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Dolly is a (theme park) legend
The iconic performer and her park score big at the Golden Ticket Awards
Renowned signer-songwriter and adored multi-hyphenate celebrity, Dolly Parton is certainly no stranger to awards. Last Saturday, she received one more to place on what I can only assume is her outrageously enormous mantel shelf: the Industry Legends Golden Ticket Award.
At its 25th annual ceremony, in which it recognizes achievements in the parks and attractions industry, trade publication Amusement Today honored Parton and her Dollywood business partners, Pete and Jack Herschend, with the Legends Award. The Tennessee park, located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, hosted the ceremony and also nabbed top honors with the Best Park award.
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The Hershcends founded Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri in 1960, and their company has subsequently added other theme parks and entertainment venues to its portfolio, including a second Silver Dollar City in Tennessee. When Ms. Parton joined forces with the brothers in the mid-1980s, the park became known as Dollywood and immediately saw a huge bump in attendance. Under their guiding light, the destination theme park resort has grown and evolved substantially. Case in point: It will open its second hotel, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort, this fall. The park scored three additional Golden Ticket Awards–more than any other property–including the Best Kids’ Area, the Best Christmas Event, and the Best Family Coaster for Big Bear Mountain, which launched in the spring.
“We don’t do what we do to earn awards, but we’re not going to turn them down either,” Parton quipped at the ceremony. “Seriously though, our teams work hard to make sure our guests enjoy their time at Dollywood, and these awards honoring what they do sure make me happy because they are getting the recognition they deserve.”
“It is a stellar year for Dollywood–its best performance yet,” added Tim Baldwin, communications coordinator for the Golden Ticket Awards. “As a finalist in nine categories and taking a record five Golden Tickets, the park has accomplished something notably amazing.”
The Herschends and Parton deserve the accolades. With its world-class coasters and other attractions, spectacular live entertainment, some of parkdom’s best dining, and its celebration of Smoky Mountain heritage as well as the cult of personality that is Dolly, Dollywood is a unique and wonderful park. Beyond everything she has accomplished in entertainment and the parks industry–and holy moly, it’s a lot–Parton should receive a Congressional Gold Medal to add to her overburdened mantel. Or maybe she should head a new Cabinet position as Secretary of Can’t We All Just Get Along. If anybody can heal this divided nation, it’s the universally beloved icon.
Amusement Today honored two other legends at the ceremony. After giving SeaWorld Orlando the top Marine Life/Wildlife park award for 17 years in a row, the publication retired the category and effectively placed the perennial winner in the hall of fame. Clair Hain Jr. and Mike Boodley, who have advanced wooden roller coaster design as the founders of Great Coasters International, were also declared legends.
I don’t have a say on the Legends awards, but I am among a group of industry journalists that votes for most of the Golden Ticket Awards categories. Among other winners, Hersheypark came to the podium to accept the award for Wildcat’s Revenge as the Best New Roller Coaster. The airtime-filled RMC IBox makeover boasts the world’s largest underflip. (I’m still trying to figure out what the heck that element entails.) The Best New Family Attraction went to Universal Studios Hollywood for its mind-bending Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. France’s Puy du Fou, which features spectacular, grand-scale shows instead of roller coasters and dark rides, won Best New Show for “Le Mime et L’Etoile.”
In addition to the awards honoring achievements over the past year, the Golden Tickets rank the top 25 roller coasters in both the wooden and steel categories as part of its annual event. This year, Fury 325 at Carowinds, Millennium Force at Cedar Point, and Jurassic World VelociCoaster took the top three steel spots respectively. I’d go with the fourth or fifth picks, Cedar Point’s Steel Vengeance or Busch Gardens Tampa’s Iron Gwazi over Millie, which, in my opinion, shouldn’t even be on the list. As for woodies, Phoenix at Knoebels, Voyage at Holiday World, and El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure topped the rankings this year.
Here is the complete list of 2023 Golden Ticket Awards winners.
What are your thoughts about this year’s Golden Ticket Awards? Should Dolly Parton be appointed to a Cabinet position? Does Millennium Force belong on the list of best coasters?