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The 9 Greatest Creations of the Decade that Changed Disney History Forever

3. It’s a Small World

Everything listed in the top seven is truly iconic. After all, the mere fact that all of these attractions maintain a park presence to this day is remarkable. The rides receive higher placement than the shows since they’re more ambitious, though.

It’s a Small World isn’t often described as ambitious, at least not today. Back in the 1960s, however, Walt Disney’s little boat ride inspired guests with its message and its tranquility. Water rides weren’t ubiquitous back then, and this one told dozens of international stories during a tight 12-minute presentation.

The dolls were all dressed in attention-grabbing but authentic garb. The set pieces, while a bit stereotypical, were stunningly detailed for the era.  Also, there’s a melody played during the attraction that you might know. The sum of It’s a Small World is greater than its parts, each of which is pretty great individually.

It’s a Small World is undeniably one of the most recognized attractions in the history of the industry. The only reason why it’s not ranked higher is that the underlying technology is kind of meh, while the story told on the ride is oddly nonspecific. 

2. Haunted Mansion

Sure, Adventures Thru Inner Space was the first Omnimover ride, but it’s not the famous one. It’s not even the most famous one from the late 1960s. That honor clearly belongs to the Doom Buggy, the most macabre ride cart in Disney history. It demonstrated the utility of the Omnimover concept while simultaneously adding a bit of depth to the attraction’s theme.

In terms of lasting impact, Haunted Mansion is right there with the greatest theme park attractions ever built. Its combination of chills and giggles redefined the possibilities of ride experiences. Sure, one of the special effects, the Hatbox Ghost, famously didn’t work and had to be shuttered for decades, but that’s a small complaint.

Overall, this ride embodies everything that theme park tourists love about dark rides. The sets are memorable, the dialogue is quotable, and the characters are probably the best that Imagineers have ever explicitly created for attractions. Haunted Mansion is undoubtedly one of the greatest theme park attractions of the 20th century. Due to an odd quirk, however, it’s somehow only the second-best attraction at New Orleans Square that opened during the late 1960s, though. The ride that beats it is…

1. Pirates of the Caribbean

Realistically, how many theme park attractions have become part of the zeitgeist? Which ones would you say are internationally recognized simply by their names? It’s a short list comprised almost entirely of Disney attractions. The top two entries on this list both qualify, but most places have a Haunted Mansion or something similarly named. There’s only one Pirates of the Caribbean.

What I admire the most about this attraction is how Walt Disney turned a weakness into a strength. He had to take Disneyland guests under the railroad tracks so that they could experience the full version of the boat ride. At some point, the creative genius had an epiphany. The boat could have a pair of drops, thereby causing an exciting splash element. More importantly, guests would sink to a lower floor of the ride building without putting any thought into the why of it. That’s epic immersion.

In terms of ride quality, the difference that I see between the otherwise similar It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean is the story aspect. The former is a series of slice-of-life recreations of various cultural representations, some of which are too broad and lazy for the modern era. 

Pirates of the Caribbean is the most impacting dark ride in theme park history. Several of its scenes are seminal to the point that when Disney changes one, some fans openly revolt. People are just that passionate about the best ride of the 1960s, as they should be. After all, Walt Disney loved it so much that he would strap himself to a harness just to ride the prototype version.

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