Nature, culture, conservation. Science, physics, flight, fight. Color, creativity, imagination, light.
All 4.4 light years away ... yet experienced in a day. Welcome to the newest world within Disney's Animal Kingdom, a fitting home to an ambitious, noble land inspired by Avatar, the film written and directed by James Cameron.
Pandora — The World of Avatar starts a conversation of hope and conservation with every step, every glance, every detail. Members of the Pandora Conservation Initiative offer insight to help visitors understand what keeps the plants of Pandora alive and see how fallen flora and fauna are honored and respected in the drum circle.
Beauty changes from day to night, the sounds of Pandora and the life she supports accompanying. If one is particularly lucky—as I was—you might suddenly be pulled into the evening drum circle, offering a prescribed beat that beckons a distant response. The cacophony of the drums' simultaneous song is glorious!
By day, wander Pandora's rainforest: Hear the beating of this moon's heart, wear the reverberations and voices of her denizens, marvel over waterfalls and native plants—their shapes, colors and textures an otherworldly reminder you are somewhere else. As darkness falls, listen to the change in sound, see dramatic differences in light and shadow play, revel in the mystery of the bioluminescent glow guiding your steps and your eyes.
Test yourself as the Na'vi did. Trust your banshee, be brave, rise to the challenge. Sivako! After you're vetted, debriefed and linked to your Avatar—astride the back of a mountain banshee, the ikran—you'll take wing on Avatar Flight of Passage, an augmented-reality, 3-D experience. Feel the ikran breathing beneath you as you dive down the face of a cliff, dodge waterfalls and rainbows, dash over and under floating mountains, swoop within inches of charging beasts, pause to gaze at the floating seeds of Eywa, barrel roll through verdant vines, shoot the curl of a massive ocean wave and more before coming breathlessly to a halt. It's beautiful and scary and swift and intense and gorgeous ...
You'll never convince me I wasn't flying.
For a more languid look at Pandora's inhabitants, glide deep into the bioluminescent rainforest on Na'vi River Journey as you hear the distant call of the Na'vi Shaman of Songs; soon you're drawn into her yellow eyes, pondering what all they know and see. And be sure to look around—everywhere. There's plenty of activity along the way, a gift to all who discover it.
While visiting Pandora, I had the luxury of meeting briefly with Disney Imagineers Amy Jupiter and Dave Lester as well as Simon Franglen, who worked with Disney Parks as the composer for Avatar Flight of Passage and area development scores. They spoke of the importance of travel to that world, and the transformation of technology that allows caring of nature and protecting the planet—which aligns Animal Kingdom and Pandora — The World of Avatar.
Pandora is for everyone, they emphasized—you don't need to have seen Avatar to be immersed in its world, enjoying space, incredible vistas, interaction, music, nature and more. Learning to ride a banshee is highlight and a challenge—the naturalism, the music, the majesty of the surroundings coming together with a feeling of heroism: "You've survived."
They talked of the immersive design and feeling of the rides. "Technology means nothing. It has to make an emotional connection." Pandora evolved, they noted, as new things were discovered during every process.
"This," said Franglen, known for his work on Avatar and Titanic, "has been by far the most complicated, challenging project I have ever had the honor of working on." Pandora has permanence—something Disney provides—along with the power to have longevity in a transitory world.
I'm ready to return. And I want to fly again.
Is your curiosity piqued? Visit Pandora and Pandora — The World of Avatar.
Written by Amy L Charles, Groups Today editorial director, who feels honored to have been among the media at the dedication of Pandora — The World of Avatar. Photographs by ALC.
Photo courtesy of Amy L Charles