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Soarin', a Disney ride, gently rocks benches of passengers suspended in front of an all-enveloping movie to simulate a hang-gliding flight across American landscapes.
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updated 4/6/2011 9:31:28 AM ET 2011-04-06T13:31:28

Jeff Kurtti is fed up with people trashing It’s a Small World. “People who think they are too sophisticated for this kiddie attraction are kind of sad,” says Jeff Kurtti, creative director for San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum. “The world is full of people who refuse to let go and enjoy themselves.”

Slideshow: Coolest Disney rides

The world is also full of people who grew up on Disney. Considering the broad variety of traditions in America, there are few things every kid shares no matter where they grow up. Happy Meals, maybe. Cap’n Crunch cereal, if they’re allowed. But all kids agree on Disney.

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That’s with good reason. Disney made its name with rigorous entertainment standards. In the 1950s, Walt Disney spun off his idea factory, now called Walt Disney Imagineering, as a stand-alone unit dedicated to inventing stuff to amuse his customers. Some of Imagineering’s biggest successes, such as Audio-Animatronic robotic characters, have become hallmarks of the Disney brand.

“He could certainly have installed off-the-shelf roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, and go-karts,” says Kurtti, who has written more than 25 books on Disney parks and Imagineering — known for their innovation.

Just as not every room in the Louvre is worthy of your touring time, there are reasons to love — or skip — many Disney rides. But if we had to choose just 10 from the dozens of choices, from kiddie coasters to robot-packed operas, we’d have to settle on emblematic experiences.

The famous Pirates of the Caribbean float-by predates the Haunted Mansion, and it stands taller in pop culture; the kitschy 1960s ride got a Hollywood-style makeover in 2006, complete with a new captain inspired by Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow in the ride’s namesake movie.

At Disney, a ride’s cool factor sometimes comes down to its adrenaline-pumping bells and whistles. We love Space Mountain, but at heart it’s just an okay roller coaster. Park-goers will do better to stand in line at the superfluous indoor-outdoor flume attraction Splash Mountain — opened in 1989 — where riders leave their stomachs behind on a soaking 40-foot drop.

As for It’s a Small World, if you can appreciate Walt Disney’s kiddie lovefest as the American landmark it truly is, you’ll find yourself humming its relentless ditty with a newfound appreciation. After all, some things stick with us forever simply because they’re great.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

Photos: Disney around the World

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  1. Feast for a Beast

    The Beast welcomes guests to his castle in the Magic Kingdom, where Be Our Guest Restaurant will serve French-inspired cuisine for quick-service lunch and table-service dinner. Part of the newly-revamped Fantasyland, the stylish restaurant will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Matt Stroshane / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Dumbo's pre-flight deck

    Waiting in line for Dumbo the Flying Elephant is as much of an event as the ride itself. As guests arrive, they'll receive a circus ticket pager that will virtually hold their place in line and notify them when it's their turn to board the attraction, leaving them free to explore the interactive wonders inside the big top while they wait to take to the skies. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is part of the expansion project which nearly doubles the size of Fantasyland, a multiyear project that will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Ali Nasser / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Luxurious cuisine

    French-inspired cuisine will be highlighted when Be Our Guest Restaurant opens in the New Fantasyland. Furthermore, select wines and beers will be offered to complement the elegantly-themed meals. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Fit for a princess

    Visitors to Disneyland can walk through Sleeping Beauty Castle and see 3-D scenes from the classic film, originally released in 1959. (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Birthday girl

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs at the "Miley's Sweet 16 Share the Celebration" party at Disneyland in October 2008. (Mario Anzuoni / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Boo!

    The Haunted Mansion, a New Orleans Square attraction, opened Aug. 9, 1969, and is the home of 999 happy haunts. As Disney's website suggests, "Enter...if you dare!" (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Time for supper

    Ghosts dine inside Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. Disney classifies the ride as gentle but warns that younger children could be frightened by its special effects. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 50 and fabulous

    Fireworks explode over The Sleeping Beauty Castle as part of "Remember ... Dreams Come True," the biggest fireworks display in Disneyland's history. The display took place during the Disneyland 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2005. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Shiver me timbers!

    Villainous pirate Barbossa is hot on the trail of the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The classic attraction re-opened following an extensive three-month enhancement and featuring new characters and elements from Walt Disney Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. (Scott Brinegar / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Around the world

    Walt Disney World's It's a Small World ride is a great option for youngsters. Visitors can sing along to the famous tune while visiting countries around the world. Hong Kong Disneyland opened the classic boat ride in 2008 in an attempt to boost sluggish attendance at the theme park. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. My, what big ears you have

    Dumbo the Flying Elephant takes riders over Fantasyland, and lever controls let them fly at their desired altitude. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Eating under the sea

    Larger-than-life replicas of prehistoric sea creatures combine with giant aquariums of exotic fish in the lounge area of T-Rex: A Prehistoric Family Adventure, at the Downtown Disney area in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 600-seat restaurant, operated by Landry's Restaurants, combines table-service dining and retail in an interactive prehistoric environment built around water, fire and ice. (Gene Duncan / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Mickey hops the pond

    Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, poses with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, in front of the Sleeping Beauty castle during a press preview of Euro Disneyland, now called Disneyland Paris, in Marne La Vallee, France. The site opened in 1992. (Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dive! Dive!

    The original submarines from the Disneyland Submarine Voyage, a popular attraction for many years at the California theme park, have been extensively refitted for the 21st Century adventure of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The attraction now takes explorers on an undersea voyage where they'll have close encounters with the fish characters from the Disney-Pixar movie, "Finding Nemo." (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Fun after dark

    Downtown Disney is a promenade that offers shopping, dining and other activities. The avenue shown here leads to both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Should've seen it in color

    Crowds are seen walking around the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif., circa 1955. (Archive Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A visionary's vision

    Walt Disney unveils his plans for Disneyland to a national television audience during the premiere of "Disneyland," the television show, on October 27, 1954. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Blank canvas

    Walt Disney purchased 160 acres in Anaheim, originally covered with orange groves, to build his dream of a place where parents and children could have fun -- together. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
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