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12 Insider Secrets of Walt Disney World’s Breathtaking New Park: Pandora

There's a brand-new reason to visit the Mouse in Orlando: the new rides and extraterrestrial landscapes inspired by James Cameron's hit movie that will leave you feeling like you're visiting another planet.

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

Ride a banshee

Your first stop on the planet of Pandora, home to the blue, long-tailed Nav’i people, is the Flight of Passage. The exhilarating ride makes it feel as though you’re soaring through the spectacular Valley of Mo’ara on a winged banshee. Although you’ll no doubt be in hurry to try out the motorcycle-like seat that pulses beneath you as though you’re riding a real flying creature, slow down as you walk through the Resources Development Association (RDA) laboratories on the way to the ride. Here you’ll spot some amazing Disney Imagineering, including a 10-foot tall Na’vi suspended in a tank and science experiments that react to your presence. Tip: Lean forward on the motorcycle “seat” to really feel like you’re soaring through the air.

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

River raft with a shaman

The Na’vi River Journey is a mesmerizing, slow floating boat ride through a bioluminescent rain forest. Listen as you float through the ride and you’ll hear animals calling back and forth to each other. Around the bend you’ll encounter the Shaman of Songs who sings a tune that will stick in your head almost as much as “It’s a Small World.” Extra bonus: On a hot day, this is the coolest place in Pandora; as soon as you enter the cave-like atmosphere, you’re met with a cooling breeze. Tip: Look up, the lily pads often reveal the scampering feet of 6-legged creatures. Peek between the plants to spot other “wildlife” in the underbrush.

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

Come at night

Pandora is unique in many ways: You should come at night to get the full experience, when the entire land shimmers and glows with bioluminescence. Look down, and you’ll see walkways react with phospherence as you step, touch the vines on the trees and flowers up in the branches above will gently brighten. Want to beat the nighttime crowds? Stay at a Disney hotel, where you can take advantage of “Extra” Extra Special Hours just for hotel guests from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. now through July 4. Tip: Wear white or light colors and you’ll glow, too, in the black lights and reflections.

Courtesy Melissa Klurman

Pet the plants

Keep an eye out for the towering Flaska Reclinata, a truly Pandoran original species. Be sure to “pet” the prehistoric-looking plant which responds to touch by releasing a refreshing mist.

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

Taste the land

Don’t leave Pandora without trying some of the unique, only-here cuisine, served at Satu’li Canteen. The menu focuses on “the healthful bounty of Pandora” and includes “Pods,” large fluffy bao dumplings filled with either burger or veggie curry components. The domes of shimmering Na’vi blue(berry) cheesecake mousse are worth the calories.

Courtesy Melissa Klurman

Don’t leave thirsty

It’s not only food that gets the special Disney World Pandora treatment, the beverages here, most of which are available at the Pongu Pongu (Party Party) stand, can only be sampled here and they’re delicious. Highlights include the unicorn Night Blossom, which combines slushy lime and cactus pear with passion fruit boba, and the green-tinted Hawke’s Dry Ale. Tip: You can turn your frozen drink into a souvenir by upgrading to a Pongu mug with a glowing “unadelta seed,” but it’s a much better value if you upgrade from the Mo’ara Margarita, when the upcharge is $9, as opposed to an additional $14 for the Night Blossom.

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

Listen to the soundscape

The sounds of Pandora change as the day progresses: In the morning, you’ll hear the creatures who inhabit the foliage waking up with squeaks and creaks and shuffling and rustling; during the day there are territorial cries and rustling leaves; at night a symphony of sounds descends as the animals finds a place to settle down to sleep.

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

Learn the lingo

Kaltxi! That means “greetings” in Na’vi. In fact, a completely original “Paleolithic” language is used throughout Disney’s Avatar land. Pick up a guide to Pandora when you enter and you’ll know Rutxe (please) and Irayo (thank you) in no time. (For Na’vi language skeptics, check out the myriad conglangs, like Klingon-language guides for Trekkies).

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

Smell the flowers

The lush landscaping at Pandora isn’t all alien species created by Disney; in between the Spiny Whip, Dapopher, and Vein Pods are real plants, such as spiky mezcal, and exotic flowers discovered by Disney around the globe. It’s all part of Disney’s continued efforts to link Animal Kingdom to global environmental efforts and Avatar‘s message of conservation and championing earth’s stewardship.

Courtesy Melissa Klurman

Get the beat

A special drum circle links guests to the larger sounds of Pandora; hit the drums and you’ll hear a response back from Pandora, an overhead drumming noise, instead of a drumbeat from under your hands.

Courtesy Melissa Klurman

Talk to the Locals

Everyone working at Pandora has a backstory of how they arrived on this distant moon and will stay in character if you ask them questions (not unlike a living history museum). Ask them where they’re from originally to get the ball rolling. Tip: Even the salespeople at Pandora’s Windtraders shop have name tags that identify their home planet.

Via disneyworld.disney.go.com

Pick up a pet

Windtraders is the place to shop in Pandora, and inside you’ll find a treasure trove of “only here” items, such as Na’vi ears and braids, but the one item you’ll want to buy to commemorate your trip to 4.4 light years from Earth are baby Banshees who you can adopt from a special rook where they perch in a rainbow of colors. They’re designed to fit perfectly on your shoulder, like a pirate’s extraterrestrial parrot.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.