2018 Golden Ticket Awards Results and Recap
The most important amusement park recognition each year comes from Amusement Today. The industry’s favorite periodical holds a vote each year, empowering many of the most important influencers with the ability to laud their favorite attractions. The event is called the Golden Ticket Awards, and the 2018 edition was held on September 8th. As usual, Walt Disney World and other Orlando theme parks cleaned up. Here’s a list of the reigning champions in each category.
Let’s Start with Disney
This wasn’t the best year ever for The Walt Disney Company. While the company is undeniably the industry standard in attractions, exhibitions, and a litany of other areas, it faces an annual disadvantage in Golden Ticket voting. Disney doesn’t campaign, while its industry peers need the recognition to sell tickets. Since influencers in the industry oftentimes have park favorites and kind of take Disney for granted, it has rarely dominated.
This year, Disney emerged victorious in only one category. For the third consecutive year, voters singled out the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as the best Dark Ride on the planet. They’re right about this, of course, but it’s interesting that Amusement Today’s influencers favor the original version of the ride over Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
I should note that the Golden Ticket Awards have stopped giving out an award in the Best Outdoor Production Show category. That hurts Disney, because they had a mortal lock on the category. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth won 12 out of 13 years through 2015. At that point, Amusement Today mothballed the vote, ceding Disney’s dominance.
Other Orlando Winners
The phenomenal part of a Walt Disney World visit is that you’re always ride-sharing away from the other amusement parks in central Florida. Disney worked as a weird kind of magnet that caused other places to glom on to the most popular paid tourist destination in the world. For that reason, when other Orlando parks win Golden Tickets, it’s almost as good to Disney park guests as when Disney does.
SeaWorld at Orlando received some desperately needed good news. Their newest water slide, Ray Rush, is the Best New Water Park Ride. The Aquatica attraction opened to the public in May. And SeaWorld also took home the trophy for Best Marine Life Park, which may help it put some of the Blackfish controversy behind it. Then again, SeaWorld has held this title since 2006, and it hasn’t helped them escape the controversy created by that documentary.
A fun award went to Halloween Horror Nights, the Universal Orlando Resort. It’s once again the best Halloween Horror Event, a title it’s held since 2008. While I say Boo to You to the voters in this category, there’s no denying that Halloween Horror Nights is wonderful. And this year, it adds Stranger Things to the festivities!
Universal Orlando Resort also won in the category of Best Indoor Roller Coaster. Revenge of the Mummy emerged victorious here. Oddly, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter didn’t win anything this year. Historically, voters have celebrated its Harry Potter motion simulation dark rides, but it got shut out entirely this year.
Winners in the Big Categories
Okay, the following news is information. Please don’t shoot the messenger if/when you disagree wildly with the voters.
The category that comes with the largest bragging rights is obviously Best Park. For the fifth straight year, the winner is Europa-Park in Rust, Germany. It has a diverse selection of attractions and lovely grounds and buildings that appeal to European and North American travelers in particular. The last time an American park won this category was in 2013 when Cedar Point claimed the throne. As I said, Disney gets taken for granted at the Golden Tickets.
Speaking of Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world and my personal favorite non-Disney park won another major title this year. Its latest offering, Steel Vengeance, is the Best New Ride in the amusement park category. Yes, the Golden Tickets correctly split their awards into water parks and standard amusement/theme parks to avoid comparing apples to oranges.
Speaking of water parks, there was an issue of terrible optics with the Best Water Park selection this year. Schlitterbahn New Braunfels emerged victorious in the category despite the fact that one of its co-owners is currently in jail. The details are too depressing to share, but I’m deeply surprised any park in the Schlitterbahn franchise was eligible in the category this year, much less that anyone would vote for them.
On the bright side, Dollywood continues to gain acclaim for its homespun southern charm. The park won three different categories including Best Shows, Friendliest Park, and Best Christmas Event. Given the wonderful things that Dolly Parton did for the town that hosts Dollywood, she deserves all the recognition that her park receives.
A Pennsylvania park earned a couple of wins, too. Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elsyburg, Pennsylvania, has the Best Food according to voters (yes, Epcot was robbed). Meanwhile, its Grand Carousel is the Best Carousel (no, King Arthur Carrousel wasn’t robbed). Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, the other place that has a claim to the world’s first theme park alongside Disneyland, is the Cleanest Park in the world, while Busch Gardens Williamsburg has the Best Landscaping.
Finally and most importantly, the Golden Tickets handed out the trifecta of best rides to three perennial favorites. The Best Water Park Ride in the world is Wildebeest at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, the Best Steel Roller Coaster is Fury 325 at Carowinds, and I didn’t want to spoil it but Knoebels won a third time for Best Wooden Roller Coaster. Phoenix once again holds the title after second place finishes in 2016 and 2017.
Overall, I would split hairs to argue several of the results. Disney could easily stake a claim to Best Food, Friendliest Park, Cleanest Park, and Best Water Park. Its Halloween and Christmas shows also match or surpass the quality of the actual winners in those categories. The one that really burns me up, however, is that Avatar Flight of Passage didn’t win Best New Ride. I have a bone to pick with the voters on that one.
Here is the official site of Golden Ticket winners for 2018 if you’d like to read more.