Category Rank: 2
Park Rank: 3
If you exclude the landmarks of each park (i.e. the castle, golf ball, tree, and whatever replaces the sorcerers hat), it gets harder to pick items that are synecdochous (TM if that isn't a word). That is, to pick something which symbolically personifies the entire park.
We mentioned that the Kilimanjaro Safaris rises to that level at Animal Kingdom, as it is the attraction that best sums up what that park is all about. At Hollywood Studios, the item that probably best did this was recently closed... Backlot Tour. And, given that it wasn't a great ride to begin with, that is probably no great loss. It is tough to say now what fills the void... the Great American Movie ride?
Magic Kingdom is very difficult to identify, given that it has so many headliners (as seen by the disproportionate amount on this list). While Dumbo and Its a Small World might be the most famous, they don't necessarily encapsulate all the magic that there is to be seen in the park. Outside of the castle, there is nothing else.
Epcot, though, is much easier. Nothing sums up Epcot like Spaceship Earth, the animatronic-heavy slow ride taking you through a history of mankind and into the future, all while riding within the Golf Ball.
Spaceship Earth is the first of the 7 most iconic items in WDW that are heavily sprinkled at the top of our list, in amongst 8 others that get their ranking from being personal favorites of our family. These top 7 iconic things are sure to be on everyone's list, so there isn't much sense in attempting to convince you of why it is here. But I'm going to anyways. 'Cause that's how I roll.
First things first. Spaceship Earth the ride is separate on this list from the Golf Ball, since they are essentially different attractions (much like our separation of Port Orleans Riverside resort from the Food Court). The Golf Ball is still to come, meaning if these two were put together, the resulting attraction would probably be top 5 overall, and maybe higher.
Second, this ranking does include the simulated interactions at the end of the ride. Yes, you could argue those are separate, given that you could go into the interactions without riding the ride, but this fits under the "enhanced experience" that one sees with the Test Track ride, where the interaction is connected to (and not separate from) the ride. However, while the interactions are pretty neat, they really have little bearing on this ranking, other than the choose-your-future video you make while still on the ride.
Spaceship Earth has been around since the park opening and was the featured attraction. The ride is educational in nature, as it gives a narration by Judi Densch (and previously by Lawrence Dobkin, Walter Cronkite, and Jeremy Irons). You start with the dawn of man, pack hunting a mammoth, and move up through the discovery of fire, the beginning of writing, the invention of paper, and much more. You reach the present at the top of the ball, and then start your descent planning for the future. This includes a choose-your-own-adventure style video that you create, and can have emailed to you.
The ride is iconic not only for its location, but its use of animatronics is classic Disney, as is its themes of progress to the future. While the Carousel of Progress outdates it by almost two decades, this one is more famous, and frankly does it better.
And much like other slow rides on this list, there isn't anything "thrilling" about this ride. Epcot misses the boat on thrilling for most of its other rides (Soarin' included... most overrated ride in all of WDW), but this one never pretends to be thrilling. There is something a bit haunting about the serious nature of the narration and the quiet music in conjunction with the animatronics, all in the presence of an indoor dark ride, and this haunting adds to the gravitas of the ride.
Our next item is another of those iconic features, and it features the most iconic resort of the bunch. This one, adjacent to Magic Kingdom, is the original resort of WDW.