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The American Adventure:
By Mike Scopa, AllEars® Columnist
article appeared in the
January 22, 2008 Issue #435 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I'm often asked what is my favorite Walt Disney World attraction. I never hesitate to proudly proclaim The American Adventure as, hands down, my favorite place to visit at Walt Disney World.
Although sometimes when I say American Adventure and not some thrill ride like Space Mountain, Mission: SPACE, Soarin', The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster or even Expedition Everest, you would think I had committed a felony.
For a long time I have had a deep affection for the American Adventure attraction. This attraction does so much for me and has so much to offer. Almost every time I visit the pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase I wonder how many guests take for granted what this attraction has to offer them.
Let me share a little background information regarding this attraction.
First let's talk about the placement of the pavilion.
When Epcot was first designed, or I should say, when World Showcase received its original design, the United States pavilion was not exactly positioned where it is today. The original design had this pavilion placed between Future World and World Showcase. This would allow the pavilion to serve as a gateway to World Showcase.
Actually one reason for putting it there was so that Canada would be to America's north and Mexico to the south. Thus the decision, at least temporarily, was to build the pavilion between Future World and World Showcase and to build it up on stilted structures so guests would actually walk under the pavilion and then come out to see the World Showcase in all its splendor.
That sounded like a good idea at the time.
The discussion on placement never stopped. Not everyone agreed that putting it at the front of World Showcase was the best idea. The notion of putting the pavilion away from the other pavilions seemed to some an arrogant move. Others thought that separating it from the other countries would make it seem aloof.
Should the United States pavilion not even be part of the World Showcase? That would not work.
The debate went on until it was finally decided that the United States pavilion as the host pavilion should have a position among the others as the centerpiece of World Showcase. The argument continued that since it would be the host pavilion, it should be the first pavilion the guests see as they approach World Showcase. Thus the United States pavilion now sits center stage in World Showcase welcoming guests and visitors to that part of Epcot.
The design of the pavilion is another story.
The original design was something far different than the structure we see today. The original design, which was based on the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., bothered the World Showcase designers and the Imagineers because it was very contemporary (some would say futuristic) and not in the traditional design of the other countries.
It just didn't seem right.
After more discussion and much debate, it was agreed that the pavilion should be built in Georgian architecture style. The pavilion today stands as a proud Georgian mansion, emulating architectural design from the late 1700s. It encompasses 108,000 square feet and was built with handmade Georgia red clay bricks, some 110,000 of them.
I like it.
In talking with longtime American Adventure cast member Lonnie, I found out that the flag that flies on top of the pavilion has 15 stars. Do you know why?
Well, during the 1700s, the plan was that a star and a stripe would be added for each state as it entered the union. Someone recognized that the stripe portion of the flag would take on a not-so-striking appearance if this continued. So the decision came down to just add to the star field and keep the 13 stripes representing the 13 original colonies.
Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner while gazing at a 15-star flag.
The American Adventure also holds for me what I consider the best live entertainment at the Walt Disney World Resort.
I'm talking about the Voices of Liberty. Of course it helps that I'm a big a cappella fan. I could sit all day in the great rotunda of the American Adventure pavilion and listen to the Voices of Liberty deliver song after song, be it a patriotic, spiritual, or Americana tune. Over the years the most amazing aspect of the Voices of Liberty is that although personnel may change, it seems the voices never change. The rendition of "Shenandoah" I heard back in 1990 sounds the same in 2008, but I know the faces have changed.
On to the attraction.
The stage itself is about the size of half a football field. Last I checked it was about 130 feet long and 50 feet wide. The theater holds 1024 guests and, since each show runs about 28 minutes, some 2048 guests can enjoy this attraction every hour.
The story of the American Adventure is told through the eyes of Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. They take the guests on a journey that is helped very much by an assortment of audio-animatronic figures, film, and music.
It took five years to fully develop the American Adventure attraction.
This attraction is said to be the first to contain audio-animatronic figures with individual voice and speaker systems. Think about the Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom and you'll understand the difference. That attraction has a theater system style audio approach.
The term "the Wagon" was often used when discussing the machinery underneath the American Adventure Theater. This 175-ton, 65 x 35 x 14-foot machine is responsible for changing the scenes throughout the show and bringing up the right set of characters and other parts as the story of the American Adventure is told. I can go on and on about this outstanding piece of machinery, but if you've ever seen the attraction you know how quietly and efficiently the scenes change. Hydraulics play a big part as there are several hydraulic lifts, which bring the sets into place.
The screen images are shown via a rear projection system; otherwise the scenes with the audio-animatronic figures would cast shadows on the screen. The screen itself is 28 feet high and 155 feet long. The film used in the show is well over 3000 feet in length and if you're wondering, the film size is 70 mm.
Here are some interesting facts about the show:
-- The Library of Congress was contacted for permission to copy the presidential seal used for Franklin D. Roosevelt's inaugural speech in 1933.
-- Imagineers scanned old magazines to find the appropriate ads used during the Depression.
-- The hair on the figures is real human hair. I understand that each wig is woven one hair at a time at an average cost of $13,000 apiece.
-- The furniture pieces used in the show are real antiques.
I have yet to get through the attraction's finale signature song/film "Golden Dream" without shedding a tear. Coming from astronaut Christa McAuliffe's state you can understand what it feels like when I see her image on the screen.
For most of us who remember the Kennedy assassination, the figure of JFK Jr. saluting during his father's funeral is quite moving. This film shows so many memorable moments in American history and it is updated from time to time. It was recently updated and 45 seconds were added to the film, but in such a subtle manner that it seems as if they were just "folded" into the film.
Why is the film updated? Well, as Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain tell us, the American Adventure continues.
As "Golden Dream" finishes, the 12 Spirits of America statues are somewhat showcased as the curtains behind them ascend. It's quite a finale. These statues represent all the qualities which make up the American spirit.
I'll leave you with this bit of trivia. When the show designers were putting together the first plans, the thought was to have a host or hosts for each century. Obviously, Ben Franklin and Mark Twain made "the cut" for the first two centuries.
Any idea who was up for consideration for the 20th Century?
Two figures were considered... Will Rogers and Walter Cronkite. However, it was decided to stick with Franklin and Twain as co-hosts, as Rogers and Cronkite were determined to be "too close" to serve as hosts.
This attraction remains my favorite destination when I'm in Walt Disney World. It's the combination of the architecture, the sounds of the Voices of Liberty, the great rotunda, the story of the first two centuries of the American Adventure and the stirring images and music found in "Golden Dream" that offer to guests an experience they will never forget.
I have to visit the American Adventure on every trip. I have some unfinished business. I have to get through "Golden Dream."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mike Scopa has been a huge Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1975 and has returned many times (how many? he's lost count!) since. Mike is a contributor to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Cara Goldsbury's Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World and has served as keynote speaker for the 2006 and 2007 MagicMeets. He is also co-host of the WDWTODAY Podcast.
The American Adventure in Epcot: http://allears.net/tp/ep/e_adv.htm
Other articles by Mike Scopa: http://allears.net/btp/mikescopa.htm
Mike's AllEars.Net Blog -- The View from Scopa Towers: http://land.allears.net/blogs/mikescopa/
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.