Celebrate the 4th of July with the American Adventure!

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday so I thought I’d take the opportunity to highlight one of my favorite WDW attractions for the occasion.  Why do I love the 4th so much?  Well, what is better than fireworks, barbecues, summer time weather (hopefully at one of your favorite vacation spots), and patriotism?  In my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than that.  So, what attraction would fit into all of the red, white, and blue festivities?  The American Adventure at Epcot, of course!

The American Adventure is the quintessential Epcot attraction since it is both educational and entertaining.  It highlights some of America’s finest moments with a brief history lesson.  Of course, there is no way to squeeze all of a country’s history into a show at Walt Disney World, but the imagineers (the folks responsible for the creation of all WDW attractions) have done an excellent job of discussing some of biggest moments in a way sure to make every American proud to be a part of our young country’s history by show’s end.    For the cynics who criticize the show for glossing over America’s more controversial moments, it is my contention that the atmosphere in Disney World is neither the time nor place to discuss events which have marred our history.  World Showcase is a place of celebration of history and culture, and the American Adventure should not be an exception to the norm.

The American Adventure can be found in the center of Epcot’s World Showcase where t has been placed in the center of all of the action as it is meant to act as host to all of the other countries.  The exterior was built with classic Georgian style in mind.  The architecture was heavily influenced by structures such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  At scheduled times throughout the day (check out your times guide) the Spirit of America Drum and Fife Corp will march and play for the crowd in the pavilion’s cobblestone court yard.  Kids are invited to march with the band and seeing them enjoying themselves always makes me smile.

Inside guests will find a rotunda which often plays host to the Voices of Liberty, one of my favorite acts around the World Showcase.  I highly recommend arriving to the attraction a bit early to hear this a cappella group sing; they have been known to move me to tears.  There are also paintings throughout this area as well as inspirational quotations painted on the wall to keep guests occupied between shows.  An exhibit at the far end changes from time to time and is currently home to National Treasures a collection of artifacts highlighting a who’s who of American history including one of Abraham Lincoln’s hats

But the main attraction in this pavilion is the American Adventure show.  Guests are invited to enter the theater on the second floor.  The stairs and escalators leading to the 1,000 person theater pass through the Hall of Flags which displays every flag ever flown over the United States.  There are flags of American territories as well as each version of the stars and stripes.  Once inside the theater statues representing different aspects of the American spirit line the walls.

When the curtain rises, the show is hosted by audio-animatronic figures of Ben Franklin and Mark Twain, two prominent figures in the American past.  They take the audience through a short and sweet version of our country’s history.  Film, music, and audio-animtronic figures are used to tell America’s story in a moving and inspiring way.  After and introduction from our hosts, the show begins with the pilgrims making the long and hard journey across the Atlantic.  Guests are then taken through the trying times which come with building a new nation such as the Revolution (an animatronic George Washington on a horse at Valley Forge is pretty impressive), a Civil War, and the Great Depression.  Other aspects of the American way of life, such as the ingenuity, industry, and Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation efforts, are also celebrated along the way.

My favorite part of the show comes at the finale.  At this point a photo montage of historical figures and moments plays on a large screen while a song called “Golden Dream” plays.  Some examples of these images include the first walk on the moon, President Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King.  In 2007 images were added to the finale to include more recent events.  I often sniffle through the montage and then it’s next to impossible for me to keep back the tears when photos of New York’s finest in the days after 9/11 appear on the screen.  If that segment of the show does not make  Americans feel proud of their country, I’m not sure what will.

If history isn’t your thing, you can at least appreciate the technology behind these figures.  At one point Ben Franklin walks up a flight of stairs and Mark Twain’s cigar actually smokes.  How cool is that?!  The space needed to house attraction is so large that imagineers needed to use reverse forced perspective to make the building look smaller and not overwhelm the World Showcase landscape.  Additionally, the show scenes are lifted into view of the audience with a vast and sophisticated hydraulic system.

Guests should be aware that the show is just shy of 30 minutes long, so plan accordingly.  The American Adventure generally runs continually throughout the day every half hour or so.  Like I suggested before, you will want to plan to arrive early so you can check out some of the performances in the pavilion and maybe check out the National Treasures exhibit.  Young kids may get antsy during the show since it’s a bit lengthy, but they may also take the opportunity to take a nap in the air conditioning.

Aside from my patriotism why do I love the American Adventure so much?  I spent a school year eating, sleeping and breathing it and the Hall of Presidents for my American Studies senior honors thesis in college.  I know more about this attraction than most people would say is healthy so I’ve put it to use in this post!  The American Adventure will always hold a special place in my Disney geek heart.  Although I am an American history buff and I know there is so much more to our nation’s past, I love this short version and I think it accomplishes its goals.  The audience would be held captive for hours if the imagineers attempted to tell the whole American story!

So now that you’ve read how much I love the American Adventure I’d love to hear what you think about it!  Let me know what you think of this stirring presentation.

Next week I’ll be taking the week off to enjoy the holiday weekend with family and friends, but then I’ll be back to discuss my favorite counter service restaurants throughout Disney property.  Have a wonderful holiday everyone!

Update: Disney has just posted on their official blog that one of the 4th of July offerings in Epcot will be appearances by Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross outside the American Adventure!  The Voices of Liberty will also be doing special expanded performances for the holiday.  You can check out all of WDW’s Independence Day offerings here.

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Kristen Helmstetter

Kristen Helmstetter is an Unofficial Guide researcher who will share her 20-something perspective of all things Walt Disney World with blog readers. Kristen’s email address is khelmstetter05@yahoo.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @khelmstetter.

10 thoughts on “Celebrate the 4th of July with the American Adventure!

  • June 30, 2010 at 9:34 am

    One of my absolute favorites – the music alone is worth the trip.

    One comment though:
    “For the cynics who criticize the show for glossing over America’s more controversial moments,”

    I’ve always taken exception to this conventional wisdom, because AA *doesn’t* gloss over these issues – yes, it covers a lot of history rapidly, but doesn’t leave out Slavery, the plight of Native Americans, Women’s Suffrage or about fifty other issues in the montage at the end. The fact that it’s a theme park attraction *and yet does not* skip these issues is what sets Disney apart from anyone else who would even try to attempt this.

    Can you imagine Six Flags or Universal attempting this? It’d be nothing but an “UP WITH THE USA! RAH RAH!!!” type show. Lots of ridiculously mindless over-the-top patriotism with no substance. It’s exactly the fact that AA *includes* the darker parts of our history that makes the good parts seem even better. But honestly, the very last speech at the end of the show (after the montage) gives me chills – it’s a beautifully balanced guardedly optimistic view of the future.

    “No dynamic people has ever survived success and leisure!”

    “I may have invented these bifocals but I can assure you they are not rose colored…”


    • June 30, 2010 at 9:53 am

      Wow, thanks for such a great comment, Brian! You make a good point that they do discuss a lot of those issues, but it’s quick and some things are left out. But like I said, how can they cover it all? They also focus on the positive outcomes of such issues (woohoo we overcame it!), but I think that’s the point of the whole show. It’s a celebration.

      I don’t think all folks think this is a rah rah America show, but there are some who think its too over the top patriotic. I’m not saying I agree, but based on the research I did for my thesis there are some nay-sayers.

      I, like you, think there is a good balance given what its setting. I think the point is to show that Americans have rose up over bad times to make our country great.

      As a student of history, I’m left wanting more, but I realize the restraints of time and setting. But I think part of Epcot’s purpose is to wet the appetite of people and make them want to learn more.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

  • June 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Hi Kristen – what a wonderful article! The past 2 years I seem to just pass by American Adventure not knowing much about it other then seeing the Fife and Drum Corp. However, after reading your article I can now say that when we visit in November over Thanksgiving…we will without a doubt see this show! Thanks so much for your insight!

    • June 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      Thanks, Lisa! I hope you and our family enjoy the American Adventure when you take the time to see it. I have to admit I don’t always take the time to see it on every trip. But when I do get the chance I am reminded of how much I love it.

      I love to point out things people might often skip. Since I get to go down to WDW several times a year I like to stop and smell the roses from time to time.

      Thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving trip!

  • July 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Kristen, please sometime share with us some of your “more about this attraction than most people would say is healthy”. I know those of us who are amateur WDW historical buffs would love to know more.

    I hope some day they will manage to fix the curtain in the attraction – you know, that wonderful effect early in the show where the picture changes its style as the curtain rises, but the effect is ruined because the curtain has been out-of-synch with the projected image for years? Such a little thing, but fixing it would add so much.

    • July 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm

      Sure I’d be happy to babble on about the attraction any time. If you ever get the chance to go on the Back Stage Magic tour the guides take guests behind the scenes at the American Adventure which was the best part of the whole thing for me.

      Come to a touringplans meet and I’ll talk your ear off about it!

  • July 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I love this show but I’m the only one in my family that does. This year for sure we’ll take it in. It has been awhile in fact I doubt my two youngest even remember it. have to try and hear the Voices of Liberty this time also.

    • July 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm

      I hope you can make it this time! The Voices of Liberty are a must for me on every trip, even when I skip the American Adventure. They are especially great at Christmas time. Have a great trip!

      • July 2, 2010 at 11:33 am

        Thanks for the Christmas tip! We are actually going in October and December. I’ll save them for December.

      • July 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm

        Oh good! Yes, they are amazing at Christmas. I’m going in October and December too! When are you heading down?

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