Animal Kingdom’s first expansion land was Asia, which opened in 1999, and like Africa’s Harambe, Asia takes place in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur (Sanskrit for “Place of Delight”). Among the attractions here is the Maharajah Jungle Trek, a self-guided walking tour through the Anandapur Royal Forest where the people of Anandapur turned their old ruins into a wildlife preserve where you will see Komodo dragons, fruit bats, tigers and more.
The river rafting attraction Kali River Rapids takes you along the Chakranadi River past ancient shrines, statues and ruins as well as waterfalls, tropical jungles and caves.
The rollercoaster ride Expedition Everest which opened in 2006 is the star attraction of the area. A thrill ride centered around a mountain that is taller than the Magic Kingdom’s Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, it is a forbidden peak that is home to the Yeti, which among some Asian cultures is believed to be a fierce protector of certain mountains, valleys and forests in the Himalayas and guards them from humans. Among the technical feats of the ride is the ability of the coaster to go both forwards and backwards, as well as the Yeti itself which is an animatronic wonder.
In the past, visitors to Asia could also see the hydrotechnic nighttime show Rivers of Light and the stage show Flights of Wonder, but those would be officially replaced in 2017 by a new version of Flights of Wonder themed around the Pixar movie Up called Up! A Great Bird Adventure, and this time the Pixar characters Russell and Dug would hit the stage.
One thing about Disney’s Animal Kingdom some people may not know is that back when the theme park first opened, there was originally an area called Camp Minnie-Mickey, which was themed around the North American woodlands. After a proposed Beastly Kingdom featuring mythological creatures like dragons and unicorns fell through the development cracks, Camp Minnie-Mickey was housed in the area instead, and despite it being short on many attractions it had a long life, with the main draw being the stage show Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends as well as the Festival of the Lion King, however Pocahontas only lasted a decade and the Festival of the Lion King was moved to the Africa area in 2014 in order for the Imagineers to get started on a new area that would replace Camp Minnie-Mickey in 2017: Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Based on the fictional home of the Na’vi in James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar and set long after the events of that movie, Pandora features two main attractions: Avatar: Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey.
James Cameron was first approached by Disney about the possibility of Avatar-themed attractions at Disney parks in 2011, but the discussions soon went from attractions to an entire Avatar-themed land, and that year Disney obtained the exclusive worldwide theme park rights to Avatar with construction beginning in 2014 and the area officially opening to much fanfare in 2017, designed by Disney’s Imagineers in collaboration with Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, with lead Animal Kingdom designer Joe Rohde serving as its creative director.
Set a generation after the first Avatar film, the Na’vi and the humans have achieved peace and now the Na’vi allow tourism (you, the park guests) on the planet Pandora for purposes of ecological enlightenment as well as scientific research at the newly established Pandora Conservation Initiative which preserves and studies species native to Pandora. The whole area is beautifully realized, containing ambient forest noises, alien plant life that interacts when you touch it, and even background music by the film’s original soundtrack composer and arranger James Horner and Simon Franglen.
The big star attraction at Pandora is Avatar: Flight of Passage, a 3D flying simulator that takes guests around the Pandora landscape on an airborne mountain banshee. With help from New Zealand VFX company Wētā, the ride allows you to link with a Na’vi avatar (the same way Jake does in the film) and fly on a banshee to partake in the Na’vi’s coming-of-age ritual, first entering the Alpha Centauri Expeditions Lab and soon soaring across the Valley of Mo’ara in 10k-resolution 3D glory, and it’s all in a land that you never saw in the movie.
The other major attraction is the dark ride Na’vi River Journey, where you can see the flora and fauna of Pandora brought to life by audio-animatronics as you sail through the Kasvapan River, although the Na’vi shaman you see at the end of the ride is the most advanced and realistic animatronic the Imagineers have ever created to date.
In addition, you can experience the daily outdoor drum circle of the Swotu Wayä Na’vi Drum Ceremony at the Valley of Mo’ara and get educated about the planet by a Pandoran scientist who can interact with guests through his AMP mech suit known as the Pandora Utility Suit.
Well, looks like that’s the end of my Animal Kingdom tour! I’ve taken you across the world and back to Africa and Asia, into the past with Dinoland U.S.A. and into the future with Pandora. That’s the full tour experience! What more could you want from me? Oh, right…Zootopia. No date on when that’s going to happen yet, but who knows? I may return to the Animal Kingdom one day.