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Disney, SeaWorld and Universal win 2009 Theme Park Insider Awards

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Published: July 2, 2009 at 8:47 PM

ThemeParkInsider.com readers have been voting, and for the second year in a row, they've selected Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California as their choice for the world's best theme park.

Disneyland leads the winners in this year's Theme Park Insider Awards, selected based on cumulative reader ratings submitted to the site over the past 12 months. Disneyland earned the highest average rating for its attractions and restaurants, among ThemeParkInsider.com readers who submitted ratings for locations at multiple parks during the past year.

Our goal at ThemeParkInsider.com is to give people the best advice on finding the best value in a theme park vacation for their families. The Theme Park Insider Awards provide us the chance to say 'thank you' to the very best of the best in the theme park industry, from its millions of customers and fans.

Best Theme Park - Disneyland Park

Fantasyland in Disneyland

"We are always happy when people enjoy and appreciate our product," said Mike Hyland, director of public relations for Disneyland Resort. "Thank you for honoring Disneyland as World's Best Theme Park."

Theme Park Insider's Top Three Theme Parks:

Best New Attraction - Manta, SeaWorld Orlando

Manta as SeaWorld Orlando

This year's Best New Attraction is Manta, the new Bolliger & Mabillard flying roller coaster at SeaWorld Orlando. ThemeParkInsider.com readers gave Manta the highest average reader rating among all attractions that debuted between June 1, 2008 and May 31, 2009.

"We've known since the early design stages that Manta would be crowned as one of the world's top thrill rides, there's just nothing else like it," said SeaWorld spokesperson Nick Gollattscheck. "And to have Manta named Best New Attraction by readers of Theme Park Insider is quite an honor. They are our biggest fans and people who know an incredible thrill ride when they see one."

Theme Park Insider's Top Three New Attractions:

Best Theme Park Hotel - Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando.

Universal's Portofino Bay


Theme Park Insider honors the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort as the Best Theme Park Hotel of 2009. The Portofino Bay earned the highest average reader rating among all on-property theme park hotels over the past 12 months. Readers raved about the Portofino Bay's setting, service... and its free front-of-the-line access to Universal Orlando's rides and shows.

"The entire team here at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is thrilled and delighted to receive this honor," said General Manager Paul Leclerc. "Our loyal guests mean so much to us and ensuring their satisfaction is our highest priority. Our commitment to delivering a taste of 'la dolce vita' - the sweet life - to our guests is stronger than ever."

Theme Park Insider's Top Three Theme Park Hotels:

Best Theme Park Restaurant - Les Chefs de France, Epcot.

Les Chefs de France at Epcot


And in the final - and closest - category, Epcot's Les Chefs de France edged six-time Theme Park Insider Award winner Mythos to claim this year's honor as Best Theme Park Restaurant. Voting's been tight in this category for the past several years, reflecting the high quality of the top three honored restaurants, and the passion they elicit among their fans.

Theme Park Insider's Top Three Theme Park Restaurants:

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists... and thank you for providing us such great places to spend our vacations!

Readers' Opinions

From Manny Barron on July 2, 2009 at 9:14 PM
Without a doubt, Disneyland is the best theme park in the world so I'm glad it won that category. I wonder if Hollywood Rip,Ride,Rockit would have opened weeks ago and been eligible, would it have beaten Manta? Anyway I can't wait to ride both.
From Robert Niles on July 2, 2009 at 9:17 PM
Ah, Manny, the great mystery of the year, isn't it?

But just think about next year's Best New Attraction contest, with RRR and Harry Potter and Magic Mountain's new coaster and maybe a new Star Tours...

From Raul Araoz on July 2, 2009 at 9:38 PM
Barring some unforeseen delay, I just can't see Harry Potter losing.
From Robert Niles on July 2, 2009 at 9:51 PM
I love all our winners (and am especially glad to SeaWorld finally win one), but it's hard not to see a big Universal Orlando storm on the horizon for next year, isn't it?
From Anthony Murphy on July 3, 2009 at 5:16 AM
I am a bit suprised at all the winners except Manta, who, for all purposes, rocks!

Porfino Bay Hotel? I would have thought the Floridian, AK Lodge, or the Contemporary not to mention the Grand Californian would have beaten it out.

I am most suprised at best Theme Park resturant. Yes, Chefs de France is an excellent one, but I wouldn't consider it the best. I do not even think its the best in Disney World (I think its neighbor Canada outdoes it and the rest of World Showcase)

Disneyland I am torn about because I personally like Magic Kingdom better, but more rides (MK), more problems with the average falling.

Good stuff! I hope the parks care and take notice!

From James Rao on July 3, 2009 at 6:40 AM
As of right now, Manta has received 32 votes for a 9 rating, and Prowler has received 74 votes for a 9 rating.

Furthermore, in a recent best new attraction poll on this site, Prowler earned 47% of the votes besting all comers, including Manta.

So, despite all those numbers, how did Prowler lose? I mean, what else does a local fanbase have to do to rig a vote these days?

Let me guess: behind the scenes, Manta's 32 votes equates to a 9.4 rating, while Prowler's 74 votes equate to a 9.2 rating. Nice. So in other words, it would be better to have one vote for a 10 rating, than 100 votes at 9 each. By that logic, Jimmy Neutron's Brainwasher at Canada's Wonderland is better than both Prowler and Manta with its 2 votes and 10 rating.

I would be interested to see what would happen to Manta's behind the scenes rating if it had received as good a voter turnout as Prowler. Another 42 votes and it may have dropped from a 9.4 to a 9.1 rating. Why punish Prowler for getting more votes?

I guess this is not the first time something (or someone) has won the popular vote, but lost the "behind-the-scenes" vote.

From Joshua Counsil on July 3, 2009 at 7:18 AM
I'm pretty satisfied with the results this year.

Disneyland is not my personal favorite park, but it is a damn good one. I'm surprised that IOA still remains so high up in the theme park food chain. It is my least favorite Orlando park because of its poor upkeep (many rides look embarrassingly dilapidated), lack of live/theater/family entertainment, locker policy, and inefficient loading staff.

Manta is no surprise and is likely an excellent attraction.

Portofino was a big shocker, as well. Perhaps it's worth considering in the future.

I'm glad Chefs won as I was more satisfied with my meal there than at Mythos. Both are good, but Scott Joseph's reviews of the other top restaurants indicate that theme parks have a ways to go in the dining department.

From Anthony Murphy on July 3, 2009 at 7:47 AM
In regards to the park, remember that its a total average of all the eating and attraction ratings. Personally, I think that puts MK at a disadvantage with its sheer number of ratings. IOA, as lackluster as it has become, get high reviews with Dueling Dragons, Hulk, Spiderman, and Mythos. If you count that up, thats like 1/4 of the whole rating. Same thing with Disneyland which doesn't get pulled down by rides like Stitch's Great Escape and Tiki Room under new management.

Just a thought! However, its totally fair game!

From Joshua Counsil on July 3, 2009 at 7:51 AM
Very true, Anthony.

Also, it's nice to see that every winner this year acknowledged the website.

We're movin' on up in the world, Robert.

EDIT: Les Chefs didn't acknowledge their award. Where's the love?

From Robert Niles on July 3, 2009 at 8:30 AM
Hi James,

The rules are clear that the awards are based on average reader ratings. While those are rounded to the nearest whole number on the listing pages, we use the real number for the awards. Manta's rating is around a 9.4. Manta's is closer to an 8.6.

Honesty is very important to me as a publisher. It's my credibility. I bring it with everything I do on this site. I'm sorry if you are upset that your favorite ride didn't win, James, but I would appreciate it if you didn't publicly accuse me of lying.

But if that's the way you feel, I'm sorry and we'll miss you.

From Anthony J on July 3, 2009 at 9:13 AM
I agree with Disneyland as the best park in America. It's just the best Magic Kingdom in the world, even though it's still not perfect.

Portofino Bay Hotel is a great resort. I've stayed there plenty of times.. but I can't believe Les Chefs won over Mythos. I personally haven't tried it but I haven't heard many good things about it at all.

And Manta is a great ride.. It might not be one I do too often (it's slightly nauseating) but Sea World did a great job.

From Gareth H on July 3, 2009 at 9:13 AM
I actually feel that this site has always been fair, honest and open, which is why I've been coming here almost daily for years now.

The editor has always been clear to explain rules as easy to understand as humanly possible.

From James Rao on July 3, 2009 at 9:32 AM
Whoa there, Robert, I simply wanted the full details, and no where in my post did I accuse you of lying or cheating, or anything else that should make you want a prolific contributor and ardent supporter such as myself to abandon your site. My reference to the "behind-the-scenes" victory was simply pointing to the calc you just described giving Manta a 9.4 edge to Prowler's 8.6. Let's face it, on the surface, every indicator pointed to a Prowler victory.

That being said, it might make more sense to post those fractionals in the ratings, or round down to avoid these discrepancies.

Anyway, in 100 years it won't matter, so gratz to Manta. I am sure it is a very deserving ride.

From Raul Araoz on July 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM
Haven't ridden any of the new rides, so I won't comment on those.

Disneyland is my favorite park. You won't see any complaints from me. I will correct something Anthony said though. Disneyland has 62 listings compared to 45 for the Magic Kingdom. So, Disneyland would actually have the greater chance of having poor attractions to bring down its' rating. The fact that it still succeeded is proof of the quality of attractions there.

Universal's hotels are just as great as the ones on Disney property. Haven't stayed at the Portofino but the Royal Pacific is comparable to the Polynesian. I am also surprised at the lack of love for the Grand Californian.

The three restaurants listed are not my favorites. IMHO, I feel that guests tend to correlate price with quality. This is why the most expensive restaurants at the parks tend to get higher ratings. Chefs de France is a decent eatery, but it is not as good as Mexico, Japan or Canada. Same goes for Mythos. When I am in IOA, I always eat at the Confisco Grille. Great food for half the price. Sharks is the best of these three and is superior to the Coral Reef in Epcot.

Congratulations to the winners and an early Congratulations to Harry Potter. Winner of best new attraction in 2010. ;)

From Anthony Murphy on July 3, 2009 at 10:14 AM
I counted and you are right :) Still, I think my major theory is still true. I think it explains IOA's high rating. Still, if I were to follow my own logic, what about Animal Kingdom? Good rides and good shows, but perhaps the lacking of spectacular places to eat kinda kill it! I also think that one thing that is not rated upon (and I really don't know a way to do it) is the whole enviroment of the park. Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and IOA would do very well I would think.

In no way am I saying that there was trickery behind the winners. I think Robert has to deal with this every single year. I would say my big suprise was Porfino winning over everything else. Sure its a nice resort, but the best? Same with France which, I like, but not first on my list!

I would like to see the parks acknowledge their "famous award". Disney probably won't bring it out though!

What makes Disneyland so great? Not saying they didn't deserve to win, but isn't this second year in a row? I like Disneyland, but two years in a row? Must have that Mythos magic :)

From Robert Niles on July 3, 2009 at 11:31 AM
Four words give Portofino a huge advantage over the top-flight Disney parks:

"Front of the line"

Don't discount that benefit's effect upon people's ratings.

From Robert Niles on July 3, 2009 at 11:33 AM
I've also been mulling whether we need to go to half-points or tenths-of-a-point on the park listing pages, to avoid this sort of confusion. But there's a level of hair-splitting geekery that I don't mind for the annual awards, but would really change the tone of the site on a daily basis, so I've avoided that switch to date.
From James Rao on July 3, 2009 at 4:42 PM
For day-to-day purposes it is probably not important to list fractional ratings, but when everything looks even and you are posting some sort of ratings winner, it makes sense to list all the details.

Gratz to Worlds of Fun, Prowler, and the local fan base for their nail-bitingly close, second place finish! It is hard to topple one of the Orlando juggernauts, but Prowler came real close!

Have a great 4th of July, everyone!

From Satch Foley on July 3, 2009 at 11:38 PM
I have not been to Disneyland yet, so I can't compare it to other theme parks. I really like Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I can ride the front row of Griffon for hours. I just rode it for 2.5 hours. It is a great attraction. IOA, as in 2009, should not be in 3rd place. The Harry Potter "detour" significantly detracts from any type of themeing. The Hulk and Spiderman are superior attractions but the rest of the park is showing its age. Dueling dragons has the one of the longest queue areas in the history of theme parks. The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad is fun for a couple of times but repeated viewings become tiresome. Poseidon's Fury is very tired and weak. However, Jurassic Park River Adventure still holds up well. Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls lacks the themeing of Splash Mountain and the ride vehicles can be uncomfortable if you are over 6'2" (lol). If Disneyland is #1, I would pick Busch Gardens Tampa or Seaworld Orlando over IOA as #3.
I really liked Manta but it is the first flying coaster I have ever ridden. I found it to be themed well and fun to ride.
I only stay at the Hard Rock Hotel when I am at Universal, so I don't have an opinion about Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. However, Disney's Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World is really an overpriced moderate hotel at WDW. Once you get away from the stunning lobby, you find rooms that are comparable to Disney moderates at a price that nears the deluxe resorts. The boat transportation is slow and frustrating. The onsite restaurants are overpriced even for Disney.
I would put Le Cellier Steakhouse (Canada) or Teppan Edo (Japan) at Epcot ahead of Les Chefs de France.
From Sylvain Comeau on July 4, 2009 at 1:35 PM
I was glad DL won for the second year running. It certainly is the best theme park in North America, if not the world. While it still has a few problem areas, it is overall a charming and beautiful park that is packed with great attractions.

I haven't been on Manta yet, but look forward to giving it a whirl on my next Orlando trip. I really enjoyed last year's winner The Simpsons (and the runner up, Toy Story Mania) when I went to Orlando in May.

I haven't been to Busch Gardens, but I want to make a comment on IOA. Spider-Man is a world class attraction, no question. Jurassic Park Adventure and Duelling Dragons are excellent. My problem is with The Incredible Hulk.

While it is an awesome coaster, I think it needs to be refurbished. It's the only coaster I've ever ridden that gives me a headache, and makes me feel like I might pass out on the ride. This happened on both my trips to IOA, and I finally figured out why. The coaster rattles relentlessly on its track, shaking your head throughout the ride. I think they should refurbish it to make it smoother. Anybody else have the same experience?

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