Disney's Pandora -- The World of Avatar is a full-on sensory experience

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Pandora: The World of Avatar is an immersive alien world of floating mountains, cascading waterfalls and a bioluminescent rainforest.
Pandora: The World of Avatar is an immersive alien world of floating mountains, cascading waterfalls and a bioluminescent rainforest.

ORLANDO -- Pandora -- The World of Avatar is not a place created to look like something one has seen in a movie. It is an immersive alien world of floating mountains, cascading waterfalls and a bioluminescent rainforest.

Within the land are two rides, a restaurant and a gift shop. Guests could — and should — stay all day and into the night.

Disney on Saturday offered media a sneak peek of the new land inside Disney's Animal Kingdom, scheduled to open on May 27.

Pandora is meant to be a full-on sensory experience that evolves as the sun peaks and then falls into darkness. Set many years after a great conflict between humans and the indigenous Na'vi, the two are now at peace and the land is experiencing a rebirth.

The world of Pandora is filled with Na'vi plants, such as the depaphet, similar to an agave.
The world of Pandora is filled with Na'vi plants, such as the depaphet, similar to an agave. Photo Credit: Megan Padilla

Disney guests are ecotourists visiting Pandora, witnessing the harmony of nature and man. Bioluminescent plant life responds to human interaction with flickers and shimmers of light, as though in dialogue.

Our guides through Pandora were the visionary team of Disney Imagineers led by Joe Rohde, who was the lead designer of Animal Kingdom, as well as Avatar producer Jon Landau who, as part of director James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment, has collaborated with Disney Imagineering since 2012.

The talents of designers, sculptors, painters, structural engineers and robotic technicians have created a 360-degree environment that includes an aerial view, too. Floating mountains top out at 156 feet tall. Nothing from the outside world interrupts your view.

Your visit through Pandora is not a path to reach a ride. In fact, there aren't even signs to the rides, an intentional choice, says Landau, "to let you explore and discover on your own."

An avatar in an amniotic pod is one of the experiments in the scientists' lab on the approach to Avatar Flight of Passage.
An avatar in an amniotic pod is one of the experiments in the scientists' lab on the approach to Avatar Flight of Passage. Photo Credit: Megan Padilla

"The attractions have very deliberate emotional moments crafted into them, the way a good story does, the way a good film does," said Rohde. "It's not as simple as just coming to a place that looks realistic. It's a place that's been deliberately imbued with the emotions of awe, of wonder, of respect, of harmony."

Pandora features two rides: the Na'vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage.

The Na'vi River Journey is a boat ride down a sacred river whose bioluminescent forest lights the way to meet the Shaman of Song at the end. Riders witness centipedes as long as their arm slithering across branches and a pack of toothsome viperwolves that seem menacing until you notice their pups at play.

Light and sound merge through the forest, where riders catch a glimpse of the tall, blue Na'vi  moving toward the female elder, who holds court at the end. "The Na'vi River Journey," said Rohde, "is about the immediate physical experience of each person in that space." In other words, forget about trying to capture video and just be present. 

The Na'vi River Journey is a boat ride through a bioluminescent forest.
The Na'vi River Journey is a boat ride through a bioluminescent forest.

Avatar Flight of Passage puts riders on the back of a winged banshee. They become a "driver" and are linked to an avatar — just like the one seen in the amniotic pod as they pass through the science lab — using their brain to control the banshee's flight.

Riders will feel the wind on their face and the spray of water as they soar beneath a curling wave before it crashes.

Guests of Walt Disney World Resort hotels will be able to visit Pandora every night from 11 p.m. until 1 a.m from May 27 through July 4. Guests will have the richest experience if they earmark most of a day and night to spend in Pandora. It is meant for exploration, interaction and contemplation.

Even though long lines are expected, they've been designed to immerse the guest in rich details and storytelling. The queues are shaded or indoor, and will help guests beat a big chunk of the day's heat. 

The blueberry cheesecake mousse wth passionfruit topping at Satu'li Canteen is inspired by the face of the Na'vi: blue with white speckles and bright yellow eyes.
The blueberry cheesecake mousse wth passionfruit topping at Satu'li Canteen is inspired by the face of the Na'vi: blue with white speckles and bright yellow eyes. Photo Credit: Megan Padilla

At the Satu'li Canteen, the menu is inspired by how the Na'vi eat from the land. Guests can pre-order lunch on the My Disney Experience app. They simply tap "I'm here" when they arrive at the restaurant, and the food will be ready minutes later. This is the first Disney restaurant to use the mobile ordering app. It is only available for credit card orders and is not yet compatible with Disney dining plans or with any discounts.

Guests can head back to the hotel for a power nap or a refreshing swim and then return to Animal Kingdom for round two, which could include a viewing of the spectacular new show Rivers of Light (best seen from the bleachers on the side closer to Dinoland) and dinner at the fine dining Tiffin, located just before the bridge into Pandora.

Guests also may return to enjoy the magic of Pandora lit by the moon and its own bioluminescence -- the merging of human and Na'vi worlds to create something entirely new.

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