Golden Ticket Awards: SeaWorld lands ‘legend’ status; Disney, Universal, Fun Spot take titles

Dewayne Bevil/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

SeaWorld Orlando, Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and Fun Spot were among the winners of 2023 Golden Ticket Awards, presented annually by Amusement Today. Dollywood park in Tennessee won five categories plus recognition for its owners, including singer Dolly Parton.

SeaWorld’s recognition falls under the “Golden Ticket Legend” category as the theme park had won the best marine life/wildlife park 17 times, and organizers have decided to retire the category.

“All parks strive to provide a day of fun, but SeaWorld offers something more: a message,” said Tim Baldwin, Golden Tickets communications coordinator. “You may not feel you are being educated while having fun, but you are.”

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios took the prize for best dark ride, and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios was named best Halloween event of 2022.

Best new attraction installation went to ArieForce One at Fun Spot’s location near Atlanta. The roller coaster debuted in March.

“There are lots of factors that make panelists vote for best new attraction installation, and I think the magnitude of Fun Spot’s investment really spoke to the importance of this ride. It put the property’s growth on a forward-moving trajectory,” Baldwin said.

Orlando-based Fun Spot purchased Fun Junction USA in Fayetteville, Georgia, in 2017, creating Fun Spot America Atlanta.

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Rocky Mountain Construction was recognized for best new innovation, its 208 RetraK process, which was used at Fun Spot in Kissimmee on the Mine Blower coaster this year. RetraK upgrades tracks on wooden coasters.

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge at Universal Studios Hollywood took the ticket for best new family attraction.

Winners were announced Saturday at a ceremony at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Dollywood was named best park of 2023, awarded for best guest experience, best Christmas event, best kids area and best family coaster for its Big Bear Mountain ride. Namesake/co-owner Dolly Parton was present at the Saturday evening event. She was also recognized as a Golden Ticket Award Legend alongside Jack Herschend and Pete Herschend, founders of Herschend Family Entertainment, which operates Dollywood. Clair Hain and Mike Boodley also earned Legend status.

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Additional 2023 Golden Ticket recipients include: Wildcat’s Revenge at Hersheypark (best new coaster), Phoenix at Knoebels Amusement Resort (best wooden coaster, and the park won for best food), Fury 325 at Carowinds (best steel coaster), “Le Mime et l’Etoile” at Puy du Fou (best new show), Dutch Wonderland (best family park), Schlitterbahn (best water park), Rocket Blast at Waldameer & Water World (best new water park ride), Mammoth of Holiday World (best water park ride), Valhalla of Blackpool Pleasure Beach (best water ride), Fun Land of Fredericksburg (breakout family-entertainment center) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg (most beautiful park).

This marks the 25th year the Golden Tickets Awards have been distributed. Winners are determined by a panel of experienced park enthusiasts, says Amusement Today, an industry publication based in Texas. Suppliers, manufacturers and journalists are among the voters.

dbevil@orlandosentinel.com