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INSIDE LOOK: Disney’s new ‘Flight of Passage’ ride delivers fully immersive, emotional journey linking guests to “Avatar”

in Avatar, Disney, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Immersive, Movies, Movies & TV, Walt Disney World

Today Walt Disney World offered ITM an early preview of their latest work of genius, Pandora – The World of Avatar. Among breathtaking views of majestic mountains and vivid vegetation is the headlining attraction, Avatar Flight of Passage.

In the outside portion of the queue you are taken in by spectacular sights with cascading waterfalls and boulders that appear to float above your head, but the real story begins when you enter a series of caverns that take you deep into the mountains of Pandora.

WATCH – WALK THE IMMERSIVE QUEUE & SEE THE PRE-SHOW:

The initial walk into the caverns introduces many drawings of the Na’vi, the native inhabitants of Pandora. In the drawings we begin to understand the intimate relationship between this species and another – the Banshee.

Banshees serve a special purpose in Na’vi culture. The connection with one marks a milestone of maturity in the life of each Na’vi. Once a Na’vi has been able to find its Banshee companion, the two link for life. It’s a relationship being closely studied by humans (which brings us to the next part of the queue).

Abruptly, the caverns empty into an industrial facility that has been carved into the mountain. Nature and man collide with force. And here, Disney’s attention to detail arrives with just as much force, offering complete immersion into this exciting world.

Around every step, it is easy to completely lose yourself in the impressive world Disney has created here, removing all perception of the outside to drive the story forward via the scenic elements in each of many sequential rooms. It’s a maze of thought-provoking design.

This location is where the Resource Development Administration (RDA) used to conduct questionable activities. In this facility, there are still traces of the toxic experiments that used to be conducted.

But this harsh environment eventually leads back into the bioluminescent forest, and we see how nature is reclaiming what was hers. Glowing overgrowth appears to be slowly spreading over previously putrid areas, and it is all now under the watchful eye of the Pandora Conservative Initiative.

The story in the queue progresses as the forest leads us to the Pandora Conservative Initiative’s research center. Once an RDA asset, the building has been repurposed to study the link between the Na’vi and the Banshee. There is a gigantic mural with life-size Banshees and Na’vi that gives perspective to the enormity of these races, but the incredible queue pushes this story along as you delve even deeper into the research facility.

The lab is both fascinating and overwhelming. There is so much to look at – that’s worth looking at – that you’ll hope the line doesn’t move quickly so that you can take it all in. The movement from a dilapidated military facility to a beautiful, overgrown, bioluminescent forest which then leads to a perfect, clean modern lab leaves you disoriented in the best way possible. It’s intentional, designed to leave you wondering what surprises come next.

In this case, the big surprise is turning a corner and seeing an actual Avatar floating in a chemical bath. It’s arguably Disney’s most lifelike character creation to date and will leave you stunned.

WATCH – AVATAR ANIMATRONIC:

Various other oddities that change shape and texture are on display in the lab as well, which are quite entertaining to watch slither around. You can easily get lost in all of these many details, and yet you are pulled further once you understand that you will get a chance to experience the relationship between a Na’vi and Banshee via linking to an Avatar.

Moving forward into the facility, groups of 16 people are moved into smaller pre-show rooms where it is explained that by matching portions of individual’s DNA with that of Avatar prototypes, humans have the ability to briefly link with a Banshee and explore Pandora from a perspective they would never otherwise have – from high above.

After a series of amusing and slightly interactive elements that match you to an Avatar prototype, you are asked to straddle a “link chair.” This is what, as the story goes, will connect you for your flight.

You climb on like a bicycle, which positions you forward and quickly locks tight on your body and legs. Via this “vehicle,” you receive realistic sensations throughout the ride that help suspend disbelief and make you think – and quite literally feel – that for a few minutes you actually are sitting on the back of a majestic and terrifying flying creature once the simulation begin.

You feel vibrations that imitate electric pulses as you are being linked to your Avatar and you experience the sensation of your Banshee breathing as you “sit” on its back. These small details elevate what could be “just another” 3D simulator screen-based ride.

The actual flight is centered around beautiful visuals.

Using the technology that we know from Disney’s Soarin’ attraction and many elements we are familiar with (distinct smells and quite frequent misting effects), Flight of Passage is still able to bring us a new take with its precise simulation and breathtaking vistas.

The rushing wind matches perfectly with different speeds during your flight. The movements of the seat are perfectly in sync with the screen’s footage, so even motion sickness-prone individuals may be able to clear without issue. (I am one of those people.) The experience is genuinely moving.

You fly around the floating mountains, past many other Na’vi, across an ocean, under a wave, and wind up with a beautiful sun-soaked overview of Pandora. This is a sight-seeing flight from another world.

I felt like Sebastian on the back of Falkor in “The NeverEnding Story.” When my flight ended and I “disconnected” from my link chair, I was instantly ready to go back.

I visited a place of complete fantasy, but it felt so real. The beauty of it is something not easily shaken. If you allow yourself to become part of the story, by the end you will not only feel like you have flown, you will feel like you have truly connected to this world.

Take your flight when Pandora – The World of Avatar officially opens at Walt Disney World on May 27.

Planning a trip to Pandora? Get discounted tickets to Disney’s Animal Kingdom from our sponsor Maple Leaf Tickets.

(Video and additional reporting by Ricky Brigante)

14 Comments

  1. Tessa

    Hello! Do you feel the Flight of Passage ride poses any threats for passengers who may be pregnant? I haven’t seen anything listed for this ride (health concerns or limitation-wise) other than the height requirement yet. Thank you!

    1. John

      Wait till the baby is born. You won’t be able to ride it.

  2. Jeff W

    Great article, JL! Thanks for bringing us the scoop this weekend. I’m so relieved this seems to be a success. With all of that time and planning that went into this project, any failure would be magnified. Great writing as always!

  3. Vontaxe

    Are there a lot of large drops?

    1. John

      Yes.

  4. YenSid

    I hear if you have big legs or are tall…you won’t fit in the contraption. Large numbers of people being turned away during the cast previews is the word.

  5. Garaan

    I find myself wondering about people that are heavy. What’s the ‘fatness limit’ on these things? Like it or not, a lot of America is overweight, and you’d think making their Big Expensive Attraction unavailable to a large segment of the population would be inadvisable.

    1. Pat

      Too many Americans are FAT by choice, it’s not a disability. You’re too fat to ride, so be it, TBH. Stop eating so much, exercise, and visit Disney another time to ride this attraction.

      1. Kate

        Some people can’t help being so tall and they got turned down to this ride because their legs are too big. I feel like disney should try to accommodate all people.

      2. John

        And some Americans are idiots by birth. Looks like you’re included Pat. While I agree that many Americans are overweight, you’re ignorance should eliminate you from just about everything.

      3. John

        And some Americans are idiots by birth. Looks like you’re included Pat. While I agree that many Americans are overweight, your ignorance probably eliminates you from pretty much, everything.

      4. Sarah

        Being over wieght is an illness as well as a choice. I have had 3 children and used to be 120lb before i had them and am now 220, i am fat. I activley try to loose weight, it is difficult to accomplish, my body is just not the same anymore. I fear y thyroid is to blame, my grandmother had her tyroid removed because of canser. Her story is similar to mine. Skinny all her life had 4 kids now is considard fat. Illness is not a game. Overeating is not always the problem, our bodys change and age, matabolism decreases and pragnancy can compleatly change you forever.

    2. Heather

      I’m considerably overweight and had no issues with the ride.

  6. Brian

    I am prone to motion sickness. That said, I absolutely love Soarin, and have no problem with it. However, Star Tours literally eats me alive. I can’t even ride it anymore because it’s too jerky. Do you think I have a chance with FoP, or should I skip it? We have a FP, and I really want to experience this with my son, but I’m afraid it will make me sick. Thoughts?

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