Happy Independence Day! If you’re spending July 4th at Walt Disney World, you might be curious as to which attractions are the most definitively patriotic. Fortunately, Walt Disney World remains a bastion of patriotism and is a great place to spend the Fourth of July with tens of thousands of your closest friends!
In large part, this is due to the enduring legacy of Walt Disney, and the next generation of Imagineers who wanted to preserve his vision and ideals. As the narrator says in the opening lines of Carousel of Progress, Walt Disney “was probably as American as anyone could possibly be.” This is on display in parts of Walt Disney World even when patriotism or Americana aren’t explicit.
Beyond the attractions here, many of the underlying conceits of Disneyland and Walt Disney World involve Americana, and these notions stem from Walt Disney’s own interest in the American family. These overarching themes and the Disney Parks’ places as American institutions are another (fascinating) topic for another day, as we are only focused on how what to do for the most patriotic day at Walt Disney World with this post.
Rather than offering a contemplative analysis of the intersection of Americana and Disney, this post seeks to offer a lighthearted look at the most distinctly patriotic attractions at Walt Disney World. Some of our picks are pretty obvious, but others will shock and delight you. Or not…
10. Dinosaur – What represents America more than the sense of rugged individuality required to be insubordinate to your boss and put a group of tourists in harm’s way because he knows acquiring dinosaurs is the right thing to do? Perhaps Dr. Seeker is the hero America deserves, but not the one it needs right now. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dinosaur-Seeking Knight. Seriously, though, how can you have a list of patriotic attractions without some dinosaur action?!
9. Terminator 2: 3D – It’s scientific fact that you can’t have a killer listicle without some out-of-left-field choice that will make the readers’ heads explode. Hence, my inclusion of this attraction at Universal Studios Florida that is so patriotic it causes a ripple to open in the space-time continuum and oozes patriotism all over Walt Disney World, too. Because, frankly, what’s more patriotic than Arnold Schwarzenegger driving a motorcycle through a crowded theme park theater, bustin’ caps in dozens of cyborgs, and saving us all from Judgment Day?! (Okay, I’m done I’ve gotten the snark out of my system, I promise…)
8. MuppetVision 3D – There’s the obvious here, which is the finale, but before you even get to that, I think MuppetVision ranks highly as a masterpiece by American icon Jim Henson. Beyond that, the show features the innocent yet satirical and subversive humor of the Muppets, which has helped shape America’s comedic sensibilities. Finally, if there’s going to be a Judgment Day, I foresee civilization as we know it being sent off in style as Sam Eagle finally gets to perform his glorious three-hour finale. Would that really be such a bad way to go? (Sorry, I might have just watched Terminator this morning…)
7. Mission: Space – Despite being a massively squandered opportunity, Mission: Space makes the list because I can think of nothing that embodies the American spirit more than space exploration. Unfortunately, this attraction almost completely fails to capture that sense of awe, wonder, intrigue, and endless supply of superlatives that NASA and the space program entails, and instead offers an experience that is mostly an exercise in button-mashing and cheap thrills. (Perhaps there’s a biting sense of symbolism there…) An inspiring space pavilion that strives for more would easily crack the top 5 here, but however ineffective, there are still enough flashes of that spirit in Mission: Space to earn it a spot on the list. (Please, Mr. Musk, sponsor a redo of this…)
6. Tower of Terror – You might think this is sarcastic, but hear me out. There are a few definitive Fourth of July experiences that remind me of the holiday: grilling on the lake in Michigan, dangerously lighting off Roman candles with my grandpa, and watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel (sorry, not calling it by the dumb new name). While riding Tower of Terror isn’t as exhilarating as the prospect of losing a finger to a defective Roman candle, it speaks to me (personally) on the Fourth of July more than anything else outside of the top 5. Your mileage may vary.
5. Living with the Land – There’s nothing inherently “American” or patriotic about gardening, but I think Living with the Land still demonstrates the same forward-thinking vision that makes us proud to be Americans. From the quotes in the queue to the growing techniques on display, the attraction is a slice of the original EPCOT Center and the inquisitive spirit of America. I know the amount of substantive research being done at Epcot is de minimis, but hearing about the work of the scientists in The Land in conjunction with NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a glimmer of that inspirational spark the park once held. It’s also a strong reminder of the best of what it means to be an American.
4. Carousel of Progress – Beyond the cynical, jaded veneer, there’s an optimist in me…somewhere. Carousel of Progress speaks to that optimist, and gives me hope about the promise of a brighter tomorrow. Not because it features anything resembling futurism at this point, but because it highlights the evolution of society and what prior generations have produced–even as they faced their own challenges–and how the lives of ordinary Americans changed for the better. While The American Adventure showcases the trials and tribulations we as a people have faced and overcome, for me this is the ‘everyday’ analog to that. Carousel of Progress is a reminder that even in times that otherwise seem bleak, there is always a great big beautiful tomorrow.
3. IllumiNations – Although it’s telling the story of humankind–rather than just Americans–in abstract form, the motifs and message (including those of progress and determination that I’ve hammered on here) parallel the spirit of America. That should come as no surprise, given that ‘people are alike all over.’ IllumiNations climbs further up the list since it is a fireworks show, and a particularly bombastic one with its earth-shaking “Heartbeat of America” finale tag on Independence Day. In my experience, there’s no better way to end the Fourth of July at Walt Disney World.
2. Hall of Presidents – There are no surprises with the top of this list, and there’s really not a lot that can be said about Hall of Presidents that hasn’t already been said. I find it to be one of the most underrated attractions at Walt Disney World, particularly after the last refurbishment gave it a shot in the arm with the stirring narration by Morgan Freeman. The video footage likewise inspires confidence in our representative form of government and its history, which certainly makes for a reassuring experience in today’s political climate.
1. The American Adventure – Was there any doubt that this would be #1? The whole experience here begins well before ever stepping into the theater housing one of the ten best attractions that Imagineering has ever built. It starts with a tour of Heritage Gallery, before listening to the beautiful Voices of Liberty, and climaxes with The American Adventure show itself. If you aren’t feeling proud to be an American by the time you leave that theater, you might want to check to make sure you’re not actually Canadian. 😉
That covers it for our top 10 distinctly patriotic attractions at Walt Disney World. A potentially controversial list, especially with Disney Legends like Main Street Philharmonic, the Liberty Belle, Spaceship Earth, and Country Bear Jamboree left off the list. That’s just the way lists like this go. If you have a favorite pick that didn’t make the cut, please share it in the comments below!
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Do you agree or disagree with our list? Any patriotic attractions or other experiences that you think should’ve made the cut? Any distinctly unpatriotic attractions you think should be banished from Walt Disney World? (I’m looking at you, O Canada!) Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!