Disney’s Pandora – World of Avatar – First Impressions

When I was growing up as a city girl, 12 acres was a lot of space.  Having spent the last (almost) 30 years surrounded by Louisiana farmland, 12 acres now seems pretty small.  It’s about the size of 9 football fields and also the size of Animal Kingdom’s new land.Disney's Pandora - World of Avatar - First Impressions

Disney’s Pandora – World of Avatar – First Impressions

Exploring Pandora was the basis for our Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip and we made sure we’d have plenty of time to see and do everything this new area has to offer.  Okay, except the face painting.  We’re not exactly into face-painting (unless you count Snapchat filters).  Add the June Florida heat and face painting was definitely off the table.  Aside from that, we managed to at least sample all Pandora had to offer.Disney's Pandora - World of Avatar - First Impressions

What we noticed immediately was that in Pandora, there’s a lot going on.  The land is wild and overgrown around a collection of worn down buildings and abandoned equipment.  Lush and colorful landscaping, water features, and pathways surround Pandora’s attractions, gift shop, restaurant and beverage counter.  Nothing feels mass-produced.  In fact, the accessories and decorations are decidedly handmade.   There are a variety of interesting lanterns and light fixtures that add to the natural feel of the area.  Plants unique to Pandora are interspersed with more recognizable foliage.  In the Disney way, large and small details work in harmony to create a stunning effect.Snail in Pandora

Aside from the amazing visual impact, Pandora offers guests a symphony of sound.  The abundant waterfalls create a constant background for the unfamiliar sounds of what I’m guessing are the (unseen) insects, birds, small and large animals of Pandora.  This particular detail, the unusual sounds, enhances the impression of being on a foreign planet.  It’s pretty darn cool!  There’s also a drum circle with several different drums and other percussion instruments for guests to play and those sounds add even more depth to what guests hear in Pandora.Drum in Pandora

Enjoying the luxury of having lots of time, Megan and I took a leisurely approach on our explorations.  We were able to meander along the different walkways and bridges.  Looking up and down as we walked along, we thought the floating mountains looked most impressive from the area directly beneath them and managed to locate at least one Hidden Mickey.  We rode both the Na’vi River Journey and the Flight of Passage, we had breakfast in the Satu’li Canteen, tried the green beer from Pongu Pongu, and gave the Windtraders gift shop a good bit of our attention (and money).Pandora Magic Shot

Pictures don’t do it justice!  Pandora is a feast for the senses and did not disappoint.  Fans of Avatar, the movie, are sure to be pleased by the overall experience and fans of Animal Kingdom should be satisfied by the new land’s conservation and preservation messages.  If you haven’t seen Avatar, I recommend you watch the movie before you go to Pandora if for no other reason than to appreciate how the Na’vi people, plants and animals from the movie are duplicated in the land.

Have you been to Pandora yet?  What did you think about the area’s details and attractions?  What do you want to hear about next?  Na’vi River Journey?  Flight of Passage?  Let me know and I’ll get right on it.

 

 

 

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

The Epic Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip has come and gone.  800 miles to Walt Disney World for four park days and home again.  Did we have a good time?  Oh, you bet we did!  After all the planning and anticipation, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

We shared our plans in this post a few weeks ago.  When we hit the road at 8:00 am sharp on June 24th we were excited about our girls-only adventure.  We had our favorite Newk’s chicken salad sandwiches and plenty of drinks in the cooler.  Those snacks I’d bought at the Japan Pavilion back in April were within easy reach in the car.  We had a new podcast recommended by my friend Kelly about Unsolved Murders queued up in iTunes.  Suitcases, rain gear, GPS directions…we were ready!

The weather was great for the drive down.  In Mississippi we saw Lightening McQueen and Mater by the side of the road!  We thought this was both hilarious and appropriate so we stopped for a picture.  After that, it felt like we were on The Autobahn!  Nobody in Mississippi or Alabama seemed to care about the speed limit at all and we had to go kinda fast to keep up with the crowd.  We never once saw any troopers or other law enforcement watching for speeders…vastly different than in Louisiana.

I figured 9-10 hours of shared driving would be the maximum we could handle on day one.  I’d booked a room at the Hampton Inn in Lake City, Florida for Saturday night.  We could get a good night’s rest and tackle the last 2 1/2 hours of the drive on Sunday morning.  Everything went exactly according to plan.  I’d had a recommendation from someone on a Facebook forum to stop in Tallahassee for ice cream at Lofty Pursuits.  We cheered ourselves on by looking forward to stopping there for an afternoon snack and were delighted with the restaurant’s huge menu and quirky décor.  Guinness ice cream is a thing and it is spectacular.  I had warm chocolate ganache on mine, Megan had hers in a cone.

Our room at the Hampton Inn was perfect with super comfortable beds.  After polishing off the last of our sandwiches, we sipped wine and watched a couple of episodes of Outlander before turning in.  Hey, girl trip means we get to do girly stuff.  The next morning’s drive was a breeze and before long we’d arrived at Saratoga Springs.  Our studio was great and very close to a bus stop.  Full review coming soon.

As per our plans, we spent Sunday afternoon and evening in Magic Kingdom with a quick dinner break at the Wilderness Lodge’s new Geyser Point Bar and Grill.  We capped off the day with Happily Ever After and loved it!

Monday was my favorite day of the trip.  We left Saratoga Springs at 6:30 am and didn’t get back until 11:00 pm.  We spent all that time in Animal Kingdom and had a blast!  I’ll write individual posts with more details about Pandora and the Caring for Giants tour, but those were both amazing.  We had FastPasses only for the Na’vi River Journey in Pandora that day with a FastPass to experience Flight of Passage booked for the next morning.  You cannot get FastPasses for both on the same day.

We watched the wait time for Flight of Passage throughout the day and it quickly became 250 minutes before declining during the afternoon hours.  After Caring for Giants, we decided that if the wait time got below 100 minutes between then and our Rivers of Light FastPass, we’d wait in the standby line so we could ride Flight of Passage twice on this trip.  Normally, we will not wait longer than 30-40 minutes for anything except our most favorite attractions and only then if absolutely necessary.  While we were enjoying our Flame Tree Barbeque dinner, Flight of Passage’s wait got to 90 minutes and we had just enough time to do it.  I’ll tell you all about in another post soon, but we were so happy we got in that long line!!!

Tuesday we split between Animal Kingdom and Epcot.  We got to eat lunch at La Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion which we hardly ever get to do because we’re the only ones in our family who love Mexican food.  It rained quite a bit that afternoon, but we were prepared.  We rode out the worst of the storm listening to Voices of Liberty in The American Adventure rotunda.  They are so talented and put on a wonderful show!  Once the rain let up a little, we made our way back to Saratoga Springs and then on to our dinner at Paddlefish in Disney Springs that night.

Wednesday we split the day between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  The weather was gorgeous and the Studios didn’t feel as crowded as usual.  We did all our favorite attractions, saw all the characters in the Star Wars Launch Bay, and had time to enjoy a cold beer before we headed to Epcot.  By 4:30, it was time to get back to our already-packed car at Saratoga Springs and head back to the Hampton Inn in Lake City for the night.

The drive home on Thursday was a lot more challenging than on the way down.  We left extra early since we’d seen a sign outside of Lofty Pursuits that they were now serving breakfast.  Strawberry pancakes and coffee…delicious and just the fortification we needed.  We’d been averaging 5 hours of sleep a night since Sunday and were exhausted.  We drove through what felt like a monsoon for hours along the Florida panhandle.  After we got through Mobile, things got better and we made it home safe and sound with lots of souvenirs for Raymond, Joseph, Grant, and Lyndsey.

Success!  We had an excellent trip and accomplished all we’d set out to do.  Plus, we now know about literally dozens of unsolved murders around the world.  Megan and I took on the challenge of a 1600 mile drive to have a mother/daughter adventure.  We rarely get much alone time these days, so having each other’s complete and undivided attention while enjoying our favorite vacation destination was like a dream come true.  And we’d do it again!

 

 

Epcot – World Showcase’s Drawbridge

Clearly no matter how many times I visit Walt Disney World or how much I read about my favorite vacation destination, there will still be things I don’t know.  Remember when I found out about the collectible transportation cards?  Discovering there’s a drawbridge in World Showcase was a lot like that…an unexpected Disney surprise!

Epcot – World Showcase’s DrawbridgeChina Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase

It’s okay if you’re thinking, “How did she never notice the bridge over a waterway between Africa and China?”.  Truth is, I never noticed it before because I was never trying to get from France to Norway when the bridge went up.  I don’t know about Raymond and Joseph, but I was cruising along looking forward to using our Frozen Ever After FastPass, minding my own business, focused on the crowd ahead.  The crowd that wasn’t moving!  Then suddenly I was all, “Whoa!  What the heck!  Check it out, y’all!  There’s a drawbridge!”  Me being me, I sort of eased us up to the front of the crowd for a better look.Epcot - World Showcase's DrawbridgeI seriously had no idea what the deal was.  Turns out, the globe used in Illuminations is stored backstage and moves into the World Showcase Lagoon via this little waterway-with-a-drawbridge.Epcot - World Showcase's Drawbridge Epcot - World Showcase's DrawbridgeI was a little surprised at how unassuming and kind of small the globe looked.  During Illuminations it’s the amazing centerpiece of all the action.  Arriving at the “theater” it looked rather like an unadorned actor heading for make-up and wardrobe.  Or a super hero as his or her alter ego maybe.Epcot - World Showcase's Drawbridge The crowd around us was boisterous and having fun.  I was even enlisted to take a photo for a group of young adults clearly celebrating something (or just having a really great time involving lots of adult beverages).  When the globe moved on and the drawbridge lowered, we were on our way to what we would soon find out was a closed Frozen attraction.  I was happy anyway – I’d learned something new about Epcot and got to see the famous Illuminations globe up close in the light of day.

Did you know about the drawbridge?  Have you seen it go up for the globe to pass through?

Who Would Love Disney’s Rivers of Light

Rivers of Light – Fraught with problems and persistent rumors from its earliest pre-production phases, this newest nighttime show in Disney’s Animal Kingdom got mixed reviews from Raymond, Joseph and I when we recently saw it for the first time.

Who Would Love Disney’s Rivers of Light

Originally scheduled to premier in April, 2016, Rivers of Light finally made its long-awaited and much-anticipated debut in February, 2017.  Rumors about the cause of the delay ranged from problems with the floats to mechanical difficulties to dissatisfaction with the music and/or show storyline.  Early reviews have not been favorable, but we’re a family that likes to decide for ourselves where on our attraction popularity scale each new offering falls.  We booked FastPasses so we could arrive at 8:00 pm for the 8:30 show.  The FastPass entrance to the amphitheater (in Asia near Everest) was just opening up as we arrived and we found seats easily.Who Would Love Disney's Rivers of Light?

There’s a pre-show for Rivers of Light that involves lights in the trees, animal noises, shadows and music.  I thought the lights were nice.  When the 15-minute show began, we were captivated by the visual effects.  Animal Kingdom’s first nighttime spectacular predictably focuses on the relationship between nature and all living things.  There are shamans on boats who do a lot of arm waving which creates some cool shadow effects on the boats’ sails.  The combination of lights, lasers, music, boats, lanterns, projections on water screens, and colorful floats sounds like an easy win – and the show itself is not bad, just not what we’ve come to expect from Disney.Who Would Love Disney's Rivers of Light

Great Use of Special Effects

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to like.  Joseph thought it was good entertainment and was especially impressed with the visual effects.  Raymond wished it had been a little more “Disney” with familiar (or at least memorable) music or even the inclusion of some appropriate characters (Pocahontas, Jungle Book, Brother Bear, etc.)  I thought the music was pretty terrible, but the water screens, projections, and floats were fantastic.  The storyline (if you can call it that) seemed to be an overly simplistic “we are one” theme.  Based on the kids around us who were asking if the show was over barely five minutes in, I’m guessing Rivers of Light will not be popular with kids up to about age 8 or 9.Disney's Rivers of Light Who Would Love Disney's Rivers of Light Disney's Rivers of Light

I received a survey about Rivers of Light via email after we got home and tried to be as honest as possible about what we did and didn’t like.  Hopefully Disney is planning to make some improvements.  I completely understand the need for Animal Kingdom’s nighttime show to reflect the park’s conservation message, but there’s certainly room for improvement with the music and disjointed scenes.  Go see Rivers of Light for the beautifully illuminated floats and projection effects.  Don’t expect catchy tunes or a soundtrack you’d like to purchase.

Since Megan hasn’t seen Rivers of Light yet, we’ve got FastPasses for the last week in June.  Maybe seeing it for a second time will give me a better appreciation for the music and overall message…we’ll see.

Have you seen Rivers of Light?  What did you think?  If there were children in your party, was it a hit with them?