Our 2023 Golden Ticket Awards Ballot

Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards will be announced this weekend at Dollywood. As it seemed to be popular last year, I figured it made sense to once again share what my picks were this year and some of the rationale behind it. This of course is just my opinion, and it’s interesting to see how that changes even year to year. Without further introduction, let’s go through a selection of the categories.

Best Theme Park / Amusement Park of 2023
Universal Island’s of Adventure

With the recent additions of Velocicoaster and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, there are few parks out there that can match the level of theming, immersion and thrills as can be found at Islands of Adventure. There are so many other deserving parks, but this year Islands of Adventure stuck out with its cleanliness, incredible efficiency and overall guest experience.

Best Water Park of 2023

Last year I was able to visit Rulantica for the first time. While I haven’t gotten to posting a photo update around it, I must say I was astounded by the level of immersion, attention to detail and theming at this indoor / outdoor water park located right next to Europa Park. The park didn’t rest on its laurels and has continued to expand since its original opening. Seemed fitting to nominate a park that has added so much and is truly a world class facility.

Most Beautiful Park of 2023

Last summer I got to visit Efteling for my third time. Each time I have visited I have been astounded by the incredible charm this place holds. So much theming that is so unmistakably Efteling. The beauty extends to the landscaping of the vast park grounds especially in the Fairytale Forest.

Best Guest Experience of 2023
Holiday World

The criteria for best guest experience is efficient operations, friendly staff and cleanliness throughout the park. Holiday World scores high marks in all three areas and remained at the top in my opinion. Perhaps it is that Holiwood Nights hospitality, but my bet is it extends to most days.

Best Kids’ Area in a Park in 2023

Wildwood Grove got even better in 2023 with the addition of Big Bear Mountain. Even more exciting is that there is a phase 3 to the project still to come. Wildwood Grove has something for everyone including a pair of excellent family coasters (with Firechaser Express not too far away).

Best Food of 2023

EPCOT hosts 4 food festivals each year as well as is home to countless full service and quick service restaurants. This food juggernaut is almost impossible to compete with. I’ve barely every had a bad meal here. Other parks I would consider for this award would be Knoebels, Europa Park and Disney California Adventure.

Best Dark Ride of 2023
Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

No new dark ride that opened in 2023 has surpassed the magic that is Rise of the Resistance. I am excited to learn more about Zootopia in Shanghai Disney and have not yet been on their version of Pirates. It is worth at least leaving a shout out here for Volkanu at Lost Island which I had the pleasure of experiencing this year. That certainly is the best dark ride I’ve been on in a regional theme park, but alas it is no ‘Rise’.

Best Water Ride in an Amusement Park of 2023
Chiapas at Phantasialand

Chiapas is my favorite water ride. I had the chance to experience it again last summer and that did nothing to change my mind. No other ride can match the nonstop pacing, theming and thrills that Chiapas provides.

Best Family Coaster of 2023
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal Islands of Adventure

I through away my vote here as this ride has a 48 inch height restriction, but this is the best family coaster I have ever been on. This ride truly has it all, but I won’t spoil it for you here.

Best New Coaster of 2023
Arie Force One at Fun Spot America Atlanta

Congrats Fun Spot! You have a winner on your hands. There was tough competition this year with honorable mention to Zambezi Zinger and Big Bear Mountain. I didn’t vote for TRON Lightcycle Run as it is a clone of an existing attraction, but it also deserves mention.

Wood Coaster Rankings
#1 The Voyage at Holiday World
#2 Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce
#3 Wildfire at Kolmården
#4 Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City
#5 Ravine Flyer at Waldameer Park
#6 Thunderhead at Dollywood
#7 El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure
#8 Ghostrider at Knotts Berry Farm
#9 Colossos at Heide Park
#10 Legend at Holiday World

Steel Coaster Rankings
#1 Ride to Happiness at Plopsaland De Panne
#2 Velocicoaster at Universal Island’s of Adventure
#3 Helix at Liseberg
#4 Fury 325 at Carowinds
#5 Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point
#6 Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa
#7 Millennium Force at Cedar Point
#8 Time Traveler at Silver Dollar City
#9 Mako at Sea World Orlando
#10 Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland

Anticipation Builds for “BIG” 2023 Season at Dollywood

Press Release from Dollywood

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Monday, October 17, 2022) — Things certainly are going to be “BIG” at Dollywood in 2023. The Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, park is gearing up for a season that includes the debut of Big Bear Mountain, the longest roller coaster in the park’s history, a new celebration of one of Dolly’s most iconic songs, as well as 15 additional park operating days throughout the year. With so much big fun in 2023, a Dollywood season pass should be on everyone’s wish list. The park opens to the general public on Saturday, March 11.

Set to open in the spring, Dollywood’s Big Bear Mountain is the single largest attraction investment in the company’s history. The $25 million roller coaster is nearly 4,000 ft. long, features on-board audio and promises guests a thrilling adventure through the hills bordering Wildwood Grove. This expansion of Wildwood Grove—named the industry’s Best Kids’ Area for three years—takes guests through three separate launches, multiple airtime hills, high-speed carousel turns and tunnels. Big Bear Mountain’s 39” inch height requirement allows even younger adventurers to come along for the ride.

Not only do the rides get bigger in 2023, so does the operating calendar. Dollywood guests and season passholders can enjoy an additional 15 days of fun in the Smoky Mountains next season when compared to the 2022 calendar. The additional days come throughout the year, meaning guests can enjoy more of everything the 2023 season has to offer. The park opens at 10 a.m. every operating day through the Harvest Festival. Operation begins at 11 a.m. during Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Continue reading

Our 2022 Golden Ticket Awards Ballot

With the Golden Ticket Awards presented by Amusement Today being announced this coming weekend in San Antonio at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, I figured it would be interesting to our readers to get some insight into the awards categories, who we voted for and our rationale behind it.

Continue reading

Big Bear Mountain Roller Coaster Set to Open at Dollywood in Spring 2023!

Press Release from Dollywood

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Friday, August 5, 2022) — Dolly Parton today announced the newest addition to Dollywood Parks & Resorts, the $25 million Big Bear Mountain, a nearly 4,000 ft. long roller coaster which allows guests to embark on an unforgettable expedition through the Smokies in search of the elusive “Big Bear.” Big Bear Mountain, which at 3,990 ft. becomes the longest roller coaster at the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, park, marks the expansion of Dollywood’s newest area, Wildwood Grove.

Continue reading

Dollywood’s Harvest Festival Celebrates the Beauty of the Smokies

Press Release from Dollywood

PIGEON FORGE, TN (September 20, 2021) — Dollywood, one of America’s favorite fall family destinations, celebrates the splendor of autumn in the majestic rolling foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains during the Harvest Festival presented by Humana (Sept. 24- Oct. 30). The annual guest-favorite event includes the family-friendly Great Pumpkin LumiNights presented by Covenant Health, which has quickly become a cherished experience for parkgoers.

A longstanding family tradition for so many, the Harvest Festival greets guests with the surrounding mountainsides draped in vibrant colors. Dollywood’s landscaping and fresh décor accent the autumn atmosphere and bring the beauty right into the park, making it ripe for families to create their picture-perfect pumpkin photo ops to share with friends!

Continue reading