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What is the world's best theme park?

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Published: June 26, 2008 at 8:04 AM

The "big one" in this year's Theme Park Insider Awards is the award for Best Theme Park.

This award goes to the theme park the site that has the highest cumulative rating for its attractions and restaurants, as well as a minimum number of ratings. The two-time defending champion is Busch Gardens Europe, though the award has been won in the past by Universal's Islands of Adventure and Tokyo DisneySea. Here are the leading candidates for this year's award, in alphabetical order:

  • Busch Gardens Europe
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom
  • Disneyland
  • Dollywood
  • Universal's Islands of Adventure
  • Universal Studios Florida

    If you have been to one of these parks in the past year, please click its link and submit your honest rating and review for the attractions and restaurants you experienced. (Don't vote for places you have not been!) Then, cast your vote in our straw poll:

    Campaign for your favorite, in the comments, please.

  • Readers' Opinions

    From Deidre Dennis on June 26, 2008 at 9:25 AM
    I enjoy all of these parks. I'm sure there will be some HEATED debate about Disney vs Universal and I say the more parks the merrier.

    Just came back from our first trip ever to BGE and found myself disappointed. It just was not what I thought it would be in my mind, I guess. Alpengeist was EXTREMELY rough on the body and I've never felt sick after ANY coaster before. Big Bad Wolf was worse. Griffon was all that everyone's claimed it to be. What a smooth and great coaster. I'm still glad we went because we can say that's one more park we went to, but overall it just didn't live up to my expectations, I guess. This coming from someone who's real closest theme park is in Silverwood and we've never been there. One thing I did like about it, however, were there were pretty much no wait times regardless of the time of day we went. I think the longest wait was 15 minutes on any of the rides, that was awesome. Definitely will not be going back to this park.

    On the other hand, we are taking our third trip to Disneyland with some folks who have never been before and we just did a big trip there last year. We're very excited to be a part of the experience. You really seem to lose yourself in some of the bigger well themed parks. I know when we go on vacation, we love that experience of really being as far away as possible, physically (and mentally) from reality and some parks such as Univeral and Disney do it better than others.

    All this to say that I truly couldn't make a choice.

    From Bradley Robertson on June 26, 2008 at 10:18 AM
    Uh...No Magic Kingdom? MK is far better than Disneyland. DL has nostalgia and that's about it. When I went last year all I could think about all day was that these folks needed a lesson in customer service. The culture there is completely different from the one at WDW, and not in a good way.

    No BGT either? Once again I think the choices are lacking and will be abstaining.

    From James Rao on June 26, 2008 at 10:48 AM
    There was a recent discussion thread about favorite theme parks. Check it out for more of the debate.

    For my money, I stand by my comments in that thread explaining why Disney's Animal Kingdom is my favorite theme park with EPCOT taking a close second. BGE was an awesome trip, but it did not topple my love for DAK.

    From Deidre Dennis on June 26, 2008 at 12:01 PM
    How come WDW isn't on here? Do you count AK, DHS, MK & EPCOT as different parks?

    Just curious.

    From Don Neal on June 26, 2008 at 12:32 PM
    Bradley, Robert pointed out that the candidates were chosen based on the scoring of attractions and restaraunts here on the site. So evidently the overall consensus of MK isn't as high as these others. Agree or disagree, the numbers chose the candidates.
    From Bradley Robertson on June 26, 2008 at 12:47 PM
    I just stick to the blog so I guess that explains my confusion as of late. Seems weird that all the sudden these polls are going to the forums first before showing up on the blog. If the forums used SMF or phpBB I'd be more willing to participate there, but the current setup seems a little cumbersome to me.

    I guess I'll stick to Screamscape and participate on the local sites from now on.

    From Robert Niles on June 26, 2008 at 2:00 PM
    The ratings I am talking about are the ones you can find by clicking the park names at the right of any page, or by clicking the "Rides/Shows" link at the top of the page.

    FWIW, there are three main sections of the site:
    1) The "Blog Flume" front page blog.
    2) The attraction/restaurant/hotel ratings/reviews
    3) The Discussion forum (for questions and answers about park trips, attraction design, etc.)

    From John Quinteros on June 26, 2008 at 3:17 PM
    This is a stupid poll. Disneyland will win hands down!
    From Scottland Jacobson on June 26, 2008 at 4:46 PM
    I've always said that DL is better than MK, but WDW is better than the "Disneyland Resort." Disneyland just puts it together better. MK is just a bit too spread out.

    I think Dollywood is absolutely beautiful and I'm glad to see it get recognition.

    But when it comes to combining Disney-style theming with thrilling attractions, IOA wins hands down. Universal Orlando is the ultimate experience as a whole.

    From Anthony Murphy on June 26, 2008 at 8:34 PM
    I am a little disappointed that there is not more of a Disney representation because I think they are contenders. Animal Kingdom gets my vote because the park gets better and better every year. I have never seen a park make such a turnaround. Nothing against the Universal Parks, but they have been a little stale lately. Harry Potter will be a good addition, but DAK has added Everest and Nemo in the past few years. Two giant hits!

    This park has it all:

    Food (though Mythos is good too, the best counter service)

    Exibits

    Rides

    and is secret weapon.....shows!

    From Joshua Counsil on June 26, 2008 at 9:58 PM
    Wow ... I gotta say - I'm intrigued, yet disappointed, at the same time.

    It's exciting to see Dollywood on the map, even though there is no chance it will win. It's kind of like the indie film of the bunch. Busch is a nice option, and I'm happy that a non-Disney/Uni park is so strong.

    It's also exciting to see Animal Kingdom make a bid for the best park after receiving so much negative publicity in its first few years of operation. Amazing what a fresh show and a roller coaster can do for a place. Still, I have to say, the layout and traffic engineering of the park cause so many bottlenecks that it feels more congested than the Magic Kingdom, which inhibits the length I can stand to visit. That, coupled with Hester and Chester, cause me to question how this park beat the other three WDW parks.

    Even more disappointing is how IOA made it into the finals. Although it's an enjoyable park, it has diminished so much over its short run that I couldn't possibly put it in the top six parks.

    Since I haven't seen BGE or Dolly, my vote is for DisneyLand or Universal Studios Florida, two parks that keep getting better in my eyes. Too bad Epcot didn't make it ...

    From Karin S on June 27, 2008 at 10:24 AM
    Gotta tell ya, a little disappointed, but not surprised, that Busch Gardens Africa didn't make the cut. While I am a fan of most things Disney, this overlooked park is far superior to Animal Kingdom. While it might lack the Disney Magic, the animal attractions and encounters blow AK's away; the rides are edgier and the food is great. We also can't overlook the fact that it's not overcrowded, which makes it a great place to day-trip.
    From Steven Pressley on June 28, 2008 at 2:24 PM
    I voted for IOA. We took my 76 yo mother to Universal (IOA & US) at Christmas AWESOME!! She giggled like a school girl the whole time. IOA out does Disney hand down.

    For our 25th I took my wife to Dollywood. Everybody was so helpful, the shows were fantastic and the rides looked top notch. However, being somewhat big there was NO accommodating my 46 in waist on any ride. My wife would definitely vote for DW.

    From Lindsay Murray on June 28, 2008 at 2:42 PM
    I am very torn between DAK and IOA. Being a Floridian, I have visted both the Disney and Universal resorts numerous times and I feel that both are very strong. I may be outnumbered here, but IOA edges out DAK by a very small margin for me. Basically, in my personal turmoil of having to chose between these two great parks, I asked myself a question: If I was making a one day trip to Orlando and could only visit one park, where would I get the most out of my day? I had to go with IOA. The Walt Disney World Resort is kind of a package deal for me, but I could spend one day at IOA and feel completely fulfilled. All things said, Animal Kingdom is a fantastic park and I would be in no way disappointed if it were to win. :)

    P.S. I agree that BG Africa should have done better. I've gone like 4 times this year and it never ceases to be a day well spent.

    From Barbara Boyer on June 29, 2008 at 4:09 AM
    Wow, some comments are pretty intense - this is about fun parks, people!

    Busch Gardens Europe may not be in the same league as the Orlando parks, but then Williamsburg VA is not anything like central Florida (thank goodness!). For my money, BGE is about the best of all possible worlds - Alpengeist, Apollo's Chariot, Griffon and of course the Loch Ness Monster provide all the thrills I need, while the park itself is beautiful, cool even on 100 degree days because of all the trees, landscaping and proximity to water, and the views from the top of the coasters are unparallelled. The food is good, although expensive, and other than the weekends, the lines are not unreasonably long. It is a great park to visit in the late afternoon into early evenings on these scorcher mid-Atlantic days, and even better in the evenings. Riding Griffon at night provides one of the most outstanding views of any coaster in any park I've visited. Nothing in Florida can compare.

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