Avatar – Flight of Passage

Avatar – Flight of Passage

Hello fellow riders and welcome back to the WDW Ride Guide Podcast!  I’m your host Ben Crain.  Thank you for joining me again today!  I hope you are ready to have some fun as we help you plan the most magical Disney vacation possible, or just experience a little Disney magic until you can get back to the parks.

Our audio library keeps growing to give you as much information as possible when planning out your next trip. There is so much to see and do and so little time, so it helps to know what matters most going into your Disney vacation.  It doesn’t happen often, but every year or two Walt Disney World adds new rides! When this happens, it is one of the most exciting times for me as your ride guide.  This month we have been busy exploring Pandora – The World of Avatar!  Last time we went on a peaceful boat ride aboard the Na’vi River Journey.  Today, we are revving things up, hopping on a mountain Banshee and taking on Avatar – Flight of Passage!  

This is the one you have heard so much about.  Your chance to experience flight in the most realistic simulation created yet! We have a lot of sky to cover today so let’s get started with our…

Know Before You Go Essential Facts

  • The ride is located in Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • You must be 44” tall to ride
  • Fastpass+ is available and highly recommended
  • The fright factor is 3 out of 5
  • Rider switch is offered
  • Guests must transfer to a standard wheelchair and then ride vehicle
  • Audio description, assistive listening, handheld captioning, and video captioning are available
  • Children under age 7 years must be accompanied by a person age 14 years or older
  • The seating and restraints of this attraction may prohibit Guests of certain body shapes or sizes from riding.
  • WARNING! For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.
  • The ride is 4:30 minutes long
  • The ride opened on May 27, 2017.

Those are the facts, now time for the fun!

When asked about Avatar – Flight of Passage, James Cameron, the creator and director of Avatar, said, “It’s like dreaming with your eyes open.”  Wow!  That’s a pretty big build up there James.  A ride so good, it’s like dreaming with your eyes open?  Is that possible?  In order to pull that off you would need to take everything Disney Imagineers have learned to date and combine it with the extensive knowledge of the creative team behind Avatar.  Oh wait, that is exactly what has happened with Avatar – Flight of Passage!  James Cameron’s team at Lightstorm Entertainment teamed up with the Disney Imagineering team to create the most ambitious 3D simulated ride at a Disney Park.  The result is definitely worth talking about, and today we will explore what you need to know about Avatar – Flight of Passage.  

Leading up to my first ride on Flight of Passage I had heard a lot of buzz about the new ride in Pandora.  However, I heard very little about what the ride actually was or how it worked.  So, I don’t want to leave you in that same place of darkness and confusion.  First things first, Avatar – Flight of Passage is a thrilling 3D ride that simulates flying on the back of a banshee through the moon of Pandora.  If Star Tours – The Adventures Continue and Soarin’ had a baby it would be Avatar – Flight of Passage.  The ride takes the 3D simulated strengths of Star Tours and combines them with the total sensory experience of Soarin’.  

Now for those of you who are prone to a little motion sickness, let me squash your fears early.  When it comes to getting queasy, Flight of Passage will fall more on the Soarin’ end of the spectrum than Star Tours.  If you can ride Soarin’, you can most likely ride Flight of Passage.  One of the biggest differences between Soarin’ and Avatar is the additional element of 3D.  Soarin’ does not incorporate 3D glasses, but is more like watching an IMAX movie where the seats in the theater are lifted up 20 feet into the air and then sway back and forth.  Avatar does use 3D glasses, similar to those found on Star Tours.

With the inclusion of 3D glasses, the Avatar flying experience is also similar in thrill to Star Tours.  However, the sensation of flying a banshee is much smoother than the jerky and abrupt movements of the Star Speeder 2000.  In other words, take the thrill of Star Tours and balance it with the smoothness of Soarin’ and you are left with Avatar – Flight of Passage.  

That said, the way in which you interact with this ride vehicle is quite different from both of the other rides.  Avatar – Flight of Passage provides a row of individual ride vehicles, one for each rider.  Imagine a futuristic looking motorcycle where both wheels have been removed and the body of the bike has been bolted flat to the floor.  The back end of the vehicle is completely open and you walk into the seat from behind.  For those in a wheelchair, Disney has definitely taken you into consideration.  You can wheel the chair right up to the back of the vehicle so that you only have to move forward a couple of feet as you transfer from sitting in the wheelchair to sitting on the ride vehicle.  One of our listeners, Justina, asked about this while I was in the park experiencing the ride.  Thanks to her I took a picture of the test vehicle which is located outside of the ride’s entrance.  

Once you are seated on your vehicle, there are a couple of restraints that come up from behind to secure you in place.  There is a pad that lifts up and rests against your lower back, as well as pads that come up behind each calf.  These restraints are the reason for the advisory given at multiple points through the queue.  In case you missed it earlier, here it is one more time, “The seating and restraints of this attraction may prohibit Guests of certain body shapes or sizes from riding.”  In the first few days of the ride opening, there were multiple reports of guests having to leave the ride without riding due to these restraints.  Since then, I believe the Disney Cast Members have gotten better at working the ride vehicles and restraints so that more people can enjoy the ride.  Disney usually does their very best to accommodate guests of all shapes and sizes so that anyone that wants to ride will be able to.  That said, there is a chance certain riders will have to sit this one out.  If you have any questions or concerns about this I recommend you talk to a Cast Member at the ride’s entrance.

Before we leave the issue of the restraints, let me also say that some have reported a little discomfort from this ride vehicle set up.  Even if you are able to ride, it may not be the most comfortable seat you experience during your Disney trip.  For me and my wife this wasn’t an issue.  As I’ve said before, I’m about 6’3” and 200 pounds.  I had no issue fitting into the seat and I didn’t even feel the restraints behind my calves.  I could feel the restraint in my lower back but it didn’t bother me at all and once the ride began I never noticed it again.  The only thing that I did notice were my 3D glasses.  These fit a little looser than other 3D glasses I’ve used on Star Tours, Muppet Vision, and Mickey’s PhilHarmagic.  When the ride first started up I was concerned my glasses wouldn’t stay on my head, but this never proved to be an issue and I forgot about it very shortly into the ride.  This could be a greater issue for smaller riders so parents be aware.  

All right, let’s say you have made it onto your vehicle, are safely secured, and have your 3D glasses ready to go.  What’s next?  What does a more thrilling version of Soarin’ look and feel like?  Well, I’m not going to spoil the entire ride with a step-by-step walk through, but I do want to give you a sense of this incredible experience.  

You begin the journey in a rather cold, mechanical environment.  The room that serves to link you to your banshee is run by the Alpha Centuri Expeditions, or A.C.E. for short.  This research lab looks very similar to the original labs of the Avatar program seen in the film.  We will go back in a few minutes and discuss the queue leading up to this room, but for now let’s focus on the ride.  With all of the riders seated in their individual vehicles, the room begins to darken.  Each vehicle has a display that shows the sequence for syncing with your Avatar.  As the room reaches pitch black, a series of bright flashing lights emanate from the vehicle display.  Next, the small flashes of light fill the space in front of you, then suddenly, the flashes morph into a colorful vortex, replacing the steel gray wall that was in front of you only moments ago.  Then in a flash, boom!  The world of Pandora is before your eyes.  The link with your Avatar is complete and you find yourself sitting atop your banshee.  

You have a brief moment to soak in the beauty of Pandora before your banshee flies out of the tree you are perched in.  This begins your literal dive into this bright colorful realm.  Your banshee is capable of gliding through the air, dive bombing straight down, spinning, twisting, and hovering over the thick jungle.  Your flight incorporates all of these movements as you glide past waterfalls, duck under branches, and sail through the spray of a giant ocean wave.  With each twist and turn of the adventure wind, mist, and powerful scents are blown into your face to enhance the illusion you are actually flying through this world.  

There is a beautiful balance of calm exploration and more daring maneuvers throughout the flight.  This is brought about by a very natural feeling sequence of events.  At times you feel safe, floating high above the tree line, and at other times you may be flying for your life as you try to avoid other predators.  Thanks to the maneuverability of the banshee, it is almost impossible to predict your next move.  Just when you think one passage is closing up your banshee will spread its wings, hover in mid air, then look down to reveal more expansive sky to explore down below.

If there is an ideal way to explore Pandora, this is it!  With your banshee there is no corner of nature that is out of reach.  The flight allows you to see Pandora from the highest heights to the lowest lows.  One minute you will be basking in the light of day and the next resting in the glowing bioluminescence of a dark cave inside a floating mountain.  Your flight of passage gives you a full picture of this rich moon.  

As your flight reaches dusk, the sound of the Na’vi singing fills the air.  The sensation of flight combined with the crescendo of song, and glowing light on the horizon is almost overwhelming.  This is the point some riders are overcome with emotion and it’s easy to see why.  All of your senses are engaged as you feel the banshee breathing underneath your legs, you see the sky glowing orange, you smell the fresh water below, and hear the joyous sound of the native people singing.  You have but a moment to take this all in before the colors of the sky morph back into the vortex, sending you back to the room where your adventure began.  Next, you open your eyes and realize your mind has been on an incredible journey despite your body never leaving that cold metallic seat inside the A.C.E. lab.  

Hopefully that paints a picture of a ride worth taking!  There is so much more to see and experience than I have listed here, but this should give you an idea of how vibrant and joyous this ride can be.  All of that and we haven’t even talked about the queue!    

The queue for Avatar – Flight of Passage raises the bar for ride queues at Walt Disney World.  The entrance is located directly under the floating mountains outside of the ride.  Already, a very impressive place to start!  What other ride can boast floating mountains above?  As you walk under the canopy with the A.C.E. logo, you begin hiking a winding trail, back and forth up the mountainside.  This area is the focal point of Pandora itself and walking through the queue gives you one of the best vantage points to soak in your surroundings.  The view looking down into the valley of Moa’ra is gorgeous.  The mountain itself is also full of alien plant life, both small and large.  On top of this, there are a beautiful waterfalls spraying water from the moss covered arched rocks high above. The water cascades down the mountainside and collects in peaceful pools back down below.  

 

 

As you pass by the waterfalls you enter the caves of the mountain.  The second setting of the queue is very different from the first, but just as detailed.  Inside, the rocks are covered with cave paintings.  Images of the animals and the Na’vi people can be seen on almost every inch of the surface surrounding you.  Look high above and even the ceilings are painted with the native artwork telling the history of the Na’vi.  

After meandering through this natural art gallery, the queue changes once again.  The natural rock formations give way to a wall of man made concrete.  A series of orange doors labeled “Air Lock” provide passage into the tunnels of an old RDA facility deep within the mountain.  Once again, the queue takes on a completely different character but doesn’t leave out a single detail.  It has been 100 years since this facility was in use and there are signs of the century long neglect all around.  The electrical boxes on the wall are rusted over, the RDA logos faded and dirty.  In fact, the natural surroundings have even begun to take back portions of the facility. The further in you go, the more glowing blue bioluminescent plants you will see.  The sounds of the forest can be heard as native species are taking back the mountain from the long removed presence of the RDA.

After meandering through this jungle of man made pathways overgrown with Pandoran wildlife you will come to the heart of the research facility.  Here, the building’s new purpose, and story for the ride, is on full display.  Visitors to the lab are now welcome to participate in the Pandora Conservation Initiative.  Specifically, this facility is helping educate guests on one of Pandora’s most exciting species, the mountain Banshee.  In order to understand the importance of the Banshee, the Avatar program has been revitalized.  This time around, the Avatar program is being used to connect humans visitors with Banshees to monitor their progress in the wild.  

This all becomes crystal clear when you enter the lab, and get an up close look at a 10-foot long Avatar floating in an amino tank.  The giant Na’vi body is in stasis, but moves with involuntary responses. The blue skinned Avatar and the surrounding lab look exactly like the film.  Small details fill the circular workspace at the middle of the room.  A variety of scientific experiments are on display, all to further draw you into the story of Avatar – Flight of Passage.  This section of the queue is so incredibly detailed, and full of so much equipment that it feels like being in the movie.  The scale of the facility and the details within are better than any queue Disney has done so far.  For Avatar fans, this area alone would be worth visiting.  It is like a museum of the film, except this museum has a super cool flight simulator at the end of the tour!  

Now, it is very important to point out that everything we have discussed in the queue to this point can only be seen in the standby queue.  The Fastpass+ queue does begin outside and include a similar trek up the mountain, but bypasses the caves and the everything inside we just discussed.  The real bummer of using Fastpass on this ride is missing out on seeing the giant Avatar and the research lab.  Immediately after exiting the research lab, the standby queue and Fastpass queue meet up.  

From here, both lines combine and you are assigned to a utilidor.  This is a long passageway with a slight incline that brings you one step closer to the link chambers.  At the end of the utilidor, a Cast Member will assign you a specific number.  There are a series of doorways at top of the utilidor.  When your doorway is ready it will light up and the Cast Member will direct you to go inside.  There, you will find your corresponding number.  Once all sixteen riders are inside the chamber and standing on their number the video screen gives further instructions.  You meet Dr. Stevens and learn more about how you will each be individually matched to an Avatar.  I won’t give away all the fun tricks the Imagineers employ in this room, but it is a neat way to prep you for your ride and break up the wait in line.  When everyone is matched to their Avatar, you will be moved to the next room.

This is the last stop before you enter the link chambers and take flight.  Here you will receive your 3D flight goggles and get a little more instruction from Dr. Stevens, and his boss Dr. Ogden.    The final video serves as a summary of the backstory and as practical instruction for where to store bags and how to enter the ride vehicle.  This video will illustrate the ride restraints we talked about earlier, so you will see how the system works before you even sit down.  Once the video concludes, you are ushered into the link chambers and your ride is about to begin!  

As you can tell, the queue and the ride have been meticulously planned.  Everything is designed to suck you into the story of A.C.E. and the Pandora Conservation Initiative.  From the hike up the mountain to the moment you link with your Avatar and begin your simulated flight, the experience is completely immersive.  If that doesn’t all sound like fun, I don’t know what does!  

I loved my first flight on Avatar – Flight of Passage.  It was a unique blend of thrill and awe. In a word, it was joyous!  Your heart won’t race like it does aboard the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and your adrenaline won’t pump as hard as it does on Expedition Everest.  However, I don’t know if there is another ride that you will say is as much fun as Avatar – Flight of Passage.  It just brings a smile to your face.  As soon as it was over I immediately wanted to ride again.  Sadly, I used my Fastpass and the 3 hour wait for the standby queue seemed a little too long.   

As I said on last week’s episode, I would recommend using your Tier 1 Fastpass+ for Avatar – Flight of Passage.  Even though the standby queue is amazing, you can expect 1-4 hour wait times for this ride for a long time to come.  In fact, the queue was so well executed because Disney anticipated such long waits for this ride.  Depending on which report you believe, the queue can hold enough guests for a 4-6 hour wait.  If I have to give up a quarter or more of my day to one ride, I am definitely going to opt for a Fastpass when possible.  

If you don’t have the luxury of Fastpass or don’t want to miss the standby queue, be sure to make Avatar – Flight of Passage your first ride of the day.  The wait times will only go up as the day goes on, so don’t expect it to die down by the time the park closes.  

At the time of this episode, Avatar – Flight of Passage appears it will have a Single Rider Line, although that option has not been open for guests yet.  If you are looking to get in more than one ride, check to see if this option is available when you are in the park.  

Well, I hope you have had as much fun hearing about Pandora as I have had telling you about this new land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Avatar – Flight of Passage is a great ride, one that may have jumped into my personal Top 5 after only one flight. I have to admit that James Cameron’s description of “dreaming with your eyes open” is not far off.

One thing I love most about Pandora and Avatar – Flight of Passage is the hope it ushers in for the future of Disney parks.  With a slew of new experiences scheduled to arrive over the next few years, it is very exciting to see what the Imagineers are capable of right now.  I think Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, and the improvements to Epcot are going to be out of this world.  

Speaking of, I hope you will come back next week as we discuss all the news to come out of the D23 Expo this year.  We have a lot of new rides to look forward to and I can’t wait to tell you what to expect! 

For now, it is time to disembark.  Thank you so much for tuning in today! Until we sit down to talk more Disney I hope you have a great week, and remember to make each day a ride worth taking!

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