Exclusive | Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom- New Details and Rumors Emerge 11/04/13

Recently Disney finally released some details on the new Pandora (Avatar if you will) expansion to Animal Kingdom.   The details were released as part of a D23, Disney’s in-house fan club, event hosted in Japan.

The release confirmed that the project, which was rumored to be stalled, is currently active.  It also confirmed some of the rumors about what all would be included in the new land.

Based on the information Disney released we now know at least two rides will be included in the new land.  A family ‘D-Ticket’ boat ride that will take guest deep into the illuminated forest of Pandora.  This ride will add a much needed family friendly dark ride to the park that has been plagued since its opening with what many view being a subpar listing of rides and attractions.  Some have pointed to what looks to be water in one of the released pictures as proof that this ride will include an outdoor section.  While we do not know if it will include an outdoor section at least part of the ride will feature a darkened indoor section.

The other ride is the new E-Ticket ride for the park.  This ride will use technology similar to Soarin’ found at EPCOT and Disney California Adventure but this ride will add more punch to the ride, it may also include a new ride system instead of the bench style seating found at Soarin’.  In the most recent interviews Joe Rhode, Senior Imagineer on the project, he admitted that they have yet to decide if the ride will be in 3D or not.  The ride will simulate flying on the backs of the Na’vi from the film.  It’s believe that once boarded the ride will flip guest face forward into the floor, much like Manta at SeaWorld Orlando. The screens for the ride should be below the loading platform instead of above it as found in Soarin’.

Along with the two major rides a family friendly our sources have confirmed interactive ‘animal experiences’ will be offered in the new land.  These will be both in a walk thru attraction and in random ‘visits’ to the land throughout the day.

The land will also include lush foliage and what look to be ruins of a previous base camp.  Our sources have confirmed an army base mess hall themed quick service restaurants will be located on the “landing station in Pandora” though any restaurant rumors have yet to be confirmed officially.

Rumors of the new land include sidewalks and plants that interact with guest via unique lighting effects built into them (this isn’t just a simple projection but instead electronic ripple effects built into the sidewalk itself).  The new land will also include walking trails where guest will interact with the bioluminescent plants from the film.  The walking trails will feature massive touch screen style sidewalks where Disney could theoretically program almost anything on them, for now it’s just simple ripple effects but that’s not to say a massive night-time show featuring the sidewalks themselves are out of the question.  This same technology will first be tested with a new interactive ‘Winter Wonderland’ style seasonal attraction coming to Downtown Disney.  Much like the Phineas and Ferb attraction in the past this new one will be a testing ground for Imagineers to see how well some it their newest technology works.

This focus on lighting is intentional. The new land will allow for Animal Kingdom to be opened into the evening, something that is rare for the park currently. The renderings released by Disney do show these plants will have a major role in the land but exactly what the role is has yet to be confirmed.

The new land with its fictional landscaping will add something unique and much-needed to Animal Kingdom which is known for its diverse foliage and eye to detail but all of those “bushes and trees” can become a bit boring to the casual tourist who is used to the highly themed worlds of EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, or Islands of Adventure.  Instantly becoming a new icon for the park, though never outdoing the Tree of Life, the floating mountains will play a prominent role in the new land.  These mountains are the rumored home to the ride-building for at least one of the two main rides.

One of the main criticisms of the new land is the timeline of its opening.  2017 for the first parts of the land, a full 5 years after the land was first announced.  In the meantime Universal will have opened Phase 2 of Harry Potter and at least 3-6 other major new rides across its two Orlando parks.

The Avatar update was also used to announce a new nighttime show for Animal Kingdom.  While few details on the new show were released I’ve spoken with industry insiders who claim that both WET, who designed the fountains of the Bellagio, and Cirque du Soleil are involved with the design of the new evening entertainment.  I’d expect the ‘Glow with the Show’ ears to be integrated into the new show as well.  Our sources confirm that the new show will feature live entertainers along with all new ways of interacting with water.  We have also heard that the show will feature reserved seating via the FastPass+ system.

Renderings released by Disney feature the Tree of Life with what looks to be Pandora style bioluminescent leaves.  The Tree has been surrounded by a large network of nets and covered walkways in recent months after large limbs began unexpectedly falling from it.  It is believed that the Tree will undergo a full top to bottom stripping and updating in the coming years.  Rumors state that the entire tree may be covered in scaffolding for months at a time while new sturdier limbs are installed.  Expect some of those ‘birthday cake’ nightmares to be relieved in Animal Kingdom throughout most of 2014.  This updating will also include new leaves that feature the glow effect shown in the rendering.

Some industry experts point to the prominence of the Everest Mountain as a potential site for projections similar to the castle projection show at Magic Kingdom, though our sources say that Everest will play less of a role since most of the seating will be looking towards the Tree of Life instead of the mountain.  Disney has yet to officially announce most of the details surrounding the new show and evening entertainment.

Disney did confirm a new night time safari will also be offered.  Other animal exhibits would likely be closed in the evenings but the majority of the park would remain open.

What are your thoughts on this new addition to Animal Kingdom? Will it be enough to compete with the boy wizard down the road? Will these additions convince you to make Animal Kingdom a full day park? Let us know in the comments below.

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