Pandora, the epic world of Avatar at Animal Kingdom, and yet another slew of new arrivals to Disney World
Sivako! In the language of the Na’vi, the natives of Pandora, the expression means “rise to the challenge,” a wish that you make the most of your experience. This is what visitors need to travel to the Moon of the movie Avatar, and to experience the other exciting new additions at the Disney amusement parks, including Star Wars-themed attractions, to moisten the eyes of the more fanatical fans. It’s time to embark on this delightful and magical journey – for the first, or the thousandth time.
The Animal Kingdom that glows in the dark
When director James Cameron set foot in Animal Kingdom, he could hardly believe that the place he’d dreamed of as an adolescent and made the setting for his movie Avatar was a reality. The result of the Valley of Mo’ara is amazing. From the 1.6-ton [1,500 kg] floating mountains, inspired by Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China, to the giant plants like the “flaska reclinata,” which spits water and gases when you touch it, it’s all there, down to the smallest details, and glowing in the dark. It took five years of planning and construction for the first part of a Disney theme park entirely dedicated to a movie (which, incidentally, is not a Disney movie).
This level of perfection explains the following tip, which might strike you as insane: just this once, don’t use your FastPass, which lets you take advantage of shorter lines, and take the long way to the 3D simulator Avatar Flight of Passage, the most popular ride. The line winds through a jungle with waterfalls, passing by works by Indonesian artisans and through the labs of the mining company RDA, where you can see crazy experiments and an Avatar submerged in a glass tube – which actually moves!
Finally it’s your turn, and the explorer mounts a kind of jet ski for a fantastic flight on the back of a “banshee,” a bird which, according to the story, needs to be won over and bonded with for this first ritualistic flight. You can feel the creature breathing beneath your legs, and for four minutes you’ll forget you’re in an amusement park. We can’t ruin the surprises, but the smell of the humid earth and forest, wind in your face, splashing water and special effects leave everyone flabbergasted (and eager to go again).
Right by the ride’s exit is the Satu’li Canteen, a restaurant that serves healthy and unusual food, part of the local diet. You can order some fish with quinoa and chimichurri sauce, for instance. But the big hit is the colorful blueberry and passion fruit mousse. To cool off on a hot afternoon, try a psychedelic slushy at the bar Pongu Pongu, with flavored bubbles that burst in your mouth. There’s also another, more peaceful, contemplative and mystical attraction. The Na´vi River Journey is a boat ride through the dazzling forest, where you can spot lurking animals, flying jellyfish and the blue shaman presiding over a sacred celebration in homage of nature, like in the movie.
Pandora gets very dark at night, and for a good reason. It’s illuminated by trees, surreal plants and the fluorescent flooring, where people lie down in order to take pictures. Night is something new that has changed the Animal Kingdom, formerly Orlando’s most daytime-appropriate park. Now, aside from a nocturnal ride on the Kilimanjaro Safari and the short projection show Tree of Life Awakenings, on the park’s symbol tree, it has its own closing extravaganza, Rivers of Light. A ceremony of lights, projections and water jets in the central lake evokes the spirits of the animals which, for a number of native cultures, are the aurora borealis. It makes us think of the beauty of nature and life, and makes the Animal Kingdom a can’t-miss park.
May the force be with Hollywood Studios
The firm march of the Stormtroopers, those soldiers in white shell armor from the Star Wars movies, indicates that the Hollywood Studios invasion has taken place. This achievement of intergalactic proportions will only be fully realized in 2019, with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. With an area of 603,000 ft2 [56,000 m2], it will be the largest expansion of a Disney theme park ever, and entirely dedicated to the saga. It will come with a thematic resort that promises to leave sci-fi fans dumbfounded. In the meantime, you can enjoy some recently introduced samples to whet your appetite.
In addition to the march set to menacing music, which takes place every hour on the hour (and is somewhat frightening), Star Wars Launch Bay is already running. There, you’ll find models of the spaceships used in the movies, uniforms and other scenographic items, like Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing, and a specialized gift shop that sells books, collector’s items and even wine from George Lucas’s winery. Oh, and there are also encounters with characters, like the furry and friendly Chewbacca, who won’t turn down a hug (after all, who hasn’t dreamed of hugging him?).
Kids ages 8 to 12 can enroll at the Jedi Training Academy to learn how to handle a lightsaber – until Darth Vader himself shows up and tries to capture them, and they get to fight him. The nights there end with a visual show from the series, planned as a sort of catharsis for aficionados, almost a religious ritual. A projection of stars and the vintage Star Wars logo starts things off, followed by iconic scenes and songs, laser effects simulating battles in space, flames and all the posters from the movies to set hearts aflutter.
Norwegian occupation of Epcot
The truth is that when the movie Frozen was released, not even Disney imagined it would be such a huge hit. They had to rush to assemble a show so the audience could sing songs from the movie. The official attraction was thrown together faster than a blizzard at the Norway pavilion at the World Showcase, the section of Epcot dedicated to 11 world countries. While France and Italy used to stay crowded because of their tasty food, now it’s Norway’s turn.
The Frozen Ever After is a boat trip in which beloved characters from the movie appear, like the snowman Olaf and sisters Anna and Elsa, displaying realistic technology in their facial expressions. And, of course, there’s an obligatory “Let it Go” to the delight of the kids (and parents too!).
Another famous Epcot attraction, the hang-glider simulator Soarin’ just had its video updated. The flight passes over various real-world locations like Mount Everest and the Iguazu Falls in a high-definition film with plenty of excitement.
Most magical Magic Kingdom ever
“The happiest place in the world,” as the Magic Kingdom is nicknamed, wraps up its days with the famous fireworks that bring crowds to tears. The biggest investment Disney has ever made in a single show, the new spectacle Happily Ever After lasts 18 minutes and features 25 movies projected on Cinderella Castle. No classic is left out; it even includes recent favorites like Princess Merida from Brave, and the Polynesian girl Moana. There are exciting moments and the villains we love to hate, like Ursula and Scar. The quality of the images is quite realistic and the time is coordinated with the fireworks and music, compelling enough to provide happy endings for everyone.
LATAM has direct flights to Orlando from São Paulo, Lima and Rio de Janeiro.
Special thanks to: Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts.