The Avatar Flight of Passage queue may be the longest, most elaborate queue in theme park history. In an industry that includes an entire campus visit to Hogwarts, that’s saying something.
If total immersion is your high-water mark for theme park design, then the Avatar Flight of Passage queue will breach your sandbag barricade and send a tidal wave of never-ending detail coursing up Park Fan Avenue and flooding out all the shops on Disney Geek Boulevard.
From the seventeen million photo tours of opening weekend, everyone is familiar with the obvious stuff. But in the Avatar Flight of Passage queue, even the details have details.
And some of this stuff is borderline crazy.
Waterfalls in the Valley of Mo’ara
This is the postcard shot from the outdoor portion of the Avatar Flight of Passage queue. Literally everyone will take this exact same picture.
This is Theme Park Design 101. You’ve got forced perspective, which makes the arches and mountains seem taller than they actually are (see: Disneyland’s Main Street, 1955).
Then there’s the lighter paint job on the back of the set, a visual trick to simulate atmospheric distortion. Refer to Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.
The Crazy Part
See all those cascading waterfalls? At least 2 of them are fake.
Since the height of distant falls is theoretically equivalent to those close by, the water should appear to fall at a slower rate. But how do you do that with real waterfalls on a fake theme park mountain range?
Our best guess is that they are some kind of blown cloth, or maybe a belt rotating at a constant speed.
They look totally believable even in person. The only giveaway is that they are slightly more frothy than the real waterfalls.
Handprints in the Cave
From the Valley of Mo’ara, you enter a cave network covered in ancient cave paintings. It’s clear that this was once a shelter to the Na’vi, the 9-foot-tall humanoid natives of Pandora.
In addition to primitive drawings of banshees, tree sprites, and other Pandora wildlife, several Na’vi handprints can be seen on the walls. But oddly, there are handprints from another species as well:
The presence of human hands is not explained. Perhaps the Na’vi allowed humans to imprint their hands on the sacred cave walls as a form of bonding.
But the mystery of the handprints doesn’t end there.
The Crazy Part
Notice anything different about this Na’vi handprint?
This is the only one we could find that has four fingers instead of three. Just like in your office, even Imagineering has screw-ups.
As it turns out, there’s a perfectly plausible explanation. According to the wiki for the movie Avatar, the real Na’vi have 3 fingers and 1 thumb. But the scientifically-created avatars are made in part from human DNA, and so they have 4 fingers and 1 thumb.
Military Bunker Lighting
After the cave comes one of the RDA bunkers, part of the corporate/military installation left behind by the humans. The detail here is fantastic, with rusted utility boxes and black mold overtaking the airlock doors and cold concrete walls.
As you might expect in a general-purpose quasi-government building, the overhead lighting is a boring array of fluorescent tube lighting.
Because of the brightness, I could not capture a good photo. But if you stare at them with the naked eye, the fluorescent tubes actually appear to be strands of white LED lights behind glass. Perhaps Disney felt that the color temperature of LEDs was a better lighting device than fluorescent, which typically have more of a green tint.
The Crazy Part
In order to sell the idea of fluorescent tubes, one of these LED bars actually gives off a telltale flicker pattern — instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever suffered under the working conditions of these types of lights.
I suppose the flicker could be a legitimate wiring issue, but it is so eerily perfect that I have to believe it’s intentional.
The Creature in the Pipe
Outside the bunker, we find ourselves in a bioluminescent Pandora nighttime. It is apparently a dumping ground for toxic waste left behind by the RDA, but the jungle has reclaimed most of the human structures, like a rusty pipe running the length of one of the switchbacks.
The pipe is just another bit of atmosphere, similar to the collapsed catwalk above you, the rusted out ventilations slats, the crushed oil barrels, and the expired safety checks.
The Crazy Part
Every so often, in one corner of the pipe, hidden speakers allow us to hear one of Pandora’s native residents scurrying through the hollow tube.
The audio effect is sporadic. Unless you happen to pause right at this bend in the path, you probably won’t even notice it. But it does prove that even Pandora has sewer rats. Probably glowing ones.
The Pit to Nowhere
At the end of the bioluminescent jungle, the Avatar Flight of Passage queue makes another turn, traveling into the laboratory. Since the lab is well-lit, it attracts the eye.
Which is why most people never even notice the strange black pit just beyond the final bend of the queue.
The Crazy Part
It’s pitch black, like a borehole straight to the center of the planet. The absence of illumination makes it even less noticeable. It’s tucked away in the corner, almost behind the direction anyone would naturally face while in line.
The picture above is with the flash on, revealing that it’s not actually a pit to nowhere. But it does look ominous in real life — once you’re aware it exists.
The Avatar Basketball Court
You don’t actually see hoops or a three-point line, but after you pass through the lab, there’s a symbol tucked away above one of the doorways. Apparently that Emergency Exit really leads to the Pandora version of Madison Square Garden.
The Crazy Part
Okay, maybe this in itself isn’t all that crazy of a detail. But it’s a direct nod to the movie, when Jake Sully’s first experience in his avatar has him crashing through a pick-up game en route to his sprint through a bean field.
Jackie Ogden, Head of the Program
The two video pre-shows to at the end of the Avatar Flight of Passage queue contain some of the most awkward acting in Disney pre-show history. We’re not sure how much is intentional, but the scientist giving you the safety briefing appears to be reading from cue cards at several points. It feels like maybe they only had enough tape for one take.
The Crazy Part
The script is fine, but count how many times he mentions Dr. Jackie Ogden and how she is the head of the program. It’s a minimum of three times that this information is repeated, and to what end? It has literally no bearing on the story. But for some reason, this preshow really wants us to know that Jackie Ogden runs the program.
Could it be because there is a real Jackie Ogden, a retired VP of Animal Kingdom’s Animal Programs?
An Alternate Version of the Preshow
Pre-recorded pre-shows are nothing new. Everyone has their favorites. Dr. Seeker and Dr. Marsh. Flight Attendant Patrick. Chairman Clench.
The Crazy Part
The Avatar Flight of Passage queue has a preshow that a lot of people will never see. For what might be the first time ever, Disney has actually built in an alternate clip that occurs in the event of a slowdown or breakdown in the ride.
It occurs in the first holding room, where Dr. Stevens creepily scans your bodies to find you a perfect Avatar match. But if there’s a holdup in the other room, he’ll cut in with some nonsense about a link error and rush out of the room. He’ll stay gone until the hold-up is resolved. Then the preshow will resume.
And this isn’t the only insane pre-show detail. It can get downright invisible when it comes to some of these variations.
Janitors in the Avatar Flight of Passage Queue
Anyone who has ever had to clean up a military installation in the middle of a jungle on a hostile alien planet knows what I’m talking about.
It’s impossible to keep the darn thing clean.
The Crazy Part
Concrete bunkers half buried in a rain forest just naturally seem to accumulate grime and dirt. As the silt behind the walls works its way inside, all the janitorial staff can do is sweep it into corners.
This is especially evident in the Avatar Flight of Passage queue FastPass line, which is more or less part of the modern installation. Yet fake piles of dirt are still everywhere. It really drives home the idea of this remote complex. We’re glad some crazy genius at Imagineering thought up this finishing touch.
Bonus Content: The Creators of Pandora
Eywa is the deity in the Na’vi culture — a spirit life force that connects all living things. But actually, Pandora’s creators tend to be a little more white and nerdy.
In the bowels of the Avatar Flight of Passage queue exit, you may come across three handprints on one of the concrete walls, along with the initials JC, JL, and JR.
Not every theater will take you past this strange detail, so you have to get lucky.
But it should give you a sense of comfort to know that James Cameron, Jon Landau, and Joe Rohde are looking down on you from on high.
There are several mentions of “804”.
In some permit filings, Flight of Passage is referred to as “facility #804.”
I noticed that in the abandoned mining area of the queue, the number “08.016.54” appears many times. August 16, 1954 is James Cameron’s birthday!
That’s a great catch! I’m sure there is a hidden meaning behind most of the “random” numbers and names in the queue.
Shane and Teevtee, can you give me a sympathetic ear? You’re the ones I want to talk to right now. I know this is a total first world problem, and the meme would show the crying lady with the text “Went on Flight of Passage for the first time… didn’t get to see full queue.” Our family is lucky enough to get to take trips to Walt Disney World every couple years, (we drive from New Jersey to Florida in a single day) and I was looking forward to Pandora. I have been SO CAREFUL to avoid spoilers. I’ve seen the pictures of the floating rocks, you can’t avoid seeing that. But everything else I’ve refrained from looking at, even this article of yours (made a note to come back and read it after our visit). So we went to Animal Kingdom last week, and because of Extra Magic Hours, we were able to enter the park at 8 instead of 9. (We stayed at the glamorous All Star Movie Resort!) We got to AK at 7:40 and were surprised to see that we could go right to Pandora and get in line for Passage. We heard they started letting people on the ride at 7:15! The line was already huge and snaked around outside, ending with the stressed-out guy holding the “end of line” sign (God bless this man). The sign said to expect a two hour wait, but we thought that was not bad, considering it was the most popular attraction in the park. The wait turned out to be much less, maybe around half an hour. Our wait took place mainly in the “mountain,” offering nice views of The Back Side of Floating Rocks. Before we knew it, we were at the “merge point” and someone was already asking how many in our party. We were surprised to see that the wait hadn’t been very long at all, nowhere near the posted wait time.
We had our “briefing,” went on the ride and enjoyed it. It was exiting to see all the new technology that they used to make it such an immersive experience. But something was bothering me– I was expecting more from the queue. It was beautiful, yes, but no more so than Kali River Rapids. This was supposed to be Disney’s answer to Wizarding World, and it was clearly lacking. Added to that, I had accidentally seen a picture of a Navi Avatar animatronic floating in a tank, and I had assumed it would be in this queue. That’s not something you could walk by and not notice! I thought to myself that maybe it was in the River Journey ride queue, or possibly in the store? After the ride we walked through Windtraders, then rode the boat ride (really liked the woven ceiling in the queue), then had an early lunch in the Canteen. I was really confused. Maybe the picture of the floating Navi was just a shot from the movie? When I’d realized it was a spoiler, I had clicked away so quickly. There were other things we wanted to do in Animal Kingdom, and my elderly parents who live in Florida had come and joined us at that point, so there was no chance to ride Passage again.
I just went on Youtube and watched a video of the queue for Passage. Now I’m realizing that even though we did not have Fast Pass, maybe they were shuttling regular guests through the Fast Pass line, because I did not see any of the wonderful things in that video. I am feeling so heartbroken, as the queue looks so lovingly done. I was sorry that we could not stay in Animal Kingdom after dark and see all the glowing plants in Pandora. It looks like we could have seen it in the line! And the science lab, so intricate and cool! Can’t believe we missed all that. I am all about the immersive experience in theme parks. Tell me the story; I’ll believe it and put aside all disbelief. Universal Studios has gotten very good at this. I’m a reporter for the Daily Bugle about to go out in the city in a SCOOP vehicle? Darn straight I am! Traveling through time to bring back your tagged Iguanadon? I’m your dino! The “Men In Black” pre-show and queue was absolutely delightful, and by the time I got on the ride, I was totally in the moment. I’m still a kid at heart with a great imagination, and the more detail that is put into a ride, the better you’ll enjoy the experience– especially that first time when anything can happen.
So instead of moping, I’m going to be glad that I got to go at all, and I have that queue to look forward to the next time we visit, maybe when Hollywood Studios’ renovations are completed. I just wish I had been given a choice– even if it had meant a longer wait, I would have chosen the more detailed queue without a second thought.
Sorry, but I know you guys would understand this pain I’m going through better than most people. I’m sure Disney was just trying to keep the line as short as possible and get the most guests through before the huge morning rush at normal park opening. But these amazing queues are such a part of the ride experience, and Disney should know that.
Rant over. I love you guys, thanks for all the great articles lately.
Melanie the Jersey girl
Melanie, we certainly feel for you. While it is sad that you missed one of the most immersive queues ever, you should take comfort in the fact that no queue is truly worth the time spent in it. It’s much better to see Flight of Passage without having to wait for hours, even if you miss out on the details. In fact, had you been forced to walk the regular queue during Extra Magic Hours, you would have been running right past most of the detail anyway. It is basically there for those who are stuck with nothing better to do.
That sad, it’s a shame that the Lab area (with the Navi in the tank) is not available to both regular and FP queue. That’s by far the best part. But in our opinion, the actual ride of Flight of Passage is the shining beacon on a hill. The queue is just bonus.
You are too kind, thank you for your words of consolation. I know we were lucky to avoid a three hour wait and like you said, we would not have been able to appreciate all the details when there is a crowd behind you shoving you through. Most of what you really need to know is in the pre-show. Sometimes, to miss the queue feels like missing the first ten minutes of a movie. You still figure out what’s going on and enjoy it, but it’s not what the creator had envisioned for it. Thanks again for sympathizing, and I’m sure I will return again some day!
I was grouchy and cynical about Avatarland for years since I wasn’t too crazy about the movie, however the setting of Pandora was absolutely cool and it looks like Disney nailed it.
So I saw that there’s a rumor that the Universe of Energy is going to be replaced with a Guardians of the Galaxy ride. Seems like that’s a long ways away from the original intent of future world. At leaat Avatar land somewhat fits with Animal Kingdom. What do you guys think?