This article may have special interest for those who are blind in one eye.
A Restful Pre-park Day
September 2018: We arrived to our on-property resort early the day before entering the parks. Leaving our carry-on luggage with the resort (our checked luggage to arrive later in our room), that gave us a restful day to spend with local family (via a day pass for them) and enjoy the resort’s pool plus monorail and boat rides all around Disney World.
Late that afternoon we took a tour with the Disney Vacation Club and we each received 3 Super Fast Passes which can be used at any time in any park without ride reservations (a few new popular rides not included, e.g., Flight of Passage). We learned the great value of those super passes when combined with our normal Fast Passes, essentially ending up with a couple of wonderful days of very short lines.
An Early Start with a Plan
I had what I thought would be a masterful plan. With a stroke of luck just 6 months earlier, I was able to book Tusker House breakfast reservations for 8am (before the park opens at 9am). We would eat breakfast then head straight to the front of the line for Flight of Passage.
We left our resort room early to wait in line for the first bus to the Animal Kingdom. As we waited, Shawn Pilkin-Little, the manager for Animal Kingdom transportation, came by to do an inspection. He saw us waiting and offered to take us to the park. It felt like we had won a prize. Shawn entertained us during the drive with stories about the park and many of his experiences. What a great kindness! He even gave us each another Super Fast Pass! Pow!
At about 7:30am we found ourselves second in line to enter the Animal Kingdom for those who had early reservations.
The breakfast was excellent. A grand variety of delicious breakfast food at the full-room buffet. While eating we were visited by Mickey Mouse, Daisy Duck, and Goofy. We enjoyed seeing the children having fun with the characters, but I was surprised that they made it fun for us, too.
Leaving Tusker House in Africa at about 8:45am to head for Avatar, I felt smug as we walked to the start of the line for Flight of Passage. Arriving, there were a number of people already in line. Turning the corner, I could see a long stretch of the line. What happened? Many others were on their way to get in line, so I shook off my surprise and started walking fast. And walking. And walking. And walking. The line stretched for many hundreds of people.
As I stood in line, wondering what went wrong with my grand plan, I finally asked somebody how there could be so many people in line before the park even opened. It turned out that the park opening preparations were completed early and the number of people waiting to enter by that time was so large that they opened the park early. Ooooohh!
Then the line started moving. And kept moving. Along the way I started looking through my Animal Kingdom brochure, seeing information about Flight of Passage. It is a 3D video experience? Gasp! I am blind in one eye. I have avoided 3D movies assuming that it would be just a blurry experience for me. But after going through so much to get to this point, I determined that I would go through with it anyway. Albeit, with some trepidation. And not a little sadness.
A pleasant surprise
Soon I found myself at the ride entrance. Of course, Disney is expert at hiding lines and this was no exception. From there we walked a winding path through the Pandora forest with beautiful sights to keep us entertained and involved. I’ve since heard that you can touch some of the trees and get a reaction. Then heading uphill and through switchbacks, we entered a cavern where the line continued winding around. Still, I think it was less than an hour to get to the ride itself. Regardless, it felt like a surprisingly short wait.
This was the most awesome ride of my life. It begins with a video presentation and briefing that transforms us into members of the cast. We came upon an unlinked full size avatar floating in a tank. From there we entered a room with futuristic flying motorcycle-like chairs that will carry us on top of our banshee.
An excerpt from The Verge: “…there are eight link chairs per room, two rooms per floor, and several floors for each of the four screens used in the attraction. But the four-minute ride itself is so engrossing you never really have time, nor inclination, to realize you’re doing anything but flying by yourself.“
Putting our backpacks and personal items into a locker, we donned 3D glasses and climbed onto our assigned bikes, leaning forward to grab the handles. The visual displays show the process of our linking to our own avatar with our periodic interaction. This is a clever process that is designed to continue until our ride is ready to launch. At one point the sides and back of the “chair” pull inward to hold us firmly in place. The world of Pandora suddenly opens up to us as we see that we are at the top of a cliff (or high branch…I’ve got to do it again). The front of the chair suddenly drops and we are falling/flying straight down and then soaring among the branches, becoming immersed within Pandora — flying, feeling the wind, the smells, even the atmosphere. We are actors in an action movie, complete with objectives and story line.
VFXV describes it well. An excerpt: “You smell the forest canopy, and feel wind and mist at different points. But it’s not all soaring and careening – there are also calm moments, such as when you come to a rest in a dark cave full of bioluminescence and you hear and feel your banshee’s labored breathing (felt from the seat between your knees). Such multi-sensory entertainment has long been imagined, but never achieved at this level.“
Now it is clear why this is such an incredibly popular ride. Even if there is a much longer wait in line, this experience and all that leads up to it is worth it.
At the beginning I mentioned my great concern after discovering that this was a wear-the-3D-glasses experience. I discovered with great joy that the reality was a clear and wonderful experience even for me. I may not have had things popping out at me, but I’ve not experienced that in the way you do anyway. This ride delivered what to me was a complete, fully rich experience — truly the best ride I’ve ever been on.
I cannot wait to go back and do it again. And again.
From Flight of Passage we walked straight to the Na’vi River Journey. Some of our friends didn’t enjoy it that much, but what could possibly stack up against Flight of Passage? I’m glad we took this ride. It was relaxing and beautiful. I could have done without the long wait in line. While the much longer line at Avatar Flight of Passage moved fast and felt more like a short line, this line moved glacially. This ride’s line is one of the least well hidden at Disney World and has very little audience involvement in “the story.”
Bring a bottle of water and some snacks (or pay the captive-audience price from the vendor positioned strategically in the line). I know Disney is beholding to its shareholders but I wish they would be more customer-friendly on what it charges for food and snacks instead of leaving us feeling like our pockets are getting picked.
The next time you are in Epcot and have had a day where you are ready to collapse, go to Mexico for a hidden gem. Within their pavilion is a pleasant boat ride that is unbelievably welcome to tired, sore feet. Bonus: nobody seems to know about it, so there is no line.
On our first day leisurely boat ride we came across the Disney Skyliner under construction. I’m looking forward to riding that later.