Five Things to Know About The Hall of Presidents
Since today is Presidents’ Day, it’s the perfect time to take a fresh look at an old favorite of many Walt Disney World visitors. Of course, we’re talking about The Hall of Presidents.
As I researched this article, I came to a sad conclusion: not everything you read online about the Hall of Presidents is true. Many of these incorrect statements are probably inadvertent, but I’m going to take this opportunity to correct the record. After all, especially on Presidents’ Day, I cannot tell a lie.Here are five things to know about this stirring attraction that has delighted audiences since 1971!
1. True: It’s pure Disney magic at its best.
After entering the building, you stand inside a large rotunda. Presidential portraits hang on the walls. Display cases filled with artifacts from former presidents and first ladies surround you. You can easily pass time waiting for the attraction to begin by reading and browsing the fascinating displays. (A personal fave is this one of Walt and Lincoln.)
When the doors open, you’re ushered into a 700-seat auditorium. The screen comes to life and you watch a stirring film highlighting key points in American history. Midway through the presentation, the Civil War erupts onscreen. An Audio Animatronic (AA) Abraham Lincoln appears on stage, stands, and recites the Gettysburg address. (Note: It’s totally ok if tears well up in your eyes or chills run down your back. It’s honestly quite moving.)
The film presentation resumes. Excerpts of significant presidential speeches are heard. Each highlights a critical event in the decades since World War II. At the conclusion of the film, the screen rises, and you see every American president, together, on one stage. One by one, they acknowledge their names as the roll is called.
George Washington (voiced by actor David Morse) stands and speaks. “My fellow citizens, no events could have filled me with greater anxieties than that notification on the 14th day of April 1789, that you had selected me to lead our nation. But it was with the confidence of my fellow citizens that I took an oath: 35 simple words that have been repeated by every American president throughout history.”
The Joe Biden AA at center stage then recites the presidential oath of office, specially recorded by him at the White House for use in the Hall of Presidents.
Our narrator (Joy Vandervort-Cobb) concludes, “The presidency of the United States is a role unique in the world, an office entrusted to each president by us – “we the people.”
The music swells, the lights come up, and the presentation is over.
1A. Bonus item that maybe was true at one time but isn’t now: “All presidents since Teddy Roosevelt (except George H. W. Bush) have small speaking roles in the show, either in the film or onstage.”
The Presidents who served between Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt do not speak at all during the current version of the presentation. Only the following presidents are represented with recorded excerpts. And all of these are since FDR’s presidency: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Missing from that same time period in the current presentation are Harry S. Truman, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Donald Trump.
2. Not true: The Seal on the atrium carpet is the Seal of the President of the United States.
Knowing this one detail will make you stand out from the crowd. There’s a large seal in the center of the rotunda carpet. It’s surrounded by a banister so guests can’t walk on it. You might think that since this is The Hall of Presidents, it’s a representation of the Presidential Seal. Many people have, and many have said so.
But it’s not.
Look a little more closely. You’ll see that the inscription around the seal reads, “the Great Seal of the United States.” While similar in design, the Seal of the President of the United States has some noticeable differences.
Why was the Great Seal of the United States used instead of the Presidential Seal? I like to think it’s because of Walt Disney’s idea for an attraction like this one. It’s stated at the very beginning of the presentation: “In 1971 his love for America inspired the creation of the Hall of Presidents: a place to celebrate the optimism and goodwill he saw at the heart of the American story. Walt’s vision was to honor the nation by honoring the American presidency.”
2A. Maybe true: It took an Act of Congress to display the seal at Walt Disney World.
Many websites discussing the Hall of Presidents assert that it required an Act of Congress for the Seal to be displayed here. (Some go so far as to say that it’s the only place outside of the Oval Office that it can appear.)
Turns out, this claim is hard to verify. Other researchers found that even a call to the Library of Congress failed to clear up the matter. Nor did a close reading of the laws relating to the use of the seal. So, while it may be true that Congress acted on this matter at some time, it’s very hard to substantiate the claim.
But for my way of thinking, this claim does add a note of uniqueness to the Hall of Presidents. So, we’ll just leave it here.
3. Not true: the building is a replica of Independence Hall.
I have to think this claim was made by someone who had never looked at Independence Hall or even visited Philadelphia. And then it got picked up by others to be repeated over and over and over again as if it were true.
The architectural style of the Hall of Presidents is meant to suggest Independence Hall in Philadelphia. But even a cursory look at images of both buildings makes it clear that it’s not an exact replica, as is often asserted. Independence Hall is much wider, and the entire front face of the building is flat — no covered portico as you see here.
Does this make the building any less wonderful? No, it does not. The structure stands as yet another testament to the creativity and attention to detail of Disney’s Imagineers.
It’s worth mentioning that around the corner from the main entrance of the building is a nice quiet portico underneath a balcony. It usually houses two white rockers and provides a wonderful place to sit and have a picture taken.
4. Not true: The date above the entrance is the year the Constitution of the United States was ratified.
The date on the pediment above the main doors is 1787. That’s a fact. But that was not the year the Constitution was ratified. 1787 is the year the Constitutional Congress convened. Out of that event, the Constitution was written and submitted to the 13 states for ratification. It was not ratified by the needed quorum of states until a year later in 1788. The last state to ratify didn’t sign until two years after that in 1790.
You might wonder why 1787 was chosen instead of 1776. The answer is that the Office of the President didn’t actually exist until the Constitution was written! And, after all, this is the Hall of Presidents.
Many people automatically assume that since George Washington was the first President, that means he was elected in 1776. If you do a google search and don’t click through to read, it can be easy to “confirm” that impression. But after the Constitution was ratified in 1788, the Confederation Congress (not the U.S. Congress!) chose March 9 of the following year as the date for it to take effect. They also passed an ordinance setting the dates for the election process, and George Washington was sworn in on April 30, 1789.
5. The nuts and bolts – everything in this section is true!
The wait times are usually short; check the large clock under the marquee for the next performance time. The show runs throughout the day and lasts about 25 minutes. The short, air-conditioned wait combined with a half-hour air-conditioned show makes this attraction perfect for escaping the crowds in the hottest, busiest times of the day.
The theater-style seats are padded and comfortable. Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV to watch the show. Since this show is an indoor attraction, inclement weather will not affect the show’s operation.
There are no height restrictions, no health or safety advisories for the Hall of Presidents.
Reflective captioning is available for this attraction; contact the host/hostess. So are Assistive Listening Devices and Audio Description Devices that are available from Guest Services (these require a deposit, refunded when returned on the same day).
One last word: Over the last decade or so, it’s become commonplace for some members of the audience to cheer or jeer, as the current president and his contemporaries are named. Many that I’ve spoken to believe that these partisan displays are divisive and not in keeping with the show’s message. But they aren’t likely to go away soon. If you’d rather not be reminded of politics on vacation, you may want to skip the Hall of Presidents or choose a less crowded time to experience it.
How well would you have done on a Hall of Presidents history quiz? Do you visit for the show, the air-conditioning, or both? Let us know in the comments!
2 thoughts on “Five Things to Know About The Hall of Presidents”
This should cover it.
(which governs use of the seal)
SECTION 1. Except as otherwise provided by law, the
knowing manufacture, reproduction, sale, or purchase
for resale of the Seals or Coats of Arms of the President
or the Vice President of the United States, or any like-
ness or substantial part thereof, shall be permitted
only for the following uses:
(c) Use in libraries, museums, or educational facili-
ties incident to descriptions or exhibits relating to
seals, coats of arms, heraldry, or the Presidency or
But that code pertains to the Presidential seal, not the Great Seal of the United States, no?