I was traumatized earlier this year when I tried the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino, so when I saw that Disney’s new Pandora: The World of Avatar land had its own multi-colored neon beverage, I was wary. Yes, part of the fun of pretending to visit an alien world is seeing what its food and drinks are like, but the frozen “Night Blossom” — with its layers of purple and green, topped with orange boba balls — reminded me of a nightmare I was still trying to forget.
In the name of journalism, however, I faced my fear and decided to try it — and thankfully discovered the Pandora specialty was pretty good. According to the menu at the Pongu Pongu drink stand — that translates to “Party Party” in Na’vi — it’s made up of limeade, apple and pear flavors, with the passion fruit boba balls serving as the finishing touch. The Night Blossom offers the same kind of instant sugar rush that will be familiar to anyone that’s ever tried Butterbeer at Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, but it’s also a quick way to an instant brain freeze. When in the land of Floridian humidity, however, that proved to be a good thing.
Along with the Night Blossom, the Pongu Pongu stand offers a frozen strawberry “Mo’ara Margarita,” also garnished with boba balls, along with a green beer and a pineapple-and-cream-cheese spring roll. (In case you were wondering, Dasani water is also served on Pandora.)
The food and beverage options of the park represent a bit of a hedged bet when compared to the push towards full immersion that things like the floating mountains or the Flight of Passage ride offer. The main dining option is a place called the Satu’li Canteen, and aesthetically it fits. It’s built into the ruins of an old building left over from the days when the RDA mining company was trying to pull unobtanium from Pandora, and the interior feels like a place designed to accommodate the needs of space tourists.
But the menu itself is rather conventional. It’s based largely around build-it-yourself bowls featuring quinoa, vegetable salad, and a choice of proteins. The only exotic option that was available during a recent press day were the steamed “pods”, which certainly sound interesting — until you realize that they’re just bao buns, with cheeseburger and vegetable curry filling options.
Disney’s smart to play it a little safe
Talking to Robert Adams, executive chef at Walt Disney World, it’s clear that things like the Pandora menu are examples of the company trying to create an illusion while also making sure park guests don’t go hungry. Going all-in with crazy exotic foods is a great tactic if the goal is to help people think they’re actually on a different planet, but they’re pointless if nobody wants to try them. Not every guest is going to want to experiment with some bizarre menu item, but if you say “alien cheeseburger” — and the pods do taste just like cheeseburgers — you can get something that hopefully serves both needs.
That’s the test that Starbucks failed so spectacularly with the Unicorn Frappuccino — it was great for Instagram, terrible for your taste buds — so it’s easy to argue that Disney is wise in playing things safe here. Even the dessert options on Pandora are familiar, with a chocolate cake and blueberry cream cheese mousse on the menu. The latter item does come in bright blue and yellow, but that’s a meta-reference, with Adams noting that it evokes the original Avatar poster rather than some strange, alien food.
Of course, once the various Avatar sequels begin arriving in 2020, this could easily all change. If there are any indigenous food items mentioned in the sequels, I better be able to try them at Pandora — even if they do just taste like cheeseburgers.