Home » 11 Unforgettable Icons You Can’t Miss at Walt Disney World

11 Unforgettable Icons You Can’t Miss at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney famously coined the phrase “weenie.” He loved his dog, Lady, and gave her a special treat whenever he came home from work. He would throw the puppy an uncooked weenie, extremely aware of the Pavlovian reactions he got from the dog.

From that moment on, he thought of massive park landmarks as weenies. The first famous one was Sleeping Beauty Castle, the jaw-dropping castle at Disneyland. Although Uncle Walt didn’t live to build Walt Disney World, Imagineers maintained his legacy by building similarly iconic structures. Here’s how I rank the 11 weenies at Walt Disney World. 

11. Chinese Theatre

Image: DisneyDisney’s Hollywood Studios comes with a checkered landmark history. The Earffel Tower and Sorcerer’s Hat both took so much abuse that Disney tore them down. And nobody really misses them.

The Chinese Theatre is a different story. It’s an eye-grabbing building that also fits the original theme of the park. Disney’s added to its utility over the years by hosting shows and digital projections on the stage. Still, with so many spectacular weenies at Walt Disney World, something has to finish last.

10. Big Thunder Mountain

Image: DisneyOne of the crucial aspects of a Disney landmark is that it tells a story. A park visitor should be able to look at the structure and have an immediate idea of what it represents. Big Thunder Mountain is terrific in this manner. When you gaze on it from a distance, you’ll know that it’s an Old West-based attraction. Mission accomplished. By Disney standards, it’s a bit lacking in originality, though.

9. Millennium Falcon

Image: DisneyThe next two entries are indicative of my reluctance to overrate newer attractions. Both of these landmarks are sublime, but they’ve yet to stand the test of time the way that everything else on the list has managed. So, I’m arbitrarily punishing them for that.

In the case of Millennium Falcon, it’s the landmark that Star Wars fans have anticipated for many years. Now that they have it, they’re thrilled with the accuracy of this full-scale model of the fastest vessel in the galaxy. It’s a hallmark achievement in Imagineering construction, but I wouldn’t even describe it as the best recent one.

8. Hallelujah Mountains

Image: DisneyYou may not know the official name of this mountain range, but you’ve stared up in awe at its majesty. The Hallelujah Mountains are the floating islands in the sky at Pandora – The World of Avatar.

In the movie, Avatar, the mountains seem like impossible digital constructs that couldn’t possibly exist on Earth, yet Imagineers somehow brought them into reality. They built unconnected mountains in the clouds. I was tempted to rank them much higher if not for the recency concern with my thinking.

7. Splash Mountain

Image: DisneyI’m unabashedly passionate about Splash Mountain as an attraction. I believe that it’s one of the funniest rides of all-time, and it’s got the best music, too. As a weenie, it’s also great. From across the park, you can tell that water streams down the mountain, which is all you need to know to be drawn to it. I love the efficiency of the exterior design for this reason, but I just can’t rank it above the other entries still to come.

6. Tree of Life

Image: DisneyHere’s where the rankings grow difficult. Three of the remaining entries are THE primary weenies at their parks, and a fourth is the de facto landmark at the final one. So, something’s gotta give.

To me, the Tree of Life is the second-most significant weenie in terms of what it represents to its theme park. It’s kind of a cheat since it’s an artificial tree rather than a real one, but it’s symbolic of Disney’s undying commitment to the planet and all of its inhabitants: human, animal, and plant.

I love the Tree of Life and have taken so many pictures in front of it over the years. But the competition is brutal. I just can’t rank it ahead of anything else on this list, even though it’s the heart of Animal Kingdom.

5. The Forbidden Mountain

Image: DisneyYes, I’m ranking a different Animal Kingdom weenie ahead of the one that symbolizes its spirit and theme. I do this because the Tree of Life is at a natural disadvantage. It simply isn’t as showy as everything in the top five, starting with The Forbidden Mountain.

When Disney committed to a thrill ride at the park, they faced unique competition. It was internal. Imagineers had to at least match and preferably surpass existing man-made mountains at Walt Disney World. It’s largely mission accomplished in that regard.

I’d only rank one other artificial mountain above it, and that’s because The Forbidden Mountain can’t compete with its legacy. The weenie for Expedition Everest is my personal favorite man-made mountain at Walt Disney World, though.

4. Space Mountain

Image: DisneyEven so, I must acknowledge the history, heritage, and lasting impact of Space Mountain. It was the first great ride that debuted at Walt Disney World before Disneyland. Orlando officials felt competitive and had a bit of a chip on their shoulders about this situation. They wanted to build something unforgettable, something that could anchor Tomorrowland for decades to come. And that cone-shaped building has consistently drawn audiences to the shiniest part of Magic Kingdom since 1975.

3. Hollywood Tower Hotel

Image: DisneyDebating the best Disney weenies is a complex affair. What draws my eye may not draw yours. Instead, the conversation centers on which sights garner the attention of the largest number of park guests on a daily basis.

I settled on the top three by deciding which ones people notice the most during a visit and remember the best afterward. In the case of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, other landmarks have come and gone at Hollywood Studios. Even though each one’s stated purpose was to become the embodiment of the park, the home of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror claimed the title over time.

The Hollywood Tower Hotel is one of the most impressive structures in Disney history. It towers above the park, but the back of it still maintains the illusion of the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase. That’s remarkable dedication to immersion on the company’s behalf.

But what I love the best about the Hollywood Tower Hotel in recent years is the holiday overlay. Disney projects yuletide images against the flat surface and fundamentally alters the vibe of the building. Ordinarily, it’s a malevolent overseer. During Christmas season at Disney, it’s a 20-story tall gingerbread house.

2. Cinderella Castle

Image: DisneyWhen The Walt Disney Company planned the Florida Project, they had to honor Walt Disney’s vision for his final major project. Walt Disney World needed the kind of grandeur that would demonstrate it was on the level of Disneyland if not superior to the original. And an integral part of that plan was a castle battle.

The regal construct at Magic Kingdom had to surpass Sleeping Beauty Castle. Decades later, this idea seems laughable, as one is 112 feet taller than the other. Even the most diehard fans of the Happiest Place on Earth recognize that Cinderella Castle is better in almost all aspects.

To this day, Cinderella Castle remains the most impressive weenie at a theme park full of impeccable ones. No park guest’s visit to Magic Kingdom would be complete without a stroll through this castle.

1. Spaceship Earth

Image: DisneyAll of the landmarks mentioned here are marvels of Imagineering. But one towers above the rest, figuratively if not literally. Spaceship Earth is a modified geodesic dome, technically an irregular geodesic polyhedron. Since the structure is also a ride, Imagineers had to add a few maintenance exit points. If not for that, it would be mathematically perfect.

Visually, Spaceship Earth IS perfect. It’s the most stunning structure at any theme park on the planet. Inexorably associated with Epcot, it exemplifies the optimism of Future World and, thereby, Walt Disney himself. It is easily the best weenie at Walt Disney World and one of the most beautiful man-made constructs in the world.