Live updates: Pandora — The World of Avatar lures collectors at Disney – Orlando Sentinel

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It was this kind of opening day at Pandora – The World of Avatar: There were lines to get into other lines.

LONG lines to get into other long lines. The kind of lines you swear you will never step into.

“Is it really that great?” I heard a non-waiter ask while passing the crowd outside the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

It truly is kind of a mystery, the urge to be in the theme park for the first day of Avatar land. I mean it’s going to be there tomorrow and, like, forever. Right?

On the other hand, it has literally been years in the making. Disney first announced its plans in 2011, two years after the film directed by James Cameron appeared in theaters. And even though it made a zillion dollars or so in box office, the idea of a land devoted to it has been met with mutual who-cares kind of shrugs in the meantime. If there was an intention of timing the park’s opening to the release of a sequel, production delays for the latter left the former to do its own thing on a holiday weekend.

Lesson relearned: Don’t underestimate the Disney fan base, even when there’s no “Frozen” for miles.

FastPass strategies provide path past lines

Strategically timed FastPasses helped Molly Juba circumvent grand-opening lines: She entered Pandora – The World of Avatar at 9 a.m. and within a half-hour she was riding Flight of Passage.

“When we got through the FastPass line it was like, walk, walk, walk,” through the attraction’s long, winding queue in the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The simulator ride “made me feel a little queasy, but it was so well done,” said Juba, who lives in Franklin, Tenn.

She didn’t buy anything because the line was so long leading into the Windtraders store.

“That line looked like a three-hour wait for those stores,” she said.

But merchandise was the main reason that Robert Gerhart, an avid “Avatar” fan, came today.

He collects “unique Disney” items, so he purchased Pandora-related MagicBands, lanyards and pins, some of which were available today only.

The products he wanted were available in the Riverside Depot store near the Animal Kingdom entrance. So he didn’t have to wait in Pandora, which he had already experience during the passholder previews this month.

But he still had to queue up for his gear.

“We waited about 45 minutes,” he said.

Disney, of course, loves a crowd.

“Thanks to our dedicated cast members and talented Imagineers, we’re excited with the enthusiastic response we’re seeing from our guests who are enjoying the fun and immersive experiences of Pandora – The World of Avatar,” a Disney World spokeswoman said Saturday afternoon.

High marks for rides amid some of first in, out

Early arrivers were also along the first to leave Pandora – The World of Avatar on its opening day. Matthew Smith and his family traveled from Hershey, Pa., for a Florida vacation in a Disney World hotel. Saturday is their last day in town.

“We stayed long enough to be able to get in for the first day” of the new land, he said.

They left their hotel at 5:40 a.m. and took Disney transportation to Animal Kingdom. They were done with Pandora by 10:30 a.m. and began exploring the rest of the theme park.

While on Pandora they rode both rides and bought souvenirs, including two miniature banshees and “Avatar popcorn,” which has a blue tint.

Smith gave high marks to the Flight of Passage attraction.

“It’s the best ride I’ve seen so far at Disney,” he said.

Holly Malewicki also stayed in a Disney hotel, but had to wait about an hour to reach Pandora.

“The line was so wicked long,” she said.

She rode the Na’vi River Journey, which she called impressive, along with the rest of the land.

“I like ‘Avatar’ a lot, so I thought it was worth it,” said Malewicki, who is a passholder who lives in Jacksonville.

But she opted not to get in the four-hour queue for Flight of Passage and instead headed for the rest of Animal Kingdom.

“I felt like since it was so crowded it’s not as enjoyable,” she said. “You can’t really stop and look at things because everyone is moving past.”

Meet brains behind Disney’s new Pandora, Guardians of the Galaxy features »

At least one early bird doesn’t get worm

Keeli Garza made reservations in a Disney World hotel with the intention of taking advantage of the Extra Magic Hours benefit, which would get her into Pandora — The World of Avatar an hour earlier than the general public.

But when she and a friend arrived at 7 a.m., folks were already being held back from Pandora, which was at capacity.

Garza, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas — and had never seen “Avatar” — said a guest-relations worker told her that people had lined up outside Animal Kingdom as early as 1 a.m. Saturday.

Garza opted to ride the Expedition Everest roller coaster, which had no wait, and then check the queue to get into Pandora, which was said to be about 2 hours.

“The line was just crazy,” she said.

By midmorning, her group had switched to Plan B, including stops at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the new “Happily Ever After” fireworks at Magic Kingdom.

Then they’d check back at Pandora, where as hotel guests they could be able to use the late-night Extra Magic Hours, which tonight run from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. (The park closes at 11 for regular guests.) Or they might just wait until Sunday, when they have FastPasses for the Flight of Passage ride.

“I worked at Disney in the ’90s and I’ve never been to an opening,” she said, opting for this one “just because it’s cool and it’s something different and it’s an experience. And it has been an experience for us.

“As we leave we’re going to find the person holding the panel that says ‘Pandora end of line’ and hope we can take a selfie with it.”

Opening draws grand attendance to Pandora

If you’ve been one of those folks who for five years have been saying “Who cares about Avatar?”, you need to come see the line to get into Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

On second thought, don’t. The queue right now, on the land’s official opening day, snakes out of the area, past the Tree of Life, back toward the park entrance, then doubles back toward Discovery Island.

Cast member estimates on the waiting time have already ranged from three to six hours just to set foot on Pandora.

That doesn’t count any line time for the two new rides, Flight of Passage and Na’Vi River Journey. Visitors who secured FastPasses to those rides weeks ago are allowed entry to Pandora in a separate line. Incoming guests were encouraged to try other Animal Kingdom experiences.

Of course, some people are joining in the line, usually with arms crossed or with smartphones in action. Others are abandoning ship and heading elsewhere, including other Disney World theme parks.

This throng comes after a few weeks of previews by employees and annual passholders. Pandora had its dedication ceremony Wednesday at Animal Kingdom, and there are no announced Avatar-based festivities for today.

Traffic began to build on road to park

Large crowds appeared early outside Disney’s Animal Kingdom for Saturday’s grand opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar, a new land within the theme park featuring new rides, food and an immersive environment based on the James Cameron film.

Traffic built between Interstate 4 and the park’s entrance, as well as at the bag-check. Ticketing lines moved much more quickly. Initial arrivals at the thick lines for bag checks to were told, “everyone will get in as normal once we get clearance.”

People without bags moved easily into Animal Kingdom. Disney limited early access to Pandora to FastPass holders. Pandora – The World of Avatar has been conducting a soft opening to passholders in recent days, often in two-hour windows per passholder.

People have been able to experience its showcase rides: a boat ride called Na’Vi River Journey, which takes place along a darkened path and culminates with singing animatronics; and the elevated Flight of Passage, which simulates a ride aboard flying banshees as seen in the film.

A sequel to “Avatar” has been in the works but delayed. Clearly that has not dampened the enthusiasm of parkgoers who are eager to see the real-life adaptation of the CGI film creation.

No to ceremonies, but yes to one-day merch

Pandora — The World of Avatar, a project that’s been years in the making, comes to fruition today at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.

The new land, inspired by the 2009 film “Avatar,” was announced by Walt Disney World in 2011, but Saturday marks its first official day of operation.

Disney has said there are no special ceremonies scheduled for today to mark the occasion. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The space, which once upon a time was the home of Camp Minnie-Mickey, has been previewed for weeks by Disney employees and annual passholders. So, one could argue, there could be less of an opening day crowd.

But, get serious. Disney fans love that first-official-day vibe. And on top of that, there’s some new one-day-only, limited edition Pandora-oriented merchandise for folks to look over.

Disney’s Pandora features two major rides: Flight of Passage, which simulates a ride aboard flying banshees as seen in the film, and Na’Vi River Journey, a dark boat ride that culminates with the shaman of songs (translation: a big blue animatronic).

Nearby are a gift shop called Windtraders, a beverage stop called Pongu Pongu and a restaurant called Satu’li Canteen, which is scheduled to be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

This is a developing story; check back for updates.

Got a news tip? dbevil@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5477; Twitter, @ThemeParks

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