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

2019 – Year in Review

2019 is over and a new decade is upon us. It’s time for us to take a step back and review the new attractions that we covered this past year. Yes, there were indeed a lot of them! Without more introduction, here’s a brief rundown of what we got a chance to experience this past year.

Copperhead Strike at Carowinds

Copperhead Strike is a Mack launched coaster that is the first of its kind to arrive in the US, following up Time Traveler (Silver Dollar City) and Mako (Sea World San Diego). The ride is clearly influenced by Icon (Blackpool Pleasure Beach). The ride is non-stop fun starting with a roll out of the station, to a themed pre-launch building, to two launches and 5 inversions through its custom layout. The ride sets itself apart being a trendsetter for featuring a launched airtime hill. Check out more photos of Copperhead Strike here. Copperhead Strike is a Mack launched coaster that is the first of its kind to arrive in the US, following up Time Traveler (Silver Dollar City) and Mako (Sea World San Diego). The ride is clearly influenced by Icon (Blackpool Pleasure Beach). The ride is non-stop fun starting with a roll out of the station, to a themed pre-launch building, to two launches and 5 inversions through its custom layout. The ride sets itself apart being a trendsetter for featuring a launched airtime hill. Check out more photos of Copperhead Strike here.

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Top 10 Launched Roller Coasters

Roller coasters these days are not always propelled by a lift hill.  Launches can provide a more thrilling way to start a ride.  They provide differentiation for the parks that have them.  Launches come in all different methods from using magnets (LIM or LSM) to hydraulic launch, to more primitive methods such as a winch, weight drop, or tires.

These are the launched roller coasters that we believe are the best in the business today:

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Top 10 Inverted Roller Coasters

Inverted roller coasters distinguish themselves by their style where you fly underneath the track.  B&M, Intamin, and Vekoma are the primary manufacturers of inverted roller coasters, each has their own distinct track and train styles.  These are the inverted roller coasters we believe distinguish themselves from the rest:


Honorable Mention: Batman the Ride at Six Flags Great America
In the 1990’s, this model of inverted roller coaster seemed to pop up in every (Six Flags) park.  The layout is a winner.  While short, this ride provides one of the most intense experiences on any roller coaster.  Lately Six Flags has begun to reinvigorate the ride by adding backward facing trains on the ride.  We’ve given the award to the original ride, but clones can be found in Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags over Georgia, Six Flags over Texas, Six Flags St. Louis, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Sea World San Antonio, La Ronde, and many more parks.

10: Great Bear at Hersheypark
Great Bear is a custom layout roller coaster by B&M on which you soar over Comet Hollow.  While relatively short, Great Bear’s interaction with other rides including superdooperlooper and Coal Cracker make the ride experience special.

9 : Volcano at Kings Dominion
This Intamin inverted coaster launches you two times.  The second time vertically out of a fire-spewing volcano.  The ride is very unique and earns this recognition through its excellent use of theming as well as a thrilling ride experience.

8: Afterburn at Carowinds
This underappreciated ride at Carowinds has a very intense layout featuring one of the rare Batwing elements on a B&M roller coaster.  This ride was originally dubbed Top Gun by Paramount Parks.

7: Nemesis Inferno at Thorpe Park
This UK roller coaster is inspired by the classic: Nemesis at Alton Towers.  The theming on this ride and queue surpass that of almost all of the other competitors.

6: Dragon Challenge at Universal Islands of Adventure
This ride is an engineering masterpiece by B&M.  This is actually a pair of completely different inverted roller coasters themed to Harry Potter lore: Hungarian Horntail and Chinese Fireball that contain 3 near miss moments and 5 inversions.  Chinese Fireball provides the slightly more intense and better experience in our experience.  Unfortunately the ride no longer duels due to safety concerns dropping it down in the rankings.  This ride was originally known as Dueling Dragons.

5: Raptor at Cedar Point
The tallest and fastest inverted roller coaster when it opened, Raptor built upon the foundation created by Batman the Ride to create an intense ride experience with 6 inversions.  This was the first inverted coaster to feature a cobra roll.

4: Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa
Montu one ups Raptor with a 7th inversion.  This ride contains two strong ride halves, the second half taking you underground several times.  This ride is found in Busch Garden Tampa’s Egypt section.

3: Alpengeist – Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Built a year after Montu, Busch Gardens Williamsburg introduced what is still the world’s tallest complete circuit inverted roller coaster.  Themed after a ski ride gone wrong in Germany, Alpengeist swoops you in and out of the River Rhine valley.

2: Banshee – Kings Island
Opened in 2014, more than 20 years after the first inverted coaster, Banshee reimagines the inverted coaster.  Built by B&M on the site of the former Son of Beast, this roller coaster layout brings back the intense layouts the company used to design in the past.  What sets Banshee apart is its modest theming package, excellent pacing, and track length.  Banshee is the world’s longest inverted roller coaster.  It utilizes a new train style similar to that found on wing-rider coasters that contains much more open over the shoulder restraints.

1: Nemesis – Alton Towers
The title of best inverted coaster goes to the UK, and it isn’t close.  Nemesis bills itself as the world’s most extreme ride experience.  While that is probably not true, the layout of this ride is one that is literally impossible to be duplicated.  Almost the entire ride is situated below ground level where riders gets turned upside down 4 times.  All the time soaring through caverns and rushing through rock blasted quarries.  This is one ride not to miss.