Over Lunar New Year, I was able to make my way to Walt Disney World in Florida. I went with my fiancé, who had never been before. Most of the things I was excited about centered around showing her the different attractions throughout the parks. I was surprised by some of her opinions, less surprised by others. I plan to go to in more detail about specific attractions and how they relate to attractions in the Asian Disney Parks in future articles.
However, the other thing that I was really excited for was experiencing Pandora: The World of Avatar for the first time. This included eating at the Satu’li Canteen, riding Na’vi River Journey and of course, experiencing the heralded Avatar Flight of Passage attraction.
Before I dive into the depths of my article, I will quickly outline my opinion on everything Pandora-related not called Flight of Passage. First, Pandora itself is spectacular. The (not quite) floating mountains aside, the way the imagineers have crafted a land so immersive and so playful, it is hard not to be impressed. For me Pandora is closely behind Cars Land (Disney’s California Adventure) as one of the most aesthetically pleasing Disney lands there is.
As mentioned in pervious articles, I am a vegetarian, meaning sometimes it’s hard to find a lot of choices when eating in a Disney Park, especially at a quick service location. Well, Satu’li Canteen has solved all of that. With its “build your own bowl” philosophy, there are multiple vegetarian options on offer. Not only that, but the food is delicious and also relatively fresh and healthy. Meaning, that you are no longer trudging around a hot theme park full of pizza and cheese fries.
All this being said, by far the most surprising element of Pandora was the Na’vi River Journey. Beforehand, I had heard that the attraction was average to bad, and I honestly couldn’t disagree more. I can understand it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I honestly thought River Journey was beautiful, and I’m not just talking about the Shaman animatronic. There were so many little details throughout that attraction that actually had me gasp out of sheer awe. Do I think the experience warrants the wait time? Maybe not, however, I do think it is an attraction that should be experienced by all?
Moving on to the purpose of this article: before venturing to Walt Disney World this time around, I had heard by many reputable sources that Avatar Flight of Passage was either the greatest Disney attraction in the world, or at least in the top three. Admittedly, when I had heard this, I was a little skeptical. I tried to stay away from watching the actual attraction itself, as I never feel like YouTube videos do justice to things you’re supposed to hear, see, smell and feel. I had also heard the ‘Soarin’ over Pandora’ tagline, that some of Flight of Passage’s critics have labelled it when discussing the attraction. In all honesty, this made me a little cynical. I imagined the ride was going to be good. But, I also presumed that some of the hype surrounding the attraction was just that: hyperbole.
I have been fortunate enough to have visited every Disney Park around the globe. This means that I have also been fortunate enough to ride every ‘great’ attraction (bar Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout), thus, I felt that once I had ridden Flight of Passage, I would able to judge whether, in my opinion, this attraction was better than any attraction that we have in the Asian Disney Parks.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to compare how Flight of Passage measures up to three of the most revered Disney attractions in the Asian Disney Parks. These attractions are: Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland, Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo DisneySea and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure at Shanghai Disney Resort. I chose these three attractions, not because I personally believe them to be the three best Disney attractions in the world, but when having conversations with many people, these three attractions are brought up as being some of the best.
All three of these attractions warrant (and will receive) their own articles, with Mystic Manor already getting that treatment, but I will quickly rundown each experience, for anybody who is unsure of what these attractions entail.
Mystic Manor is an evolution on the classic Haunted Mansion attraction, where you board a trackless ride car and explore the halls and rooms of Henry Mystic’s Mansion. During the attraction, trouble brews and things start go awry, due to the actions of Henry’s pet Monkey Albert and a mystic music box.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure has a similar set up to the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Disneyland; however, instead of observing a Caribbean fort being attacked by pirates, you are thrust into the world of Captain Jack Sparrow who is trapped in a battle with Davey Jones and his undersea warriors.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth is an attraction at Tokyo DisneySea based on the classic Jules’ Verne novel. Here, adventurers travel deep under Mount Prometheus in the Mysterious Island section of the park. There, they board a mine vehicle and careen even further into the Earth’s chasms, meeting some unexpected challenges (and monsters) along the way.
For me, these three attractions all range from great to incredible. In my opinion Journey to the Center of the Earth is a step down from the other two (which, could be my number 1 and number 2 Disney attractions ever), but, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who considers one of these attractions the ‘best’ Disney attraction in the world.
Surprisingly, I hold Avatar Flight of Passage in a similar regard. Now, I will shamelessly admit, I was ready to hate Flights of Passage, and I honestly thought that I wasn’t going to “get” the hype. But as soon as I stepped into the research facility and saw the Na’vi floating in the tank, I had bought in. Now, I imagine most people reading this have ridden Flight of Passage, but for those who haven’t, I won’t give too much away, but from start to finish, I thought the whole experience was incredible. It blew away any preconceived notions about the attraction that I had. Yes, it’s similar to Soarin’, but once again, in my eyes, it’s the next step. It takes what Soarin’ did and elevates it to the next level. Yes its screen based, but there were moments throughout Flights of Passage, where I heard my Banshee and felt it “breath,” and I was mesmerized.
Now, the big question is: do I consider Flight of Passage to be better than any of the three attractions I mentioned? I think it is close, and I certainly think Flight of Passage is in the conversation. I would personally say that I think it is better than Journey to the Center of the Earth. But for me, it’s not better than the other two, it’s not the “best” attraction Disney has to offer, and I would not put it in the top 3 Disney attractions in the world.
Flight of Passage is the best screen based simulator that will ever exist, and it honestly takes those types of attractions to a whole new level. That being said, yes there were moments where I felt that I was riding a Banshee, but it was only moments. I think the greatest attractions Disney has to offer transport you to a different place/time/world from start to finish, and from the whole premise of what Flight of Passage is, it falls just a little short of doing that.
With all this in mind, this is just one person’s humble opinion, and I could be in the vast minority. For me, the top three worldwide are Mystic Manor, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure and Radiator Springs Racers in Disney’s California Adventure, but I can completely understand why some people may disagree with me and consider it the “best.”
What is your opinion? Is Flight of Passage the great Disney attraction in the world? Do you consider one of the attractions I have mentioned as the best, or have I made a glaring oversight?
(Photos from the personal collections of Daniel Morris and Sophie Parry.)
To learn more about Daniel and read his recent posts for WDW Radio, visit a author page bubble clicking the link on his name at the top of us post.