Worth the Trip: Report From the Front

A scene from Avatar Flight of Passage, a 3-D thrilling adventure on Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. (Disney Handout)

You don’t have to be 11 to find new thrills at Disney

With peak summer vacation time over, slipping up to the world’s happiest place might be a slightly happier experience this season. Especially if you keep things focused. We had a chance to do just that and are here to report on the Disney highlights of our trip—which had a distinctly adult spin (although perfectly wonderful for real kids).

VOID AT DISNEY SPRINGS

Void at Disney Springs

We were novices at the notion of virtual or augmented reality. We were not gamers. Or XBoxers. We were two middle-aged women strapped into massive Teflon vests and headsets about to enter a spaceship. I am not kidding. Our small black room went dark, and I looked over, and Mary, my co-conspirator, was a stormtrooper. For real. As was I. That’s when the alien dropped in to tell us what our mission was, and a door slid open with a gangplank to a floating platform in deep space.

I am deathly afraid of heights, so this did not look doable. My knees buckled, but I made it out to the platform, into the rebel ship, and we were off. I will not spoil this for you, but I will say there are guns involved and a stormtrooper faceoff, Darth Vader and a sea monster or two. And it is maybe the most fun 10 to 15 minutes I have had in months, maybe years. Make a reservation and go. And may the force be with you.

SOARIN’ AROUND THE WORLD IN FUTURE WORLD AT EPCOT

This is your warm-up ride for the new blockbuster Pandora version, and it never gets old to sail around the world, from Everest to Africa (where you are thisclose to elephants) and beyond. Still inspiring, still jaw-droppingly beautiful.

FLIGHT OF PASSAGE AT PANDORA

The dramatic daytime beauty of Pandora transforms to glow by night when bioluminescent flora and intricate nighttime experiences come to life. (Photo by Preston Mack)

OK, strap on those FastPass bands (you’ll need them; the wait is epic otherwise) for this state-of-the-art Disney ride. Number one, Pandora itself is otherworldly and enchanting through the vegetation and detail alone. But the ride itself on the back of a banshee defies anything I’ve ever experienced (my companion said she thought they should have a support group after the ride just to process it). You straddle what seems like a chubby stationary bike, equipped with your assigned “Avatar” identity (the wait in line alone is entertaining as they get you ready), and then it gets dark and off you zoom into the 3D virtual world of a magical Pandora, swooping under tree limbs, through giant cascading waves, over floating mountains and clouds and lagoons and beasts and cliffs like a banshee unleashed. The banshee inhales and exhales as you ride, the wind blows in your face and it is one thrill a millisecond. Wow. That is all. Just wow.

OTHER THINGS WE LOVED

Characters in Flight balloon (Photo by David Roark)

The Yak and the Yeti in Asia in the Animal Kingdom at the base of Expedition Everest has a full-service sit-down bar (a rarity in these parts) and a great Nepalese/Asian-inspired menu. We loved the chicken tikka masala and the respite from strollers and humanity. And after zooming through Pandora, a pop can be helpful. Best to make reservations.

Staying at the new Villas at Fort Wilderness was the ultimate sweet escape from teeming parks, with a cozy Twin Peaks-in-Orlando vibe that starts with a soaring log lobby and massive fireplace (complete with rockers) and proceeds to a comfortable two-bedroom “villa” complete with kitchen area and living areas (it sleeps nine!) and a balcony overlooking the trees. The open-air lakefront Geyser Point Bar is a quiet, easy place to unwind. But we loved the civilized, cozy Territory Bar at the Artist Point restaurant (fabu!)  and the fun menu it offered. (Fondue? Charcuterie?)

The revamped Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs, a sprawling shopping, dining (great places, like Morimoto and STK) and entertainment district. The new VOID attraction is there (can we keep gushing about this?) as well as a whole new wing of great grown-up shopping from Kate Spade to Anthropologie, Johnny Was and more.

SPECIAL NOTE

Buzz Lightyear, Sheriff Woody and Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl in the new Toy Story Land. (Photo by David Roark)

Toy Story Land was not yet open when we visited, but this promises to be an exciting new “land” to explore, with everything oversized to a scale in which visitors become “toy sized,” a typical genius Disney move. Based on the newer features we’ve seen at Disney, I have no doubt this brand-new offering will blow us all away. Stay tuned.

 

 


This story comes from our September/October 2018 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.