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    Ranking the Most Iconic Disney Rides…

    Perhaps the greatest legacy of Walt Disney is name recognition. Some of the theme park attractions that he had a hand in constructing are identifiable by name alone. Even those unfortunate souls who have never visited the Happiest Place on Earth know of these rides. They’re iconic in a society where fame is oftentimes fleeting. Which of them has the most cachet, though? Today, we’ll evaluate which signature Disney attraction is the best of the best.

    6. The Haunted Mansion

    Image: DisneyIn determining the iconic status of an attraction, you must think about the situation from several angles. Arguably the most important one is name recognition. When someone says the words, “Haunted Mansion,” what’s the first thing that jumps in their head? For every other attraction listed here, a Disney theme park is the likely answer. With The Haunted Mansion, that’s not the case.

    Even before Imagineers designed The Haunted Mansion, the term was already popularized in society. Disney officials felt compelled to add one to the Happiest Place on Earth due to the overwhelming popularity of the premise. To an extent, the vision for Disneyland was to build a single home for the greatest hits of amusement park entertainment. The conceit was that Disney’s versions would excel due to theming, a concept that has proven prophetic.

    The Haunted Mansion is unquestionably a masterpiece. It’s goofy and gothic, crazy and creepy. It’s also lacking the uniqueness of the other attractions listed above it. In terms of pure ride entertainment, it’d make my top three and possibly even win. It lacks the symbolic Disney identity of the other titles listed here, though.

    5. Splash Mountain

    Image: DisneyOut of all the water rides in the theme park industry, Splash Mountain is the most famous. Its riders are also the most mischievous, which is why the attraction has a secondary reputation as Flash Mountain, the place where some people bare their souls…and more.

    The presence of Splash Mountain at Disney theme parks is a bit of an oddity. After all, it’s inspired by a disavowed Disney film, Song of the South. Despite the uncomfortable racial overtones of the movie, Disney distilled the essence of the story into a ridiculously charming 10-minute log flume ride.

    Image: DisneyI’ve previously described it as one of the funniest attractions at any Disney theme park. I’ve also listed it as having some of the best music. I’m clearly a fan. I just don’t see Splash Mountain as having the public awareness that the other attractions can claim.

    4. Jungle Cruise

    Image: DisneyWhen you think of bad puns, fake animals, and awkward narration, only one Disney attraction should spring to mind. Since the very first day of Disneyland, Jungle Cruise has entertained guests with its strange style. Originally not intended as a humorous ride, this attraction evolved as Skippers deduced the obvious. The nature of this African Queen-knockoff is silly, not serious.

    Disney officials gradually signed off on the change, turning Jungle Cruise into a series of meticulously scripted puns about jungle life. The change had a profound impact on the shelf life of the attraction. The earnest script that mimicked travelogues wouldn’t have stood the test of time, but the slapstick stylings of the Jungle Cruise that people know today are eternal. It’s a hilarious attraction inexorably linked with Disney theme parks. The fact that it fails to crack the top three of this list exemplifies how much Disney attractions have become a part of the pop culture zeitgeist.

    3. It’s a Small World

    Image: DisneyEveryone knows this song. I’m not even saying that as a good thing, just a reality. You can be standing in the middle of a crowded room and start humming the tune. Others will start humming along and probably even singing the words. Yes, they’ll despise you for giving them that particular earworm, but they’ll know it nonetheless.

    It’s a Small World is a theme park attraction, sure, but it’s most famous as a song…the most played song of all-time. When people hear that song, they think of Disneyland or Magic Kingdom. The link between the music and the ride is symbiotic to the point of conjoined. And that’s why It’s a Small World is one of the most iconic attractions of all-time. When people hear the song or the lyrics or see any of the puppets, their minds begin to daydream about the Happiest Place on Earth. The song is equal parts masterful marketing and pure brainwashing.  

    2. Pirates of the Caribbean

    Image: DisneyYou may not be old enough to remember a time before Captain Jack Sparrow. Even if that’s the case, you should know that Pirates of the Caribbean was roughly four decades old prior to the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

    The attraction was one of the most important to Imagineers due to what it represented. Even as his health failed, Walt Disney personally oversaw this project. He even had a harness system built so that he could experience the ride the same way that a theme park tourist would. After his death, his beloved cast members endeavored to perfect the theme park attraction, adding memorable set pieces that remain largely intact today.

    Image: DisneyPirates of the Caribbean developed such tremendous stature in such a short timeframe that it caused problems at Walt Disney World. In Florida, the place where the pirates had once terrorized the region, Disney felt that a Pirates attraction would be redundant. Everyone already knew the stories. When they opened Magic Kingdom without a Pirates attraction, guests complained so much that a new version of Pirates of the Caribbean was promptly fast-tracked. Even in the early 1970s, it was already deemed a basic part of a Disney theme park visit. Nothing has changed in the interim. When anyone hears the words “Pirates of…” they mentally add “the Caribbean.” The branding is that strong.

    1. Space Mountain

    Image: DisneyRic Flair, master of the euphemism, used to brag about taking his dates for a ride on Space Mountain. He…wasn’t being literal. But he used that catchphrase for more than two decades for a simple reason. It was a statement that everyone understood. No theme park attraction ever made can match the overall awareness of Space Mountain.

    I’ve previously described it as the alpha and the omega of the theme park industry, and I’ve also called it the apex predator of roller coasters. It’s the one that other rides target when they want to gain a claim as the greatest thrill ride in the world. With regards to reputation, nothing else can touch Space Mountain. Every other ride listed here is a masterpiece of themed storytelling, but only one can rightfully be described as the greatest.

    Image: DisneyBy my estimation, Space Mountain is the one that has the highest recognition factor, the one that everyone knows by name. You could walk anywhere on the planet and say the words, “Space Mountain.” People would know what you mean, whether they speak English or not. It was the world’s greatest roller coaster for about 20 years straight and still maintains its status as one of the all-time greats. It is THE most iconic theme park attraction ever built.