Scheduled to open May 27,2017, the mythical world of Pandora, from the James’ Cameron film Avatar, will be part of the largest expansion in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park history. Concept art, courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering
By Tom Hess
Originally published: May/June 2017
The Oscar-winning 2009 film Avatar is the highest grossing movie in history (unadjusted for inflation), and its director says he’s written four sequels, though no release dates have been set. Director James Cameron likens the long-delayed Avatar 2 to the 16-year construction of the Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River, a massive project that missed its target dates. For now, there will be no delay for Avatar fans in visiting the land of Pandora-The World of Avatar—with its floating, water-spouting mountain range and the bioluminescence of Pandoran plants—at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World Resort. The grand opening date is set for May 27, 2017.
Disney owns ABC, where network shows such as The View gave viewers in March several sneak previews of Pandora-The World of Avatar—coverage that bloggers saw as a vote of confidence that the attraction will be ready, perhaps even for “soft,” limited openings in early May.
Pandora-The World of Avatar features the Na’vi River Journey, which the Orlando Sentinel described as a “trippy, extraterrestrial ‘it’s a small world.’” The other signature ride is the Avatar Flight of Passage, in which riders are “scanned and matched to your very own avatar,” said Paula Faris in a Good Morning America report.
The narrative continues in Pandora’s main restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, which has its own backstory. Once a main mess hall of the unobtainium-mining, militaristic Resources Development Administration (RDA) base located in the Valley of Mo’ara, it is now “owned and operated by Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) tour company and has been redesigned into a beautiful museum-like dining room. The interior has been transformed with colorful Na’vi items filling the walls and hanging from the ceiling—hand-woven tapestries, natural Pandoran elements and even cooking tools decorate the restaurant.”
Peter Sciretta of slashfilm.com says the Satu’li Canteen “will be the first fast-casual restaurant to offer Mobile Order, which is basically Disney’s next-generation way of taking food orders. Think MagicBand or FastPass for restaurants.”
Disney explains that guests can bypass arrive at the canteen, using the app to “select menu items, customize their order and pre-pay for their meal. When they arrive at the restaurant they will tap an ‘I’m here’ button in the app, which will notify the kitchen to prepare the meal. When ready, guests will be alerted through the app to pick up their meal at a designated window.”
Sciretta said the canteen menu will include steamed “pods”—bao buns—“with either cheeseburger or vegetable curry and served with root vegetable chips and crunchy vegetable slaw. I love bao buns in general, and these look colorful and otherworldly, precisely the kind of food I was expecting from this new theme park land set on an alien planet.
“Knowing that kids are sometimes pickier when it comes to food choices, Disney is providing them with some simpler options including grilled chicken, beef, fish or tofu with greens or rice; a hot dog wrapped in Parker House dough; a cheese quesadilla, or a steamed ‘pod’ (cheeseburger bao bun).”
Lumpia, a treat offered at the Pongu Pongu kiosk, “is like a pineapple cream pie in an egg roll,” said ABC The Chew host Clinton Kelly. On the episode, chef Mario Batali said he sampled lumpia as street food on a visit to the Philippines.
Cameron described for The View his favorite experience at this new Disney attraction, “This whole land will light up at night,” he said. “I actually think, in a way, it’s more magical by night.”