A Patriotic Independence Day in the Parks
Last year I had the privilege to spend the Fourth of July in Walt Disney World. This year I’ve decided to share a little bit of what I learned on that trip. This is one part travel planner one part Disney history lesson, so I hope you enjoy my suggestions on how to spend a Patriotic Independence Day in the Disney Parks.
The Fourth of July is one of the most crowded times of the year in Walt Disney World. Because of this you need to pick the park you want to spend the day in and get there as early as you can. I would not recommended park hopping because once you leave one park there’s no guarantee that you will be able to get into to your second park, or even be readmitted to the one you left. That said, most of the events and shows that are presented on the fourth are also shown on the third of July, so while you probably wont be able to see everything in one trip, you can still get most of it in. Out of the four main parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, Epcot and the Magic Kingdom hold the top spot on this holiday, especially since there isn’t anything of particular patriotic interest happening in the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios or Disney Springs. From personal experience I’d recommend spending the third in one park and the fourth in the other for the full experience.
If you choose spend the either day in Epcot you’ll want to be sure to take time to explore American Pavilion. Here you’ll find many of your favorite characters dressed up for the holiday. You can also enjoy the Voices of America and the Spirit of America fife and drum corps is even on hand during the holiday! It use to be that the fifes and drums played every day, but now they are only brought in on special occasions so be sure to take the time to stop and listen. The American Adventure in a must see during the holiday. This 30-minute audio-animatronic stage show, narrated by Marc Twain and Benjamin Franklin, presents the history of America from its founding and framing to its expansion, through the trials and tribulations our nation has faced. Before the show starts you can explore the exhibit in the lobby which features historical artifacts including genuine Moon rocks.
After taking the time to explore the American Pavilion’s interior you can stop at the stage to see one of the summer’s concerts. The artist changes from year to year, but once that’s done you’ll have about an hour or so until Illuminations. During the rest of the year I’d say take your time and explore a bit, but with the crowds at this time or the year you may want to find a spot soon. And you want to be as far from the American Pavilion as you can get! The fourth of July version of Illuminations is quite possible the better of the two fireworks shows at Walt Disney World since it incorporates famous speeches, patriotic songs and hymns while the show from the Magic Kingdom only features patriotic music.
The fourth of July version of Illuminations is quite possible the better of the two fireworks shows at Walt Disney World. It incorporates famous speeches, patriotic songs and hymns while the show from the Magic Kingdom only features patriotic music. During all of this the Illuminations globe shows images of American Independence.
My personal favorite way to view Illuminations in any form is from one of the newer, lagoon side restaurants. The Cantina De San Angel offers fantastic food, great seating and they pipe the illuminations soundtrack in while the show is going on. If you can get a seat at a table during the show then I’d really recommend doing so. You can enjoy the fireworks without having to beat the crowds, and the massive windows give you a full view of the whole lagoon. Lastly, this restaurant is situated almost directly across from the American Pavilion making this a prime viewing location. Another benefit of taking in the show from inside is that it’s much cooler than it is out at the lagoon. You can enjoy the spectacle of the fire without having feel the heat, and in July the parks are already very hot, even at 10:00 PM.
If you can’t get a reservation for dinner during the show then I’d recommend picking a spot near China or the bridge near the trading post. From here you can see all of Illuminations with the added bonus of catching the fireworks show from Hollywood Studios in the background. Two fireworks shows for the price of one, you really can’t get much better than that.
If I had my choice I’d definitely save Magic Kingdom for the actual fourth, not because it has the better show, but because it definitely has the better ambiance. The atmosphere on Main Street during this holiday is hard to describe. It’s as if you’re celebrating the fourth in any small town across the country while still getting to experience all the magic of Disney. The citizens of Main Street are all out en force singing patriotic songs and playing patriotic music. I’d recommend eating lunch at either Casey’s or the Plaza, if you can get a reservation. Both restaurants have that all American vibe that fits the day so well. The ride lines will all be incredibly long, so I’d suggest taking your time to soak up the ambiance instead of rushing off to the other parts of the park.
The Fourth of July is the perfect time to explore some of the oftentimes overlooked parts of the park. For example, instead of rushing over to Big Thunder Mountain, or Splash Mountain which will probably have lines upwards of an hour, head on over to Tom Sawyers Island. You really can’t get any more all American than a jaunt through Mark Twain’s classic tale. While many parts of the island are geared at younger guests there’s plenty for everyone to do. You can relax at Aunt Polly’s and watch the Liberty Belle steam by.
Or you can head over to the fort to find one of the quietest spots in Walt Disney World. There’s a small porch right on the river across from Big Thunder Mountain where you can sit on one of two rocking chairs right on the river and watch the runaway train go by. If you sit long enough you can even catch the Liberty Belle. On a day when the crowds are at one of the highest points in the year this place is a God send. Just five minutes away from the crowds can leave you feeling refreshed and ready for more. And if you need to cool down, make sure you head through the cave system, it’s a bit dark, and very maze like, but it’s air-conditioned as well.
When you head back to the main part of the park head toward Liberty Square. The Imagineers did something interesting when they worked on theming Frontierland and Liberty Square. Rather than dividing the two lands they decided to create a walking time capsule that tied one to the other. You might be scratching your head a bit but give me a minute to explain. If you start your trek in Frontierland you start off in a rocky area reminiscent of the Wild West from Utah to Nevada. This is reflected in the red rocks of Big Thunder Mountain and in Pecos Bill’s. Heading toward Liberty Square you pass the Country Bear Jamboree and its Colorado Rocky Mountain Architecture (This attraction was originally planned for a Ski Lodge that was never built).
Across from the Bears you’ll see a covered wagon and you’ll hear the shooting gallery. Take a look at the building its in and you’ll see that it’s modeled after an old Prairie fort. There’s a small bridge just after this set of buildings called the ‘little Mississippi’, it’s small and if you blink you’ll definitely miss it but once you’re across the architecture changes again with the St. Louis saloon style Diamond Horseshoe, which is only open during certain times of the year, this is one of them. Pretty soon after this stop you suddenly find yourself in Colonial America with no jarring thematic change. But if you look back the way you came you find yourself looking forward through the history of America from its birth to its expansion west. And if you stand in Frontierland and look toward Liberty Square you’re looking through America’s past, and the path we’ve taken to get where we are today. These tiny details are important all year round, but I think they take on special meaning on days like the Fourth of July.
Liberty Square was something Walt dreamed of adding to Disneyland, but couldn’t due to space restrictions. So when the Florida park was being planned Walt wanted it to be one of his lands. It’s one of the 6 spokes off of the hub, Frontierland isn’t. Here you’ll find yourself in Colonial America 1776 complete with the Liberty Bell, the Liberty Tree and Independence Hall where you can find the Hall of Presidents. You can even eat an all American meal in the Liberty Tree Tavern.
As evening comes around its time to get ready for the nighttime spectaculars. This is the one time of the year where I don’t mind sitting through the Main Street Electrical Parade. It has never been one of my favorites, mostly because it doesn’t measure to the Festival of Fantasy, or even the retired Spectromagic. However, MSEP ends with the salute to America making it the perfect way to transition into the firework spectacular for the evening.
“Celebrate America – A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky” is the grander fireworks display out of the two that Disney shows for the Fourth. Fireworks are launched from not only the typical launch zones of Cinderella’s castle and the area behind New Fantasyland, but there are also launch points all along Main Street and from some of the taller points of the lands making this a 360 degree firework extravaganza.
Holidays at Disney are magical no matter which one you choose to spend there. Independence day is no exception. So happy Birthday America and happy fourth of July.
If you want to read more about what’s going on in the rest of Orlando During the fourth of July you can click here (It’ll take you to another site, but the article is by me!)