I am not a ride person.
Theme parks were never a huge part of my life — because of a tendency to get motion sickness — but my family did take one, happily-ever-after trip to Disney when I was around nine. I can't recall much of it, but it's always been lodged in my brain as one of the best family trips we took. So coming back for the previews of Disney World's new Pandora — the World of Avatar opening was a perfect time for me to reclaim some of those memories.
The Imagineers, those tasked with designing Disney's parks, thought of every detail, right down to the bioluminescent walkways that light up at night. The park has two new rides: the Na'Vi River Journey and Flights of Passage. The River Journey is a relaxed boat ride through scenes that will make you feel like you're right in the middle of the “Avatar” movie, but the Flight of Passage is an intense ride that takes you flying through the Hallelujah mountains.
Again, rides are not for me, but I decided to give it a fly. After all, Sigourney Weaver herself had ridden the attraction earlier that day, and the tiny chance that I shared a seat with her was what finally convinced me to hop on.
After saddling up into the bike-like seat, we were asked to put our flight goggles on while the lab “matched” our DNA to that of an Avatar. As the ride began, a wall in front of me lifted and suddenly I was soaring on the back of a banshee, clouds flying by and local wildlife screeching below. My eyes immediately watered — not because of the wind, but because of the sheer beauty of the scene in front of me. Never have I ever felt so transported in a matter of seconds. It was overwhelming.
The ride spans scenes of waterfalls, floating mountains, breaching marine animals (much like Earth's whales), the local Na'Vi people on a hunt, and even a flying predator. If you're prone to motion sickness, it's going to be a little bit of a struggle at points. (A Disney representative advised me to focus on the Na'Vi guide flying in front when I felt like I might be sick. It helped.) There was a mist of water as we dipped toward the ocean, the wind blew lightly by, and my seat slowly moved as though the banshee I was on was steadily breathing in and out. Upon landing (I won't give away any scene secrets), I could feel my banshee panting, attempting to catch its breath.
I ended the ride with a few tears streaming down my face — it was real in every sense of the term, except it wasn't. I quickly wiped them away before my Disney guide or anyone else on the ride noticed, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I wasn't the only one shedding some tears after being placed right inside Pandora for a few minutes.
Since I'm not a regular to rides, I may have just experienced my first moments of amusement park joy. But if they were going for my emotions — which they were, I later found out from a Walt Disney World Ambassador — they nailed it.
Editor's note: Disney provided travel and accommodations for this trip.