They’ve got a ticket to pride
Disney, Busch Gardens, and others feted at annual awards event
The Emmy Awards just honored achievements in television (yay Jean Smart and “The White Lotus”). Music will get its due when the Grammys air in February, and movies will have their big night when the Oscars are presented at the Academy Awards telecast in March. Last Saturday, the 2022 Golden Ticket Awards were announced, one of the awards programs that recognizes excellence in the parks and attractions industry.
Among the big winners were Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot for best new attraction installation of 2022 and Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for the year’s best new roller coaster. Both are well deserved.
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It’s interesting that Guardians got the nod for attraction installation, when it is also a roller coaster–and a novel one at that. Manufactured by Vekoma, the coaster cars are able to precisely rotate 360 degrees to pivot passengers in the direction of the action taking place in the attraction’s enormous show building. Disney has dubbed the breakthrough an “Omnicoaster” ride system. For pure, adrenaline-packed coaster thrills, Iron Gwazi is the clear victor, but Guardians packs a surprising–if accessible–punch. And the Omnicoaster technology makes for a wildly unique ride experience as well as a great storytelling device. I was floored by Guardians when I experienced it.
According to Amusement Today, the industry trade publication that organizes the Golden Ticket Awards, Guardians came in second in the voting for best new roller coaster. In third place was Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, while sister park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, took fourth place for Pantheon. In my estimation, the Busch Gardens ride is far superior to SeaWorld’s. But hey, what’s an awards presentation without at least a few questionable picks?
Iron Gwazi is one of the latest (and certainly among the greatest) examples of coaster nirvana from ride manufacturer Rocky Mountain Construction. I had the good fortune to be the first person outside of RMC and the folks at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment to ride Iron Gwazi and the first journalist to write about it. It raises the stakes in the Sunshine State and is, perhaps, the best coaster in Florida. (Velocicoaster at Islands of Adventure is certainly right up there as well.)
In addition to giving awards in 27 categories, the Golden Ticket Awards also release lists of the top 50 steel and the top 50 wooden roller coasters each year. Although it only debuted in 2022, Iron Gwazi vaulted to the number four position for steel roller coasters. (Fury 325 at Carowinds and Steel Vengeance and Millennium Force at Cedar Point took the top three slots, respectively.) Because of their unique I-Box track and other characteristics, I consider RMC rides such as Iron Gwazi and Steel Vengeance to be in a separate hybrid wooden-steel coaster category. While we’re on the topic, I’m considering adding a fourth category, storytelling coasters, to distinguish attractions such as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind that deftly combine a roller coaster with an immersive dark ride experience. It’s a term that Disney has used to describe Guardians, and the designation seems apt. (Although Disney said that the Epcot ride would be the world’s first storytelling coaster, and that’s clearly not the case.)
For best new family attraction of 2022, the Golden Ticket went to Volkanu: Quest for the Golden Idol at Lost Island Theme Park in Iowa. Manufactured by Sally Dark Rides, the sophisticated attraction looks incredible, especially for a fairly modest park. Unfortunately, the owners of the new park reported low attendance for its first season, so not many folks experienced Volkanu. Here’s hoping more people find their way to Lost Island next year.
The wacky Medusa’s Slidewheel at Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin won the best new water park ride. It’s nearly impossible to describe what happens inside the Ferris wheel meets water slide contraption, but I do my best in my overview (and include a couple of helpful videos).
It should come as no surprise that Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando took the prize for best Halloween event. For best Christmas event, the Golden Ticket Award went to Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood. Sister park, Silver Dollar City, which presents An Old Time Christmas, came in second. Really, both parks, which go way over the top with gazillions of twinkling lights, fabulous shows, parades, holiday season food, and other festive touches, deserve to share this award. They are both extraordinary.
The awards are based on a poll of 500 “experienced travelers” as well as industry journalists and ride suppliers. (Full disclosure: I am among the journalists polled.) To see the complete results across all categories, go to the Golden Ticket Awards site.
Do you agree with the Golden Ticket Awards winners? What are your thought about industry awards in general? Are you planning to visit any of the parks cited?