Pandora: A Photo Tourby Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer
We've been able to visit Pandora several times over the past few weeks. First we were fortunate enough to attend a press event a few days before opening, and then we were given a sneak peak as annual pass holders, where we obtained most of our images for this Photo Tour. After Pandora's official opening, things have been a little harder. This land has been so exceptionally popular that it's been very difficult to get good pictures. Make no mistake about it, it's still fun to go, but it's been just a little crowded for good quality images.
That brings us to another slightly off topic subject about Pandora. If you're a Disney Cast member reading this, and if you've been involved in the first few days of its opening, we would like to extend a big thank you. The crush of people trying to get a glimpse of this new land has been huge. If you're one of the cast members, your patience has certainly been tested, and from what we've seen, you've done an outstanding job. Everyone we've been in contact with at Disney has gone above and beyond to make this opening a giant success. You all deserve to be recognized.
Now, on to Pandora. This land is only twelve acres, but it has more packed into it than you'll see in one visit. It's been built on the back-story that was Avatar, but Disney has expanded the story quite a bit too. You may remember that in the movie Avatar, the moon of Pandora is the fifth moon (there are thirteen total) of the gas giant Polyphemus, a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A. Polyphemus, by the way, looks similar to Jupiter, except the color is a little different. You can see this on the Flight of Passage ride. When you ride the Banshee through the Pandoran forest, remember to look up when you fly into a clearing and you'll easily see the planet above you.
In the original story, the private company, Resources Development Administration (RDA), is on Pandora to mine a rare element called Unobtanium. It's a room temperature superconductor used in the construction of levitation trains on Earth. The story goes the way these things usually go, with honest intentions at first, a love interest, betrayal, and finally a big ol' war at the end.
Disney sets the story after all that ruckus with Pandora several years later. Some tell us that it's actually several decades later. A new organization called Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) has been established on Pandora to work with the Na'vi in rebuilding the damage caused by the RDA and promote conservation and preservation of resources in general. Disney has put a lot of effort into the message of environmental conservation all throughout Animal Kingdom, and they've carried it into Pandora very successfully. We hear the message loud and clear, and Disney makes it easy to bring that message back to Earth when you leave.
As you enter Pandora from Discovery Island, one of the first things you'll encounter is the giant plant, Flaska Reclinata. It lets you know instantly that you're not on Earth anymore. From there, the story just keeps building with more plants that have adapted and evolved in Pandora's thicker atmosphere and lighter gravity. The atmosphere, by the way, consists of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, xenon, methane, and hydrogen sulfide. It's the unusually large amount of carbon dioxide and the presence of hydrogen sulfide that causes humans trouble on the moon, and the whole reason that avatars were needed. On Pandora at Animal Kingdom, apparently the atmosphere in the Valley of Mo'ara has been modified so humans can actually walk around outside without breathing assistance.
The Flaska Reclinata, or Baja Tickler as it is commonly known, is possibly the most dangerous—and the most beneficial—plant on Pandora. It filters toxic gases from the atmosphere and occasionally "spits" out a toxic soup, which is the dangerous part. The Na'vi know about its benefits to the ecosystem, but mostly avoid it due to its danger. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The floating mountains in Pandora are the central part of the land. We watched them being built over the past months, but even seeing their inner structures as they went up, they're totally believable in this finished state. Too bad they don't actually float around. Photo by Donald Fink.
The image above required a neutral density filter and a tripod. As Don was standing there setting up for the shot, a family walked up and asked if they "Could get a picture." Since he was a few minutes away from being ready for his shot, Don said, "Sure," thinking they would get their picture and be on their way. The family walked over and stood in the frame. After a period of time, Don looked up and realized the family was still there, staring at him and smiling. Not one of them had a camera in their hands. He was apparently doing a great imitation of a PhotoPass Photographer, standing there with his Nikon camera on a tripod, wearing a green shirt, green Tilly hat, and tan cargo shorts. After noticing the family just looking at him, he finally realized they expected him to do something, like take their picture. He walked over and explained that we was not a PhotoPass Photographer, and not affiliated with Disney. It turns out they had a camera, so he took theirs and captured a vacation photo of a lifetime for them. They were happy, and Don got his shot too.
The flora and fauna of Pandora is a major attraction to the land. It seems like it's kind of the point, bringing the overall environmental message to visitors as they're entertained. It's not about the rides. Indeed, there are only two rides in the land, and while they're great fun, they couldn't sustain the reason for the land to exist. We believe it's the bigger picture of the environment that makes the land worthwhile. And we should mention that, while we keep harping on the overall message, Disney isn't beating us over the head with the message, trying to guilt us into accepting their philosophy. They're simply trying to bring about an awareness.
This snake appears to be a common garter snake from Earth. Several cast members were observing it the day before Pandora's opening and came to the same conclusion. We wonder what it's called on Pandora? Photo by Donald Fink.
Examples of Na'vi art are everywhere in Pandora. This sculpture of a Banshee is located in the Valley of Mo'ara. It's this kind of detail that makes Pandora so much fun. It's a small land as Disney "lands" go, but there's an extreme amount of detail packed in. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Water features make up a large part of the Pandora landscape. The plants in the foreground are small versions of a carnivorous variety called Pseudocenia Rosea, or the Chalice Plant. They attract small animals with a sweet nectar held within the cup of its single leaf. Animals get trapped inside because the leaf contains downward pointing stiff hairs, preventing them from climbing out. The prey eventually drowns and is digested by enzymes in the nectar. The largest variety of this plant stands several meters tall and is capable of capturing a Na'vi child. Photo by Donald Fink.
Some of the flora is hard to understand, but fun to observe. This one, we believe, reacts to the magnetic fields on Pandora. There are other plants on the moon that react to the presence of Unobtanium, the mineral that caused all the trouble in the first place. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Disney has spent a great deal of time designing Pandora to be true to the back story of the Pandoran moon in the Avatar movie. We were able to find descriptions for most of the plants and animals by referencing on-line documentation for the movie. There were a few items, however, that were not well described. We're thinking that Disney Imagineers have expanded on the original story and the specifics of these creatures will come out in time.
This is one of the plants we could not identify, but we noticed that they appear with different colored flowers in the middle. There are some, like this one with blue flowers, and there were others with yellow flowers. They appear to have much of the same anatomy for pollination as many Earth plants, but who knows what other surprises they might hold. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
These animals are called Sagittari. They're a cephalopod (squid, octopus, and so on) that has a hard shell floating above the water line and soft, flexible tendrils residing under the surface. They hunt by shooting powerful jets of water at flying creatures that happen to pass by. The water apparently stuns the prey and they fall into the water where the tendrils collect them for consumption. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
When visiting Pandora, try to spend time just looking over the landscape in order to appreciate the detail. There's a guide to the flora and fauna of the Mo'ara Valley that describes much of what you see with you enter the land. We encourage you to obtain one as soon as you enter the park and keep it handy as you explore. This image is a good example of a place where you can spend a considerable amount of time viewing the scene and identifying the plants you can find. Photo by Donald Fink.
Not only are the big scenes around the ponds, streams, and waterfalls interesting, but you can find amazing detail pretty much everywhere you look. These open air specimens appear to be some form of anemone. On Earth they live in the oceans and are classified as animals. What do you think their designation would be here in Pandora? Photo by Donald Fink.
The large plants here are Dapophets (Aloeparilus succulentus). They're a succulent that stores water in their leaves, but they also contain a jelly substance that the Na'vi use to treat minor cuts and other skin ailments, including burns. The flesh of this plant can also be ground into a soup and ingested to treat stomach ailments. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
All the parks and lands have street performers of some kind, and Pandora is no exception. We were fortunate to see the Drummers of Pandora on one of our visits during a soft opening the day before the grand opening. While we never learned their name as a group, we did learn that this performance was their first in front of real audiences, and they were already quite polished. That's no surprise though. While we didn't recognize the two guys in the group, the young lady looks suspiciously like one of the members of a group known as Matsuriza, who have been performing at Epcot in Japan for several years.
The Pandora Drummers perform several arrangements daily on the drums near the floating mountains in the Mo'ara Valley. You can hear them from everywhere in the land, so they're not hard to find. When they're not performing, the drums on the ground level are still functional, and guests can try their hand at arranging dramatic drum pieces. Video by Donald and Bonnie Fink.
There are two rides in Pandora. This one, the Na'vi River Journey, is a boat ride through a night scene along the Kapsavani River. Here, you can see the night time side of Pandora, with the bioluminescent animals and plants of this mysterious moon. The boats used are different than the usual for Disney. There are only two rows of seating, which makes for a more intimate experience for the ride. This might be a mistake on Disney's part because it seems like they'll be hard pressed to put the kind of volume through as they do in, say, Pirates of the Caribbean, but it makes for a better ride in our view.
During the press event, the Disney folks advised us to not spend our entire trip shooting videos. Instead, they wanted us to enjoy all we could by just taking it all in. We would like to pass that information on to you. If you come here and like to shoot pictures or videos of these things, try to make time to do this experience twice: once for the pictures, and once more just to see what's there.
The Na'vi River Journey is a slow moving river boat tour through along the Kapsavan River. This relaxing ride takes you through a lazy river journey where you'll find everything from a Na'vi warrior to many of the Pandoran flora and fauna. Photo by Donald Fink.
This is a Panoprya, or Tawtsngal, meaning Sky Cup in the Na'vi language. It is an epiphyte, meaning that it attaches itself harmlessly to other plants for support. The panoprya feeds by attracting prey with slight electric signals. It also attracts prey with a nutrient rich water contained within its body. The Na'vi harvest the water mixture because of its healing properties. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
These creatures are hexapedes (Sexcruscervus caeruleus). They are six legged deer, usually with black and yellow eyes and blue or purple skin. They eat tree bark and berries mostly. As prey animals, they're not particularly fast, but rely on high maneuverability to avoid predators. They are particularly vulnerable when feeding because of their diet of bark, which is in the forests. And being in the forest, they often find themselves with less room to weave and bob their way from predators. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Most plants and animals on Pandora exhibit some form of bioluminescence during the night. It's thought that the reason the Na'vi skin is bluish purple is to afford them a degree of camouflage at night in the forest. They can naturally blend in with the forest background. Photo by Donald Fink.
This person is the the Na'vi Shaman of Songs. You'll encounter her at the end of the Na'vi River Journey. Based on the extreme level of detail that's clearly gone into creating Pandora, we were not surprised that this is by far the best animatronic we've seen. If it wasn't for the fact that creatures like this don't actually exist on Earth, you could believe that this person is real. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The Na'vi River Journey is a lazy nighttime float in a two row boat along the Kapsavani River. This short video reveals a bit of the journey and a quick look at the Na'vi Shaman of Song. Video by Donald Fink.
The main dining area in Pandora is called Satu'li Canteen. It's a quick service facility that's themed to look like it was reclaimed from an abandoned RDA hangar. There are a couple of interesting things to know about dining here that are a bit different from other Disney restaurants. First, you can order your meal on-line using the My Disney Experience mobile app. The second difference is that, with many of the meals, you order as you go. This is how it works: First, you pick a protein. Your choice is amon slow-roasted sliced grilled beef, chopped wood-grilled chicken, sustainable fish fillet, or chili-spiced crispy fried tofu. From there, you select a base. This can include a quinoa vegetable salad, red and sweet potato hash, mixed whole grain and rice, or romaine and kale salad. And finally, you choose your sauce. The sauces can be charred onion cimichurri, black bean vinaigrette, or creamy herb dressing. All of these combinations can make up a huge variety of meals. Personally, Don preferred either beef or chicken with rice and beans, followed by the black bean vinaigrette. Here's a menu that shows the other items.
The Satu'li Canteen is an eating establishment on Pandora, in the Valley of Mo'ara. It has the look of a reclaimed hangar, and was probably near Hell's Gate. Today it has been lavishly decorated with various art and sculptor pieces made by the Na'vi. The eating experience here is fun and unique. If you visit Pandora, you should stop in and have a look even if you choose not to eat. It's worth the visit just to view the art. Photo by Donald Fink.
Windtraders is the place for everything from Pandora. Apparently there isn't a weight restriction for your return trip to Earth. Windtraders is also where you can pick up a Banshee to ride on your shoulder and various other items unique to the Pandora visit. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Inside Windtraders you can find a selection of merchandise only available at Pandora, but buying merchandise is not the only reason to visit this store. You can also find a large selection of Na'vi art and items left over from the RDA occupation hanging from the ceilings. Just like the Satu'li Canteen, this place is worth stopping in just to view the decorations. Photo by Donald Fink.
This is a bust of Neytiri, Princess of the Omatikaya clan. She was an important figure in the original movie, "Avatar." She first met Jake Sully in the forest and saved him from a pack of viperwolves. She later trained him in the ways of the Na'vi and fought against the RDA. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
What's a trip to Disney without a new set of ears? We're starting to see a lot of Na'vi ears around the parks these days. These ears are different too. They come with a traditional Na'vi headband.Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Outside of Windtraders, you can find an Amplified Mobility Suit (AMP), used by the soldiers working for the RDA. Today they're relics of a time when we humans may not have been on our best behavior. Photo by Donald Fink.
Disney hasn't missed the opportunity to offer a great deal of merchandise and food here in Pandora, but they don't seem to be overdoing it. Of course, we're not all that sensitive to all the commercial hype since we fully understand that Disney needs to make money. That's ultimately why they're here. And while they're busy making money, we're busy having a great time being entertained. It's a win-win situation.
Photos are not allowed during the Flight of Passage ride. It makes sense since it's a 3D ride and a picture wouldn't show anything substantial. Also, you're riding on top of a Banshee, and if you're being safe about it, both hands are occupied hanging on. We were able to capture a couple of images in the queue on the way in though, and thought that the whole experience was interesting.
The cave system that leads into the Flight of Passage is rich with Na'vi rock art. Later, if you're in the standby line, you'll wander through a lab where bio research is underway. It's also where Avatars are grown. Photo by Donald Fink.
A mural depicting a Na'vi warrior riding a Banshee is located in the queue of Flight of Passage. Standby lines are probably going to be long for quite some time at this popular attraction, but Disney Imagineers have staged it with plenty of interesting Na'vi artifacts and scientific gadgets used by ACE. Photo by Donald Fink.
This ride is going to easily be as popular as anything Disney has. It's along the same concepts as Soarin', but with 3D. The 4D part—the wind, scents, mist from the waterfalls—is taken to the next evolutionary level from Soarin' and is way more intense.
We recommend that when you visit Pandora, you place a high priority on visiting when you can get Fastpass+ reservations for Flight of Passage. Then, when you show up, if the standby line happens to be within tolerable limits, ride it through the standby line too. The queue for the standby line is way more interesting than the Fastpass line.
There has been lots of talk on-line in social media about whether Disney's Animal Kingdom should be considered a full day park. Until the Pandora opening, we were seeing a trend towards people considering it a half day experience, but since its opening, we're noticing almost complete consensus that Animal Kingdom has transformed into a fully qualified full day adventure.
We were never in full agreement with the notion Disney's Animal Kingdom was a half day experience. We could always find ways to occupy ourselves for most of a day and have fun doing it. But since Pandora has opened, we have to treat it like most other Disney parks where we pick and choose what we want to do in order to get it all done without being rushed. So if Disney's Animal Kingdom was ever just half day experience, we think it's safe to say that it has easily crossed the barrier. When you visit, we would certainly be curious to know your thoughts.
You can see a bit more of Pandora if you visit our other article, A Sneak Peek at Pandora - The World of Avatar, here at MousePlanet.