What Is the Avatar Ride in Animal Kingdom? What You Should Know

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It seems strange to be rooting for a movie in which I have neither a particular interest nor a financial stake to do well at the box office.

But with “Avatar: The Way of Water” in movie houses across the world this December, I’m watching worldwide box office like I have a stake.

Why? 

I liked James Cameron’s “Avatar” well enough when it came out more than a decade ago. I saw it in theaters like most of the rest of the people on Earth.

Later, when we got a fancy new TV at the house, one of the first things I put on was “Avatar” just to see what our new television can do. 

Over the years, Cameron’s vision – which at one time was the highest-grossing movie in history – has become something of a joke. The plot was fairly thin to begin with and over time the focus grew on the various holes in what was called “Dances with Wolves” in space. 

But the beauty of the world Cameron created never faded, even when grandiose plans for multiple sequels dragged on as the movie fell further and further from the public consciousness. Except for the consciousness of Disney fans. 

Disney bet hard on Cameron – one of the most successful blockbuster filmmakers in history – both in financing his long-gestating sequels and in the Avatar intellectual property. 

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avatar-themed landscape at disney's animal kingdom
The Avatar franchise is best known for the beautiful world it created (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Avatar at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom

Construction began in 2014 – five years after the first movie came out – on Pandora: the World of Avatar section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The land opened in May of 2017, eight years after “Avatar” ruled the box office. 

That didn’t really matter in the park though. Disney’s version of Pandora was a success. It captures the beauty of Cameron’s vision and offers some of the best rides in the park. And it also – like Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Star Wars section of Hollywood Studios – immerses you in a captivating fantasy world. 

Why am I rooting for “Avatar: The Way of Water” to succeed as well as Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 and Avatar 5? Because I like the Pandora world in Animal Kingdom. I want to see Disney invest to grow it, to make it bigger and more immersive with more rides and entertainment.

For instance, I want to be able to interact with a 7-foot Na’vi like I do the raptors at Universal. I want to be able to get deeper into that world Cameron created.

Pandora -Avatar entrance Animal Kingdom
The entrance to Avatar Flight of Passage (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What is the Avatar ride at Animal Kingdom?

There are two Avatar rides in Animal Kingdom. Avatar Flight of Passage is a 3D motion simulator on steroids. It takes the best of EPCOT’s Soarin’ and combines it with the best of Hollywood Studios’ Star Tours.

You board a Mountain Banshee – the flying dinosaur creature from the first Avatar movie – and ride across the spectacular Pandora landscape. 

The second ride is the Na’vi River Journey, a slow boat ride to the wonders of the Pandora World of Avatar. It’s a little Pirates of the Caribbean and a little Gran Fiesta Tour from EPCOT’s Mexico Pavilion. It’s very chill and extremely beautiful. 

Animal Kingdom's Avatar: Flight of Passage interior
Avatar Flight of Passage may be one of the best rides in Orlando (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Which Avatar ride is better at Animal Kingdom?

They are very different experiences, but Flight of Passage is legitimately one of the best rides in Orlando. Maybe in the top three.

Located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, after a quick briefing at the lab, you board the back of a Banshee. From there, you soar through the floating mountains and around waterfalls and over the oceans. Basically, through the majestic world that “Avatar” director James Cameron created.

Look, a lot of people have a lot of feelings about the first “Avatar” movie and some of the plot decisions Cameron made.

However, I don’t think anyone can deny the beauty of it. Getting to go through this rite of passage on a technologically impressive ride vehicle – where you can feel the Banshee breathing – is a gift.

Read Also: What can you ride at Animal Kingdom when it rains? Your complete guide

Is the Avatar ride scary?

River journey? Not at all. 

Flight of Passage? Only if you have a fairly extreme fear of heights.

If 3D flight simulation bothers you, this ride could. It’s extremely well done and very realistic. You feel like you’re flying. 

Animal Kingdom's Na'Vi River Journey
The Na’vi River Journey is a cool and leisurely boat ride (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Does the Avatar ride at Animal Kingdom have drops?

River Journey? No. It’s just a vibe. Smooth. Cool – temperature-wise. Leisurely. Beautiful. You’re on a river and you go into a cave. There’s more blacklight than at Spencer’s Gifts in a late 80s mall. 

It’s not as much a ride as it is an experience.

Flight of Passage? The drops are all simulated but they’re well-simulated. When the Banshee dives, you’ll feel like you’re dropping.

Animal Kingdom's Pandora at night
The dramatic daytime beauty of Avatar transforms to glow by night at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (media photo by David Roark/Disney)

Is the Avatar ride at Animal Kingdom worth the wait?

I think so, but I’d cap my wait for Na’vi River Journey at about 45 minutes. If the line queue is longer than that, I’d go explore the rest of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.

In fact, visit Expedition Everest or walk around the Tree of Life while keeping track of wait times on the My Disney Experience app. 

The zen-like experience of the River Journey is somewhat lessened if you spend too long in the standby line. 

Now, Flight of Passage is an entirely different animal. There are certain attractions you must experience if possible. Visitors to the Animal Kingdom have not gotten the full experience of one of the great Disney theme parks until they’ve soared above Pandora.

It’s one of the best rides in Walt Disney World. Honestly, it’s one of the best rides in Orlando and one of the best rides in the United States. I’d go further but I haven’t been to any theme parks outside the country yet. 

Read Also: Animal Kingdom vs Hollywood Studios: Which Disney park is best?

Lightning Lane Signage Animal Kingdom's Avatar
Flight of Passage has an Individual Lightning Lane ride (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Are there ways to skip the line for the Avatar ride? 

Yes. Na’vi River Journey is part of the Disney Genie+ package. This means you purchase the Genie+ service and you have the opportunity to make reservations to skip the standby line. 

Flight of Passage is an Individual Lightning Lane attraction. This means you can purchase a reservation to skip the standby line once.

Frankly, with the typical wait times for the Flight of Passage, if you can afford it, it is well worth it to pay the extra price.

seats on the flight of passage ride
The seats for the Flight of Passage ride may be difficult for plus size guests (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Are there limitations to who can ride the Avatar ride?

The Flight of Passage ride vehicle requires guests to transfer from their wheelchair or ECV. A guest under the age of seven must be accompanied by someone 14 years old or older. 

The height requirement for Flight of Passage is 44 inches or taller. The ride is also one of the few Disney park rides that may not work for larger guests. It has the same requirements as the River Journey. The Banshee ride vehicle will make it tougher for heavyset guests.

There is a test vehicle outside the ride manned by a cast member who can advise the best way to get into the ride vehicle.

You can use the rider switch on the ride as long as you have a child who cannot ride and cannot be left alone long enough for you to ride.

Have you visited Animal Kingdom’s Avatar? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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