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Amusement Park Awards Or Popularity Contests?

By on 09/08/2013

2013 Golden Ticket Awards

The 2013 Golden Ticket Awards, presented by Amusement Today, were recently announced at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. The annual ceremony, started 16 years ago in 1998, presents amusement park awards that have been chosen by industry experts to be the best of the best in different categories. For example, the categories include Top Steel Roller Coaster, Best Shows, Friendliest Park, Cleanest Park, the coveted Best Park, and many more. A lot of great companies and attractions win these awards, but are they fairly chosen?

I am not a big fan of any annual award shows, or rankings in general. Not that they don’t have their merits, but I just don’t think the winners are fairly chosen. In my opinion, in order for somebody to legitimately be able to rate something as the best, then they need to have at least experienced all of the contenders. For example, when members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) are asked to vote for an Oscar winner each year, they are provided with a DVD of each movie up for the award. They can then watch each movie and make an informed decision when casting their vote. That doesn’t happen with amusement park awards. Not even close.

I can just about guarantee that nobody on this planet has experienced every roller coaster, theme park, and water park eligible for these awards. I know there are some people that have probably come close, but they are very few and far between, and they don’t visit every park every year. A park can go through a major transformation in just a year or two. With the right investment, a run down, dirty, unfriendly park can completely turn itself around for the better. Better food, better rides, better staff – it can be done. Conversely, a brand new highly rated park can be driven into the ground in the same amount of time. If somebody has only visited a park once, ten years ago, how can they honestly give it a fair annual ranking based on their outdated experience?

So if everybody voting for these awards hasn’t actually visited each and every park around the globe, within the last year, what exactly is it that they’re basing their vote on? I think it’s popularity. There is a lot of hype when something new and revolutionary comes along. For example, Silver Dollar City‘s newest roller coaster Outlaw Run, the very first roller coaster designed and built from the ground up by Rocky Mountain Construction, took home the Best New Attraction for 2013 award. Just about everyone who has ridden this ride has said it is absolutely fantastic. However, I’m sure that not everyone who voted for it has actually ridden it. They probably just read the reviews, talked to their industry peers, watched the countless POV videos, and decided that it was most deserving of the award. Is that fair? I don’t think so. It’s a popularity vote. Unless they actually go out and ride every new attraction that opened in 2013 themselves, I don’t think the vote should be counted.

This isn’t meant to be a criticism against these types of awards, because it’s not. I think they still have a value to the consumer. If the majority of people are saying that Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) has the Best Landscaping, then there must be something to that and I might want to add it to my “to-do” list if that’s important to me. However, how do we know there isn’t a small park in the middle of Japan that recently added some out of this world Japanese Gardens that blow everything else away? If only a small group of voters had visited that park this past year and voted for it, then it wouldn’t stand a chance against the masses that are familiar with BGW and vote for it instead. So therefore, does BGW really have the best landscaping, or is it just the most popular?

Based on the time I spend on the roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain, people often ask me to rank them from best to worst. I won’t do that for a variety of reasons. The experience one has on a roller coaster is unique only to them. It’s also affected by many outside influences, such as weather, ride maintenance, and ride operations. It’s also hard to compare two different style roller coasters to each other. For example, I really like both Superman: Escape from Krypton and X2. I won’t say that one is better than the other because they are completely different coasters, with each providing me with a completely different experience. I also enjoy Green Lantern: First Flight on occasion, while others say it’s the worst roller coaster ever designed. There is absolutely no value in my ranking of roller coasters to anyone other than me.

This is how I feel about amusement park awards. Just because Outlaw Run got the most votes (popularity) as the best new attraction, there is no guarantee that I’m going to like it at all. The same can be said for those who voted for it but have never been on it. I may ride it and say that it’s the worst roller coaster ever. That’s highly doubtful, but my point is that until I ride it myself and form my own conclusion, then the award it won really does me no good other than to tell me I might want to try riding it someday.

I’d like to hear from you. Do you put much merit into what other people think of roller coasters or do you like to ride them yourself and form your own opinions? Have you ever voted in a poll not having experienced all of the choices firsthand? I know I have, and I feel guilty about it every time knowing it’s just a popularity vote and skews the results.


  1. juleswoz

    09/08/2013 at 10:17 am

    I would say it’s just like movie reviews by critics: I’m the only one who can judge whether or not I like a movie, same with roller coasters. I think it’s close to impossible to judge which park as the best coasters because no parks have the same amount and type of coasters. I agree, the only thing an award would tell me is that ride would be worth riding, though if I go to that specific park, I’d ride the ride whether it won an award or not.

  2. Angel

    09/08/2013 at 10:29 am

    I hate the Golden Ticket Awards, their rankings are so misleading and unfair. I agree with you that it is a popularity contest. The poll that I like is the Mitch Hawker roller coaster rankings. They’re more in depth and provide more statistics on why people chose a certain ride.

    • James

      09/09/2013 at 1:50 am

      Unfortunately Mitch Hawker’s is only slightly better…. It is still flawed.

      A owner of a popular theme park website ( cough, TPR, cough)was actively campaigning for people to vote for his favourite ride, Expedition G Force. I actually saw him encourage a member not to vote for his favourite ride, Alpengiest, because he knew better… The member was actually banned for disagreeing!

      Even though the majority of voters have not experienced the ride, they could vote it high and vote its direct competitor low….

    • James

      09/09/2013 at 1:51 am

      Unfortunately Mitch Hawker’s is only slightly better…. It is still flawed.

      A owner of a popular theme park website ( cough, TPR, cough)was actively campaigning for people to vote for his favourite ride, Expedition G Force. I actually saw him encourage a member not to vote for his favourite ride, Alpengiest, because he knew better… The member was actually banned for disagreeing!

      Even though the majority of voters have not experienced the ride, they could vote it high and vote its direct competitor low…. This skews the results

  3. mugnezz

    09/08/2013 at 1:00 pm

    a prize useless! the more you pay the more you have the best prize

  4. Mike

    09/08/2013 at 3:24 pm

    you are just mad because your park didnt get chosen.

    • The Coaster Guy

      09/08/2013 at 7:50 pm

      Not even one bit! I do enjoy the coasters at SFMM, but I’ll also be the first in line to say that they aren’t anywhere close to winning a single one of these awards. They could be, with a little effort, but they don’t appear to be interested in changing anything they’re doing.

      • Mike

        09/10/2013 at 4:27 pm

        thats alittle harsh towards your HOME park!

        • Eric

          09/11/2013 at 7:24 pm

          SFMM is my home park, too, and Kurt is dead on right. They’re more interested in quantity over quality. As of next spring/summer, they’ll have 19 coasters—three more than Cedar Point. That’s a nice record to hold, but I’d rather have the quality over the quantity.

        • The Coaster Guy

          09/14/2013 at 10:32 pm

          How exactly is that harsh?

  5. Davis S.

    09/08/2013 at 6:55 pm

    I guess its all just competing for free major advertising. Whichever park can create the most hyped ride or has the best atmosphere or whatever, gets the #1 sticker. I remember in 2012 at Six Flags over Texas, there was a bunch of of billboards and signs saying “New Texas Giant! Best new coaster of 2011 by Golden Ticket awards.” Also, am I the only one who thinks Cedar Point is EXTREMELY popular because the have the award for best Amusement park? Not saying it wouldn’t be popular without that title, but I think that adds a lot of extra customers.

    • Michael m

      09/08/2013 at 11:14 pm

      I see your point but maybe people go to cedar point because it is a clean enjoyable park. Magic mountain is my home park but it really falls to many parks in almost everything but roller coasters. I’ve never been to cedar point but they may not add anything too huge every year, but their quality of roller coasters seem to blow magic mountain away

  6. Justin

    09/09/2013 at 2:05 pm

    I actually don’t like Green Lantern. That ride almost made me throw up.
    I want to meet the person who voted for Knoebel’s in “Best” Halloween event.
    The fact that Ghost Rider is in the Top 50 is just disgusting to me personally.

    • Justin G

      09/09/2013 at 4:17 pm

      I’m not mad that Ghost rider is in the 50, I’m mad it’s ranked higher than Apocalypse. Also Full Throttle not in the top 5 best new rides this year! I don’t think the UHS version of Transformers made it into the top 5 last year. Pretty biased system considering that the public didn’t get to voice their opinion.

  7. Eric

    09/09/2013 at 7:50 pm

    More people liking something doesn’t make it the best. In the case of movies, food, games, and amusement parks and rides, it’s all subjective. I never pay any attention to these awards. If I enjoy the ride, great! If anyone says that the ride/park I like “isn’t that good,” then who cares? I like what I like and that’s all that matters.

  8. XYZ

    09/09/2013 at 9:39 pm

    The GTAs? I don’t even want to think about it as it makes my head hurt. Though, it’s nice that Knott’s got the Turnstile Award.

    • The Coaster Guy

      09/09/2013 at 10:20 pm

      I must have missed that one. What’s the “turnstile” award?

  9. Scott C

    09/10/2013 at 7:26 am

    Personally chosen by Gary Slade, publisher and editor-in-chief of Amusement Today, this year’s Publisher’s Pick Awards were presented in the categories of Supplier of the Year, (Co)-Person of the Year, and the Turnstile Award. Respectively, the 2013 recipients are:

    •Bussink Design GmbH in Appenzell, Switzerland, for more than 30 years of creativity and attention to detail in rewriting the way guests enjoy today’s Observation Wheel;
    •John Arie, Sr., of Fun Spot Attractions in Orlando, Fla., for living out his dream of providing affordable family thrills in today’s market and launching the new $25 million, 15-acre Fun Spot America in the heart of Orlando’s competitive tourism area;
    •Kimberle R. Samarelli of the New Jersey Amusement Association (NJAA) in Seaside Heights, N.J., for her unwavering dedication to the amusement industry while tirelessly tending to the recovery efforts of the Jersey Shore following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy; and
    •Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., for its vision and commitment to almost completely refurbishing its heirloom attraction, Timber Mountain Log Ride, and increasing ridership of this historic ride; thus moving the turnstiles in record numbers.

  10. Dylan Todd

    09/10/2013 at 12:27 pm

    And the best coaster goes to……millennium force for past 10 years. It’s annoying that the same ride gets picked every time. Someone needs to start a best coaster award syren basses on people’s actuall vote

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