This guide is continuously updated with the most recent developments, so check back often!
Latest Developments throughout Animal Kingdom
- The Tree of Life Awakens – The park’s iconic Tree of Life undergoes an extraordinary “awakening.” Animal spirits come to life throughout the evening by magical fireflies. Each scene appears to emanate from within the tree itself and reveals stories of wonder.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris After Dark – Enjoy Kilimanjaro Safaris in the evening hours, thanks to special lighting that allows guests to explore the savanna – and its inhabitants – well into the night. Kilimanjaro Safaris presents a nighttime version of the safari. Amid the magically extended orange glow of the setting sun, two new species have been introduced – African wild hogs and hyenas.
- Harambe Wildlife Parti – Guests can turn into “party animals” at the Harambe Wildlife Parti and enjoy lively African music, exotic foods and drinks, and explore the local marketplace.
- Discovery Island Carnivale – On Discovery Island, join the local community in their celebration of their love for nature in this party that features music, dancers, stilt walkers, food and more.
- Tiffins – This new signature table service restaurant is on Discovery Island at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The restaurant celebrates the art of traveling and features a diverse menu drawing from places that inspired the creation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It is open for both lunch and dinner and features waterfront views from comfortable indoor and outdoor seating areas. For those wondering about the name, “tiffin” is an Indian English word for a midday meal or a type of container used to carry food while traveling. Adjacent to Tiffins is the Nomad Lounge with beautiful waterfront views. Menu items include small bites like a vegetarian summer roll, seared Wagyu beef skewer and honey-glazed coriander-spiced pork ribs. The Nomad Lounge does not require Advance Reservations (although they will be recommended for Tiffins).
- Nighttime Attractions – The park’s attractions, which will be operating in the nighttime hours, take on a whole new life. For the first time, guests are able to experience the thrill of attractions like Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids – surrounded by darkness. They can also enjoy colorful midway games and attractions in DinoLand, U.S.A.
The Harambe Market is now open. The Market includes a variety of African-inspired foods and beverages at four walk-up windows and more shaded places for Guests to relax and enjoy. This new addition also includes a new pathway to Asia for Guest convenience. Combined with the theater district that opened last year in Africa, the original Harambe Village is now double the size.
“Rivers of Light” is a nighttime spectacular unlike anything ever seen in Disney Parks, combining live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. The show will magically come to life on the broad, natural stage of the Discovery River, between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest. During the show, a pair of mystical hosts come to the river bearing gifts of light and set out from the shore on elaborate lantern vessels for a dramatic dance of water and light to summon animal spirits. With the storytellers as guides, the wonders of “Rivers of Light” builds to a stunning crescendo. Rivers of Light has been delayed. Expect to see it debut sometime in 2016, although exact dates are not available. Here is a preview though of what Guests will be able to experience when Rivers of Light officially debuts.
Make sure to check out this video of Imagineer Joe Rhode discussing the project and what Guests can expect.
Pandora – The World of AVATAR
Ground was officially broken for the new AVATAR-inspired land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Jan. 8, 2014 and announced on the Disney Parks Blog. During the ceremony, Disney parks executives and Imagineers, as well as Avatar Producer Jon Landau, were accompanied by large blue a Na’vi as they held blue Na’vi-inspired shovels for a photo op. The multi-year and largest expansion in Disney’s Animal Kingdom history, the new land will invite Walt Disney World Resort guests to experience the wonders of Pandora when they fly with the banshees, encounter the Na’vi and explore a rich cultural environment with mountains that float and interactive plants that glow at night.
The new area will be know as Pandora – The World of AVATAR and is expected to open SUMMER 2017.
Avatar Overview with a Little History
On September 20, 2011, Disney officially announced a long-term creative partnership with Canadian film director, producer and screenwriter, deep-sea explorer, and visionary, James Cameron, and Fox Filmed Entertainment to bring the fantasy world of AVATAR to life at Walt Disney World Resort. The new land, to be built at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, will take guests to Pandora, the distant moon where tall, blue-skinned, humanoids live in harmony with nature. While no specific attractions were revealed for the new land during Disney’s official announcement, Disney did say to expect “multiple attractions, entertainment, merchandise locations, restaurants and other immersive elements.”
James and his producing partner Jon Landau and their team at Lightstorm Entertainment will work side-by-side with Walt Disney Imagineers to create the AVATAR-themed land. Construction began in early 2014 and is expected to be completed sometime 2016 or later. The project cost is speculated to be in the vicinity of $400 to $500 million.
What we knew the first year-and-a-half after the official announcement was actually very little since Disney has been pretty much silent about the AVATAR project during that time. This has lead to numerous rumors that things were not going well with the planned expansion. Disney fan sites speculated that the project might be headed for an early death, especially in light of rumors that an East Coast version of California Adventure’s Cars Land could be coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The speculation intensified in October 2012, when Disney spent more than $4 billion to acquire Lucasfilm and the rights to the “Star Wars” franchise – a land many Disney fans would love to see built at a Disney World park. You can read a few of the articles that casted doubt on the project below.
On December 6, 2012, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs said that Disney remained enthusiastic about Avatar Land. “We’ve gotten more excited about Avatar as we’ve gone through development. We are finding that playing around with this notion of allowing guests to visit Pandora can be very magical,” Staggs said during a brief interview after a grand opening event for the new Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. “We’re not in construction yet. We’re still in development. And we’re still honing exactly what we’re going to do. But it’s going to be big.”
Then on February 15, 2013, Disney released the following update which would place the opening of the project at sometime 2016 or later: “Walt Disney Imagineers are currently in the design stage for AVATAR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Construction is expected begin in 2013 and project of this size typically takes approximately five years to design and build.”
On August 26, 2013, Jim Hill Media posted a blog that attempts to explain the motive of lack of information on this project. According to JHM, “it’s because Cameron — rather than The Walt Disney Company — is the one who’s been controlling the pace of development on this project. And since James wants this new DAK “land” to open at a time when it would be the most helpful for he and Fox Filmed Entertainment’s plan to turn AVATAR into a full-fledged franchise.” Also submitted by JHM, in August of 2013, Fox Filmed Entertainment chief Jim Gianopulos revealed to investment analysts that James Cameron has: finished outlining the next three installments of his AVATAR film series; has selected the screenwriters that he’ll be collaborating with in order to turn these outlines into full-fledged screenplays; has signed “Jumper ” author Steven Charles Gould to write four AVATAR novels (1 expanding upon the storyline of the 2009 AVATAR release and 3 based on the upcoming sequels) that will be releases between the AVATAR film sequels, and that all three of AVATAR film sequels will shot simultaneously starting in 2014 and then be released to theaters in December of 2016, December of 2017 and December of 2018.” You can read the entire article here.
Another subject that was widely discussed among Disney fans was the location of the AVATAR project, with two main areas in contention – an area to the west currently occupied by Camp Minnie-Mickey and a plot of land to the north, just beyond Asia. Of the two, the area of Camp Minnie-Mickey, which was originally earmarked for Beastly Kingdom but never built, was deemed the strongest contender.
Changes at Animal Kingdom in early 2013, and particularly regarding attractions and character meet and greets at Camp Minnie-Mickey, all indicated that Disney is fully committed to the project and was making preparations to move ahead with “Avatar Land” – a name we’ve designated for the purpose of this discussion in lieu of an official title from Disney for the new land.
On July 29, 2013, Disney announced that information would be forthcoming at the D23 Expo on August 9-11, 2013 at Anaheim, California. According to Disney, “there will be teasers for new attractions based on Avatar” at the event. The teasers, however, turned out to be nothing more than an Imagineering office cubicle litter with props and sketches hinting at soon-to-begin construction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and shed no additional light on the project.
On October 12, 2013 at Japan’s first D23 Expo, new info and concept art was released for Animal Kingdom’s future Avatar-inspired land, as well as plans for new nighttime entertainment and attractions for other areas of the park. Read more here.
By the end of 2013, Disney had officially announce on the Disney Parks Blog that the a new Festival of the Lion King Theater would be built in the Africa section of the park and the final announcement of 2013 was the permanent closure of Camp Minnie-Mickey on January 6, 2014, – the site that the new Avatar-inspired land would be built.
On January 8, 2014, ground was broken for Avatar Land at the old Camp Minnie-Mickey site.
What Types of Attractions Can We Expect?
Avatar Land will include elements from the original Avatar film as well as its two, yet-to-be-released sequels, which according to Disney will give the company “even more locations, characters and stories to explore.” To get a feel for the Pandora environment – with its expansive rain forests, immense Tree of Souls and floating Hallelujah Mountains, watch the video below.
Disney has announced the name of the new family friendly boat ride attraction for Pandora – The World of AVATAR for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The attraction will be called Na’vi River Journey and during it, Guests will set out in canoes down a mysterious sacred river hidden within the bioluminescent rainforest. The full beauty of Pandora reveals itself as the canoes pass by exotic glowing plants and amazing creatures. The journey culminates in an up-close encounter with a Na’vi shaman, who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora and sends positive energy out into the forest through her music. Na’vi River Journey will join the previously announced AVATAR Flight of Passage in the new land, which is planned to open in 2017.
AVATAR Flight of Passage will have guests “discover what it feels like to soar into the sky riding a Banshee” in a new 3D Soarin’-style ride that will be the land’s main attraction.
According to information posted on centralfloridatop5.com, it’s believed that once boarded, the 3D Soarin’-style ride “will flip guest face forward into the floor, much like Manta at SeaWorld Orlando.” The web site also claims that the new land will have “interactive animal experiences” that will occur as both “a walk thru attraction and in random ‘visits’ to the land throughout the day,” that plants will interact with guests, and supplies additional details about possible changes to the Tree of Life. Additionally, Theme Park Insider claims to have seen the details for the “Soarin'”-style 3D movie attraction and shares details here.
And the new AVATAR-inspired land won’t be the only change coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Also planned, as part of the largest expansion in the history of the park, is a new nighttime spectacular that will feature “live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery” on Discovery River. Disney has also revealed plans to bring live performers to Discovery Island in the evenings and to keep Kilimanjaro Safari open later in a special nighttime version of the attraction.
Hear more from Imagineer Joe Rohde
- The entire land will be a stroll-through attraction with a floating mountain and glowing plants that are alive with light and sound.
- The Na’vi River Journey will allow guests to drift through the glowing world of Pandora.
- On AVATAR Flight of Passage, guests will board large bird-like beasts called Banshees and fly through the skies of Pandora in this 3D simulation.
- Animal Kingdom’s new nighttime entertainment concept art depicts a glowing version of the Tree of Life.
- “Rivers of Light,” a nighttime spectacular coming to Animal Kingdom, promises to be an innovative show unlike anything ever seen in Disney Parks, combining live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. The show will magically come to life on the broad, natural stage of the Discovery River, between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest. A debut date has not been given for this new experience. To see concept art, visit Disney Parks Blog.
- On June 1,2014, James Cameron made the following announcement at the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival concerning what he called Pandora: The Land of Avatar: “It’s going to have floating mountains. It’s pretty cool…There will be several rides and a number of other attractions. It’s really just a place you’re gonna wanna go and hang out. It’s gonna be gorgeous. Of course it’s gonna be gorgeous at night and they’re using every new trick, every new bit of technology that they’ve created. The animatronics for the Na’vi characters are gonna be fantastic. For example, their early animatronics would use 12 axis of motion and I think the most they’ve ever done was 32 axis recently. I think they’re up to 64 just in the face of the Na’vi characters. So it’s gonna be remarkable.”
On February 26, Disney released another “Avatar Land” sneak peek.
What Changes are Taking Place in Preparation of “Avatar Land”?
The following changes have or are taking place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in preparation for the coming “Avatar Land.”
On June 8, 2012, Disney announced that the Beastly Bazaar store, near to the Flame Tree BBQ, would close on August 12 2012 to make way for a new indoor character meet and greet location, called “Adventurers Outpost.” The new meet and greet location would give guests the chance to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse outside of Camp Minnie-Mickey in a new air-conditioned environment. Adventurers Outpost officially opened on Discovery Island on May 15, 2013.
Also in June of 2012, Goofy moved from Camp Minnie-Mickey to join Pluto in Dinoland. Many of the random character appearances at Camp Minnie-Mickey, such as Daisy, Meeko, Timon, Thumper and Miss Bunny were permanently discontinued. Meanwhile, preparations were also underway to relocate the popular Festival of the Lion King show at Camp Minnie-Mickey.
On July 29. 2013, Disney confirmed the new Festival of the Lion King theater.
On January 6, 2014, the existing Camp Minnie-Mickey section of the park closed for good and Festival of the Lion King relocated. Camp Minnie-Mickey characters began greeting guests at the following new locations.
- King Louie & Baloo will be greeting guests along Bradley Falls between Asia and Africa.
- Chip ‘n’ Dale will move to Rafiki’s Planet Watch on the walkway from the train station to Conservation Station. In this playful setting, children of all ages can pose for photos with the chipmunks and hear music by Gi-Tar Dan.
- Pocahontas joins porcupines, colorful exotic birds and other animal friends along the Discovery Island Trail.
- Donald and Daisy Duck will move to the Discovery Island section of the park at the Character Landing, sadly, Winnie the Pooh and Friends have departed this location and will no longer be available for meet & greets in the Animal Kingdom park.
Ground was officially broken for the new AVATAR-inspired land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Jan. 8, 2014.
On June 1, 2014, The Festival of the Lion King show reopened in it’s new theater in the Africa section of the park.
In anticipation of the Avatar area at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there have been several changes over the last year. Camp Minnie-Mickey has been removed. Festival of the Lion King relocated to a new home in the Africa section of the park and now offers FastPass+. Winnie the Pooh and Tigger departed Animal Kingdom park beginning May 11, 2014. Guests may continue to meet Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park. Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade ended permanently and there currently are no plans for another parade.
That’s all we have for right now, but check back often as we’re keeping our ears to the ground and will attempt to separate the facts from fiction in the days to come.