Category Rank: 8
Park Rank: 9
We have our first "Park Ambience", which will require an explanation, much as the interactives/memorabilia category did. Ambience might not be the perfect word, but it was the best I could come up with (except for maybe "Environment", which was a bit misleading).
The first term you might use to describe this is a "location" within a park. However, location is a bit vague, since rides and shows and restaurants are all locations as well. These are locations that don't have another stated attraction as top billing. WDW actually helps us quite a bit here by breaking up its parks into these tiny "worlds", much like all the different countries in Epcot or the different lands in Magic Kingdom.
Location also doesn't really describe the important qualities of these items that bring about their nostalgia. Take for example #55 on our list, the United Kingdom land in Epcot's World Showcase. United Kingdom brings together natural beauty, architectural beauty, specific theming, sights, sounds, music, special characters, and even a bit of shopping. All of these work in conjunction to promote the theme of the land (in this case, Britain!). I thought a bit about trying to isolate some of these elements (say, choosing the band that plays there and the rose garden out back and the England-style buildings, and ranking each separately), but that doesn't really do the experience justice. You experience them altogether... you have to rank them as one as well.
There are 11 lands in Epcot, each having its own unique ambience. You could argue that all 11 have a place on this list, but we have to pick and choose. UK has many things going for it. Starting with its architecture, it features buildings represented from the Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian periods, as well as cobblestone streets and thatch roofs. The back area contains a hedge maze and a traditional English garden, with one of the few quiet places in the World. Of course, it also is the place for the British Revolution, a tribute band that plays songs from many British groups (the Beatles, the Who, and Led Zeppelin chief among them). Plus there is a traveling improvisation group that performs there periodically. Couple that with the traditional British characters (Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland) and it is one of the best lands for getting immersed in the cultural experience.
There are a couple things that make this land even more nostalgic for us. Both Kristen and I have always enjoyed the music within Epcot, and one of our favorite groups was the British Invasion (an excellent Beatles tribute band that has sadly been replaced). Plus, UK offers a unique shopping experience for our family, as our kids happen to love BBC shows like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and my mother is a big fan of the tea shop. Plus, we take our pictures in the phone booth each trip. The one thing that UK has going against it is that the "culture" is very similar to ours already, that certain other worlds (spoiler) stand out more as a cultural experience. Still, if there is ever a time where we have a vacation with limitless time to spend idling away, I can't think of too many better places to spend it than UK.
We go to Magic Kingdom for the first time with #54, once again listing a snack item as a restaurant.