Last night, I finally got a FastPass reservation for Na’vi River Journey at Disney Animal Kingdom’s World of Avatar. I had not read any reviews or heard much about the ride other than that it is a boat ride. The line is always very long and for me personally, no matter how good the ride is the long wait usually takes away from the experience. After walking around the impressively illuminated flora in the Avatar area, I used my FastPass to avoid the 45-minute wait and walked onto the ride.
The ride vehicle is a cross between a log flume and a river raft. It holds up to 8 adults in 2 rows and does not have any restraints. It is a slow moving dark ride on the water. The ride begins by turning a corner and introducing the riders to another world. The whole atmosphere is that of a lush alien jungle at night. There are the sounds of, and actual creatures from, the world of Avatar within the heavy vegetation that surrounds the path of the boats.
The creatures and vegetation are in the form of animatronics, as well as multiple types of screens. At one point, creatures seem to be running on the shore alongside the boat, at another, large insects seem to be crawling on the braches nearby. The boat continues to wind through the jungle displaying various forms of life within their natural habitat including above the boat. The high point of the ride takes place towards the end of the five minutes. The boats have a close encounter with a Na’vi Shaman. She is fully visible and the boats pass very close by where she is seated. She is a large advanced animatronic figure that sings and moves around in time to her song. The figure’s motions were similar to that of an orchestra’s conductor and were impressive to see executed so well. The boats turn a corner, and the ride is over.
I thought the ride as a whole was very underwhelming. I would have been fairly frustrated if I had waited for the hour or more that is common for the ride. Especially after walking through Pandora with similar effects at night, at my own leisure, and without waiting in line the ride seemed to have little to no purpose. The ride was not informative or exciting and had no structure or narrative. It was simply visuals and a ride through of almost the same experience as outside. The Shaman encounter was interesting, but only for a moment. No one on board can understand what the Shaman is saying, as she sings in Na’vi, so we were really just awkwardly staring as she loudly sang at us. There weren’t really any oohs or ahhhs that I could hear from any of the passenger’s and I couldn’t tell you the best part of the ride.
I think this ride could have been interesting or at least informative with a little more effort. Yes, Avatar was mostly popular because of its stunning visuals and special effects. This doesn’t mean there can’t be more substance added to this extra experience. I would have enjoyed a close call with the wildlife, short story, or even just a Jurassic Park/Dinosaur type scenario where information about the wildlife spotted is given to the passengers. I literally gained nothing from the ride except getting to sit down for 5 minutes. I can’t tell you anything new about Avatar or Pandora, and I don’t like Avatar or Pandora any more than I did before the ride. I think a walking path, with no wait, would have been sufficient for the experience I had. I enjoyed my time walking up to the ride through the illuminated-at-nighttime Pandora more than the ride itself. I think this was a missed opportunity to expand upon some aspect of the Avatar universe, instead, we continue to display the value of Avatar only through visuals and impressive technology.