This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a Salute to All Nations (But Mostly America). July 4th weekend brings out the patriotism in all of us, and nothing is more American than our favorite theme parks. Created with the opening of Disneyland in 1955, theme parks — along with comic books and jazz music — are one of the rare forms of art that we in the USA have given to the citizens of Earth. Thankfully, they are all so good that the world forgives us for everything else we’ve given them such as Zima, reality television, and the KFC Double Down. So raise Old Glory up to full staff, put Real American on the CD player, and let’s dive into some theme park American goodness!
# 6 – Voices of Liberty (Epcot)
Located at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, the Voices of Liberty are an 8 person a cappella group that will have your heart swelling with pride as they belt out some of the most well known songs paying tribute to our country’s rich history. The playlist includes: “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This is My Country,” “You Raise Me Up,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
# 5 – “Toy” Army Men (Disney Hollywood Studios)
Growing up in America, one of the rites of passage for many young boys (and girls) is playing with toy army men. Making the list of Time’s 100 best toys, toy army men were ubiquitous in the bedrooms and sandboxes of our childhood. Small, inarticulate, and lacking any accessories, the one thing toy army men did have was the ability to spark imagination. In a world where a pillow becomes a dangerous mountain battlefield and windowsills are the jump off point for paratroopers, toy army men have fought – and remain undefeated in – billions of historic battles in our hearts and minds.
For many of us, toy army men are our first connection of any sort with the US military. These cheap two inch figures plant a seed in our mind of what the brave men and women of our military do to ensure that we have the luxury of being able to leave dozens of them lying on living rooms floors for adults to step on with bare feet.
When Toy Story came out in 1995, toy army men were used in a great scene at the beginning of the film to do surveillance work on Andy’s birthday presents. The scene worked so well because most of us had done similar covert missions with our “bucket of soldiers” growing up. While Buzz Lightyear and Woody may get the longer lines at meet and greets, for this July 4th weekend we are going to stand at attention for the Army Man at Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Pixar Place.
# 4 – Electrical Water Pagent (Walt Disney World)
One of our favorite parades is the incredible Electrical Water Pageant that takes place along Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. We’re not sure what is more amazing: a parade taking place in a lagoon or the fact that it has been doing so in various incarnations for over 40 years! We all have our favorite floats (our personal favorite is King Neptune and the four seahorses), but the parade ends with the floats turning into American flags along with red, white, and blue stars while patriotic music plays. Now that’s how you end a show!
# 3 – Liberty Square Riverboat (Magic Kingdom)
An often overlooked attraction at the Magic Kingdom, the Liberty Square Riverboat takes guests around the Rivers of America in a uniquely American form of transportation, the steam-driven riverboat. With narration by Mark Twain, the Liberty Belle is a 17 minute voyage that – like the Walt Disney Railroad – takes guests past several sites they cannot see while touring the park by foot. With four decks to explore, a relaxing jaunt on the Liberty Belle could be just what the doctor order as you try to navigate the congested streets of Liberty Square.
# 2 – USA Themed Fireworks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
No one does fireworks better than Disney, but to celebrate American even Disney takes its normal show up to an “11.” Our favorite is at Magic Kingdom, as not only are the outrageous fireworks lighting up the sky with a rousing score, but patriotic displays are also projected onto Cinderella Castle. The sheer over-the-topness of it all screams AMERICA and is an experience no one else in the world offers.
# 1 – Main Street USA (Magic Kingdom)
Nothing is more American than Main Street, U.S.A., in the Magic Kingdom. Nothing. You could take a picture of a bald eagle eating an apple pie on the top of Mt. Rushmore, and it still wouldn’t evoke the Americana feelings that come when Main Street, U.S.A., reveals itself as you walk under the Walt Disney World Railroad and into the Magic Kingdom. Main Street, U.S.A., sets the tone of your park day, as guests are transported to a different time and place, one in which you can leave your real world worries at the front gates.
A turn of the century small town American street should feel antiquated, but, all things considered, when you take the buildings (both inside and out), the period-authentic vehicles, the streetmosphere, the background music, the parades, and all the “little things” (such as the iconic Mickey balloons), Main Street, U.S.A., is a wonderfully immersive experience that all the theme park lands built afterwards have a hard time competing with. It draws us in without the lure of an E-Ticket attraction or a big movie tie-in and is a reminder of the visionary that Walt Disney was. Main Street, U.S.A., is a slice of America history that most of us today never experienced, but it feels as real as the streets we return to when we come home from vacation.
So there you have it: a SATURDAY SIX Salute to All Nations (But Mostly America.) See you next weekend for the latest edition of the Saturday Six, where we are going to look at the new Hogwarts Express attraction at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Yes, the first attraction in the HISTORY of theme parks to go from one theme park to another. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to Mike Sperduto, Kendra Hayde, and crack staff photographer Brandon Glover for their assistance in this article. I highly recommend checking out Kendra’s Flickr account to see some absolutely gorgeous shots of the Walt Disney World parks.