Within the last two and a half years, Walt Disney World opened two of the most immersive theme park lands in the (real) world: Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Both lands are stunning feats of technology, landscaping, artwork, and cuisine — fully immersing you into (different) planets light-years away.
But if we had to choose, which is on top? It’s gonna be tough to decide but we’re going to look at these incredible lands category by category and see if we can determine a winner.
The Land Itself
When walking into both Galaxy’s Edge and Pandora, you instantly forget you’re in a Disney park. You have been transported millions of miles away. From the sights to the sounds, you’re truly in another world.
Both lands set the stage as you initially walk in. As you enter Pandora, you’ll start to hear the sounds of otherworldly creatures and insects, as the greenery and landscape around you changes to unfamiliar and strange looking fauna.
As you enter Batuu (the planet name of Galaxy’s Edge), you’ll spot various starships such as X-wings as you hear them powering up and soaring around you. You may spot a Stormtrooper or Chewbacca wander past.
As you continue deeper into both lands, you’ll come across their landmarks. Pandora’s floating mountains…
…and Batuu’s Millennium Falcon (and titular spires).
Both are so overwhelming in scale and detail — it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite.
Pandora at night illuminates as you walk through the bio-luminescent forest, making it a view even more stunning than in the day.
And part of Galaxy’s Edge’s appeal is the purposefully unmarked doors, causing you to wander into shops where you may find old Jedi lightsabers, taxidermied creatures, or droid parts.
We will say, if you’ve never seen Star Wars, Pandora is likely the more visually impressive land. Those floating mountains are true Disney magic. But if you’ve spent the last 40 years wanting to lay eyes on the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, your jaw will drop upon your first look. The amount of detail in Galaxy’s Edge is second to none.
When push comes to shove, the land that impresses the most upon first glance (no matter how many times we’ve been there) and has more universal appeal is Pandora, so we’re giving it the slight edge here.
Quick Service Restaurant
When traveling to planets in other galaxies, you wouldn’t expect to find the same cuisine we eat here on Earth. And you don’t — both lands deliver on unique and interesting food and beverages that continue to enhance the story.
Satu’li Canteen in Pandora is one of our all-time favorite quick service spots in Walt Disney World. The creativity and uniqueness of the menu make it a must-visit — we love the Cheeseburger Pods and create-your-own-bowls.
When comparing apples to apples (or Quick Service to Quick Service rather), Galaxy’s Edge’s Docking Bay 7 is good but not great. While there are better than average items, such as the pot roast and the chicken, we wouldn’t travel to Batuu just to get these items. Whereas I’ve traveled to the Valley of Mo’ara specifically for a CYO bowl several times.
If you’re strictly comparing Quick Services, and excluding all other dining options, there’s a clear winner.
The Rest of the Food and Beverage
When looking at snacks and drinks beyond the main dining establishment, Pandora is a bit more limited than Batuu.
At Pongu Pongu, the main snack stand, you’ll find a small but mighty menu. Each of the eats and drinks have been carefully chosen to compliment the environment. We love the Pongu Lumpa, a cream cheese and pineapple filled egg roll, as well as the Night Blossom, which is a gorgeous frozen beverage that can come with or without rum.
We also enjoy the beers on tap, which are brewed specifically for Pandora. The Hawkes Grog Ale is green in color and fruity in flavor, making it one of our favorite beers on property.
Beyond the offerings at Pongu Pongu, you can visit the ice cream carts for a Pandora-only treat.
You’ll spot some universal options, but take note of the Fruits of Mo’ara bar which can only be enjoyed in Pandora.
Meanwhile over in Batuu, there are several additional food and drink offerings throughout the land.
The Milk Stand serves up the iconic blue and green milks from A New Hope and The Last Jedi in both regular and “grown-up” versions. They are plant-based milks with various fruit flavors (plus either rum or tequila for the grown ups), and while they are fun, the milks aren’t our favorite beverage in the galaxy far, far away.
If you want to talk favorites, the entire team voted the Ronto Wrap our favorite thing on Batuu. This delightful grilled sausage comes wrapped in a grilled pita, and topped with slaw and a creamy peppercorn sauce. You can pick it up at Ronto Roasters — and honestly, we recommend it over anything in Docking Bay 7.
The Outpost Mix, another galactic exclusive, can be found next door at Kat Saka’s Kettle. This sweet and spicy popcorn blend has divided our team — you either love it or hate it. (Personally, I love it and consume it every time I go to Batuu.)
As you can see, Galaxy’s Edge has more physical locations to get snacks, however each location serves one or two specialties, meaning it really doesn’t overpower Pandora as much as you’d initially think. At this point, the two would probably be tied again, but there’s one additional location in Batuu that tips the scale:
Oga’s Cantina is the local watering hole and one of our favorite things about Galaxy’s Edge. While the food options are limited (and not great), the specialty cocktails put it over the top. Sip on a Fuzzy Tauntaun or Jedi Mind Trick and listen to the beats of DJ-R3X, and suddenly you’ll feel your troubles melting away (and in the case of a Fuzzy Tauntaun, you’ll feel your mouth get numb because of the special foam.)
Oga’s Cantina is a delight, and truly one of the best parts of any land in Disney World. It’s certainly the most immersive lounge on property — and likely one of the few places that non-Star Wars fans will still enjoy immensely.
Thanks to Oga’s, we gotta tip this one to Galaxy’s Edge.
Verdict: Galaxy’s Edge.
It’s getting dicey now. And while both lands are known for their headliner attractions (keep reading!), there’s a backup singer on both planets as well. But which is better — Na’vi River Journey or Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run?
Na’vi River Journey is a boat-ride through the bio-luminescent forest. It’s a visually stunning attraction and ends with one of the most impressive audio-animatronics in Disney history. Along the river, you’ll spot exotic creatures all around you, beautiful lights and color effects, and the Na’vi themselves.
The Shaman of Song is worth a ride alone — it’s giant and so realistic you’ll swear she’s really looking at you.
However, it is a slow moving attraction, one that might bore the teens and thrill seekers in your party. It also racks up an impressively long wait at times, one that we don’t necessarily think is worth it. Na’vi River Journey does get bonus points for having FastPass+ and no height requirement, which is something that can’t be said for Smugglers Run. It’s nice there is an attraction the whole family can enjoy together.
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is a dream come true for anyone who’s ever wanted to go inside the ship that made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. You’ll step aboard and feel as though you’ve been transported into the films — with iconic set pieces such as the cockpit, chess board, and wall where Han and Leia first kiss.
There’s a pretty darn impressive animatronic to be found here as well — Hondo Ohnaka. He’s the mastermind behind your adventure, as he needs you to transport some contraband (I mean, cargo) that will help out the Resistance. Hondo greets you before you board the ship, and while not the scale of the Shaman, it’s another incredibly realistic animatronic that you may find yourself waving at. (Just me?)
The actual ride portion of Smugglers Run puts you into one of three positions — gunner, engineer, or pilot. This is where the ride gets a little tricky, as it’s clearly more fun to be the pilot than the engineer. (You can ask to be the pilot if you’re in the standby line, but this could increase your wait. Also, there’s only two at a time and if you’re a bigger party, that still means not everyone can be pilot.)
While fun, Smugglers Run isn’t exactly groundbreaking — it’s basically like Star Tours and MISSION: Space had a baby. And if you’re not a Star Wars person, it may not be worth a lengthy queue considering the thrill of seeing the Chess Room won’t be there. Na’vi River Journey is gorgeous no matter if you’re a big Avatar fan or not, thus making it possibly more universally appealing.
Ultimately though, we’d still rather fly through space with Chewie than sail through a forest with the Na’vi. While neither is a bad attraction by any means, there’s just something really exciting about making the jump to lightspeed in our favorite bucket of bolts.
Verdict: Galaxy’s Edge.
And now for the big one….
When Flight of Passage opened, it was hands-down the most technologically brilliant and popular attraction at Walt Disney World. It still maintains one of the longest queues and is the hardest FastPass to book* — but does it hold up when compared to Rise of the Resistance?
(*Note: at the current time, Rise of the Resistance doesn’t offer FastPass, and is only accepting passengers via Virtual Boarding Group.)
Flight of Passage puts you on the back of a banshee and takes flight over the Valley of Mo’ara. You’ll come face to face with native creatures and feel the wind in your face and your banshee breathing beneath you. The attraction is a 3-D simulator, but it feels like so much more.
Flight of Passage is incredibly beautiful — I’m not embarrassed to say I teared up the first time I flew. It’s easily the most immersive simulator in Walt Disney World, blowing even Millennium Falcon out of the water.
Like most of Pandora, you don’t have to be an avid Avatar fan to understand or enjoy the attraction. In fact, I’d argue most people aren’t diehard fans of the movie, and Flight of Passage is still incredible no matter who you are.
Rise of the Resistance is one of the longest and easily the most immersive attraction in Walt Disney World. It’s complex and overwhelming in scale, with multiple ride systems and technologies coming together.
The story is simple — you’ve been recruited to the Resistance and are being transported to a safe place when your ship is captured by the First Order. You’re begged not to give away the Rebel Base’s location as you prepare to disembark on Kylo Ren’s ship, and chaos ensues from there. May the Force Be With You…
Each section of the story outdoes the last — first you’re impressed by Rey’s hologram in the pre-show (and fawning over an appearance from Poe), and then you’re delighted by the animatronics and flight simulating effects of the transport ship. But when those doors open to reveal the First Order Hangar, well… it’s just about the most jaw dropping thing you’ll see on a Disney attraction.
Dozens of Stormtroopers stand at attention while ships pass by out of the giant window. Tie Fighters are docked and (real) guards yell at you that you’re headed to interrogation.
We don’t want to give away the entire plot and all of the surprises of the new attraction here, but the rest of it involves several more scenes, a new ride vehicle, and the blending of new and old technologies to create a one of a kind, incredibly immersive, I am definitely really on a Starship experience.
But still, does it beat Flight of Passage? Is it a winner if you don’t care one ewok about Princess Leia?
Our answer? Yes.
While we love Flight of Passage, and still wouldn’t blame anyone for picking it over Rise, it’s still a simulator. Most of our team still picks a physically moving attraction over a screen, no matter how good the screen.
Rise of the Resistance is in a league of its own. It’s the new gold standard for attractions. It’s basically impossible to compare it to anything else, because as a whole, there is nothing else like it.
Verdict: Galaxy’s Edge.
WINNER: GALAXY’S EDGE.
When it comes down to it, Galaxy’s Edge takes you to a far, far away place in a way no other land does. Even if you’re not a die-hard Star Wars person, you’ll be blown away by the scale, the detail, and the attractions. You may not spend $200 on a light saber, but we think you’ll still be impressed and enjoy yourself — especially if you find yourself in Oga’s Cantina or boarding Rise of the Resistance.
That said, Pandora is visually one of the most gorgeous lands in any Disney park, thanks to the floating mountains and incredible landscape. Just being there feels other worldly, with a Banshee flight and Pongu Lumpia being cherries on top. It’s more universally appealing than Star Wars, because Avatar doesn’t have as intense of a following, thus putting most guests on even ground.
At the end of the day, both lands are brilliant feats of technology, creativity, and Imagineering. They both bring far away places to life, and transport you millions of miles away. The headliner attractions are state of the art, and well worth the titles of Disney’s more impressive and popular attractions. There’s really no wrong choice, and we look forward to each visit to Pandora and Batuu.
Which of these lands if your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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