Why is Pandora at Disney World?

Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World Florida is a beautiful land inspired by the James Cameron film Avatar. Disney reportedly spent half a billion dollars on developing this themed area. Did you know there’s an interesting story behind why Pandora is at Disney World?

James Cameron is a notoriously difficult filmmaker to work with. Nonetheless, Disney undertook the mammoth task of building Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney World. You’re probably wondering why? The answer has something to do with a boy wizard called Harry Potter.

Keep reading to find out what Harry Potter had to do with Disney building Pandora in Florida. And learn some other interesting facts about this extremely popular land in Disney World.

Why did Disney build Pandora in Orlando?

In 2003, Universal Orlando, then led by the inimitable Bob Gault, was just coming out of the difficult post-9/11 period when vacations in Orlando had hit a slump. At a meeting to brainstorm new ideas, an employee questioned Gault about where Universal stood on pursuing extremely popular franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Gault replied that Disney already has Harry Potter under their belt and that he would look into Lord of the Rings.

A year later, J.K. Rowling, signed an agreement with Disney to build a small themed land in Magic Kingdom. The Harry Potter land was planned in the area previously occupied by the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. On the drawing board were plans for a petting zoo called the Care of Magical Creatures, a ride called Defense Against the Dark Arts, and of course, the Disney usuals – a retail location and quick-service restaurant. The plan was to base the Harry Potter themed area at Magic Kingdom solely on the books, rather than the films that were peaking in popularity at just around that time.

But… the deal between Rowling and Disney fell through, supposedly because Rowling felt marginalized and wanted to be more involved. In 2007, Universal announced they had acquired the rights to a Harry Potter theme park. So, the boy wizard was coming to Orlando after all, but instead of Disney’s Magic Kingdom he was landing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a success?

You bet it was! This was a theme park unlike anything people had experienced before. It wasn’t simply a themed ride and merch location and food stand or two. Universal spared no expense in the level of detailing and the use of technology. The result was a highly immersive Harry Potter experience that had guests making a beeline for the Wizarding World. Moreover, Universal made the decision to adapt the theme park to the films that were a runaway success. The $170 million that Universal spent on constructing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was recovered in under six months, believed to be largely due to the popularity of butterbeer. No surprise then, the entire theme park world, including Disney, stood up and took notice.

When did Disney announce Pandora?

Disney CEO Bob Iger announced in February 2017 that Pandora – The World of Avatar would open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the start of the summer season on May 27. The new land was planned as one that celebrates the magic of nature, immersing guests in a magnificent bioluminescent rainforest with floating mountains and alien wildlife.

Guests would be treated to unforgettable experiences such as an encounter with a Na’vi Shaman. Also on the cards was a jaw-dropping flight simulator ride called Avatar Flight of Passage which would whisk guests over Pandora in a ride vehicle designed like a banshee. Dining locations Pongu Pongu and Satu’li Canteen and the Windtraders shop for Na’vi cultural items, science kits, and toys, etc., would complete the picture.

How long did it take Disney to build Pandora?

Disney broke ground on January 10, 2014, for the construction of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World Florida. The theme park opened to the public just over three years later on May 27, 2017.

Is Pandora world real?

Pandora is a fictional exoplanet moon (a natural satellite that orbits around an exoplanet, which is a giant plant). The 2009 blockbuster sci-fi film Avatar featured Pandora as a fictional universe where humans go to find unobtanium. In the movie, the Earth-like Pandora was inhabited by an indigenous humanoid species called the Na’vi as well as alien flora and fauna.

Do you need to watch Avatar the film to truly enjoy Pandora at Disney World?

Disney has taken Pandora off the big screen and given it a life of its own. The theme land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is built in a way that guests do not need to know or remember the original film at all. Anyone can enjoy the sights and attractions even if they don’t know the subject of the story and haven’t seen or even heard about the film.

In fact, Disney pushed ahead with the Pandora project when most people believed that the popularity, and indeed, the cultural relevance of the film had waned, perhaps even disappeared. However, Disney maintained that building Pandora was never about the original Avatar movie or its sequels. It was about creating a beautiful world that would truly immerse guests in the beauty of nature.

We have to give Disney credit for taking the emphasis away from the Avatar film and its characters and putting the focus firmly on the fictional planet Pandora which is a very special place indeed.

Why did Disney build Pandora at Animal Kingdom?

Pandora is designed as an alien world that feels real. When the Disney teams began developing the story around Pandora, they immediately knew it belonged in Animal Kingdom because Pandora – The World of Avatar is fundamentally about the power of nature, the transformation you go through on an adventure, and the changes you experience when you visit new places and do new things. These themes fit perfectly with Animal Kingdom which is all about exploring distant corners of the world such as Asia and Africa.

So much so that Disney Imagineers decided to throw out the idea of war between humans and the Na’vi, keeping in mind the Animal Kingdom theme of a peaceful coexistence with the natural world and an emphasis on nature and preservation.

To make the transition from the real world to the otherworldly Pandora smoother, Disney Imagineers literally built a bridge so guests can slowly feel immersed in the distant planet that is more like a national park than anything else.

What’s there to see and do at Pandora – The World of Avatar?

The most popular ride in Pandora is Avatar Flight of Passage, an exhilarating flight on a mountain banshee that offers a 3D experience and bird’s eye view of the beautiful moon. Equally popular is the second ride in Pandora, Na’vi River Journey, a slow ride in which guests embark into the bioluminescent rainforest in search of the Na’vi Shaman.

At Pandora, you can also enjoy the strikingly beautiful Valley of Mo’ara with awe-inspiring floating mountains and glowing wildlife. The entertainment at Pandora includes a meet and greet with the Pandora Rangers who operate the Exo-Carrier Utility Suit, a very interesting piece of research equipment.

Adding to the atmosphere are the Pandora Drummers called Swotu Waya who immerse guests in the World of Avatar with unique sounds and rhythms. Completing the picture (it’s Disney after all – they don’t overlook anything) is Satu’li Canteen and Pongu Pongu where you can enjoy some eclectic food and drinks. And to take a piece of Pandora home, there’s Windtraders, a merchandise location that sells unique Na’vi souvenirs.

So now you know the answering to the burning question – Why is Pandora at Disney World? – Tell us in the comments if you’ve been to Pandora – The World of Avatar and what you enjoyed most.

Dustin Baier

Hey, I'm Dustin a Dad of 4 and married to Sweet Pea Chef for over 15 years now :) We got engaged at the Disneyland Hotel way back when and love a vacation at Disney World, Universal Studios, really anywhere with theme parks!

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