What Makes Avatar: Flight of Passage So Immersive

A year in a half after opening, I finally made it on Avatar: Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I immediately asked myself, why did I wait so long? More than four million people have ridden Flight of Passage since its debut and it has been the top-rated ride in Walt Disney World in Disney’s guest surveys. And for good reason. I’ll try to explain what makes Avatar: Flight of Passage so immersive and such an amazing experience.


Riding Flight of Passage Without FastPass

Like I stated in my Slinky Dog Dash review, despite trying to get FP+ as early as I possibly could they were already completely gone. I would have to go the ole fashioned standby route. Luckily, I read some tips online the night before so I knew to get to the park much earlier than the posted 9am opening time.

We arrived at Animal Kingdom via resort bus at 7:45am. After standing around for a bit, the gates opened around 8:15. The crowds were all headed toward one destination. I’m not sure what time they actually began running the ride. Disney castmembers routed us almost all the way to Africa before looping back down to Pandora. Luckily, we were moving at a steady clip the entire time. I reached the proper entrance to the attraction at 8:40am. After going through the queue, all the pre-shows (10+ minutes), and ride, I finally reached the gift shop exit at around 9:20.

My advice: If you’re going to Animal Kingdom and don’t have a FastPass for Flight of Passage, plan to arrive more than an hour early.

flight of passage without fastpass

Spoiler Free Flight of Passage Thoughts

Having no interest in the Avatar film series, and not being impressed upon hearing that this was simply another flying theater/simulator/screen based ride, I really wasn’t paying attention during construction or opening of the ride. But lately I’ve been hearing more and more about how great it is, so my interest was piqued.

So what did I think?

I was blown away by this attraction and was literally speechless coming of the ride – because it’s not just a ride, it really is an experience.  I never wanted it to end. As it stands, it is well worth an hour or two wait. Easily the best flying theater/simulator attraction I’ve ever been on, but also one of the best, most immersive rides ever.

Do you need to have seen the Avatar movie recently to enjoy the attraction? No, if you’ve never seen the movie it will not take away anything from the ride. If the movie never even existed, Disney probably could have built the exact same attraction and it would be fine.


Spoiler Warning:

From this point on there will be spoilers about the ride mechanics and experience. I’ll answer questions like what does the Avatar ride look like, and is Flight of Passage like Soarin’?

How does Avatar: Flight of Passage Work?

I’m not going to get too much into the film. VFXVoice already has an outstanding article on how the film was made and the software used. I’m more interested in the mechanics. To understand what makes this experience so special and how the ride works, lets look at the design of the seats and their range of motion.

The “link chairs” have rider’s leaning forward while straddling the seat, rather than sitting back in a chair like almost every other theme park attraction you’re used to. The design of the seats make the experience feel much more active compared to other flying theaters like Soarin’ where ordinary theater style seats result in a more passive experience. The motorcycle riding position along with gripping the handle bars in front of you make you feel much more like you’re a part of the action, especially when combined with the 3D glasses. There was even a moment during the ride where I put my hands up in front of my face because my body was tricked into thinking we were going to run into a charging beast – that’s how real this experience is.

Restraints come up from behind and rest on your lower back and legs. Air bladders inside the chair inflate and deflate during the ride, giving the impression you’re really sitting on a living, breathing banshee.

avatar ride seats

As for the range of motion, the individual seats lean from side to side. The entire row of seats can tilt forwards and backwards. And the three stacked rows of seats move vertically up and down together. It’s this vertical motion that really sets Flight of Passage apart from other simulators or flying theaters, as the dropping sensation really helps sell the feeling of free-fall when your beast dives off of a cliff.

how does avatar ride work

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3f_P-mPIqo

To get a good idea of how the Avatar ride works, and what the seats look like, watch the 30 seconds of TheTimTracker’s video starting at the ten minute mark. Things to take note of:

  1. How to board the vehicle
  2. The vertical motion of the row of seats
  3. The individual seats leaning side to side
  4. The canopy rotating back down at the end of the ride
  5. The back restraint flipping down at the end

The next part of the equation that ends up resulting in one of the most immersive rides ever built is the 4D effects. Air is blown in your face. You’ll feel mist anytime you breeze by a waterfall or skirt near a wave. You’ll even smell the beautiful world of Pandora (and you can now take that smell home with you by purchasing a Banshee Flight candle).

Commonly Asked Questions about Avatar: Flight of Passage?

While standing in line and walking around the World I heard a lot of the same questions regarding this ride, so I’ll answer them here in a very unimaginative Q/A style:

Q: Is Flight of Passage worth the wait?

A: Yes, yes it is. It’s my favorite attraction in all of Walt Disney World (Tower of Terror now sitting at #2).

Q: Is Flight of Passage scary?

A: I don’t think so at all, but I’m probably not a good reference if you’re asking that question. If you think Soarin’ or Star Tours is scary, then yes, Flight of Passage will probably be scary to you.

There’s really only one moment during the film where there is conflict; the rest is just flying around. I suppose if you have a fear of heights it could be quit scary due to how real it feels.

Q: Is Flight of Passage good?

A: Understatement. It’s amazing. Watching a video of it on YouTube doesn’t do it justice either.

Q: Is the avatar ride a roller coaster?

A: Emphatic no. It’s a 3D flying theater simulator with 4D effects.

Q: What is the height requirement for Flight of Passage?

A: 44 inches

Q: Does the back restraint give you a massage during the ride?

A: No, but it should 😉

Q: How long does the avatar ride last?

A: The actual ride film itself is about 4.5 minutes long. But there are a good 10+ minutes of pre-shows, not to mention the amazing queue (we skipped the lab during my one and only ride).

Q: How much did the avatar ride cost?

A: Unknown. The entire land of Pandora is said to have cost half a billion dollars. There’s no way to know what percentage of that was spent on just the one ride.

Q: What’s the capacity of Flight of Passage?

A: Eight riders per row, six rows per theater, four theaters = 192 riders can be on the attraction at one time. If you cycle 192 people through every eight minutes (3.5 minutes for load and unload) then you’d hit 1,440 per hour.

Q: How does Flight of Passage compare to Soarin’?

A: It’s better in every way.

Q: How does Avatar and Pandora fit in Animal Kingdom?

A: It’s fine, never even crosses your mind when you’re in the park due to the beauty of the floating mountains and scenery. It fits better than that awful dinosaur carnival area. In fact, they do try to tie it into the world of animals. During the pre-shows they explain the banshees are keystone species, similar to tigers and other animals on our own planet.


The only thing keeping Flight of Passage from being a perfect ride is I don’t have any emotional attachment to this intellectual property (IP). If this had been Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Up, or any other number of IPs with their iconic soundtracks, I would have been bawling my eyes out. Still, I was surprised by how much I loved this attraction, and I think you will too.

Have you ridden Flight of Passage? Where do you rank it against other world class theme park attractions?

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