Rex and I recently visited the Walt Disney World Resort for the opening of Pandora – a new themed land based on the smash cinematic hit “Avatar.” Since the enormity of our experience over the three day weekend is much too large for a single trip report, I thought we might break down the trip into several stand-alone articles.
First on the list is a review of Pandora’s signature attraction – Flight of Passage.
Leading up to our visit, I was much more excited about the Na’vi River Journey for two reasons: 1) I love dark rides. 2) I am not a fan of simulator rides. Well, my expectations were dramatically reversed once I boarded and experienced Flight of Passage.
Let’s start with the queue. Since Rex and I waited nearly 3 hours for the ride (something we have never done, and probably will never do again), we were able to experience the queue in its full glory. Outside there is a beautiful view of the Pandora exterior plant life. Once inside, you come across a cave like setting with drawings sketched over the walls, including one large banshee. The cave atmosphere reminded us a bit of the waiting area for Mythos, a restaurant inside Islands of Adventure theme park. Out of the cave you transition into a darker section with multiple switchbacks that provide neat views of the bioluminescent plants. From there, you enter the lab where the highlight of the queue experienced is seen – an enormous Avatar floating in one of the cylinders. Photos and videos cannot do justice to the enormity and realism of the Avatar. It was incredible.
After the lab, a final room shows banshee flights taking place and has an industrial feel to it as it leads you to the loading section. The queue is certainly impressive and quite long, but did not come across to me (or Rex) as wonderful as other theme park fans are suggesting. I have seen several commentators online list FOP as their new favorite queue, which is surprising to me. But, to each his own. It is a solid waiting experience.
The preshow was also very interesting. Some parts were incredibly cool, such as numbers on the floor that had a sensor device somehow attached to them. When you stood on your number, it would light up on a beautiful screen in front on of you. The gentlemen instructing us on the screen was curious – he was engaging and did a fine job explaining the process, but seemed unsure of himself at times. I can only assume that was part of the script, but I’m just not sure why.
Another room offers another training video and then you are escorted into the attraction itself. After stowing your gear on a back wall, you straddle what looks like a motorcycle seat. These were very well done, glowing a white light as you sat down on them. While other folks were getting situated, there were fun elements to watch on a screen attached to the seat. These were to give the impression that you were being “synced” with your banshee.
And then the ride began. As wonderful as the waiting and loading experience had been, nothing could have prepared me for the wonder of Flight of Passage. Things go dark for a moment and then a whirlwind of sorts escorts you into the world of Pandora on the back of a banshee. When this happens, it genuinely feels as if the real world around you dissolves away. Just like in the movie, you are in a new and different reality. It’s difficult to describe.
Even though it is a simulator, the idea that Flight of Passage is a “motion simulator” is quickly dismissed. It’s almost as if this ride needs its own description because it surpasses every other simulator ride by a mile. Physical elements add to the fun, such as the banshee pressing against your legs as it “breathes” and the spray from the beautiful water as you glide by. The screen is absolutely massive and crystal clear, and the goggles are so perfect you forget you are wearing them.
Let me sum up my experience like this – Flight of the Passage is the only theme park attraction that caused me to smile from beginning to end. I never stopped smiling. I felt whisked away to another dimension and reality genuinely seemed to stop. As wonderful as the simulator elements in Forbidden Journey and Gringotts are, they can’t touch Flight of Passage.
Is Flight of Passage the greatest theme park attraction in the world right now? I’m not sure. I believe there is a difference between the all-time greatest and the greatest first experience. For the latter, it is without question. Flight of Passage is the best first impression/experience I have ever had on a ride. Time will tell if it holds up as the best of all time.