Disney Animal Kingdom Avatarland in Context

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Features

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Published on October 15, 2013 at 3:00 am with 81 Comments

The Avatarland project at Disney’s Animal Kingdom got a sudden and unexpected boost Friday night (United States’ time) when details and concept art were unveiled at the D23 Expo taking place in Tokyo, several time zones away. Some Disney fans were happy; others remained uninterested. But when you put the Avatar project into proper perspective of the Walt Disney World storyline, it forms a more complete picture of the Disney response to Potter. At the end of the day, this expansion (plus the other two in nearby parks) is really about Potter.

The scale and scope of the Avatar project, as unveiled, wowed some members of the Disney fan community, including some who previously were against the entire idea of this expansion, but the timing raised questions if Disney was attempting to “bury” the story at the very end of the U.S. news cycle. Midnight on a Friday night is historically when releases come out that want to attract little notice, so people wondered if this was intentional. Surely the American market is huge, and this *is* an American park getting the expansion, so it is a little curious to release it “overnight” for us. Are they ashamed? Did they recognize that fans have been less than excited for Avatar, and didn’t want to risk overhyping something that some would end up not liking? (this exact scenario now plagues SeaWorld with its Antarctica expansion)

The announcement called for a few things for sure: a boat ride (the artwork shows it to be nighttime) and a Soarin’-type ride where we swoop around the planet with the flying dragon-like banshees. There was no merchandise location or restaurant announced at this time, but they’ve been mentioned in earlier releases and they are logical additions anyway. Construction starts in 2013 (in other words, soon!) in the Camp Minnie-Mickey area (which will have to close in 2014), and is slated to take up to five years to complete. They were a bit unspecific about actual time frames.

DAK will also be getting a nighttime lagoon show near Everest, something I heard independent rumors about more than a month ago. The nighttime entertainment will also include a stationary parade of sorts near the Tree of Life, and projections on the tree itself (this story was broken a few months ago, though I didn’t know about that scoop until recently). And there’s going to be a nighttime safari now. Add it all up, and you’ve got a full slew of evening entertainment. DAK is going to do its darndest to finally shed that “half day park” reputation which has dogged it since the beginning.

Here is the concept art released at the DisneyParks blog:

!avatar11

!avatar12

!avatar13

!avatar14

And here is a video from James Cameron and Imagineer Joe Rohde, released a day later:

It can be instructive to take those concept art images, and zoom in a bit on them. Shall we see what we can see? There might be hints about the land here.

Is that a thanator? (http://james-camerons-avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Thanator)

Is that a thanator on the boat ride? (http://james-camerons-avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Thanator)

Light levels in this picture have been adjusted to show more of the boat.

Light levels in this picture have been adjusted to show more of the boat.

Herds of animals, limitless waterfalls (since they are digitally created)... this could be impressive!

Herds of animals, limitless waterfalls (since they are digitally created)… this could be impressive in the Soarin’ type ride! Does that T-shirt say “AVTR”?

A happy family in the foreground, and a couple nuzzling in the background!

A happy family in the foreground, and a couple nuzzling in the background!

The rock arches in the distance are likely to be forced perspective, I'd guess.

The rock arches in the distance are likely to be forced perspective, I’d guess.

A vine-covered trailer (like the one at the end of the movie)

A vine-covered trailer (like the one at the end of the movie)

Expect a lot of plants. Is that an egg/embryo in the background?

Expect a lot of plants. Is that an egg/embryo in the background?

I spy a distant (overrun?) structure to the left.

I spy a distant (overrun?) structure to the left.

A ruined vehicle.

A ruined vehicle.

The model shows a lot of plants, but no structures (at least from this angle)

The model shows a lot of plants, but no structures (at least from this angle)

 

On the one hand, it’s not a huge stretch to say that the Avatar expansion is a response to the wildly successful Harry Potter expansions up the road at Universal. Many fans make the point that Avatar isn’t enough.

But if you think about the storyline the Disney CEO has to craft to HIS audience (he only reports to one place: the Board of Directors), Avatar is only a part of the puzzle. Iger will get to tell the board that while Potter is certainly drawing in tourists and new visitors, Disney isn’t standing still. They added a big expansion in the form of New Fantasyland (which will appeal especially to those families with young girls) and now is throwing hundreds of millions into this DAK expansion based on one of the most profitable movies of all time. It seems a sure win for the Board of Directors, especially when you consider the upcoming announcements on Star Wars.

Once Disney also announces the changes at DHS (part makeover, part expansion) into a fully-themed Star Wars land, Iger will be able to say that three of its four parks are adding Potter-sized additions, and it will be easier to craft a narrative that Disney is responding in kind. Disney isn’t reacting with one giant answer, but rather with several “medium sized” ones.

This strategy is not without risks. Foremost among them is the possibility that local executives, seeking to cut capital costs and thus secure a personal bonus that year, might trim expenses on these additions. In a perverse way, having a LOT of expansions could work against Disney if it starts to think (internally) that there is so much going on, a little trimming won’t be noticed by the Guests. I heard one worrying whisper that the planned Star Wars expansion might be facing some cuts even before being announced to the public, though this sort of thing is actually somewhat routine in the Blue Sky phase. You dream it, you budget it… and then you get to re-dream a different version!

Returning to the subject at hand, the Avatar plans may make some fans very happy (let’s not forget the hordes of online people – not necessarily Disney fans – pleading for a way to “visit Pandora” when the movie first came out). The plans may underwhelm others. Personally, I remain encouraged, as I have been all along. The theme offers a rich and complex canvas onto which the Imagineers can paint experiences and portray exotic locales. This is their bread and butter.

Of course, at the end of the day I believe it doesn’t matter which Intellectual Property (IP) you start with. What matters is the finished product. A poor Star Wars experience (which we arguably have now, with Ewok facades rather than fully-realized environments) might have a great IP, but a poor execution. Meanwhile, both Pirates and Mansion flourished for decades with no movie IP attachment; they were just invented for the parks. And they did great – largely because of execution.

So what do you think? Let us know in the comments what your impression is of Avatarland. Did the concept art change your opinion at all?

Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic is This Weekend

The OTHER food and wine festival on the Walt Disney World property (hosted by Swan/Dolphin) is a single-weekend event, and it’s a hard-ticket ($80) you have to buy as admission. But once in, you get unlimited food and drinks–and these are some high-quality wines I would normally not think to try, or perhaps not want to buy if I’m in a money-saving mood. Translation: you can eat and drink extremely well here. I’ve been very happy to pay the full price for this event in the past, and always felt I got my money’s worth.

Your $80 is much cheaper than the Disney premier dining event (which is $145 this weekend). I’ve talked with folks who have attended both and say the Swan/Dolphin event is of higher quality, too, despite being less expensive!

Vacation Homes – Who’d Have Thunk It?

I moved to Central Florida in 2004, and have had little need of hotels or other lodging in the area since. I’ve never given more than a cursory thought to the idea of vacation homes. Why rent a full-sized house when you can get a hotel room that is cleaned daily by a maid? It seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I know it will come with a kitchen, but if cooking is your thing, shouldn’t you just stay home?

All that changed last week, when I had occasion to rent such a house for a birthday party. I was impressed across the board. Well, almost across the board. The complex of rental homes hides behind a security phalanx notably not only for its heavy-handedness, but also for its almost impressive slowness. But apart from security, I couldn’t be happier with all elements of the experience. Here are a few particulars:

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  • Cost: we paid about $140/night for a five-bedroom house (which also had five bathrooms). If you are going on vacation with a large family or group of families, the cost savings are astronomical to stay here versus a hotel. There ARE extra one-time fees like cleaning fees ($100) or pool heating ($50), but even with all that factored in, it’s much cheaper than a hotel. 
  • Location: Our house was in Windsor Hills, a community a few hundred yards from US-192 at the VERY edge of Disney property.
  • Pool. I grew up with a backyard pool in California, but even I could not believe the relaxation element of your own pool deep in the night, or even first thing in the morning.
  • Convenient check in / check out. We reserved online, we picked up keys after hours, and we returned the contract via drop box. It all happened on our time frame, and we never had to speak to anyone. Simple; no fuss.

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We happened to use Palm Tree Vacation Homes (http://www.closesttodisney.com/), which was fine for our needs, and I would use them again. I can’t speak for ALL the vacation home operators in the area. But I can say that my eyes were opened by this experience.

Has anyone stayed in a vacation home in Orlando before? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He is a founding member of MiceAge and has written numerous books about Disney parks (see http://bit.ly/kevinyee).

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  • billyjobobb

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t get excited about avatar land. Maybe when it’s done, but it’s so last year.

    • LoveStallion

      Pff, not even last year. Try four years ago.

    • BradyNBradleysMom

      How many years ago was the last Harry Potter book and movie?

      • grizzlybear55

        Ah, but Avatar is not Harry Potter. Millions of Potter fans worldwide know every character, every detail, every wrinkle of the epic story — and will for generations to come. Avatar? Not so much. Even naming the characters is a challenge, made evident even in The Big Bang Theory, where in discussing Avatar they refer to “the blue chick and what’s-his-name.” And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

      • BradyNBradleysMom

        @GrizzlyBear — the OP didn’t say anything about Avatar not being memorable (and I agree its characters aren’t memorable). The OP said Avatar was “so last year”and then LoveStallion said it was “four years ago”. So the knock against Avatar was that it was a movie that came out a long time ago.

        Well, Harry Potter came out a long time ago…so clearly having a movie come out a long time ago doesn’t mean it can’t be a good theme park attraction.

        I think the better way to criticize Avatar is to say it’s not as memorable and doesn’t have good characters in it (which is why Jim Hill is reporting today that Universal passed on Avatar before Disney bought it). But if the argument against Avatar is that it’s “four years old” then that argument doesn’t really hold muster. Besides Harry Potter there are a lot of very old movies that can be successfully turned into attractions. The Be Our Guest Restaurant and Story Time with Belle are good examples too.

      • LoveStallion

        Yeah, but Avatar won’t even go down as a “classic.” It just occupied the zeitgeist for a handful of months in 2009-10 and made a whole lotta money. No one saw Titanic being dethroned at the box office, but there it was.

        That said, the comparisons to Harry Potter are weak. Harry Potter is an entire lifestyle, practically. Avatar is fine and everything, but it just reeks of desperation on Disney’s part of land some sort of novel fantasy franchise.

  • JFS in IL

    well, count me in as another “so what” re” Avatar. But – since three more films are being made, I can see how this is a good idea for Disney. They could have a huge hit if they get the land up and running as the films come out – as long as they are hits.

    • billyjobobb

      Disney buys hitmakers, they don’t make hits.

      Look at Oz and Lone Ranger…..

      • BradyNBradleysMom

        Oz was a big hit. You’re not being honest about it if you try to say otherwise.

        Lone Ranger was a bomb that’s well-acknowledged. But don’t change history by claiming Oz was not a hit. It exceeded expectations.

      • themur

        Uni buys hit makers as well. Potter and Simpsons are not Universal properties; only licensed for theme park exploitation!

      • StevenW

        Oz may be a big hit, but it isn’t a franchise to build an attraction around. I do think Alice In Wonderland with Johnny Depp is a big hit that’s also a franchise, but we are talking about two competing properties and I don’t think Disney will splinter the animated movie with the live action movie.

        If we are looking at a replacement for Avatar, perhaps the world of “Underland” may work; however, Avatar is now an immovable force that will consume other ideas, with the exception of Star Wars and Marvel.

  • solarnole

    I think it is funny that Disney is following Universal and building a 3D movie based E ticket based on a block buster. Avatar is one of only a few movies that has a weaker plot and characters then Transformers.

    The park would be so much better if some money was spent to finish the train loop. AK has the worst train ride of any theme park. You see nothing from it and it ends at a lame petting zoo. Everyone can ride a train, only a few people can ride a digital 3D motion ride without getting sick.

    The train with a view of the animal habitats and a transportation option would be great. Come on Disney copy Busch Gardens right their train loops the park and over looks animals.

    • CaptainSmollett

      3D simulators make me sick as a dog. Give me a roller coaster with more inversions than I have fingers, and I’m just fine, but simulators……ick. That said, it’s disappointing that simulators tend to be what many theme parks are leaning toward these days. It’s disappointing that myself (and others like me) have to to miss out on attractions like these, but hey, what can you do?

    • Maverick

      Transformers ride at Universal is pretty cool.

      Only a few people can ride 3D without getting sick? Hundreds of people pack Star Tours daily.

  • eicarr

    Perfect fit for the opressive swamp heat and humidity at WDW. As a park for infrequent non-locals, the sparse undeveloped Pandora will be cool to explore every 10 years or so on a trip there. Can’t wait, looks cool!!

  • TheBig2na

    I’m looking forward to it and yet I didn’t like the movie and have no real enthusiasm for the sequels. I don’t care what the ride is based on if its a great ride. Visually Pandora is amazing so to take a boat ride through it or soar over it will be fun. IT seems like Disney can do no right. They don’t build they get screamed at. They Build something and its not good enough or based on the wrong movie. Why complain about what may be a spectacular addition before it has opened.

  • poohmeg

    I’m excited – I haven’t seen the Avatar movie and don’t really plan to, but the artwork looks beautiful! I love Animal Kingdom and already spend a full day there every visit, so the idea of something carrying on into the evening is very exciting to me. I’m of the opinion expressed in the original article that the execution is more important than the underlying movie/show that the ride/land is based on – I can think of multiple examples of things in the parks that I love despite a lack of interest in the source material, and vice versa. So I am looking forward to seeing more, and will definitely plan a trip down there when it opens!

  • socalkdg

    Carsland, enough said. People hated the idea. Bad movie, bad theme. Looked like that one worked out.

    • BradyNBradleysMom

      There is a very vocal group on Disney fan sites that just automatically hates anything Disney is doing. They spit venom at it until the day the attraction opens…and then they go dead silent when the thing is a hit (like Cars Land). The same thing is going to happen with Avatar. In fact, the same thing is also happening with the Seven Dwarves Mine Train ride, which people eviscerate online…but will be gorgeous and charming and a big hit when it opens next year.

      • Gregg Condon

        Totally agreed.

        While I’m not a huge fan of Cars or CarsLand (esp RSR) I can see why people like it so much. Another great example is Transformers at Universal. Terrible movies, great ride.

        I feel that Avatar will be great even though I don’t care for the movie. The movie is visually stunning and seeing it in IMAX 3D really made people able to ignore the horrid story (myself included). I thought it was one of the greatest movies ever upon seeing it in the theater, but once it was on Blu Ray I saw it for the steaming pile it is.

        The land will be great.

      • LoveStallion

        Good points.

        However, I think that while people will enjoy the Dwarfs Mine Train, and the ride will attract large crowds, it’s hard not to feel a bit underwhelmed by New Fantasyland as a whole, not to mention the dragged-out timeframe to build everything, which is a pretty fair criticism. Heck, they even say Avatarland is going to take FIVE years to construct. I appreciate Disney seldom skimping on quality, but talk about a protracted construction period.

      • BradyNBradleysMom

        To: LoveStallion — I think before someone can be “underwhelmed” by New Fantasyland we need to think about what someone’s expectation is for the additions there. “Underwhelming”, “Overwhelming”, and “Whelming” in general are really subjective things. Personally, I am looking forward to a charming, woodsy, green space in Fantasyland and I enjoy that two of my favorite movies from the past finally have a place in WDW (Beauty and Mermaid). I also really like the idea of Snow White being represented by an attraction that is as lively as the Mine Coaster…and I love that the Dwarves’ home is in the middle of the area. I’m someone who likes seeing people riding on the rides and I like that kinetic energy in a “land’. The forest of New Fantasyland is a place I can see myself hanging out. I’m 39 but I am very overweight and I like taking it slow in the parks. I need a lot of breaks to be honest and I can’t do big thrill rides. New Fantasyland is something I adore because it’s the kind of stuff I can do in the parks.

        So, I’m actually “overwhelmed” because every thing they built for this was almost like they had it tailor made for me. I can’t wait until June of 2014 because I can enjoy it when it’s all open and my family is in Orlando…and I look forward to the trees growing in and it becoming a really shady and lovely place. I’ve always loved the forest settings of the Disney movies of the past and I have always wanted to visit an enchanted forest. I finally get my chance, and I finally get lots of things in one area that I can do.

        I realize that thrill seekers and people who like more fast-paced adventures won’t be as thrilled with New Fantasyland as me, but this place is like a dream come true for me.

      • Sifferz

        Sounds about right to me. I didn’t enjoy Avatar that much as a film, but I will say that it had a really solid sense of place. The main characters were all so paper-thin because Pandora was the real lead character. The flora and fauna (what is being built here) of Pandora are what made the movie an enjoyable experience to me, even if I can’t name any of the characters from memory I still remember the animals, bioluminescent forest, and mechs; all of which is what will be built here.

        Sounds like a win. Cars is also the most mediocre Pixar IP, but I just want to cars land this summer and I was completely floored by the quality of what I saw. The Cadillac Mountain Range was stunning, and RSR was so much better than any Youtube video of it, because the feeling of being in the race at the finale and seeing the scale of all the characters and set pieces around you sucks you so far into the moment.

        WDI has always been brilliant, and always will be. This site sometimes exhausts me because of the overly-negative community surrounding it, even if the articles are always extremely fair and interesting.

  • SpectroMan

    IF they follow the concept art, it will be beautiful and I can’t wait to spend more nighttime hours at DAK.

    Stayed in a smaller vacation home many years back and thought it was fine at first until the huge cockroach came out in the bathroom. Checked out early, LOL.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    I see little individuals that actually remind me of avatar. I think Disney could’ve done the exact same section in the part with the exotic plants and unusual animals and still gotten the same think without paying a dime for Avatar.

    The next question is Really? Is Disney going to spend enough money to make this kind of environment believable? We’re talking about load of cash. If Disney does it half way, it would be just embarrassing.

  • gboiler1

    Kevin, I think your views are very well thought out and written presenting the pros and cons without condeming.
    I’m astounded at the negativity Avatar brings. Perhaps the original announcement should have been delayed. Good movie (in fact I recently noticed a movie critic put the film in his top 10 of the century so far), great visually and I think that Pandora really fits into things that mixes well with Disney and the AK.
    I feel that Cameron and Rohde do things the right way so I’m very optimistic for the additions, of course with the hope the funding will be green lit.
    This is potentially something we’ve never seen before. I wish people would tone down their negativity until they can judge the project for what it will be not on speculation of its shortcomings.
    Done correctly, fans will love it and it will open a new imaginative world to those that aren’t familiar with the concept.

    • Golden

      I think Kevin turned over a new leaf last week with his column about negativity! This was indeed very well balanced.

      • BradyNBradleysMom

        I want to speak up for Kevin Yee…I think he’s one of the best Disney writers there ever has been. The guy is terrific. And he does terrific work. I agree with him about 80% of the time, but respect him 100% of the time. The only fault I ever see in his writing is that sometimes he approaches things from the perspective of an Orlando resident who goes to the parks very often…instead of keeping in mind that things that irk him may not be as important to guests like me and my family who can only come to WDW every year or every other year or more infrequently than that. Some of his columns are really for the audience of Florida residents or people who can afford to go to Disney more than once a year. But, that one criticism is like saying Kevin Yee deserves an A- for his writing instead of an A+. He is still a marvelous talent in my eyes.

      • Golden

        Completely agree B&B’smom. Kevin is, I think, perhaps the pre-eminent Disney writer.

    • tofubeast

      gboiler1: I completely concur with you—point by point. Kevin, thanks for the balanced perspective on this project. I was a little underwhelmed when this was announced, but kept hope that Disney would surprise me. I have to say, the video and images now have me totally excited for this project.

  • Baloo

    well so far the response outside the fan community is overwhelmingly positive from reading comments on some of the media reports that did manage to make it online. The land is suppose to be approximately the size of Carsland so we are just seeing a portion of the model. The video gives a glance on some of the other parts of the model and those look great as well.
    with James Camerons reputation of using technology to outdo himself and WDI creativity i think this land will do very well and finally give DAK the recognition it deserves

  • solarnole

    I still think fixing the half finished train would fix more of the major flaws of animal kingdom. Just having the train circle the park would improve guest flow greatly. Plus riding the train to no where pisses guests off and makes the park feel rushed and half finished.

    Avatar looks nice but I feel it will be outdated and forgotten like most of Cameron’s films in a few years.

    Cars has huge merchandise sales and is based on the American history of route 66 and classic cars. Even if I hate the movies, I can still enjoy route 66 and the classic cars.

    Avatar has no merchandise sales and is based on American imperialism and saving the Earth from capitalism. The black lights and neon better be good because a lot of people will not like the message.

  • Tielo

    There are a lot of things right with AK. It has amazing nature and wonderful animal displays. It’s got 3 show and I think the Lion King Show is the best Disney has to offer, the other 2 not that great. Where the park lacks is rides. The Yeti Mountain is just a disappointment. It’s a coaster in and around a mountain and it’s not a very good coaster either. The execution of Big Thunder Mountain is much better with story telling and fun then what this ride is offering. All rides are short and fail to wow. They hand on 1 aspect of the ride (backwards, big drop, dino eating dino) and that’s it. The story part is mega light and the fun part is mega light.
    To add other big peace of land when you have so much rides that are mediocre is a failure. Fix the train ride, make the ride and destination useful and fun. Fix Funspot Dinoland. Expand the water ride and update the dino ride so it’s fun and not only bumpy. Then add rides.
    Disney is planning 2 rides with ride systems that are old. That on itself isn’t bad but if the Little Mermaid or the Jack Sparrow experience is something of an indication then what we can expect will disappoint. AK had more then enough beautiful vistas that most guests run by to get on the next ride and run out of the park saying it’s a half day park. The park NEEDS rides and NEEDS rides that are unique. Take a ride system and do something new. Adding 3D to Sourin isn’t new it’s what should have been plussed from the start. And a boat ride, really?

    Star Wars getting short cut before it even starts to be build, I’m not surprised. What Disney has done with this IP that they had for years is disappointing and disrespectful. Star Wars needs to be better then Transformer and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey combined. It needs to be unique and really wow you just like those ride do and not be a little mermaid, Jack Sparrow experience or an Iron Man simulator. I don’t think Disney is capable enough to do that. They proved it with Avatar.

    We rented vacation homes many times. We are only with 3 adults but we love the space and private pool. Staying for 6 weeks and not having to eat in a restaurant all the time is great. Make a nice breakfast and sit under the covered porch with no screaming kids is just great and much cheaper then the tight hotel rooms and always being in the middle of the action.

    • Country Bear

      I agree that the few rides in this park are quite short (especially the water ride). However, management knows the shorter the ride, the higher the capacity (in the accounting office anyway). If only they took into account that standing in line for an hour for a 3 minute experience doesn’t make happy guests. More attractions, less people in lines and more people enjoying experiences and creating memories. Seems simple, doesn’t it?

  • chesirecat

    The Camp Minnie/Mickey area of AK ain’t all that big, even Carsland isn’t all that big when you consider that you couldn’t fit Disneyland’s Indy showbuilding and the Jungle Cruise and Adventureland path in this area of AK.

    If Avatarland does go in this area of AK, it isn’t going to be very big. Some of the early planning showed that the river boat ride was snug up against the Soarin’ Over Pandora experience, obviously, space is an issue here.

    I’d take LOTR over Pandora any day, imagine what Disney could do with that! I think that Avatarland is an excuse to use LED flower lights to try to lure guests into staying longer at Animal Kingdom. But Avatar’s story just ain’t there, no matter the fact that some hardcore fans want to step foot on Pandora, you really can’t make a real life Pandora for us earthlings.

    I doubt that Disney is putting in a Star Wars land at DHS, the rumors make it sound like there are people at WDI who are crazy, making plans for Carsland, then Star Wars land, maybe a new Pixar ride at DHS, maybe take out Muppets, maybe not . . . really?

    • BradyNBradleysMom

      Chesirecat — all the satellite images I’ve seen show Avatar taking up much more than just Camp Minnie Mickey. There is a VERY large area south (I think it’s south, because in pictures it’s “down” from CMM) of CMM that goes next to the RainForest Cafe and extends all the way to the start of the parking lot. That area combined with CMM is HUGE. I believe all of it is being used for Avatar.

      • chesirecat

        I am referring to Camp Minnie and Mickey and land all the way to the parking lot. If you look at maps of the various parks, you’ll see that if you add together Carsland plus Bugsland, this is actually about equal to Indy showbuilding + Indy queue + Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise + Adventureland walkway.

        If you look at the Avatarland area, it *might* barely fit Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise + Indy, with queues, assuming you need a little bit of a roadway around said area for backstage access. (There already is a road back there). At its widest point, this parcel of land is about 800 feet . . . but if you have to keep backstage access for Rainforest Cafe (with u-turn for supply trucks), then you lose maybe 75-100 feet. There is a backstage area north of Camp Minnie Mickey which will probably remain backstage, after all, Avatarland will have restaurants/shows, yes?

        Just saying that Soarin’ Over Avatar will have a showbuilding about 75% as big as Indy’s, I’m guessing, and that leaves a jungle Cruise size space for the Pandora boat ride and the outside portion. Carsland ain’t super big, much of the space is taken up by RSR, and the shops/rides. Hard to see a big outdoor portion and a decent boat ride.

        It might look a lot like Carsland in terms of size. Carsland is very nice (I don’t bash what Disney does, some stuff I love some stuff I don’t), but it’s not super spacious, IMHO. Avatarland will need to use a lot of forced perspective, and it probably won’t have a boat ride as impressive as the Pirates in Disneyland.

      • BradyNBradleysMom

        To: Cheshirecat,

        I tried to find where I saw it but couldn’t locate it, but there was a drawing someone either found or did a few months ago that showed the “Banshee Simulator Ride” in a big building and the “Pandora River Cruise” ride actually partially sharing that building. The “river” for Pandora ran through the other building. I think the restaurant even shared part of the building too, so it would have a Blue Bayou kind of kinetic energy to it.

        I think they are going to be maximizing the space they have available in creative ways like this.

  • michael darling

    Negativity: not interested in Avatar one bit. But, the artwork and model look amazing! Wish they’d gone in the direction of the Beastly Kingdom instead. Guess this is, in a way. I’m guessing it won’t make much sense unless you’ve seen the film(s), and sorry, but they look like video games to me and all my friends said it made them nauseous.

    I haven’t been to Animal Kingdom in quite a while. Haven’t even ridden Everest yet. I remember wishing they’d done more with the dinosaur area, and more exploration rides similar to the Jungle Cruise.

    Sorry. Normally don’t do negative posts. Still, it does look cool. Trying not to pre-judge.

    • DLRXMonorailPilot

      I was thinking the same thing about beastly kingdom. I think dragons and unicorns have a more long term and universal appeal. In the end this is going to be a beautiful display and a fun place to visit. It is also going to give the park a chance to stay open late which I will love. AK is my second favorite park over there but I never get to spend enough time there because when it is open its just too hot over there. This night time version is going to be great.

      As strange as it sound I think we are getting a beastly kingdom, just with some other creatures. I am not a big Avatar fan but look foward to the land.

    • Country Bear

      I agree that Beastly Kingdom was the correct answer for DAK, giving it that much needed “Fantasyland” component, that would have added the Disney Magic to a different theme park concept. It also would have been cheaper for licensing and completely unique to Disney. I will remain cautiously optimistic about the future of Avatarland.

  • I’ve got mixed feelings about Avatar Land. On the one hand, it’s a property that I’m not very excited about. While the movie had a lot of beautiful gee-wiz visuals, it wasn’t great storytelling and won’t be considered a classic. So, why choose it for an entire Disney land? On the other hand, the ride concepts and area entertainment they have planned is exciting. They’ve come up with a slate of attractions which will absolutely draw people in and appeal to a wide demographic. Where Cars Land has just one E-Ticket and two tiny flat rides, Pandora will have multiple big draws and a lush environment.

    The reason they are working so hard to add night time activities to Animal Kingdom is that Pandora will be at its most beautiful at night. There will be a bio-luminescence to the plants and decor which promises to be stunning. As much as we all love to complain about Avatar, I have no doubt that they are going to do this one right. After all, they have James Cameron to appease. . . which ain’t easy folks!!!

    There’s a whole bunch of big projects coming to WDW in the 3 to 10 year range: Monsters Inc, Cars Land (possibly canceled), Star Wars land and a potential large Epcot revitalization. The staleness that we feel now is finally about to break. And it couldn’t come soon enough.

    • chesirecat

      It’s a good point about two E-Tickets, and a C Ticket walk-through.

      I think that Soarin’ over Pandora will be good if they adjust the ride vehicles so that you’re “perched” on top of a banshee or whatever flying animal it is supposed to be, other wise it is just Soarin’ playing Avatar. This might be hard to do because there might be fear of slipping off said beast, so maybe a gigantic flying creature with a “basket” for a row of guests? Soarin’ is popular at Epcot, but after a while, guests might get tired of the same ride system, even though Soarin’ over Pandora will have great enhanced movements.

      If the Pandora boat ride uses new tech developed for next gen Disney boat rides, then I think this will be a big draw.

      Some guests might be disappointed as Avatar’s appeal was a lot about watching the military folks face off against the blue people. It was a film will relied in part on action sequences, like Star Wars . . . Avatarland looks to be much more sedate.

    • LoveStallion

      Can I just use this moment to lament the execution of Luigi’s Flying Tires? I give it five more years before they replace it.

  • rlub

    I just don’t understand why they can’t build a land around the Explorers Club (Phantom Manor, the non-Twilight Zone TOT). It seems to me you can lower expectations and therefore wow the unsuspecting public, work with a moderately higher budget since you don’t have to pay for an IP and set something up in the vein of Haunted Mansion/Pirates– classic Disney. I know it may seem a bit “old fashioned” and wouldn’t initially seem to be a draw to the masses (re: non-Disney geeks), but I think it’s a great opportunity for the Disney creative minds AND the corporate office to show off their stuff when starting from scratch.

    • Timekeeper

      @Rlub, it’s Mystic Manor, not Phantom Manor.

      But aside from that, I wished Disney just did the Beastly Kingdome and built it as the first place prize, but I guess this new land is just a second-place prize (a very pretty second-place prize, but still not what most people were winning for.) I’ll wait and read the guest reactions come 2018/2019.

      Timekeeper

      • BradyNBradleysMom

        @Timekeeper — Perhaps Riub was talking about “Phantom Manor” at Disneyland Paris. The danger in playing “corrector of what other people meant to say” is that maybe they said what they meant to say. If you notice, Riub does talk about Haunted Mansion a little later in his remarks.

      • rlub

        Thanks for the correction (and thanks for the defense Brady 😉 ). I did mean Mystic Manor as I was referring to creating a land based on the Explorers Club that has been used so effectively thus far in Phantom Manor.

        The point I had hoped to make was that it is time for a Disney theme park land/area to be originated within the theme park. Indeed a novel idea these days…

      • rlub

        Ugh. “that has been used so effectively thus far in MYSTIC Manor.” That’s what above should say.

  • Mousecat

    Good analysis (as usual). As you know, Tom Staggs did add that the AK project should open in early 2017. Perfect timing as his hopes to be the CEO at the ribbon cutting.

    I am actually excited by a highly immersive E Ticket boat ride. That is something Disney does really well and they have not done a big blockbuster like that since Sinbad in Tokyo.

    Samland

  • jcruise86

    Thanks, Kevin!

    “Slated to take UP TO FIVE YEARS to complete”?

    So Maybe we’ll visit WDW around 2019,
    when the new thing crowds have gotten a little bit smaller.

    Or maybe we’ll just wait till 2021 for the 50th anniversary
    when WDW will hopefully clean up its act as Disneyland did for its 50th.

    • BradyNBradleysMom

      It’s your loss if you wait that long to visit. You’re hurting yourself, not Disney.

      • StevenW

        Not everyone can afford a trip. You now have 5 years to save.

      • jcruise86

        Except that Disneyland is close, and there are national parks, skiing, Washington, D.C., Disney cruises, and other countries.

      • CaptainAction

        Wait until WDW earns your money again.

        Disneyland is earning our money but WDW…yeah, it may be 2021.

        I haven’t been since New Fantasyland opened. The wife and I spent about 30 minutes trying to find something worthy of an area called New Fantasyland and we gave up. The forced perspective execution is flat out embarrrassing for WDW.

        I am starting to miss Pirates, Peter Pan, and Haunted Mansion but that’s about all. We still have annual passes to the waterparks which came with Disneyquest so we just add that to our Universal vacations.

  • thebear

    I have not seen the movie but this news about AK is great to hear. AK is such a well done park (except Dinoland). Adding more to do and making it a park you can visit at night can only be positive. I have never spent much time in Camp Minnie/Mickey, even when my kids were young. I’m looking forward to watching this new area progress over the next few years!

  • martinjbell1986

    Lots of good things are going to happen with this expansion. First is that Animal Kingdom will be an all day park. No-one likes having te park close at 5 except for maybe cast members. Second is that once the other E-tickets are up and running I bet they fix Disco Yeti. A nighttime show will be great too if it’s aywhere near the quality of World of Color

  • Anaheimhomeboy

    I think the reason they announced this in Japan on a weekend had to do with the stock price. The questions investors want to know when something like this is announced is, what does it cost and when will we see the return on the investment? Since this is pretty much guaranteed to be at least a billion that’s a huge number to swallow. The second thing is that this extension of the park will not be complete until 2017. That’s 4 years of investment with little to no return coming in during that time. That’s a long time to tell your investors that something is going to be worth it. Iger will be out as president and CEO by then. So if it’s a waist someone else will have to take the blame.

    I’m actually looking forward to it. Should be very nice

  • BornOnTheMatterhrn

    Yee is completely spaced out (once again) with his crazy notion that Disney attempted to “bury” the Avatar news story “overnight” on Friday. #clueless #wannabejournalist

    Jim Hill has the real, accurate story here: http://bit.ly/17sfqy8

  • Orlando71

    As long as i keep telling myself that i’m visiting Pandora that really has nothing to do with giant blue people, i’m really excited for this. I think the people complaining will be shut up when it comes to fruition on how good of a land this actually is. Who cares if it is Avatar? Pretend its Pandora, i mean who can not look at that concept art and not get excited?

  • AaroniusPolonius

    As I said in the forums, I’m sure that they presented this in Japan to sell the Oriental Land Company on either the land itself or on the ride tech behind the rides.

    I’m sure that the Avatar Boat Ride is the Shanghai Castle Boat Ride in different drag. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Floating Mountain Mountain features either a walk-through “wow” moment or if they don’t snake the queue line through the mountain itself for the “wow.” (Again, much like the Shanghai Castle experience.)

    To that end, I suspect most of the Avatar Boat ride to be indoors, and thus in permanent bioluminescent “night.” For the sake of ecology, I hope they use actual trees and plants during the actual days and nights.

    I don’t think that the Banshee ride will be a Soarin’ clone, however. I suspect it will be a re-use of whatever they are using at the Hong Kong park for the Iron Man ride. (Again, selling the tech to the OLC for Tokyo.)

    With regards to the re-theme of the tech, one wonders when WDW will get their version of the Shanghai Tron Coaster (the tech, not the theme, which we now have at Test Track,) their version of Mystic Manor (which I’m assuming is what’s powering the Ratatouille ride in Paris and is an upgraded version of Tokyo’s Honey Hunt…I’m kind of hoping they use it to create a new Figment Imagination attraction, personally,) and whatever else they’re developing for Shanghai and/or elsewhere to be redressed and dropped into WDW.

    With regards to the timing of the opening, I understand that they are capitalizing on the franchise, and opening it up around the moment when Avatar II, III and IV roll out into the box office (just as I understand that they are timing the Seven Dwarves Coaster to open around Potter II over at Universal, and the Star Wars Lands in time for the sequel launches at the movies) but I almost think that this strategy is biting them a little in the realm of public perception.

    On the one hand, it’s viewed as highly cynical (it is,) and on the other, you have a competitor that’s really pushing themselves forward via the release of new rides and attractions, so these long developmental delays do nothing for Disney, especially considering that they just came out of a decade long coma with regards to infrastructure development. I respect that some of this has to do with the IPs (in that they might want to introduce new characters into the lands based on movies yet to be released,) but it’s not doing them any favors, considering their former “sleeping giant” status.

    Regarding the Avatar franchise: I think it’s a fine property. I think that Cameron’s proven himself, again and again, to deliver the goods, so to speak, and I suspect that he, Fox and Disney are going to spend a bleep-ton on money on the sequels, the marketing and the theme park attractions to create a lasting franchise. Avatar made nearly 2.8 billion dollars worldwide, so it’s not exactly a ‘flash-in-the-pan.’ (And damn! What a hot flash!) Considering WDW’s focus on international audiences (where more than 2 billion of the dollars were made,) as well as domestic audience success (the 750 million plus,) it seems like a wise IP to develop.

    To put this into context, if the films do merely half as well at the box office, they’ll rake in around 7 billion dollars. If they do as well or better, they’ll gross more than 11 billion. Even if they flop-hit and merely make a profit, a whole lot of eyes will fall upon Avatar movies.

  • indyjones

    Am I the only one who thinks simulator style rides have had their day and are done. Sure, Star Tours 2 is fun, but how about doing something new, like a Spiderman style ride vehicle or something. To me the “simulator” style ride (Soarin’, Star Tours) is kind of “the easy way out” and just does nothing for me. I figured Ironman was going to be this style ride too (as it appears that it is) and was disappointed.

    • jcruise86

      No, you’re not alone. And while Carsland is great in California, there is always Disney’s love (over the last 12 years, really since Pressler/Eisner made the MSE Parade “glow away FOREVER!”) of cheaping out. The surprisingly boring Little Mermaid rides don’t make me optimistic about the look of Avatarland or for Paris’ Ratatouille.

      I think this land would be cooler if it were going up at Universal Orlando. Also it’d open a year sooner.

  • Golden

    I am hopeful on Avatar Land, as I have been since word first came of it. Whatever else you can say about the movie, one thing you can say is that it creates an immersive and beautiful world environment, and I’ve always felt that if Disney can do that world justice that Avatarland (should just be called Pandora, really) will be a big success and a really great place to spend time – especially at night.

    Ultimately the quality of the E-tickets is also very important, probably even more important than the feel of the land. But I just don’t think there is any real way to judge how good those will be until much closer to the time. Regardless of whether or not their individual mechanics are ‘new’, it’s really the quality and not the novelty that will determine how enjoyed they are.

  • SxcyMike

    So much complaining about nothing. The train ride sucks, it’s not going to be as good as HP, didn’t like the movie etc. Everything WON’T be perfect I.e A thoughtless Simpson section with a bar (MOE’s) that only sells beer with another bar adjacent for alcohol. I love both UNV and DSNY and both company’s would be complete morouns to entertain the notion that they can please everyone. I know plenty of people that thought HP land was a complete yawn (the land is small, the ride jerks to much, the movie was a bore). Some attractions are built for a specific audience. Not everyone once to meet and greet the princesses and not everyone likes rollercoasters. If it’s a hit congrats, if it flops it flops. Personally UNV has nothing there to keep you pass six o’clock, the Pandora e experience at night will be exciting. Didn’t know people had such a personal stake in the company. When was the last time you were invited to the board meetings?

    • CaptainAction

      The folks on this website are FAR more creative than anyone on the board meetings at Disney representing WDW, today.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    I have some friends in the UK who have a vacation home in Haines City (about 8 miles off I-4 and maybe 20 minutes from WDW). I’ve been to the house a couple times and it’s really nice (4 bedrooms/bathrooms, pool, game room…). I was quite impressed. Definitely an option to look into if you’re traveling with a group as it can be way cheaper than a hotel.

    As for Avatarland…. While the concept art looks nice, I really just have no interest in it. Give me a fully-realized Star Wars land at DHS and then we’ll talk.

  • solarnole

    I personally think the Avatar 3D ride is going to be a huge miss for Disney like Mission Space.

    The thrill seekers are bored by it and the gentle boat ride people get sick and never ride it again.

    The movies get old quick too. Unless its timeless and shows no age like Captain EO or Disney shows no shame in keeping it

    • CaptainAction

      Yes, and if they cheap out on the execution of Pandora like they did on New Fantasyland?

      Whew! Worst forced perspective ever used by Disney. you could ignore the smallish buildings at Big Thunder but even 2 year olds will have a hard time trying to pretend that those little dollhouses are real castles and homes. It’s like Storybook Land Canal homes escaped there area where everything is suppossed to be miniaturized and planted themselves around lifesize fake rocks 3 feet above guests heads!

      There are over 70 guest comments now because there is just such a lack of enthusiasm for Avatar. A lot of folks saw it once and thought’ “Cool” and then it just became a pretty unexciting memory. One of the most uncreative stories ever copied and done much better SEVERAL times before.

      Add to this over 5 years in the making.

      This ain’t your father’s or grandfather’s Disney any more, is it?

  • waymire01

    Such a wasted opportunity. I would rather see Narnia, Oz, Alice, anything but Avatar. Pretty is nice but what is the point of pretty when there is no story behind it. Heck for that matter how about an original concept (remember those?) focusing on a menagerie of mystical animals (dragons anyone?). Oh well.

    They really need to fix the broken attractions before they consider all these additions. Ignoring them is not going to solve anything.

    I already consider AK an all day park. There is so much to do if you care about something other than coasters and E-ticket rides. Spend the daytime with the animals and the night time doing the rides. It’s so gorgeous at night.

  • solarnole

    I love the Animal Kingdom train to the petting zoo. It is done so well that it travels backwards and you get to see the same highly themed back of the house fences twice. Its so magical

  • jcruise86

    Kevin wrote: “the Disney CEO has to craft to HIS audience (he only reports to one place: the Board of Directors)”.

    Yes, I’m sure CEO Mr. Iger gets nervous reporting to Disney’s Chairman of the Board.

    Probably exactly as nervous as Michael Eisner was about three to five before Roy Disney, Jr. started trying to oust him.

  • solarnole

    I disagree with Kevin. I think at the end of the day this Avatar expansion is all about getting James Cameron in house with the mouse. Corner the market on action movies. Take our money to fund your next three Avatar movies then sign with us. Disney is a film company first.

    The Fantasyland Expansion was the direct response to Potter it even copied the giant gargoyles and the butter beer.

    Every announcement for Avatar comes with a delay for when it will be opening. Potter phase 2 is opening 2014 this might open 2017 but I highly doubt it no earth has been moved yet.

  • Jdogboy

    I am with Kevin here, I think Avatar land will be a big success and I am excited for it. The fact that Cameron is filming more movies right now will keep it relevant. As for Star Wars land.. if this is even for sure, as all I have heard is rumors.. well Star Wars has stood the test of time for almost 40 years now with no signs of slowing from the fans.. this would make a Star Wars land ultimately successful. I hope the Disney exec’s keep that in mind before they unveil any plans they have.

    As for Vacation homes – I have done this twice now and I think this is the only way for me to go now in Florida. I have a family of 5 and we usually bring a grandparent or two as well and unless I spend an arm and a leg on Hotels with suites or adjoining rooms, I would much prefer a vacation home. Having your own pool to lounge beside.. bathrooms for everyone.. I will sacrifice the turndown service. One thing to be wary of though is if you are planning some meals at the vacation home, don’t buy too many groceries!! Plan your meals there, and don’t buy too much that you cant bring with you. For us the vacation home for a week + rental car + groceries was still cheaper than the hotel route.

  • wdwprince

    I was and still am that one guy on the Disney boards (it seems) who liked Avatar, was excited at the announcement and still am.

    I think the message of the film fits perfectly into Animal Kingdom.

    This project has great potential. Its up to Imagineering to deliver. So far it looks like they are aiming to. I’m also hopeful that Cameron and Rhode are attached to this project.

  • danielz6

    I really want to be excited for Pandora but I can’t. A jungle planet with light up plants just doesn’t do it for me, especially with a story that is so forgettable. I think natural settings based in reality are more beautiful and pleasing to the eyes then fantasy nature can ever be. I’m referring to frontierland based on the real Bryce canyon, grizzly Peak based on the sierra Nevada, Louisiana’s bayou in New Orleans square, the awe inspiring Mt Prometheus in disney Sea or the Jungles of central america, the icy peaks of Nepal or Swiss Alps to name a few. Of course I hope I’m wrong, and that this is the hit Disney is expecting but it produces zero excitement for me. I’d be much more excited to hear 1. the yeti is going to be fixed 2. Kali rapids is reimagined to be a thrilling water ride that it should be 2. Dinoland USA reimagined to fully immerse you in the time and place 65-100 million years ago 3. A new land based on a world region like south America or Australia or Siberia or even the ocean (directly competing with sea world 3. New attractions base on Disney’s phenomenal animal centric IP such as Bambi, jungle book, lion king, Rescuers down under.

  • danielz6

    I’m also worried Pandora may be excessively visually stimulating just like the movie was which is cool for about 5 minutes but quickly becomes nauseating and unenjoyable. Contrast that with actual nature that I referred to in my previous post that you can spend hours in and want to revisit time and time again, and is visually and mentally tranquillizing to the human psyche.

  • mpurciel

    I like the concept of Avatar but it’s not something I would get excited about. The movie has no stickiness. It was great visually but the story-line was weak and the characters had no depth. Disney is the king of storytelling but Avatar lacks no story.

    Visually I think i would be a good addition to the land but I’d rather see the addition be Beastly Kingdom. It would be a great contrast to the jungles and foliage of DAK. DAK needs a “Fantasyland” component. I also think they should bring back the boat cruise that went around the island, fix the past issues, enhance it and make it a e-ticket.

  • richboi117

    I have to admit that this looks REALLY cool. But I’d rather the cash and effort all be put to a Star Wars land in DHS. They could add a boat ride thru the Ewok planet/speeder bike ride, tour of the Millenium Falcon at Hoth, and keep Star Tours, of course. Ooh! I should be hired! Hehehe

  • BrerDan

    Regarding staying in vacation homes, I personally love them. We stayed in one for a week last year around the first week of November, and a few years before that as well. We had 4 bedrooms and 2 baths, kitchen, and private pool for about $125 a night. We had my parents come and then my in-laws came and it was great–we stayed upstairs, and they stayed downstairs. We stayed in Kissimmee, so it was about 20-25 minutes to get to the parks–not bad at all! We ate breakfast there every day and were able to relax a few days without going to the parks. The best part was having a washing machine right there in our vacation home.

    Regarding Pandora…..I’m still “meh.” I have zero interest in the property, and while I do think the environment might be beautiful, I just don’t see how it could have the “fun” little touches that could be had with something like a dragon mountain. I believe this will be visually stunning, but not sure it will be fun. I’m *not* a Harry Potter fan at all, but I found the Wizarding World to be a great deal of *fun* with lots of silly and interesting touches.

    As for Animal Kingdom–I honestly love the park the way it is. We spent a full day there last year from opening at 8am to closing at 8pm and still weren’t able to hit many things, including the Lion King Show, Kali Rapids, any of Minnie-Mickey, the Oasis, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch. How did we do that? We actually went through all of the nature trails and spent time to enjoy them. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it and find it a nice counterbalance to the other parks. Would I object to new experiences? Certainly not, but part of me fears the character of the park will change for the worse with this addition. We’ll see….

  • solarnole

    The old half day Discovery Island was a better zoo then Animal kingdom. I took a friend from South Korea who hated Animal Kingdom because he could not take pictures of all the animals. He was very upset that the elephants and lions were only on the ride and not on the walking trails.

    If I only had one day in Orlando for a park, it would be my last choice.

    At least when Avatar opens the park or sauna will have an air conditioned building that does not require a ride on a one way dead end train to get there.

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