Last week at the D23 Expo in Japan, Disney finally revealed the first solid details on the Avatar project that’s slated for Animal Kingdom. More than two years after the initial announcement, Disney World fans were finally treated to some visually-stunning concept art and a video featuring James Cameron and Joe Rhode promising how great and immerse the land will be. So what did we learn from the tidbits dropped in Tokyo?


1) The Avatar project is very much alive, and you can visit Pandora coming in 2017.

Avatar - Daytime - Animal Kingdom

In the two year vacuum of information, many rumors swirled that the Avatar project was dead or on life support. With no solid information coming from Disney other than “We’re working on it,” it was easy for many fans to wonder if this project would go the way of Westcot and Disney’s America. Two months ago, Disney set up a cubicle filled with Avatar-related paraphanelia at the Imagineering booth at the stateside D23 to show that the project was still active, and they set on a much more concrete opening date of 2017. Construction will begin later this year, so be sure to say goodbye to Camp Mickey Minnie, which will be the new home to Pandora.

2) Animal Kingdom Finally Finds Its Night Life

One of the most prominent criticisms levied against Animal Kingdom is that it is a half-day park. When the park closes on most days at 5 or 6 pm, it’s hard to argue against that complaint. Well, it seems like Animal Kingdom is finally going to be extending its hours with the introduction of Pandora. With concept art showing both day and night, we know that Avatar-land will have a day/night cycle, going against the rumors that the expansion would only portray Pandora during the nighttime. However, once the sun goes down, Avatar-land looks like an unbelievable experience. The Imagineers seem intent on making the most of the stunning bioluminescence portrayed in the film.

The extension of Animal Kingdom’s hours will also benefit the non-Avatar related portions of the park. Along with these new details, Disney announced a new nighttime spectacular taking place in front of the Tree of Life.

3) Soarin’ Over Pandora

Soarin Over Pandora - Avatar Land - Animal Kingdom
One rumor that was dead-on is that one of the attractions will be a flying ride that will gives guests the experience of flying on a Banshee, the dragon-like flying creatures in Avatar. Disney even used the word “soar” to describe this experience, which gives credence to the idea that the ride will utilize a ride system similar to Soarin. This seems like a no-brainer: marrying the cinematic and special effects expertise of James Cameron with a proven attraction concept by the Imagineers. My hope is that they add enough of an element of thrill to differentiate it from the attraction at Epcot.

4) There will be a boat ride, because most things are better on a boat.

Avatar Land Boat Ride
One of the pieces of concept art depicts guests taking a cruise through the nighttime jungle of Pandora. It isn’t clear if this is a dark ride or an outdoor ride, but my money is on the latter, as the image of the Avatar Land model shows a river running out in the open (look below Joe Rhode). Another possibility is that it might be a hybrid of the two, with an outdoor element that seamlessly leads into a show building. That’s just wild speculation on my part, but the point is that there’s going to be a boat ride, which is a great thing. An atmospheric boat ride that doesn’t get you soaked will be a welcome addition to Animal Kingdom.

Disney Imagineer Joe Rhode, Tom Staggs, and Jim Cameron - Avatar Land Model

5) Even the Plants Will Be Interactive


This was hinted at in Tomm Staggs announcement on the Disney Parks Blog, where he said that Pandora will be a real place for guests to “see, hear, and touch,” and that the biolumescent plants will be “alive with light and sound.” Disney has also been showing off a new technology where they can take any plant and make it interactive. I got to try out a demo of this at D23, where they turned an ordinary houseplant into a musical instrument. It was unbelievably cool. This technology gives Disney the opportunity to turn all of the flora and fauna into an interactive part of Pandora. This land promises to be one of the most immersive experiences inside any Disney park.


I’ve been decidedly on the fence about Pandora coming to Disney World. While I definitely saw the appeal of the environment, Avatar was never my favorite choice of IP, just because I didn’t love the movie that much. However, as more details come out, the more I think that this can be a stunning experience for Disney guests. We’ll have to wait a few more years until we can soar on a Banshee or float through the jungles of Pandora to see for ourselves.

What do you think of the new Avatar land coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook, or email me at [email protected].

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James is a lifelong Disney Parks fan. While at the parks, he loves finding new details, learning more about Disney World history, and taking pictures. His favorite WDW attractions include Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours.
James is a filmmaker and writer based in Los Angeles.

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