by Kendall Foreman
For decades, innumerable travelers have crisscrossed the American landscape dedicating themselves to discovering, investigating, experiencing and enjoying American Historical landmarks, national parks, institutes, and museums, etc. Without question, a list of the most popular destinations would include Independence Hall, the Smithsonian Institute, the Liberty Bell, the Gettysburg Battlefield, and or countless other notable historical sites scattered across this great land. If asked, many American history buffs would explain that their travels are driven by a profound desire to learn about and from America’s past as well as support the ongoing preservation of its history. They would likely state that nothing compares to the extraordinary experience of seeing this nation’s many landmarks firsthand, that being in the presence of rare historical documents and artifacts is awe-inspiring, and that observing painstakingly replicated settings is breathtaking. Certainly, these historical sites and items reveal much about this country’s culture and heritage. Nevertheless, an American history buff need not doubt the potential for an American-History experience at Walt Disney World Resort. In typical Disney fashion, Imagineers have masterfully conveyed great respect for history throughout the property via historical artifacts, authentic re-creations, and learning opportunities. Indeed, there is “More to the World for an American History Buff” who is willing to crisscross WDW to experience it.
Included with Admission
Walt Disney did not set out to be a teacher; yet, it was his hope, that through entertainment, guests would learn while visiting WDW. Imagineers continue that philosophy to this day via attractions with history based themes. No overview of American history being presented at Walt Disney World would be complete without specific mention of the Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents. The main attraction consists of an emotionally inspiring 25-minute show detailing the history of America from its birth to the present. The show also includes audio-animatronic figures in the likeness of each of the 43 U.S. presidents. In the pre-show waiting area, known as the rotunda, an American history buff will have the opportunity to learn about and observe some fascinating historical photos, facts and items. Visitors may notice the Official Presidential Seal woven into the front rotunda carpet. Other than in the White House itself, it is the only additional authorized carpet depiction of the seal in existence. Presidential artifacts line the walls and fill the cases within the rotunda. Among the items on display are George Washington’s coffee cup, Woodrow Wilson’s golf club, John Adams’ family seal and coat buttons, and several dresses that once belonged to America’s First Ladies.
Upon exiting the attraction, guests find themselves figuratively in colonial America, or literally in Liberty Square. Historical details abound in this part of the Magic Kingdom. Guests will notice a replica of the Liberty Bell that was actually cast from the original mold, which was destroyed following this second casting. Circling the bell are 13 flags representing each of the 13 original colonies. Nearby, just outside the Liberty Tree Tavern, stands the Liberty Tree with 13 lanterns hanging from its boughs. In the days before the American Revolution, when assembling and dissenting posed great danger for colonists, such trees were designated as meeting places to protest British rule and thus were called “Liberty Trees”. The observant guest outside the tavern will spot two lanterns signaling that the British are coming by sea. The shutters that flank that window and the others on the Liberty Tree Tavern are held in place by what appears to be leather straps, which have stretched resulting in the shutters actually tilting the way they would have way back in the day. Such attention to detail reveals Disney’s commitment to realism.
While Liberty Square is an obvious stop for any American history buff, a trip to Tomorrowland and Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is also a must. Designed for the 1964 World’s Fair, it is an attraction that not only depicts history; it played a part in it. Historically accurate, the Carousel of Progress reveals a fictional, typical American family as they experience the technological advances—the advent of electricity, air-conditioning, refrigeration and many other modern conveniences—of the 20th century. To date, it holds the record for being the longest running stage show in American history. It has been said by many that the Carousel of Progress was Walt Disney’s favorite attraction and that he was quite eager and proud to present it at the World’s Fair. Those who miss this ride will be missing out on a part of Disney, American, and World history.
The history of mankind’s innovative spirit is presented in Epcot’s Spaceship Earth located in Future World. This attraction features the depiction of the leaps humanity has made in communication since the dawn of time. Since America’s part in that advancement has taken place during modern history, it is included in the mid to later portion of the attraction/ride. Important events such as the moon landing and the advent of the personal computer can be seen for the milestones they were during their respective advents.
For an attraction focused solely on America, guests need only walk from Epcot’s Future World to its World Showcase where the American Adventure pavilion is located. There Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain (both audio- animatronics) host the 26-minute American Adventure Show depicting—through film and additional audio-animatronic characters—the trials and successes that bolstered the American spirit. This presentation begins with the pilgrims and moves through American history to the present. As with the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom, the rotunda of this attraction should not be overlooked. A quick check of the Times Guide will alert guests to when the Voices of Liberty will be singing under the beautiful, expertly acoustical central dome of the rotunda. This a cappella group—which is appropriately dressed in Colonial-era attire—performs traditional songs from American history such as This Land is Your Land and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Voices of Liberty create some of the best close harmonies many will ever hear. For that reason, the group should be considered an attraction in its own right. The American Heritage Gallery is situated on the left side of the rotunda, and is often-overlooked. The gallery features exhibits on a rotating basis and is currently showcasing the privately owned collection “Re-discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection”. This extraordinary exhibit shares centuries of African-American contributions and accomplishments.
Walt Disney World not only celebrates American history through its attractions, architecture, artifacts and re-creations, it has also played a part in presidential history:
- 1973: President Richard M. Nixon holds a press conference in the Contemporary Resort ballroom and gives his now infamous “I am not a crook” speech.
- 1978: President Jimmy Carter attends the opening session of the 26th World Congress of the International Chamber of Commerce at the Magic Kingdom.
- 1985: President Ronald Reagan holds his second-term inaugural celebration at Epcot.
- 1991: President George H. W. Bush holds his first Points of Light ceremony honoring outstanding American volunteers at the American Gardens Theater at Epcot. (This honor continues today with the 5000th Point of Light recently being recognized on July 15, 2013 at the White House.)
- 2012: President Barack Obama gives a speech on U.S. travel and tourism live from Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom.
Where to Stay
Celebrating America’s expansion and the long, arduous journey into the Great Northwest, the Wilderness Lodge, which is situated near the Magic Kingdom, stands as a beautiful reminder of the grandeur and majesty that awaited those who had the courage to venture westward through the untamed wilderness. From the moment guests enter the lakeside Lodge’s grand lobby, they are awe-inspired and can sense the history of American exploration. Opportunities to learn about the land and people of the Northwest are abundant. In the lobby and various locations throughout the resort, Native American artifacts and re-creations can be observed including items from the Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux and Blackfoot such as moccasins, headdress, painted robes, and drums. The time of national exploration can be studied in the maps from Western survey teams or through sketches and watercolors by Karl Bodmer and George Catlin. These 19th century artists traveled with expeditions west in order to depict the towns, rivers, mountains and tribes. History is present in almost every detail of the resort. Even the lobby fireplace tells of the ancient geological history of the Grand Canyon. The layers of the fireplace rock depict the stress that the canyon has undergone through centuries of evolution. On every floor of the lobby interior, displays can be found that discuss the period of time which that rock section represents. The fourth floor display features some especially interesting Paleozoic fossilized remains of prehistoric plant and animal life. For an in-depth look at aforementioned exhibits and much more, guests can participate in the free The Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge Tour which begins at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. This tour begins in the lobby in the front of the fireplace, is led by a cast member tour guide, and lasts approximately one hour. (Note: Open to everyone, participants need not be guests of the Wilderness Lodge Resort to enjoy this tour.)
Where to Eat
The Liberty Tree Tavern located in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom is the obvious choice for the American History Buff. This revolutionary era table-service dining location is so authentic that patrons may actually feel they have been transported back to the founding of our nation for a hearty meal offered in a traditional setting reflective of colonial living and dining. The mood of the restaurant is set by the warm period authentic lighting that beautifully accentuates the rich, old-world wood trim, beams and furniture. The servers are dressed in colonial attire, which adds to the realism. The dining room is somewhat divided into six architecturally unique, themed sections reflecting an iconic Colonial-American figure such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross or George Washington. The observant guest will discover documents and artifacts representative of the individual to whom the space is dedicated. Guests could frequent the tavern several times and still miss some of the museum quality items on display. From architecture and décor to costuming and classic American food, the attention to detail is astonishing. If the opportunity presents itself to step back in time to the revolutionary era of 1776 via the Liberty Tree Tavern, stroll on in and enjoy an authentic meal with all the comforts of a colonial home.
Throughout history, dreams of a new life have called individuals from every country around the globe to America’s shores. If one looks far back enough, nearly every American can trace his or her lineage to somewhere else in the world. In most cases, one’s nation of origin plays an important role in the meaning of his or her name. For over 200 years, The Historical Research Center’s late founder followed by generations of his family, has been helping people to discover the history of their surname, its meaning and country of origin. Walt Disney World is fortunate enough to have two branch locations of the Historical Research Center on property. One is in the Heritage House at Liberty Square located in the Magic Kingdom; meanwhile, the other is in The Crown & Crest in the United Kingdom Pavilion in Epcot. At either location, individuals can speak with a Historical Research Center Representative who will assist them in locating their surname and family crest. Each crest depicts virtues of the family and gives a pictorial explanation of why the crest was bestowed upon them. Once the correct surname and country of origin have been located, guests can purchase a wide variety of items. Options range from the most popular “Framed Celebration History”, which is a high-quality print of the family’s crest and its meaning, all the way up to a “Hand Painted Cooper Wall Shield”, which is a hand-crafted metal crest mounted on a wood shield. Items range in price from approximately $30 to several hundred depending on the chosen option. Regardless of the item selected for purchase, learning the origin, history and meaning of one’s surname just might be the ultimate souvenir for an American History Buff.
Without question, a vacation to WDW cannot compare to the extraordinary experience of seeing this nation’s many landmarks firsthand and standing in the presence of rare historical documents and artifacts that have been pivotal to our nation’s history. Nevertheless, as long as he or she is willing to go in search of American history at Walt Disney World Resort, an American history buff need not doubt the potential for a great experience where immense respect for the people, places and things that have made America great are exhibited daily.
Where have you experienced American history at Walt Disney World? What have you learned about our country while enjoying the parks and resorts?
Kendall began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband. As a child, she and her family filled vacations with challenges such as “How many times can we ride Splash Mountain during SpectroMagic and the fireworks?” (Answer: 7) Now, after marrying a converted Disney skeptic, she and her husband enjoy challenges such as “How many hours can we eat nonstop at the Food & Wine Festival?” (Answer: 4)