Changes at An­i­mal King­dom

WDW Magazine - - Contents - BY KARYN LOCKE

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.

SHOP­PING

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.

BE­YOND PAN­DORA

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!

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