The best amusement park experiences according to the 2016 Golden Ticket Awards

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Golden Ticket Awards


The results are in, and the 2016 Golden Ticket Award winners were announced during the annual awards ceremony this past Saturday evening at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

Though, for Cedar Point – a perennial favorite to take many categories, including best park and best steel roller coaster – this year was a disappointment, as the park did not receive a single award. Those that did, though, represent some of the best amusement park experiences available in the U.S. (Note that the Golden Ticket Awards include international parks as well, but keeping with the focus of Amusement Park Pro, this article only covers North America.)

Here are the winning highlights – or, in other words, the amusement parks you should make plans to visit!


Dollywood – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

The 2016 Golden Ticket Awards helped make a convincing argument that Dollywood has become a must-visit park. Winning the Golden Tickets for Friendliest Park, park with the Best Shows, Best Christmas Event, and Best New Attraction of 2016 for an Amusement Park (Lightning Rod), Dollywood has become a true destination in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Lightning Rod, the world’s first launched wooden roller coaster, opened earlier this year after some technical setbacks delayed its premiere. Designed by Rocky Mountain Construction, one of the most innovative designers of wooden coasters in recent years, Lightning Rod makes use of Dollywood’s mountainous terrain to send riders careening through its wickedly curved layout at speeds reaching 73 miles per hour (also the fastest peak speed of any wooden coaster on the planet).

In an early review before the coaster opened for regular operation, Coaster 101 wrote that “yet again, Rocky Mountain Construction has redefined everything I thought I knew about wooden coasters.” Indeed, Lightning Rod has to be an excellent coaster to take the award from a field that includes some other great new coasters that opened in 2016.



In regards to its other 2016 Golden Ticket wins, it should be no surprise that Dollywood, jointly owned by Dolly Parton herself, would take the award for Best Shows. Performances at Dollywood include an array of Christmas shows, musical reviews like Country Crossroads and Dreamland Drive-In, and seasonal parades and festivals.

In addition to other world-class rides, including coasters like Thunderhead and Wild Eagle, a 35-acre water park, and Dollywood’s combination of shows, attractions, and holiday festivities make it a park suitable for all ages and ride preferences, well deserving of its recognition at the 2016 Golden Ticket Awards.


Carowinds – Charlotte, North Carolina

Carowinds only took home one Golden Ticket, but it’s considered by many to be the “king” of the attraction-based awards. Fury 325, the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster (note: not the tallest or fastest coaster in the world), opened in 2015 to critical acclaim and, this year, took home the award for #1 Steel Coaster on the planet. In so doing, it beat out Cedar Point’s Millennium Force, which had won the award year after year with just a few exceptions dating back to its opening in 2000.


Fury 325 is a worthy winner and an excellent ride, but not the only reason to visit Carowinds. With other top coasters like Intimidator and Afterburn, plus major redevelopments in attractions over the past few years and a waterpark expansion that makes Carowinds’ Carolina Harbor the largest waterpark in the Carolinas, Carowinds is another great all-around park that will provide a very full day of fun. And, the waterpark is included in the price of admission!


Other highlights


Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Virginia) unsurprisingly takes the crown year after year for Best Landscaping at an amusement park. Themed entirely around European countries, plazas from England, to Italy, to Germany are perfectly manicured and beautifully recreated, with the theming even extending to the rides themselves.


Knoebels Amusement Resort (Elysburg, Pennsylvania) is America’s largest free-admission amusement park and has consistently been recognized by both the Golden Ticket Awards and fans as a park with great food. It again takes home the award for Best Food in 2016, along with its consistent honor of having the Best Carousel. In addition to the rides, Knoebels also has campgrounds, free picnic facilities and entertainment, and free parking, making it a very rare bird in the amusement industry!


Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio) did not actually win any Golden Tickets this year, a rarity for the park, but it’s included here because it was a Publisher’s Pick Award for Park of the Year, noted for “its foresight and philosophy of reinvesting that has resulted in continued excellence and for transforming the park into a complete resort destination.” Located on a peninsula on Lake Erie, Cedar Point features not just a huge amusement park but a water park, on-site restaurants and hotel, and beach with seasonal festivals and activities. And, though neithers its rides nor coasters took home any Golden Ticket Awards, many of them are widely considered to be some of the best in the U.S.


See the full list of the 2016 Golden Ticket Awards at!



About the Golden Ticket Awards

Considered “the Academy Awards of the amusement industry,” the Amusement Today Golden Ticket Awards are presented annually to honor the “Best of the Best” in the amusement industry and are calculated from an international poll conducted by Amusement Today. The prestigious survey asks experienced amusement park voters from around the country and world to rate the “bests” in 23 categories.

Amusement Today was founded in 1997 and covers international amusement and water park news and trends. In its 19-year history, it is a five-time winner of various awards from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).