The Na’vi word for hello is – Kaltxi – and since the The World of Avatar is still quite new at Animal Kingdom, that’s the central focus of the park. The bus that picks you up to take you to the park is emblazoned with the word across the front one of the first things that greets you as you arrive at the Animal Kingdom is – well – the line for Flight of Passage.
My family got up early(ish) and arrived to the park as it opened. We assumed that because we’d arrived as the park opened, we would simply make our way back to Pandora and while we’d likely wait a bit, we would just hop in the line for Flight of Passage and take that chance to get in a ride before our Fast Passes at 5:30 that evening. How wrong we were. Oh how wrong.
We were greeted by a line that wound across the bridge into Pandora and along the walkway around the Tree of Life (the central hub of the park) and found a man holding a sign that said “End of Line”. The wait for Flight of Passage at the opening of the park was already over three hours! We decided we’d just use our Fast Passes later in the day and take the time to explore Pandora and ride the Na’vi River Journey – which also already had a line…although only a 25 minute line, not a 180 minute line.
The Na’vi River Journey is a very calm, peaceful float through the world of Pandora at night – and the line wound through foliage and caves with all things Na’vi. I have to confess, I found Pandora pretty impressive to behold. I remember when first seeing the movie Avatar, I thought that there was certainly no way anything like what was on screen could ever exist in the real world – but give Disney the task and they’ll make fantasy a reality. Waterfalls crash from high atop the floating mountains and lush, wild and completely unique plants sprout up from between rock formations and around the streams. It’s exactly like being immersed in a completely different world and experiencing Pandora was certainly one of my favorite parts of this trip.
*My shirt says “Talk Na’vi to Me” – it got tons of compliments and a Disney cast member even talked Na’vi to me!*
After exploring Pandora for a bit and taking in all the sights and sounds, we made our way over to the Africa section of the park for a late(ish) breakfast at Tusker House. We’ve had lunch here before and I loved it – and breakfast was just as good. The restaurant is styled to look like an open air African market and there is a buffet that is filled with the usual breakfast fare and has some more “exotic” options mixed in – like a potato hash made of sweet potato, raisins and coconut (which was delicious) and some kind of mash that reminded me a bit of grits…but without the gritty taste and a lot more flavor.
The breakfast was also a character breakfast, so we were visited by Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Daisy while we ate – always an interesting and often hilarious experience. We were lucky enough when checking in for our breakfast to find out that for just a bit more per person ($7) we could reserve seating for Animal Kingdom’s new night time show – Rivers of Light. It’s always worth asking about things like that – you never know what you might find out!
After finishing up our rather extended breakfast, we explored Harambe and got some pictures taken with the Disney Photo Pass photographers stationed around the area. We then hopped in line for the show Festival of the Lion King – a show that my Mom proclaims is her favorite every time we see it. She did so this time too, ha-ha! We were seated in the lion section…I think I’ve been a lion, a giraffe and an elephant..that means next time I need to sit in the warthog section!
Our first Fast Pass of the day was for Kilimanjaro Safaris – a ride I always enjoy. I’d love to go on an actual safari one day, but for now Disney’s version will have to suffice – and this time it went above and beyond! I feel like I say this each time I experience Kilimanjaro Safaris, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many animals as I did this time! As soon as we rounded the first corner, we spotted a black rhino lying in the sunshine and from there…animals were everywhere! We saw okapi, gazelle, warthog, lions, ostrich, African wild dogs, baboons, gorilla, antelope, flamingo, nile crocodile, hippo…and a few other animals that I do not remember the name of.
And when we rounded the corner onto the “savannah” – there were animals everywhere! Giraffe striding toward the trees, walking past wildebeest and antelope, an elephant across the watering hole. It was excellent. As always – Kilimanjaro Safaris was one of my favorite aspects of the Animal Kingdom!
We perused the African animal trek to see a few more animals and then made our way over to Asia – we had Fast Passes for Expedition Everest – which is not to be missed; for my family, at least. I will reiterate that I’m not really a huge ride person and roller coasters are NOT my thing, so I traded out bands with my younger sister and let her ride twice.
Call it cheesy or weird – whatever you want to say – I’m fine with it, but I honestly just find myself so much more interested and intrigued by the way Disney has turned a portion of the park into another world. The faux Everest sits in the fictional town of Serka Zong and Tibetan prayer flags and shrines to the creature that “haunts” the mountain surround the buildings and shops – placing you in a world completely different from the one you just came from. I absolutely love to look around and take in all the sights, sounds and little details. *nerd alert*
As the afternoon passed, we popped in to catch a showing of Finding Nemo: The Musical, which I thoroughly enjoy! If you’ve been to Animal Kingdom and haven’t taken the time to see the show – I highly recommend it! We also caught It’s Tough to be a Bug in the base of the Tree of Life and got some more pictures taken with the Disney Photo Pass photographers. If you’ve ever thought about using Photo Pass – I highly recommend it. They had a special deal in place for military members and my family took advantage – there are photographers stationed all over the parks that will take your picture, the pictures link to your magic band and sometimes…within minutes, you are able to view the pictures.
Once you are home from vacation, you activate the photos and you can print them, share them…do whatever you want with them. It’s a great way to get everyone in your family in the pictures without having to harass a stranger to take your picture, ha-ha!
Around 4:30 we headed over to Pandora again – this time for dessert at Satu’li Canteen and to finally experience Flight of Passage! The desserts at Satu’li Canteen are…well…they’re alien; as they are supposed to be! I chose the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse and we also grabbed a Chocolate Cake – we all agreed the Blueberry dessert was the best and was honestly a little bit more fun to look at too! I’d love to eat an actual meal at Satu’li Canteen the next time I’m at Disney – the food looked unique and delicious!
And then – it was time for Flight of Passage. As a self-proclaimed pansy about all things ride related, I will admit I was more than nervous about the ride…it’s a complete unknown. However – after riding Flight of Passage, I can tell you it’s the most amazing theme park ride I’ve ever experienced. When watching the movie Avatar, I can’t say I ever had ambitions to fly on the back of a banshee – but having been on Flight of Passage; what a rush! The ride functions a lot like Soarin’…but it’s like Soarin’ on steroids…
You sit astride a bike like ride seat that locks in place behind your back and legs and you’re given 3D glasses to wear – the idea behind the ride being that you’ve been matched to an Avatar for your flight on the banshee. The ride begins and you swoop, dive and soar through the floating mountains, over the shoreline, across the plains and even into a cave system…all the while the “banshee” you are seated on moves and breathes between your legs. At one point in the ride, your banshee evades a larger Ikran and seeks shelter in caves – and as the banshee catches it’s breath, you can feel the creature taking deep breaths. It’s absolutely wild and the coolest thing I’ve ever been on.
I didn’t have to wait four hours to ride – but I’d hazard that it might actually be worth it. The ride is incredible!
Once we emerged from our flight and perused the store Wind Traders (souvenirs were definitely purchased) we emerged into a Pandora at dusk. As promised, the whole world around us was lit by the bio luminescence of the night – and it was magical. Flowers shone with an otherworldly light, the trees shimmered and the mountains were illuminated with a soft glow. And yes – even the pathways lit up. It was spectacular and I honestly could have been perfectly happy just perusing the whole of Pandora in the darkness, ha-ha! What can I say – I’m a sucker for good “set dressing”.
We had dinner at Flame Tree Barbecue after hearing and reading a lot of good things about the place on the Disney Food Blog – I just got pulled pork topped french fries as a meal; I wasn’t feeling so hungry, but it was delicious. I love good BBQ and I realized only after we’d ordered that I really missed out because they had pulled pork mac & cheese! *sigh*
We made our way over to the amphitheater for Rivers of Light and the seats that we were able to snag with our character breakfast were fantastic! The show is set on the river that runs through the park and utilizes water effects, boats and lights/images projected on water screens to create a fascinating fifteen minute finale to your day at Animal Kingdom. The show was beautiful to look at and fascinating to watch – I thoroughly enjoyed it – it was the perfect end to the day at Animal Kingdom!
And one of the “special effects” provided by the Disney Photo Pass was the video taken below! Lindsey and I only had to hold the lantern for pictures, scan our magic band and within fifteen minutes – this video was uploaded to our My Disney Experience app! So cool!
We closed out our quick retreat from the park and to the buses with a stop by the Tree of Life for a quick snapshot of it lit for the night…and then it was a fairly quick wait for the bus and a return back to Port Orleans Riverside to rest and recharge!
I haven’t always been a huge fan of Animal Kingdom – but that changed this visit. The addition of Pandora is amazing and the night time show and the park being open after dark really adds a new layer to Animal Kingdom. I’ve always enjoyed visiting the park, but I really loved our day spent there this time around and I can’t wait to return again and take it in once more!
I also can’t wait to get back on a banshee again and soar over Pandora!