PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Started in 1998, the Golden Ticket Awards were established by Amusement Today to shine a spotlight on the amusement park industry and attractions by recognizing the “Best of the Best.” Today, they are among the most sought-after awards among theme parks, amusement parks, family entertainment centers and water parks. In 2023, Amusement Today celebrates the 25th anniversary of the coveted accolades.
On September 9, industry professionals from across the nation and beyond gathered at Dollywood to enjoy the awards ceremony and talk about best practices.
“It isn’t possible to put a value on the opportunity to meet together in person,” said Golden Ticket Awards Communications Coordinator Tim Baldwin. “Networking with your industry peers is invigorating. There are so many stories to inspire. Engaging with other facilities in the industry and their operations makes everyone stronger as a whole.
Host facility Dollywood had its biggest year ever, snagging five awards, including the night’s biggest upset. For the first time ever, the Pigeon Forge theme park took Best Park, only the third park to ever do so. Other wins were for Best Guest Experience, Best Christmas Event of 2022 and Best Kids Area. The park also took AT’s newest category: Best Family Coaster. Big Bear Mountain was Dollywood’s largest investment in an attraction to date, and it paid off.
Three Legend Awards were given. SeaWorld Orlando took the first as the Best Marine Life/Wildlife category was retired. The park, with its dynamic mix of animal experiences, iconic rides and mission of conservation had been the sole winner for 17 years.
The founders of Great Coasters International, Inc., Clair Hain Jr. and Mike Boodley, shared the second Legend acknowledgment. Their innovative design in wooden coaster building moved the industry forward.
The final Legend award recognized three people whose impact on the industry was accomplished with core values that treat people in the best way possible. Pete and Jack Herschend were the founders of Silver Dollar City. Their emphasis on family memories leads the company in a positive way. Dolly Parton, who partnered with the Herschends in the 1980s, aligned with their values, and her name recognition and dedication to a hospitable experience vaulted Dollywood to success.
Winners for new attractions were Hersheypark for Best New Roller Coaster (Wildcat’s Revenge), Universal Studios Hollywood for Best New Family Attraction (Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge), Waldameer for Best New Water Park Ride (Rocket Blast) and Fun Spot America Atlanta for Best New Attraction Installation (ArieForce One).
Across the globe, first-time finalist Puy du Fou in France won Best New Show with “Le Mime et L’Etoile,” a spectacular production with major sets and eye-popping effects.
Valhalla at Blackpool Pleasure Beach reclaimed the award of Best Water Ride after an absence with its recent transformation.
Holiday World retained the Golden Ticket for Best Water Park Ride but with a different attraction. Mammoth, a six-person water coaster unseated its sibling, Wildebeest, after more than a decade.
Eric Anderson, president of Quassy Amusement Park was recognized with the Leadership Award. His dedication is credited for saving the New England amusement park and causing it to thrive with renewed success.
For roller coasters, the enthusiast panel kept Fury 325 at Carowinds as Best Steel Coaster, while Phoenix at Knoebels Amusement Resort won Best Wooden Coaster for a fifth year, tying a record for that category.
Other repeat winners were Universal Studios Florida for Best Halloween Event of 2022, Busch Gardens Williamsburg for Most Beautiful Park, Knoebels for Best Food, Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Rise of the Resistance for Best Dark Ride, and Dutch Wonderland for Best Family Park.
Schlitterbahn is the only winner never to be defeated since the Golden Ticket Awards began in 1998. For the 25th time, the park took Best Water Park.
Breakout Family Entertainment Center went to Fun Land of Fredericksburg, winning for its continued growth and introduction of new rides.
Best Innovation went to Rocky Mountain Construction’s 208 RetraK as a solution for wooden coaster maintenance.
Slade awarded two Publisher’s Picks. The Renaissance Award acknowledged Kennywood’s ongoing restoration and renewed guest experience with countless enhancements throughout the park. The Turnstile Award was given to Carowinds for its new Aeronautica Landing area, which created new experiences to keep people coming back.
Amusement Today began publication in 1997, and the award-winning magazine is now a leader in the amusement industry. The Golden Ticket Awards were established in 1998 and are the direct result of votes cast from around the globe. More than 500 experienced travelers, divided equally among the nation as well as internationally, received ballots. Industry journalists and ride suppliers also have categories devoted to professional topics. A free downloadable issue containing the charts and full lists of finalists, as well as an online presentation of the awards, can be found at GoldenTicketAwards.com.