Changes at Animal Kingdom
Many have considered Disney’s Animal Kingdom to be a half-day park, myself included. It was fun to hit the park at rope drop, hop on the popular rides (Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and Kali River Rapids), grab some lunch, and either park hop or head back to the Resort for a break. But no longer, my Disney friends.
The past year has been HUGE for Animal Kingdom and last month—i’m calling its recent additions a game changer for the park. So what’s new at Animal Kingdom? One word: Pandora.
PANDORA - THE WORLD OF AVATAR: AN OVERVIEW
It’s been eight years since Avatar was first released, and the same amount of time that folks have been wondering about what it would be like to live in that world. Its cinematography was like no other, and the look and feel of the make-believe world gave us a whole, new world to dream about visiting. It’s these two things that have kept the film at the top of the cinematic charts: it’s the highest grossing film of all time!
So, you can see why the Imagineers chose the movie as its inspiration for the new addition to Animal Kingdom. And the best part? You don’t even have to be a fan of the movie to enjoy Pandora - The World of Avatar. The creators have seriously upped their immersion game and, from the attention to details to the dining choices, it’s all about enjoying the movie magic and nature. In a nutshell, the theme is this: you join Alpha Centauri.
Expeditions on an experience of a lifetime in the world of Pandora. Each Cast Member has their own role and a vast knowledge of all things Na’vi (the native culture in Pandora), and they’re more than happy to give you a lesson in flora, fauna, and culture.
The first thing that will catch your eye is the floating mountains that were prominent in the film. Defying gravity, the park again works its magic and they hover around it. Visit at night and you’ll have a refresher course in bioluminescence. The plants, flowers, and even walkways glow.
NEW DINING EXPERIENCES
While there are plenty of both Table Service and Quick Service restaurants in Animal Kindgom already, the two latest additions are sure to be popular for two reasons. First, the menus are on the healthier side, and second, the drinks are fun and colorful. Satu’li Canteen is the latest Counter Service restaurant in Animal Kingdom and, with all three meals covered, offers everything from a Sustainable Fish Bowl to beer and Banshee Chardonnay.
If you really want to wet your proverbial whistle, you’ll definitely dig Pongu Pongu Lounge. There’s only one food item on the menu (a snack called Pongu Lumpia), and the rest is both adult beverages and non-alcoholic drinks for the kiddos or folks that don’t want liquor but still want the lounge experience.
PANDORA - THE WORLD OF AVATAR ATTRACTIONS
There’s been so much happy hype over Pandora - The World of Avatar that, of course, its two main attractions have experienced upwards of a four-hour wait time each, which is not surprising for any new Disney attraction. Remember Seven Dwarfs Mine Train? When you visit, you’ll be able to take a slow-moving boat ride in Na’vi River Journey, as well as a ride on the back of a Banshee in Flight of Passage.
Na’vi River Journey has the best new attraction review of the two at this point, as it accommodates everyone. It’s a family-style boat through the Valley of Mo’ara and the underground ambiance is pure eye candy. There’s plenty of bioluminescence to spy, and its message a good one: connecting with the life force of Pandora.
If you like Soarin’ at Epcot, there’s a great chance you’ll dig Flight of Passage. The ride has been compared to it, except it’s been ramped up, and the rush of flying on the back of a Banshee has amped up the thrill level. While guests are technically on a stationary motorcycle, there’s been some chatter that it’s not as accommodating as folks would like. I, personally, cannot wait to check this one out in person.
As there’s no official written Na’vi language, there’s no written signs for either attraction. What you will have to look for are wicker symbols for both. Look for a Shaman symbol to ride Na’vi River Journey, and a Banshee for Flight of Passage. Clever, Disney. Clever.
I know, I’m guilty of wanting “one of everything” when I visit the WDW parks, and I can see no reason why this would change at Windtraders, The World of Avatar’s shopping spot. There’s everything from stuffed plushies to ACE clothing items, but what I really think is fun is the constant tie-in to nature that the new area provides. There are science kits for sale at Windtraders to encourage a love of nature long after returning home.
Adding an incredible new land wasn’t enough for Disney – they really wanted to make Animal Kingdom more than a daytime destination. So over the past year, more entertainment and dining options were put into place to help keep guests in the park after dark!
While many of the animal exhibits like Maharajah Jungle Trek and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail still close at dusk, a new “sunset safari” version of Kilimanjaro Safaris takes place when the sun goes down. This experience is a little shorter than the daytime version but you get a chance to see some nocturnal animals and observe their nighttime behaviors. The safari is still partially lit with a special “sunset” and “twilight” lighting.
Over in the Asia section of the park, guests can now experience Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids in the dark – adding to the thrill factor!
If that wasn’t enough, the banks of Discovery River in Asia have been transformed into a seating area from which guests can view Animal Kingdom’s new nighttime spectacular – Rivers of Light! Combining music, elaborate costumes, larger than life animal lantern floats, lotus blossom fountains, and water screen projections, Rivers of Light is the perfect “kiss goodnight” at Animal Kingdom.
Discovery Island has also undergone a transformation. The brightly colored snack kiosks have been given a more “natural” paint job and are featuring more robust fare – heavy snacks like mac and cheese, pulled pork, and open faced BLT sandwiches.
And a new signature restaurant has been added here, just outside of Pandora. Tiffins celebrates the travels of Disney Imagineers in Asia, Africa, and South America as they worked to bring Animal Kingdom to life. The cuisine is some of the best and most exotic at
WDW, and the restaurant (and it’s neighbor, the Nomad Lounge bar) are receiving rave reviews from foodies.
Have you had the pleasure of experiencing Pandora - the World of Avatar or the other new changes at Animal Kingdom? Was it all that had you imagined? Are you looking forward to a future visit? Give us a shout on social media and let us know!