Laurie was at Animal Kingdom for the opening of Pandora. She has a lot of info to share with us.
HISTORY – Animal Kingdom
In 1998, Animal Kingdom opened with a river ride and a land called Camp Minnie and Mickey. The boat ride quickly closed and was left unused until the Rivers of Light theater and show was built. Camp Minnie and Mickey became a place to see a show and leave. The last show, Festival of the Lion King, was removed along with character greets, a few snack stands, and a small education spot.
We can now see what guests saw on the boat ride. The scary rocks that the boat navigated and the lush foliage. As the boat entered Africa there were no Lion King theater or bathrooms. The boat approached a service bridge that was disguised as a 15th century Portuguese fort with gun slots. The bridge is only 20 years old but retains that rustic look. In place of the boats is a wooden walkway over the water that connects Africa with what is now Pandora.
Pandora aka Avatarland, has a backstory that many guests do not have the time to find out or is hidden. RDA was a mining company that almost destroyed the planet to get what they wanted. RDA ran away and left their base behind. The locals, Na’vi, had no use for the base so they left it to nature to heal the land. A few RDA employees remained in their new home and were expatriates (expats). This story follows colonialism in India, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and even the USA almost verbatim. The story is based in a time like 19th London where there was nothing but drudgery and few jobs back home. Who would want to leave paradise to work in factories and other menial jobs when they can be healthy and happy.
A former RDA employee built Pongu Pongu for his expatriate coworkers. It was a healing place of beauty that ended up with the owner of Pongu Pongu helping ACE ecotourism to be developed on Pandora. Over the past 50 years people came and never left. The RDA Commissary was stripped of almost everything RDA and became a place to show off Na’vi artifacts as well as RDA artifacts. It was named Satu’li Canteen and features home cooking of Earth and Pandora. Next came Windtraders shop that displays Na’vi artwork. Windtraders is an old RDA building that was stripped and turned into a place for souvenirs as well as merchandise celebrating Pandora. The Na’vi have their wares for sell in the shop. The RDA base was recycled for parts for current buildings and the rest left to nature.
The Na’vi oral tradition includes stories of a paralyzed veteran who became a Na’vi. Pandora has many paths that are disabled friendly. Sadly ACE did not listen to the Na’vi and made two rides that the disabled can’t ride. The calm river ride does not have a wheelchair boat like the Jungle Cruise. Many people want to see the labs and ride a banshee but are turned away. ACE forgot how a paraplegic soared on a banshee and fought for the Na’vi. Hopefully this will be changed. The Canteen staff are very kind to the disabled travelers. They carry trays, pick up utensils and drinks, and help bus their table. Except for soy, the chefs have included special diets. Sadly there are no gluten free desserts. Breakfast is hearty hash of chorizo, pork, potatoes, and peppers. Hopefully there will be soy free dishes beyond the 2 dishes at lunch.
DAS can be used to get a return time. All persons must be linked to the DAS before a return time can be received for the group. This is a great benefit as it is hard to get a mobility device out of the standby line if a person needs to leave. Rider Switch Pass is also available for those with small kids.
On opening day I used a Pride Gogo mobility scooter. I came home with multiple dents and bruises besides severe reaction to the heat. I was backpacked repeatedly. People would kick and hit my scooter. Worst was people standing inches from my face as if I enjoyed looking at their shorts and backpacks. Cutting in line was too common. One had to protect their space while waiting in line because people would slither through crowds to be first into Pandora. Some parents were too busy and their kids ran amok, darted into crowds, hit and kicked people, or hit mobility devices. I watched people plow through crowds without yielding to disabled guests, strollers, and cast members.
NA’VI WAY – PEACE AND BROTHERHOOD
Now for what Pandora really is about. I shared my table twice at my meals and I saw others share tables. Cast Members carried my tray, brought me my drink and utensils, and took the tray away. Later they bussed my table while other staff were helping guests find seats. There were guests helping other guests on Pandora like when a man dropped a bag from his stroller and someone chased him down. The children danced with the drummers and the crowd was ecstatic over the drummers. There was the sound of music and nature as people relaxed in the shade. Amongst the war and chaos, was humanity, in a distant land. Most of the people were there to learn and be entertained while patiently waiting. Sometimes a person would invite others in line to join them in a shade spot. This humanity and serenity within a garden akin to paradise calls me back. Maybe I can be an expatriate on Pandora.
The main entrance is on the left as you enter Discovery Island, just before Pizzafari. If you have a FP or DAS return time then you arrive 15-60 minutes before the return time. The Rider Switch Pass should be shown at the Fastpass line. The entrance to Pandora is down to an hour or two. The second entrance is from the area near the bathrooms near the Lion King theater along the river. Currently that path is only an exit. It is of utmost importance that one gets in the correct line. There is one for each of these: Extra Magic Hours, fastpasses, and all others.
The main landmarks are the river, the canteen, and the floating rocks. Facing the canteen one can find the exits and the river ride line. Straight ahead is the bathroom and behind you along the river is the main entrance, bathrooms, and face painting. To your left is Pongu Pongu and Windtraders. Continuing down the path on the left and behind you is the Flights ride. With your back to the canteen you will see the floating rocks with the far right one having Flights. In front of you are the drums and a body of water.
It is easy to get lost. Look for a large body of water that is between the river and the floating rocks. This will help you orient yourself. Rocks on the left and river on the right will align you with the map. The river on your right will also align you to the map. The river ride, face painters, and bathroom are at the bottom of the map. Practice at home so you understand how to use landmarks and how to turn your body so the map faces the right way. Hold the map and find a landmark. Turn in a circle until you are facing those things at the top of the map like the Canteen. Find your target and head for it. This is a lot easier than reading an upside down map.
Pandora is most beautiful at night. Get your fastpass then exit. Don’t waste time for anything but the drummers. Breakfast is great, but all other meals I recommend Tusker House and Flame Tree. During the heat of the day and get fastpass and important things done. Come back when your fastpass time is ready. Don’t waste time in Pandora as you will be in a lot of sun. There are so many things you can do. There is free ice, cold water, and hot water available. Bring snacks like Lara bars, chips, and things to nibble on. Bring zipper bags for storing snacks and popcorn. SUNSCREEN!! Wear a hat, wicking cotton clothes, and short sleeves. Stay hydrated by getting cups of ice and adding your drinks or their tap water. Sharing is caring so share food with your family so everyone experiences the food. Teach kids to stay near you and have them labeled in some way such as clothing tags. Teach kids who to go to when lost like the restaurant and shops. Kids, as soon as possible, should know your name. MARK MONTGOMERY shouted in a crowd gets more attention because people respond to their name. Have pictures of your group and everything you bring into the park. It is easier for EMTs, police, security, and cast members to find the lost person or item. Marking items with a return address helps. My cell phone is locked but has an emergency number which could be used to contact a friend. Have a designated meeting place such as the Dawa Bar. Don’t be vague like “I am outside the Lion King” as that covers everything from the bathrooms to Tusker House. Better to say, “I am along the river directly across from the Lion King entrance”. Some places have two entrance like World of Disney which leads to confusion. I have been part of a hunt for the correct entrance too many times. Buy a Mophie charger and keep it with cables in a bag so you can grab it and go. Study My Disney Experience and other apps as they can tell you where bathrooms, churros, and first aid. My Disney Experience allows users to get a map with step by step instructions.
Mom and I were evacuated from New Orleans Square in Disneyland because of an alarm. We were sent to the Haunted Mansion. Emergencies happen and you have to be prepared. Our evacuation was just an alarm going off. What if your bus breaks down? During mass movement, such as parade crossings, a group can split up. Always be over prepared. Bring to Pandora lots of batteries for cameras and electronic devices as the beauty should be shared. Zipper bags make good gloves as well as trash and leftovers. Bring your imagination and take time to study how succulent plants are turned into magnificent aliens plants. Imagine a living planet that glows with life at nighttime. Unlike the real Pandora, you can come and go as you please. Try a morning trip with breakfast at the canteen then head to Asia and Africa for the big ticket attractions. In the evening finish with one more ride and a nighttime show given by Pandora. Watch for other guests who are staring at the details of something as they may have found something interesting. I am in awe how imagineers made rusting bridges and equipment along side decaying buildings.