attractions or swimming in the resort’s pool?
Afternoons are awesome at the Dig Site Pool at Coronado Springs Resort.
And doesn’t that apply to newbies too?! If your heart is not set on seeing the afternoon parade, maybe some time playing miniature golf or enjoying another recreational activity would be more memorable for everyone.
Play Twister at Pop Century!
Take Advantage of FastPass+
Picture this: It’s early morning and my family is waiting at the gates prior to the opening of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When the park opens, my husband “runs” to Toy Story Midway Mania for FastPasses while the rest of our traveling party grabs food at Starring Rolls Cafe (now closed) or meets in front of Tower of Terror. Yep, that’s how we used to tour.
FastPass+ and My Disney Experience (MDE) allow us to pre-plan many of our must do attractions so that we can slow down and enjoy more leisurely family time at WDW. Now, we are more likely to reserve a nice meal at the park, followed by a leisurely stroll over to our FastPass+ attraction.
Early lunch seating at Yak and Yeti in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
This strategy really works well on a day that follows a late night in an Extra Magic Hour park. We can then sleep in a bit, enjoy time at the pool, then head to a park later in the day for a meal and our FastPass+ selections. With a teen, late nights and lazy mornings work very well.
On days that we are at a park for rope drop, we are prepared with FastPass+ for morning attractions before heading back to our hotel or Disney Springs later in the day. By mixing up your itinerary, you’ll definitely discover that relaxation at Wald Disney World is indeed possible.
Plan some time at Disney Springs.
With the Epcot festivals becoming longer each year, more runDisney events being added, and Free Dining offers filling in the gaps, Walt Disney World seems to have three seasons: busy, busier, and busiest.
December 19th crowds at the Magic Kingdom. Watch for holiday season to be super busy.
Okay, there are still a few times per year when crowds are really light. We are still fans of late January, for example.
If you can, avoid holiday school breaks as these usually cause a huge influx of guests. Don’t want crowds? Stay away from actual holidays such as New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve crowds in the Magic Kingdom.
The Rest of the World
“There’s more to see than can ever be seen. More to do than can ever be done. There’s far too much to take in here. More to find than can ever be found.” — The Circle of Life lyrics say it all.
Yes, there is more to do at Walt Disney World than touring the four major parks (Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom).
The resort hotels all offer dining and recreational fun for all ages. Take in a campfire night at your hotel or stop by a different resort for a new experience like a Pirate Cruise. The resorts are usually a refuge during the afternoon hours.
Escaping the parks in the middle of the day equals no bus lines and a relaxing, crowd-free resort.
Disney Springs has some of the best shops and dining choices on property. And don’t forget about the water parks and golf courses. Plus, there are out-of-the-park places to watch the high-flying fireworks if you don’t want to return to a park in the evening.
Taking in the Details
Sometimes all you need is a moment of calm in a busy day. Slow down and take in the details all around you; the creativity of the Imagineers is awe-inspiring. Don’t forget to look up, down, and all around.
When you sit and relax, you’ll notice all kinds of beautiful scenery.
Find a place to sit down and just gaze.
The regal architecture of New Fantasyland.
A walk around your resort in the late morning, afternoon, or late evening is a great time to get pictures and unwind.
An evening stroll around Art of Animation.
Vacationing at Walt Disney World can include relaxing recreation.
Play tennis at Disney’s Yacht Club.
From running to horseback riding, you’ll find a plethora of activities to engage in throughout the resort.
Keep up with your fitness routine on a Disney running trail.
Let’s not underestimate the calming effect of a delicious adult beverage.
Adult Beverages at Thirsty River Bar & Trek Snacks in the Animal Kingdom.
Find an out-of-the way location later in the day — we like to sit in the back of Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe with a refreshing beverage.
Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe is a quiet place in the late afternoon to sip on a beverage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Also, resort lounges are a terrific place to hideaway while sipping on an alcoholic or non-alcoholic refreshment and/or relishing some good bites to eat.
Stop by the Martha’s Vineyard Lounge at Disney’s Beach Club resort.
Of course, if you are on a once in a lifetime trip and your priority is to see and do everything that you possibly can, we completely appreciate that mindset. Even so, try to find small breaks to add some relaxation to your Walt Disney World vacation.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: The Masterful Aesthetics of Design, Immersion and Storytelling
Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) far surpasses the other three Walt Disney World (WDW) parks when it comes to its ability to immerse guests into the various experiences and stories that the Imagineers carefully craft. Joe Rohde’s theme park is an extraordinary achievement. Since opening in April 1998, DAK has been providing guests of all ages with multiple layers of sensory and emotional stimuli.
The lighting, landscaping, architecture, graphics, and color palette are all layered in overwhelming detail.
The level of immersion and designed detail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is unique at WDW. The only other park on Florida’s Disney property that comes close is Typhoon Lagoon. (Love that place, but for a variety of reasons, including temperature, water parks are not necessarily on my touring plan every time I visit Disney. 😉)
Astounding details are woven into the landscaping near Expedition Everest.
My first visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom occurred in January 1999, less than one year after its opening. From that excursion and onward, this park has continuously held a special place in my overall Disney experience. Although there are many criticisms leveled at DAK, some legitimate and others ridiculous (in my opinion), there is no other Disney Park in the United States that offers the range of emotional impact related to its explicitly detailed design and execution.
The Entrance and Reveal at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The experience begins at the entrance, not unlike many of the other Disney parks, however, Disney’s Animal Kingdom sets itself apart in significant ways. The necessity to walk through the Oasis to get to the Tree of Life and the remaining themed areas of DAK, works magic every time it is experienced.
The Tree of Life is the park icon for Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The fact that you cannot see any details of the park beyond the foliage and paths of the Oasis as you enter the turnstiles is unique for the parks at WDW. With Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there is no effort or any mechanism by which any aspect of the entrance to the park is a mystery. Spaceship Earth cannot be hidden. Hollywood Boulevard and several of the other themed areas at the Studios can be plainly seen even before you enter the turnstile.
Meandering pathway through the Oasis
The Magic Kingdom and the carefully designed reveal of Cinderella’s Castle is closer to what Disney’s Animal Kingdom presents. Cinderella Castle, by design, is slowly experienced as you pass under the Walt Disney Railroad Station and turn the bend into the central hub at City Hall or the Exposition Center.
Look at the details in every corner of Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
It is a well-known fact in Disney lore that the slow reveal to Cinderella’s Castle is copied directly from Disneyland’s reveal of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Walt and his Imagineers designed the entrance to Disneyland as the overture to “the show” and a direct analogy of entering a movie theater or theatrical production. The turnstile, the archway into the lobby (City Hall area), the popcorn available immediately upon entering the “lobby” at either side, and Main Street USA rolled out as the red carpet towards the main attraction, Sleeping Beauty Castle and the Hub. The adventures of the themed lands lie beyond. This purposeful manipulation of these stimuli attracts and compels guests forward to explore.
All roads lead to amazing scenery
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is analogous to the Magic Kingdom only in that its entranceway was carefully designed to manipulate your senses and have a distinctive emotional impact on your experience. The care by which the entrance to DAK is designed is carried throughout every remaining inch of the park. Beyond anything else, this is what I admire most about the Animal Kingdom.
Stop and take in the splendid views in the Oasis.
The Story Revealed by Joe Rohde
The other, and perhaps more significant, analogy that can be drawn between the Magic Kingdom/Disneyland and DAK is that each owes its existence to the dreams of one man. Joe Rohde is unquestionably Walt Disney’s stand-in for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
View from DinoLand toward Discovery Island. Discovery Island leads to DinoLand U.S.A., Asia, Harambe, and soon… Pandora.
Walt’s passion to tell stories and provide the guest with adventure, education, and immersive experiences by careful design of every single detail of Disneyland is well documented. It can be clearly seen that Joe Rohde’s passion has always and continues to achieve the same with DAK.
Kim saw firsthand the exquisite detail that went into the Wild Africa Trek when she took part in the opening day ceremony in January 2011 with Joe Rohde in attendance (yes, I’m still jealous!).
Opening of Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek. And, there’s Joe Rohde!
The Work of Art
Over the years, I have spent many hours slowly soaking up and appreciating various details of the work of art called the Animal Kingdom. Frustratingly, I know that I have only barely scratched the surface. During any of my trips to WDW, a must do is simply wandering and admiring small chunks of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Along the Maharajah Jungle Trek, you’ll wander the ruins of an ancient palace
Joe Rohde and the Imagineers have continued to plus the park with every addition or modification made since 1998. The masterful use of aesthetics continues to astound me: Anandapur and the addition of Expedition Everest, the expansion of Harambe, and several of the modifications made to Discovery Island are just a few of these examples.
The details present in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom bring life to the mythical kingdom of Anandapur.
Animal Kingdom’s extraordinary use of design, story immersion, and details is encouraging when considering near and future development in the park.
Dino Institute in DinoLand U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Some of the most salient aesthetics at DAK for me include: the ingenious use of graphic design apparent in the signage across the entire park, the wall and brickwork found within Asia, the mountaineering props and gear spread all over Anandapur, the queues for Expedition Everest and Dinosaur, the Restaurantosaurus, the entrance to Harambe, and the entire park at nighttime.
Expedition Everest looks even more mysterious at night!
DAK at night is especially wonderful to walk AND run through! Yes, Kim and I ran the Expedition Everest Challenge 5K back in 2008 and 2009!
As it was purposely designed to be, DAK’s aesthetics and artful design cannot be described well with words. Photographs do a better job, but there truly is nothing like being able to touch Disney’s Animal Kingdom in person. I am looking forward to my next visit!
The palentologists and graduate students of DinoLand’s story”live” at Restaurantosaurus.
Share your thoughts on Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the comments below. Do you have an upcoming trip planned?
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