As we celebrate America today – it’s birth, independence, ideals, dreams, freedoms and people, I’m reminded that it is much more than fireworks in the sky during Wishes or Illuminations. Both in terms of what the day represents, and ways to celebrate America. And for those visiting Walt Disney World, there are many ways to celebrate, appreciate, experience and enjoy America inside the Disney Parks. So today, let’s look at our Top 10 Ways to Celebrate America and July 4 at Walt Disney World
- Enjoy a Hot Dog at Casey’s Corner of Main Street, USA – Nothing says summertime in America like a hot dog at the ballpark, and Casey’s Corner at the end of Main Street, USA. It is themed to an American baseball park, complete with bleachers, scoreboard, an antique coin-operated baseball game, authentic memorabilia, pennants, and a movie screen showing old Disney animated shorts starring Mickey and Goofy which focus on sports. And now with new, “designer” hot dogs like Barbecue Slaw and Chili Cheese, it’s an even better way to celebrate America’s national pastime.
- The American Adventure Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase – Celebrate America in this pavilion which features more than an awe-inspiring show that uses Audio-Animatronics, historic film footage and breathtaking music to honor extraordinary people and events in American history. Inside, the pavilion also features a majestic rotunda filled with numerous paintings and quotations from well-known Americans such as Walt Disney, Charles A. Lindbergh and many others. The Liberty Inn serves traditional American fare like burgers and BBQ and outside you can find turkey legs and funnel cakes. The Voices of Liberty a capella group harmonizes under the acoustically pure dome of the rotunda singing American classics. The Hall of Flags exhibit displays the different flags throughout U.S. history. Outside, The Spirit of America Fife and Drum Corps performs patriotic songs in traditional Colonial garb, and Heritage Manor Gifts offers handcrafted goods, Americana items such as replicas of historical documents like the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, as well as Voices of Liberty CDs.
- The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square – Liberty Square is the ultimate realization of Walt Disney’s dream to showcase the stories, history and dreams of the American people that never came to be in Disneyland’s “Liberty Street and Edison Square.” The Hall of Presidents is a 23-minute stage show features every American president, past and present, in a fascinating tribute that combines film, Audio-Animatronics characters and storytelling to honor their legacies. Each president is introduced on stage, and Presidents Washington and Obama deliver patriotic speeches (President Obama recorded his speech at the Oval Office in the While House). The opening film illuminates our country’s origins, the formation of our Constitution and the hard-fought struggles, including the Civil War before President Lincoln recites the Gettysburg Address. The Hall of Presidents is something that was originally envisioned by Walt Disney himself, but may even exceed his original vision.
- Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – What? Muppets? Of course! Why? Because As Sam the Eagle reminds us during the pre-show, “It’s a salute to all nations, but mostly America.” Not only that, be sure and check out Miss Piggy at the end of the film and as the centerpiece (of course) of the fountain in the Muppet*Vision plaza courtyard – she’s dressed like the Statue of Liberty!
- Main Street, USA – No other area of Walt Disney World or Disneyland embodies the spirit of America more so that Main Street, USA. Walt said of Disneyland’s Main Street that “Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century – the crossroads of an era. The gas lamps and the electric lamps, the horse drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone’s home town…the heartline of America.” Main Street, USA is meant to be sentimental, evocative, colorful and ideal, but was grounded in reality with the introduction of authentic props such as lamps from Boston and Philadelphia, and antiques found in store windows. And while it was meant to be symbolic and theatrical, yet inviting and practical for people to wander, shop and explore, it was important to Walt that his “town” in MSU would really reflect the American dreams and work ethics that helped build this great nation. And did you know that on Main Street, USA, EVERY day is July 4? That’s right – Notice the pennants (they aren’t flags or they would have to be taken down each evening) at the tops of the buildings that line the street.
- The Journey from Liberty Square Through Frontierland -Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom is replete with little details and significance in design and architecture. It is a land that is less about fantasy and more about reality in American history, both real and imagined, and was also built to fulfill one of Walt Disney’s fondest personal dreams. Walt had a great love and fascination for American history and often had impromptu discussions around the dinner table at home with his family where he read aloud parts of the Constitution. He was also honored throughout his life for his patriotism, including receiving an award from the American Legion for “for dramatizing to old and young alike the unique heritage of America.” And that patriotism bled through to his work, as in a 1957 interview about Disneyland, Walt stated: “There’s an American theme behind the whole park. I believe in emphasizing the story of what made America great and what will keep it great.” Walt Disney once said, in describing his plans for Disneyland’s Frontierland, “All of us have cause to be proud of our country’s history… Here you can return to frontier America, from the Revolutionary War era to the final taming of the great southwest.” Liberty Square takes you through the history of America on a three-dimensional stage, and is a journey through story of the Westward expansion of America east of the Mississippi river. Heading towards Frontierland, we are now on the verge of new century and the westward expansion, symbolically be crossing the Mississippi River and moving south and west to new adventures in Frontierland – through St. Louis in the early 1840s all the way to a ghost town in the late 1880s, after the gold rush boom of the time. Progressing from Liberty Square down the street into Frontierland, you are moving east to west… and west to east as you journey from Big Thunder Mountain towards Liberty Square. Remember that not only was there expansion from east to west during the 1800s, but also from west to east at the same time. So just as the Rivers of America joins Liberty Square and Frontierland, the Walt Disney World Railroad station in Frontierland represents the meeting of east and west with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. The architectural styles, building materials, and even the numbers on the buildings indicate the passage of time from the 1787 of the Hall of Presidents to the 1840s of the Diamond Horseshoe. Set in St. Louis, the “gateway to the west” played a prominent role in the westward expansion of the United States. But Frontierland also tells the story of America through folklore and “fakelore,” with stories of “Texas” John Slaughter, Pecos Bill, Tom Sawyer, Davy Crockett, Mark Twain and many others.
- Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress – Personally created by Walt Disney for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is a journey through time as we follow an American family (we never know exactly where they live) that continues to discover new technologies that make their lives more easy, comfortable and fun. The show takes place over a series of four Acts, four seasons, and four holidays, narrated by the father (John). The first act takes place during Valentine’s Day around the beginning of the 20th century. The second act take place on the 4th of July in the 1920s (most likely 1927, based on a Charles Lindbergh reference). The third act is set around Halloween in the 1940s, and the final act is on Christmas the time frame is set somewhere in the 1990’s. So much like Main Street, USA, it’s one of two places in the Magic Kingdom where it actually always IS the 4th of July!
- Dine at The Liberty Tree Tavern– “Past this gateway stirs a new nation waiting to be born. Thirteen separate colonies have banded together to declare their independence from the bonds of tyranny. It is a time when silversmiths put away their tools and march to the drums of a revolution, a time when gentlemen planters leave their farms to become generals, a time when tradesmen leave the safety of home to become heroes. Welcome to Liberty Square” That inscription is found on a plaque that marks the entrance to Liberty Square from the central hub in the Magic Kingdom. And the story of the Colonial village that is told in and throughout Liberty Square affords Guests the opportunity to experience and learn about life around the time of the American Revolution. Part of that experience can be found inside the Liberty Tree Tavern, atable service dining location which serves traditional American fare such as clam chowder, homestyle roast turkey and pot roast, as well as salads and sandwiches. The Tavern itself is patterned after 18th century colonial inns. Its windows are fashioned from handmade “seed glass” with visible bubbles that would be authentic for that time period. Each of its six dining areas features a unique fireplace and detailed artifacts and theming appropriate for and dedicated to an American patriot like the nautical items in the John Paul Jones room, the silversmith tools in Paul Revere’s room, Benjamin Franklin’s kite and keys, and countless others. The restaurant represents the type of early community hall, where colonists would gather to break bread together as they planted the seeds of a new nation. It’s a wonderful dining and learning experience full of wonderful detail and story, that is a classic Walt Disney World favorite.
- Daily Flag Retreat Ceremony in the Magic Kingdom- Each day Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom holds a Flag Retreat Ceremony in the center of Town Square on Main Street, USA. Taking place daily at 5:00 pm, it is a moving and patriotic event, which involves a color-guard lowering and folding the American Flag. Veterans are often invited to take part in the flag-retreat ceremony, and Guests can inquire at City Hall (I recommend going first thing in the morning) for more information or to see how you can be a part of it. You can also call Walt Disney World at 407-824-2222 and ask for Magic Kingdom City Hall. Tell them the date your or the veteran you know will be at Magic Kingdom and request them to be the Veteran of the Day (Please note that the selection process may be random at this time. Inquire at City Hall or by calling the hotline). At the end of the ceremony, the veteran receives a commemorative certificate and a special trading pin that says “Veteran” as well as a photo of the ceremony. I believe each and every Guest, whether they call America home or not, should see this moving ceremony, pay their respects to the flag and those in the military (all of whom I believe are all true heroes), and honor their service to our country.
- Explore! – Walt Disney World is meant to be savored. While I understand that many families and visitors have a limited amount of time and want to experience as many attractions and shows as possible, I also believe that the parks and resorts are meant to be meandered through, discovered, and enjoyed for the details and stories they possess. For me, the “attractions” aren’t necessarily things enumerated on a map. Instead, they include the storytelling elements that define and create the environments in which the attractions exist. And in terms of celebrating America and the 4th of July, there are countless ones to seek out. From the replica of the Liberty Bell in the center of the Court of Flags, to the Minuteman’s rifle and Paul Revere’s lanterns in the windows of the buildings, there is real history to be experienced. Reminding ourselves or educating our children of the stories of Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, Wild Bill Hickock or Johnny Appleseed in the props at Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe bring American folk tales to life. Authentic, rare articles that played a part of the daily lives of famous Americans, past and present, are showcased in “National Treasures” at the American Adventure Pavilion in Epcot. Abraham Lincoln’s hat, George Washington Carver’s microscope, Benjamin Franklin’s chair, Frederick Douglas’ writing instruments and Thomas Edison’s early kinetoscope are among some of the the showcased items, which are on loan from museums and private collections around the country, each providing a tangible link to the personalities of the people who owned them. In the rotunda of the Hall of Presidents is an attraction unto itself, so be sure to explore and enjoy all the wonderful Presidential portraits and artifacts from past Presidents, including Bill Clinton’s saxaphone, Lincoln’s inkwell used during the writing of his Inaugural address, and numerous other mementos from the Presidents and First Ladies. Look at dates on buildings, such as the year on the Hall of Presidents, and learn what they represent. See if you can find the Chinese Laundry facade in Frontierland, and piece together the significance of this small establishment. Find out who “Texas” John Slaughter was, and why he’s represented in Frontierland as well. Wander through the nooks and crannies of Main Street, USA and discover “…America at the turn of the century – the crossroads of an era. The gas lamps and the electric lamps, the horse drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone’s home town…the heartline of America…” – just as Walt Disney had envisioned it.
To learn more about the details, stories, history, hidden treasures and experiences of Walt Disney World, download the Audio Tours of Walt Disney World – my narrated, walking tour of the parks, complete with the ambient sounds of the lands and attractions to transport and immerse you in the exeprience! The first 6 lands of the Magic Kindgom are now available on the WDW Radio store.
To celebrate America (and July 4th), for a limited time I’m offering a 50% discount on your ENTIRE order! Just use code JULY4 at checkout!
So where and how do YOU like to celebrate America (or the 4th of July) in Walt Disney World? Leave your answer in the comments below