We are astride our banshees, as stars — or are they bioluminescent flowers? — twinkle in a dark sky. We can feel our banshees breathing, their lungs slowly expanding and contracting between our legs.
Daylight comes up, a Na’vi on a banshee motions to us, and we are off on a wild chase through Pandora. Our first maneuver is a dive straight down, and for a moment it looks and feels gloriously like we are on a roller coaster, maybe the smoothest coaster ride ever.
We are riding Avatar Flight of Passage, the centerpiece ride at Pandora: The World of Avatar, which opens Saturday at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The advance word was that it would be much like Soarin’, the flying theater attraction at Epcot. Both start with the same basic technology: stationary seats in front of a screen where breathtaking scenery appears to be in three dimensions — or maybe even four — and the rider feels airborne in the middle of that scene.
Flight of Passage takes the concept further. The motorbike-like seats that stand in for banshees breathe beneath us, and while they stay in one place, they swing and pivot so that we feel we actually are diving off a cliff or swooping through tunnels in the high canopy of trees.
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The air, which carries a hint of floral scent, rushes past us and we feel the ocean’s spray in our faces and ... Wait! What’s that you say? There was no ocean in the movie “Avatar,” on which this land is based.. Ask Jon Landau, producer of “Avatar,” who worked closely with Disney’s Imagineers to create the World of Avatar, and he coyly hints that the ocean is a scene from one of the sequels, which have yet to be made.
Walt Disney World staged a preview Wednesday for media members from around the world, who were able to ride both Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. a Small World type of boat ride (without the earbug theme song) through a bioluminescent jungle of gorgeously colored flora. At the end, the riders pass the audio-animatronic Na’vi Shaman of Songs, whose fluid motions demonstrate just how far that technology has advanced since Disney debuted it more than 50 years ago.
The World of Avatar is filled with plants from Pandora. As is usual with Disney creations, each plant, each detail, has its own backstory. Characters — in one case a “geologist,” in another a wild-haired human whose parents brought him from earth to Pandora long ago — stop passersby to tell them stories about the flora and fauna of Pandora.
But Flight of Passage is undoubtedly the star of this new land. The banshees swooped and turned and climbed gracefully over the landscape of Pandora, and at the end of some of the first rides of the day, the riders applauded the brief but spectacular piece of theatrical production.