By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Pandora World of Avatar

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Based on Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron’s record-breaking box-office hit movie, Avatar (2009), Pandora opened in May 2017 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It welcomes guests to the lush world of the habitable moon in the Alpha Centauri system, set generations after the human conflict with the native Na’vi inhabitants of the movie has ended, and peace prevails. According to Imagineer Joe Rohde, the premise is that Avatar was not a movie, but rather a documentary.

Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) now allows eco-tourists to enjoy some of the legendary delights of the planet, including enormous floating mountains where waterfalls cascade down the mountainsides into meandering streams and pools, a bioluminescent forest with exotic plants that illuminates with a dreamlike quality in the evening, winged mountain banshees and more.

In partnership with ACE, visitors have the opportunity to explore the values and culture of this exotic place, and celebrate the striking beauty and overwhelming power of the natural world.

A Na’vi-built drum circle, Na’vi totems, and other cultural items are scattered through the area. Tour guides from Alpha Centauri Expeditions, scientists from the Pandora Conservation Initiative (PCI), and even an occasional eclectic expatriate interact with visitors and help them understand what they are encountering.

Pongu Pongu (meaning “Party Party” in the language of the Na’vi) is the center of the expat community, and offers various liquid libations and some snacks. It is located near the shop Windtraders where visitors can purchase Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits and more.

The quick service dining venue Satu’li Canteen (pronounced “Sa-too-lee”), a Quonset-hut-style building, was once the main mess hall of the Resources Development Administration (RDA) base (the main antagonist in the film).

Now the canteen is owned and operated by the Alpha Centauri Expeditions tour company and has been redesigned into a beautiful museum-like dining room for visitors. The interior has been transformed with colorful Na’vi items filling the walls and hanging from the ceiling — hand-woven tapestries, natural Pandoran elements and even cooking tools decorate the restaurant.

Pandora is a creative collaboration of Walt Disney Imagineering, Lightstorm Entertainment, and James Cameron himself.

“We are taking our guests on a journey to this world in an experience that’s as realistic and immersive as possible,” says Rohde. “In the movie, the world of Pandora is a setting for the action and characters whose story we follow. Here, guests are the primary characters immersed in an extremely vivid, authentic experience.

“We’ve been welcomed into the culture because of our motives. We’re here to learn. We’re here to educate ourselves. We’re here to become better stewards of our planet. The world in which the Na’vi live is in order because they care about it. They care for it. It is not enough to care about the world. You have to care for it. You have to do things. Take action.”

AVATAR Flight of Passage is a simulator attraction that allows guests to climb atop a mountain banshee for a breathtaking, multi-sensory flight over the moon’s incredible landscape that mimics the memorable rite of passage bonding scene in the original film. The journey includes a face-off with the most feared predator of Pandora, the Great Leonopteryx.

Na’vi River Journey gives guests the chance to serenely travel down a sacred river in reed boats and a brief encounter with the Shaman of Songs.

Imagineer Rohde stated, “It is a ceremonial forest. We’re bringing to life everything from the largest creature you might encounter to the most microscopic. Animals will appear out of the underbrush – big Pandoran animals will appear at the edge of the forest and you’ll hear the very complicated calls they issue back and forth.”

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Thanks, Jim! There’s more on Pandora and the transformation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom here. And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Call Me Walt, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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