Pandora: World of Avatar, Disney’s newest addition to its Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida will open to the public on Saturday.
Inspired by the 2009 film Avatar, directed by James Cameron, the 12-acre park cost an estimated $500m and took six years to build.
“It’s impossible to tell what’s real and what isn’t — it’s spectacular,” said Joe Rohde, the creative force responsible for designing the park. “It feels like being in a national park, like Yosemite.”
Two rides are central to the theme park: the Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey.
The first uses virtual reality technology to simulate a ride through the Valley of Mo’ara on the back of a banshee.
CNN reporter Sara Stewart, who tried out the ride as part of a pre-launch event open to members of the press, described the ride:
You’re off, plunging straight down from a cliff top into a valley, swooping perilously through gargantuan trees and around mountain curves, soaring what feels like inches over a herd of stampeding beasts, zooming through the curl of a towering emerald wave.
Na’vi River Journey is, by contrast, a more relaxing boat ride through a rain forest.
The part takes more from the film than just ideas for rides, however. Visitors can also choose to be matched with an onscreen avatar’s face.
When it comes to food, the choice is varied.
At Satu’li Canteen diners can create their own bowls by selecting grains, a protein and a sauce. There are 48 different combinations in total.
Wood-grilled chicken, slow-roasted beef, sustainable fish and chili-spiced fried tofu are just some of the protein options on offer.
“It’s always good to have a very talented film director at the helm of new attractions, and James Cameron has been deeply involved in this,” Stefan Zwanzger, the creator of 350 theme parks in 150 countries told CNN.
“He’s done incredible rides in the past. Terminator 2 3-D at Universal Studios was one of the best attractions of its time, and that was 20 years ago — it’s still a fantastic attraction today. Cameron is known as a perfectionist, which is exactly what theme park attractions need to make sure visitors really experience something immersive, down to smallest details,” he added.
Timing is everything
The launch of the Pandora: World of Avatar theme park comes at a difficult time for Disney. Its share price has dropped in recent months, putting pressure on CEO Bob Iger to deliver.
Disney operates ESPN’s TV network, which is struggling with a declining subscriber base.
Weak advertising sales at Disney’s largest business unit has lowered investor’s confidence. Disney shares fell 2.1 percent to $109.75 in early trading Wednesday.
Iger said that his company would make changes to improve ESPN viewing figures and better adapt to a shifting media landscape.
Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida attracts an estimated 11m people annually.
Avatar the film grossed almost $3bn worldwide.