Sneak Peek: Disney’s Pandora – The World of Avatar

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Deal Expert, Los Angeles
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It’s a whole generation after the smash film “Avatar” takes place. “Avatar” – as in the highest-grossing film of all time. And now, with the help of tour company ACE (Aplha Centauri Expeditions), humans can travel 4.4 light years away from Earth to visit the fascinating, strange and lush planet that is home to the Mo’ara Valley and its inhabitants, the Na’vi.

Pandora – World of Avatar opens to the world on May 27, and the expectations are high. It took six years to plan and build, to the tune of about half a billion dollars. And it’s a tall order: to re-create the fascinating visuals, creatures and sounds that the film brought to life on the screen through cutting-edge CGI technology.

Mission accomplished, because this truly is a one-of-a-kind Disney experience.

Located inside Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, this 12-acre park was officially dedicated during a star-studded ceremony on May 24. “Avatar” director James Cameron and Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the crowd of international media (including Travelzoo), and the film’s stars were in attendance, including Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver.

Pandora – The World of Avatar brings the Valley of Mo’ara to life – the Na’vi peoples’ spiritual connection to the natural world around them. You won’t find a lot of signage here, and that’s by design; the idea is to create with a bevy of meandering walkways, passages and bridges that reveal an organic visitor experience, allowing guests to discover every nook and cranny of Pandora at their own pace. Along the way, travelers experience the sounds of Pandora’s wild residents – from the viperwolf to the banshee – and the dramatic contours and colors of native flora. And then there are those dramatic floating mountains overhead, with waterfalls that tumble from the sky; the occasional splash on passers-by can be a refreshing surprise on balmy Orlando days.

The Pandora experience really comes to life in the two rides. The Na’Vi River Journey is a gentle trip on a reed boat through an exotic bioluminescent rainforest. This is a gorgeous experience: Colors are vibrant, digital projections of critters and creatures are state-of-the-art and the animatronics that bring the Na’vi to life are being called the most sophisticated ever created by Disney. A shaman, exhibiting amazing movement and beautiful song, sends positive vibes your way as your journey comes to an end. This ride is ideal for all ages.

Avatar Flight of Passage is more thrilling for sure, but still very family friendly. This is an adrenaline-pumping and breathtaking experience that genetically matches you with an avatar, so you can ride your own banshee and embark on a first-person journey above the Mo’ara Valley’s spectacular landscape. The experience is multisensory: As you straddle your banshee, you can feel its lungs expanding as it breathes, and as you fly above changing environments, smells (like the musk of the rainforest) change accordingly. The 3-D views are huge, with action and blow-your-mind images all around you – and the soaring sensations are out of this world!

You’ll want to take the Pandora experience with you, so Windtraders, at the Flight of Passage exit, carries Disney’s new Pandora merchandise line of 200-plus items: lots of clothing, mugs and toys. The biggest buzz goes to the mini-banshees, available in various colors, which straddle your shoulder and are remote-controlled to flap their wings, open their mouths and move around. The neatest opportunity is the ACE Avatar Maker, which takes your picture and creates an avatar action figure in your likeness; the one-of-a-kind toys, which allow you to select eye and hair color and take about 30 minutes to make, are (for obvious reasons) non-returnable.

Unofficial opening day crowd projections – it’s Memorial Day weekend, after all – hover around 20,000 people. I’ve also heard rumblings of six-hour waits! But any new, super high-profile Disney attraction always commands huge crowds of uber-fans. The best advice for your Pandora visit is to come early, as soon as the park opens, and if you can visit during the fall, when kids are back in school, even better. Whenever you go, visit Pandora both during the day (to take in the sheer grandeur of the floating mountains) and at night (to experience bioluminescence all around you, even the pathways beneath your feet).

Check out Disneyworld.com for more info. And as always, visit Travelzoo for all kinds of exclusive deals that will bring you up close and personal with Pandora on your next vacation to Orlando, Florida!

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