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PHOTOS, VIDEO, REVIEW: Flight of Passage is the Next Big Theme Park Thrill Ride, Soars in Pandora – The World of AVATAR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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I have anxiously awaited my chance to experience the heavily guarded secrets of the AVATAR Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and during yesterday’s annual passholder previews, I did finally get to ride on a Banshee. Well, virtually at least.

I already talked at length about the queue in my initial thoughts on Pandora, but now it is time to talk about the pre-show and ride experience.

So, how is it?

Disney is still having a lot of problems with the ride, and cast members have told us that all 4 theaters have still not run simultaneously to this point. During yesterday’s preview, they were down to just one theater in fact, and luckily they did have a second come online here and there. With just about 2 weeks left to go, this is not a good sign, but hopefully they will figure it out before May 27th with a lot of long-shifts pulled by Imagineers and others involved. With a theoretical hourly capacity of 1900 guests (if all 4 theaters are functioning), there isn’t going to be much room for error in this heavily-hyped opening Summer.

The waiting area for the decontamination/matching rooms at Flight of Passage.
The waiting area for the decontamination/matching rooms at Flight of Passage.
When these doors open, your first pre-show experience begins at Flight of Passage.
When these doors open, your first pre-show experience begins at Flight of Passage.

The pre-show experience is a bit odd. Once you are corralled into one of several lines, you are then sent into decontamination/matching chambers in groups of 16. In this room, a rather odd scientist takes you through the decontamination process and then finds the AVATAR that is a match for you. While the scripting and acting for this room fall pretty flat, guests will have a lot of fun with the infrared technology in use and the blasts of air and lighting effects that take place. Guests are then whisked off to the briefing room where they learn from the scientist and Dr. Ogden about their experience and boarding the simulators properly. While it is a little bland and boring, it does a great job explaining what’s going on and makes watching the AVATAR movie unnecessary to understand the attraction.

Then it is off to the ride.

The seats are unique for a Disney Parks attraction and you’re not going to find any like this at another theme park. The “link seats” require straddling since you will be riding a Banshee (eventually), and they can be a bit hard to get into for taller and larger guests. My suggestion would be to get your knees as far in as you can before sitting down. While larger guests had many issues during earlier previews, the fairly big individuals visiting with myself yesterday all made it in just fine. We ranged between 6’0″ and 6’3″ and all made it in just fine. If you have larger or longer legs, that may be an issue, but probably not until people start cresting the 6’5″ mark or over 300 pounds.

Now it’s time to ride. If I could only use one word to describe the actual attraction portion, it would be impressive. The technology behind “link chair” is impressive and there’s a lot in each ride through that has to go right for a perfect experience, and it did for both of ours yesterday.

Warning, we’re going to get into some spoilers now…

So what is the ride system? Imagine if you took the Soarin’ system and placed single-person simulator chairs on each level. Oh, and give it the largest, seamless, most vivid 3-D projection screen you’ve ever seen; then you have Flight of Passage. Oh, and throw in some cool, new 3-D shades…

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The individual link chairs provide for a very personal experience, but your family and friends are never so far away that you can’t still speak to them and hear them. One nice thing about this is it will avoid awkwardness of those utilizing the single rider line for this attraction as they get to actually sit alone, a first for anyone utilizing this service. I sometimes feel awkward using single rider lines as I think you can sense that the people you are seated with are never happy that you are there. This will be a nice change of pace.

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The link chairs are also insanely cool. There is a screen with a camera in front of you on each one, which provides some distraction while you wait for others to load (correctly) into their seats. It’s flashy and entertaining enough for what may be a little bit of a wait. Once the ride gets going, the motion on these is enough of a thrill for the whole family, but Expedition Everest it is not. It will likely be on the higher end of the spectrum for children, and the average adult will find it thrilling enough to be satisfied I believe. Basically, I don’t expect a lot of projectile vomiting on this ride.

The other neat part of the seats are the sound and movement effects that simulate that you are on a Banshee. You will feel the creature breathing under you and hear it from your seat. Some of these strange effects are also applied during the “linking” effect at the beginning of the ride that sends you mind into the Avatar out on Pandora.

And yes, no physical Banshee appears under you, and no, I don’t want to hear about it in the comments section of any post. Thank you in advance for understanding what a rumor is.

The ride itself is a lot of fun, with sequences that make what I thought to be a rather bland film franchise into a really exciting one. The action is non-stop, but never feels forced, flowing through the different ecosystems on the planet. The most amazing effect of the ride is the way it seamlessly blends in theater effects into the show. The mist on your face, waves crashing, and a seemingly endless array of odors are all felt (and smelled) from your seat. How they do this without the lingering odors found in Soarin’ prevailing through the rest of the ride is beyond me, but they make you feel like you are really there at all moments. All of this combined with the crisp-3D imagery makes for a fantastic ride. It is, without a doubt, the most realistic screen-based ride experience of all time.

Flight of Passage isn’t my favorite attraction I’ve ever been on, but it’s likely in the top 10 somewhere. Based on how guests respond to Soarin’ and the screen-based thrill rides at Universal Orlando, I think the general public is going to flip out for this experience, probably more than any theme park fan will. It is just a screen ride, but it is the best use of projection technology in a ride I’ve seen since Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, and it far surpasses that. The screens work here as they are not here to replace things that could be done with physical sets, but rather offer things that you just couldn’t do if this wasn’t presented on a screen.

While I often feel that Universal doesn’t care either way and just makes an attraction screen-based for budgetary reasons, Flight of Passage feels like a conscious effort to offer the best experience possible. As I felt the first time I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, while I didn’t prefer screens, I enjoyed the way they were used in the ride (even if it is a bit nauseating). Screen-based rides aren’t the devil, and they don’t need to be outlawed, they just need to only be used when necessary. If Flight of Passage and Forbidden Journey are examples of how to best to use screens in new, cutting-edge attractions, then Escape from Gringotts and the Na’vi River Journey are good tutorials on how not to (using screens to replace things that could have been physically there).

Regardless, Flight of Passage will become the most popular attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and possibly in all of Walt Disney World come May 27th, 2017 when it officially opens. Either get a FastPass or be prepared to wait a really, really, really long time for this one folks.

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About the author

Tom Corless

Tom has been regularly visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort from the time he was 4 months old. While he has made countless visits in the last 28 years, he did not become a truly active member in the Disney fan community until the summer of 2007, when he decided to launch the WDW News Today website and podcast. Tom has since become an Orlando-local and is a published author on Walt Disney World.

33 Comments

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  • Great review. I am really excited to ride it the fall this year. I am really looking forward to seeing how long the lines will be, and if they get all 4 theaters running, or if it will be an issue going on and on.

    I am wondering what you really found to be negative about this experience in detail.

  • How is it in terms of causing motion sickness? I would love to experience the ride but not if it will make me sick.

    • It’s basically a tamed downed version of Star Tours mixed with Soarin so to say. So if you don’t get motion sickness on Star Tours, you should be fine. I don’t think this is an “intense” ride as they are saying because I could totally see older guests (70+) still enjoying this ride. The seats are the main problem with the ride because the cast member for my vehicle when I rode for the AP special session told us guests have been having trouble not fitting in the seat and not being able to ride.

    • I think it depends on what triggers your MS. I took one Dramamine at about 10am (I was over at DHS for RnRC and Star Tours). ST gives me MS, mostly because the film is somewhat blurry (I can NOT watch during the lightspeed part!)
      Anyway, we rode FoP around 4pm, and there were NO twinges of MS until one part near the end where it looks like you are going down, and in a circle (a loose circle, like at the end of Big Thunder Mountain, not a tight circle like a barrel roll). Circles are a trigger for me, so I just shut my eyes and rode it out. Other than that, there was no issue for me.
      However, doing it back to back, there were a few twinges the second ride (and hubby, knowing my circle issue, gave me a heads up when we got to that part, and another heads up when it was over).
      If you can handle Star Tours, Soarin’ Big Thunder, or other rides like that, you should be perfectly fine. I would even venture to think that my Dramamine had worn off by that point (6 hours after taking it)…

  • Thanks for the review, I’d like to ask a clarifying question. Is the screen just the personal screen or does it open up to a large Soarin like screen? Also does the link chair elevate like Soarin or does it all happen right here as the image shows the chair and screen?

    • When getting on the ride, there is a cover in front of your seat that eventually lifts up and goes behind the vehicle when the ride starts which opens up to a IMAX screen like Soarin. Your seats do not elevate at all. The motions are done via the vehicle and the restraints in the legs to feel the banshee breathing.

        • The entire floor moves, as well! It’s really cool to watch (it’s behind you, not part of the ‘show’). If you look at the seats, each one is on a circle, so I think the seats move on a moving floor.

  • Great review!! Thanks!! I have a couple o questions. I know that every teather has at least 3 rows of seats in different levels, like floors. First, are you able to see the row above you or the bottom row while you ride??
    Second, how do you go up to the different levels? There are stairs in the queue? Or part of the pre show is in some kind of elevator?

    • Having went on the ride on Saturday due to the AP days, you do not see the other rows above or below. You don’t even see the people in your own row unless you make an effort to do so since it’s your “seat” so to say, you are submerged into the ride. During the quene, there is one side that has a ramp that you walk down to the first level and a ramp that you walk up for the second and third level after a cast member tells you where to go. If you get the third floor, you do have to go up a few stairs I believe, but I’m not too sure how many since I was on the second floor.

      • I found that I only noticed other rows of people if I actively looked to my left or right. Otherwise, (we rode twice), I was only aware of the person directly to my left and right.

    • Can’t see the other rows unless you look around, there flat. Soarin’ was screwed up to have where 2nd and 3rd rows look at feet. This ride will be insanely popular for years to come.

  • I loved it. It’s definitely one you’re going to need to FP but the queue is really cool too and it would be a shame to miss it. Think Soarin’ meets Star Tours and has a genius love child.

  • It’s a great ride, undoubtably the best WDW has to offer, was there for cast preview. BE WARNED: IT WILL NOT FIT LARGER RIDERS OR THOSE WHO CAN’T BRING LEGS FAR FOWARD. It’s like riding a small jetski. At least 10% of preview guests were too large in the belly, or calves for the restraints to lock. This is a sad state on the size of Americans, but, just a heads up.

  • I failed tonight as a 6’3 guest with long legs on the calf restraint. No issues with the waist. I wish the crew members were like universal where they just push it to lock. It’s a stupid set up and they should let you do it in socks. It’s a tight fit in the legs but when they tell you to shake your legs it’s pretty hard to move rubber sneakers on a rubber floor I was able to get left one locked but not the right. The cast member made no real effort to lock it because she didn’t want to touch my leg. I get it…

  • Is there a secure area to place our handheld items (purse/backpack, etc.) near where we ride? Safe to just put behind us or do they have lockers like at Universal?

    • Each room holds 8 people, and there are storage shelves/buckets (deep shelves) built into the wall behind you. They are not numbered, but they generally coincide with the seat you are on. You can put all of your stuff in there (there were 3 of us and all our stuff – hats, glasses, water bottles, DSLR camera – fit in one shelf) It is very secure (not in the sense of locks or things of that nature), and since the wall doesn’t move, there is no worries about things falling out. I felt safe putting my very expensive camera there.

  • /\ There is a storage bin behind your seat.

    I didn’t find the restraints too restrictive when compared to many rides out there. I would put the fit comparable to Harry Potter Forbidden Journey, but not nearly as restrictive as something like Top Thrill Dragster or Millennium Force.

  • explain the back and calf restraints and how they are placed- are you leaning forward on the vehicle with your legs to the front or bent at the knees and going to the back ?

    • Okay, so the photo above, with the green glowing seats. You are going to sit on that, with your knees forward, like you are sitting in a chair backwards (the back of the chair is against your chest). There isn’t a lot of leaning, per se, but maybe just a smidge. You’ll be told to move as far forward as possible so that your bottom rib cage/upper tummy will be pressed against the curved area in the front (chest pad). You’ll make sure that you get your knees up into the little knee alcove as far as possible as well. (Basically, shove up and get familiar with that seat).
      Once you are in place with your knees as far forward, two flaps (imagine little doors, or fish flippers) will come and close off the back of your legs, like someone is putting their hand against your legs.
      As for your back, once you are in your position, a small flap will come up and rest into the small of your back to keep you secure. You’re not “restrained” so to speak (like with shackles or something), but there is a little ‘wall’ or ‘border’ behind your back and calves. It’s so hard to describe, but as soon as you see it, it makes total sense.
      Hope this is helpful!

  • I went on this ride at my AP preview. It’s hands down the best ride I have EVER been on. Seriously. I cannot wait to go back!!!

  • Another thing I wanted to throw in, for info purposes – this will have a Single Rider Line. I think that will help alleviate wait times, especially if you are a family who doesn’t mind getting split up. We’re a family of 3 (kiddo is 19) and we do SR anytime we can! Drastically cuts down on wait times, and usually (especially on Test Track) it ends up being one of us in the front seat, one in the back, and one (me) in a separate car.

  • We went on this ride 3 times in a row on 5-18 basically walk on all 3 time’s and the time from start to finish was like 20 mins. I can’t imagine how long the wait time’s will be on May 27th, I would guess 4-5 hours, the line is full of cool things to look at and they did a fantastic job with the queue line. I don’t believe there are 4 theaters we asked 3 different cast members and got 3 different answers, I would guess they have 2 as they must be the largest 3D screens in the world unlike soarin where you can easily see the screen edge’s your entire field of view is screen hard to explain just how large the screen is. The pre ride instruction room is cool but the dialogue seems strangely off it just bothered me a little, the guy ” who looks like an stressed out arab worker who has not shaved in day says UM like 7-8 times UM UM, just felt off, and the pandora history lesson is simply time filler no one will care about. The ride vehicle is just like a small snowmobile you sit up close to the front handle bars and your feet are enclosed, shortly after you sit a small cushion comes up and lightly rests on your lower back and 2 cushion’s come from behind your calf’s and lightly press on them. This process will be a horrible time KILLER on MAY 27th, no way a large or fat person will fit in this seat. The process of large or fat people needing to leave the ride because they don’t fit IMHO will kill this ride as it sits now. Disney need’s to quickly install 2 or 3 sample vehicle’s outside the ride so people can see if they will fit before they get all the way into the ride and then have a FIT because they are asked to leave. When you see all the Fat people walking around with those huge lower legs they will never fit, that’s like 1 out of 40 people. As for the ride it’s really really fun, it’s basically Soarin on steroids with 3D glasses, you feel wind in your face, mist in your face, smell in your face, Pandora in your face, very fun people will go crazy for this ride. That said I believe Disney is in a creative box, stop with 3D ride simulators we need something outside the box never been done before, some zipline type ride or freefloating type ride just something different. The Navi river ride is just like the first half of the EPCOT Living with the Land ride with a Pandora skin and some high res projection screens, yes it’s cool and the last animatronic character is fantastic but I like the Land ride better. Don’t get me wrong everything in this new area is great just nothing really new just upgrades of existing rides that have been done before. I think the best part of this new area is the land itself, WOW it looks so amazing would love to have seen it at night. The area is not as large as I think they needed to make it, I can only imaging how crowded the walkways will be here, come on Disney all main walkways need to be larger. Can’t wait to see wait times and crowd photos soon.

  • Wheelchair users are not impressed because they had no sought in their minds that they (at Disney, would surly make at least one seat ACCESSABLE or stationary at least. But they Chose not to do that because they very SADLY did not care did they? For I am sure it came up while planning the ride. This dies 2nd show that they cared at all since everyone knows the movie is ABOUT A MAN IN A WHEELCHAIR??? Very sad….Hope changes will be made….😞

  • Wheelchair users are not impressed because they thought for sure that they (at Disney, would surly make at least one seat ACCESSABLE or stationary. But they Chose not to do that because they SADLY did not care, did they? For I am sure it came up while planning the ride. This does NOT show that they cared about everyone equally at all! The movie IS ABOUT A MAN IN A WHEELCHAIR, is it not??? Very sad….Hope changes will be made….😞

  • I get motion sickness pretty bad, but would love to ride this ride. Is there a way to stop just my individual pod if i begin to feel motion sick? Thanks in advance!