How Avatar: The Way of Water Made Me Feel Like I Was On Disney World's Flight of Passage

Avatar 2: The Way of Water screenshot
(Image credit: Fox/Disney)

The following contains very minor, non-plot-related SPOILERS for Avatar: The Way of Water.

There’s been this often repeated feeling over the last several years that when (and if) Avatar 2 ever actually came out, nobody would care because pop culture had simply moved on and nobody cared about Avatar anymore. However, anybody who has been to Walt Disney World in the last five years knows that’s not really true, because Pandora: The World of Avatar has been an incredibly popular part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Avatar Flight of Passage, the E-ticket attraction in Pandora, is still the most popular ride in the resort five years later. It’s exciting, visually stunning and technically impressive. It’s also an experience that I couldn’t stop thinking about the entire time I was watching Avatar: The Way of Water.

Avatar Flight of Passage still with Na'vi flying a banshee

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Flight Of Passage And The Way Of Water Are Both High Frame Rate 3D Experiences 

The conceit of Flight of Passage is that guests are test subjects who climb on board devices meant to mimic the body of a Pandoran Ikran, a.k.a. the banshee. From there, guests are “linked” to Avatars on the back of banshees, and via a pair of 3D glasses, they're given the experience of feeling like we’re flying through Pandora.

It’s an absolutely breathtaking ride. You feel the banshee breathing beneath you as you soar and dive through the skies of Pandora. The massive screen (which isn't that far away from you) and the 3D effect brought on by the “flight glasses” you’re wearing really make the world come to life, and you feel like you’re there.

The video you’re experiencing while going through Flight of Passage is, much like the optimum way of watching Avatar: The Way of Water itself, a high resolution, high frame rate 3D video, and the result is that while watching the Avatar sequel, I couldn’t help but feel like I was back on the attraction. Even if you haven’t seen Avatar 2 yet, if you have seen any of the previous attempts at a high frame rate 3D movie, you know they have a very distinct look that standard frame rate films simply don’t have. The Way of Water and Flight of Passage feel like they’re the same not simply because they create the world of Pandora, but because they do it using the same set of technical tools. 

Flight of Passage shore

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Flight Of Passage Was The First Place To See The Tulkun And Other Pandoran Sea Life 

The original Avatar took place within the forest of Pandora, but the sequel, The Way of Water, perhaps unsurprisingly, takes place around the planet’s oceans. This is a part of the planet that you never saw in the first movie, as it was entirely landlocked, but it’s a part of the planet that you have seen if you’ve ever ridden Flight of Passage. 

While the ride does start out flying over the green jungles of the lien planet, before it’s over, you will find the coastline. There you’ll see creatures that, to be honest, don’t look identical to the whale-like tulkun or the rideable ilu creatures, but were clearly meant to be those creatures before they saw cosmetic redesigns prior to Avatar: The Way of Water entering production.

We see the ilu skipping across the top of the water like massive flying fish in the film and we watch the tulkun breach from the water like a whale. Seeing it happen in The Way of Water only reminded me of seeing from the back of my ikran in Flight of Passage.

Flight of Passage queue display

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Quaritch’s Info Dump Was Basically The Flight Of Passage Pre-Show

While Flight of Passage is without question one of, if not the, most popular ride at Walt Disney World, the love for the actual experience is matched only by the scorn for the pre-show. Flight of Passage has not one, but two separate rooms where guests are corralled before actually getting on the ride where somebody on a screen drones at them about what it is they’re about to do.

The entire experience is explained in a way that will make it all make sense even if you haven’t actually seen Avatar, which is fine because there are probably a lot of people doing the ride who haven’t or don’t really remember it. Unfortunately, that means there’s a lot of slow dry expository dialogue before an exciting ride. It doesn't exactly pump you up.

It’s hard not to think of this part of Flight of Passage when watching Avatar: The Way of Water and the Avatar version of Quaritch gets everything explained to him in much the same way. A pre-recorded human version of Quaritich sits at a desk and has to explain everything that the Avatar Quaritch needs to know so that he can be ready to move the plot forward. It’s technically necessary for the character, and it helps get the audience up to speed as well, but in both the movie and ride, I’m ready to just get on with the good stuff.

Flight of Passage migrating animals

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Both Avatar: The Way of Water And Flight Of Passage Are Thrilling Rides 

The point of a theme park attraction is to make you feel like you’re in another world, in a way that movies often just can’t. Having said that, when the credits finally began to run at the end of Avatar: The Way of Water, I felt like I had been someplace else, and was only just now returning home. It's the same way I feel when Flight of Passage ends and it’s time to get off the ride. The long walk down the hall to the Animal Kingdom exterior is a period of mental transition. The same was true walking out of the dark movie theater.

Flight of Passage isn’t an attraction I go on every time I visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The line is always long and I don’t always have the time or the desire to deal with it. But it’s a ride I would do all the time if I could because of the way it makes me feel. Up to now, I would have said it was a unique experience that you can’t have anyplace else, but it turns out maybe you can.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.