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Avatar Flight of Passage is one of the most technologically advanced rides Disney has ever produced: a flight simulator in which you hop on the back of a winged, dragonlike Pandora banshee for a spin to take in the planet’s scenery.
Your journey begins with a long walk from the base of Pandora, up an inclined path, and into abandoned cave dwellings. Wall paintings and markings inside the caves tell the story of the Na’vi. From there, you walk through jungle and more rocks to reach the research laboratory of the humans who have settled on Pandora and are studying the planet’s wildlife.
The lab’s star exhibit is a Na’vi avatar lying in suspended animation. Encased in a giant water-filled tube, the sleeping apparition floats gently, its rest briefly interrupted by a finger twitch or leg movement. (People we’ve toured with have described it as either mesmerizing or vaguely unsettling.)
Once through the queue, you’re brought to a 16-person chamber to prepare for your flight. A video explains the concept of an avatar: a way to project your consciousness onto another being—in this case a Na’vi riding astride a banshee—and feel everything it feels. Your preparation includes a “parasite decontamination procedure” and other quasi-scientific processes, mainly to help pass the time until your ride vehicles are ready.
When it’s time to ride, you’re led into a small room holding what looks like 16 stationary bicycles without pedals. You’re handed 3-D goggles and told to approach the “bike,” swing one leg over, mount it, and scoot as far forward as you can. Once you’re seated, padded restraints are deployed along your calves and lower back, ensuring that you don’t fall off during your flight. (The snugness of the restraints, coupled with the somewhat confined space holding the vehicles, makes some claustrophobic guests exit before riding.)
Then the room goes dark, there’s a flash of light, and suddenly your brain is “linked” to the Na’vi surfing a banshee. You swoop up and down, left and right, on this flying dragon, going over the Pandora plains, through the mountains, and across its seas, all through a high-definition video projected onto a giant screen in front of you. As you fly, airbags at your legs inflate and deflate to simulate the banshee’s breathing below you.
The flying effects are very well done. You can turn your head almost 90° either way, and about 45° up and down, to survey the Pandora landscape. Riders toward the middle of the room (seats 4–8 in one group and 9–12 in the other) have, we think, better range of vision.
If you’ve experienced Soarin’ at EPCOT, it’s similar technology at work here, with the individual “bikes” replacing the grouped seats. Likewise, the ebb and flow of the flight reminds us of the Soarin’ film’s pacing, right down to the finale over the beach. The video is clear and well synchronized with the ride vehicles, and we’ve heard very few reports of motion sickness—which is unusual for screen-based motion simulators.
The word rave hardly does justice to how Flight of Passage has been received. First, from an Indiana family of four:
Our favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World is Avatar Flight of Passage. The experience is magical. It really does feel like you’re flying because of the wind, smells, and movement of the banshee. A lot of people compare it to Soarin’, but after riding Flight of Passage first, Soarin’ was a letdown.
An Edmonton, Alberta, couple had this to say:
Flight of Passage ride is one of the best rides we’ve ever been on. We would gladly wait 3 hours to ride this. A MUST-DO!
And from a Freehold, New Jersey, mom:
From the “breathing” ride vehicle to the unbelievable visuals to (my favorite) the wafting aromas, this ride is absolutely amazing. I love Forbidden Journey at Universal, but aside from Hogwarts Castle being a better queueing area, the Avatar ride is by far superior.
Flight of Passage is super, provided you can ride. A tall Oklahoman who couldn’t complains:
I am 6’6”, and I was too tall to ride. Two other individuals from my pod were also too tall/large. Very disappointing, and Disney did not handle it very well.
Riding Flight of Passage with No Wait
Flight of Passage is the first ride most people head for at Animal Kingdom. The good news is that when the park opens by 8 a.m., most guests leave Animal Kingdom well before closing. Thus, lines for Flight of Passage drop considerably near park closing. A Napa, California, reader recounts a very typical experience:
We did rope drop at Animal Kingdom during spring break on a day with park opening at 7 a.m. for resort guests. By 6:30 a.m., the line to get in was out in the parking lot. It’s also kinda stressful with everyone bumping into each other trying to get to Flight of Passage.
Park opening is erratic at Animal Kingdom for several reasons, but it’s mainly a matter of safety and traffic control. To forestall a mob at the entrance—and a Pamplona-like stampede to Pandora—Disney modulates the crowds as they arrive, ushering guests safely into a queue. Making crowd control even more critical is the fact that Animal Kingdom’s walkways are the narrowest in all of the Disney World parks, which can create choke points.
If you intend to be among the first in the park:
Here's roughly how many minutes you'll wait for Avatar Flight of Passage at each Animal Kingdom Crowd Level.
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