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What is the best theme park attraction in America?

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Published: December 14, 2009 at 3:52 PM

It is with great pleasure that today I let you know about next year's Best Theme Park Attraction tournament.

That's right. Instead of honoring the best ride in America, as we did for the tournament's first two years, we're opening it up to all theme park attractions in 2010, including rides and shows.

Not only that, we're going to be running four tournaments in one. We're breaking the 2010 tournament into four brackets:

  • Best Themed Ride
  • Best Roller Coaster
  • Best Live Show
  • Best Movie or Animated Show

Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida
Last year's winner: Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida

Sixteen top attractions will compete in each bracket, for those respective titles. Then, the Best Themed Ride and Best Roller Coaster will face off for the title of Best Theme Park Ride, and the Best Live Show and Best Movie or Animated Show winners will compete for Best Theme Park Show.

Finally, those two winners will match up in the tournament final, for the title of Best Theme Park Attraction in America.

Other changes this year? Instead of keeping voting open all day, as we did in the past, we're treating these match-ups just like the games in the sports tournaments that inspired it. Each match-up in the Best Theme Park Attraction tournament will last two hours, and only one match-up will run at a time on the Theme Park Insider website. (I'm working on a new voting tool for this year's tournament, too.)

I'll post reminders at the start of each match-up to Theme Park Insider's Twitter page, as well as sending a schedule of each day's match-ups to Theme Park Insider's e-mail subscribers, so if you haven't yet signed up for one of those services, they'll be great ways to keep up with the voting.

So what attractions will be in this year's tournament? Well, you've already decided. I tallied the ratings submitted by Theme Park Insider readers over the past 12 months to select the participating attractions and to seed the tournament. Filling the brackets did require a few judgment calls, though, and I'd like to explain those now.

  • The biggest judgment call came in the roller coaster tournament. From the way you've rated them, you folks love Bolliger & Mabillard Mega coasters. But I can't see the fun in having multiple match-ups in the roller coaster bracket devoted to splitting hairs over whether Apollo's Chariot is a better ride than Diamondback or Goliath or Nitro or Raging Bull. (I listed those alphabetically, so don't infer anything from that order.) Especially when the majority of readers on the site haven't ridden them all.

    So I've made this call - there will be only one representative of any model of coaster in the tournament. That means one Bolliger & Mabillard Mega, one Intamin Giga, one B&M Dive, etc. This way, if you haven't ridden the coaster in the draw, but have ridden one of the same model elsewhere, you'll be encouraged to consider that experience when deciding which coaster to support. The representative that was selected was the one with the highest reader rating on the site when I seeded the tournament.

  • A handful of roller coasters with strong show elements were seeded in the best themed ride bracket, instead of best roller coaster. I'm not revealing any participants yet, but you probably can guess a few rides that may be officially "roller coasters" but have far more in common with their dark ride neighbors than the free-standing B&M and Intamin tracks you'd find at a regional amusement park.

  • Only rides that have been opened by now, and will remain open under the same name and in the same location in 2010, are eligible. We'll hand out a Theme Park Insider Award on July 4, 2010 to the best new attraction opened between June 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010. But attractions that opened after November 1, 2009 won't be eligible for the 2010 Best Attraction tournament. Nor will attractions that will have closed or moved before March 2010.

    The big effect of this decision? No Dueling Dragons. Those Islands of Adventure coasters will have closed by March 2010, to be rethemed as Dragon Challenge for the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, expected to open later that spring. (Frankly, it'd be kinda pathetic to award the title of Best Attraction to a ride that technically no longer exists.) There will be a Bolliger & Mabillard Inverted in the tournament, however, so fans of the Dragons will have a coaster to root for.

  • The difference between "live shows" and "movie and animated shows" was a bit of a judgment call, too. I understand that some of what we'll be calling "live" shows are, in fact, prerecorded. And that at least one of the "movie and animated show" nominees uses live input at each show. The difference, to me, was the presence of live performers (people or animals - not to give too much away) visible on stage during the performance. If a show had that, it went into the live show category. If not, then it went into movies and animated shows.

    The tournament will start on March 18, 2010, with the tournament final on April 5, 2010. So why I am telling you all this so early? Because, starting tomorrow, and then on each weekday between now and March 12, we'll be profiling one of the tournament entrants here in the Blog Flume.

    That means 64 days celebrating the best of the best of the theme park industry - 16 each of the best roller coasters, themed rides, live shows and movies and animated shows that America's theme and amusement parks have to offer. We'll include attraction descriptions, reviews, photos and videos (when we have them) and encourage each of you to submit your thoughts and experiences on these attractions as well.

    What better way to get through the cold winter months? (Well, for those of you who don't live in Southern California or Florida....) I hope that you'll all vote in this year's tournament, and enjoy the build-up over these next few months as we experience some of these great attractions here on Theme Park Insider.

  • Readers' Opinions

    From James Koehl on December 14, 2009 at 5:41 PM
    Voting will only be for 2 hours? What about those of us who work and don't have computer access during that 2 hours window?
    From Derek Potter on December 14, 2009 at 6:50 PM
    I would keep the voting window open longer than two hours. That's not a great deal of time for people to come and cast their votes. It limits participation...something I'm sure that some people would like. I on the other hand, like chaos and bedlam..which is what happened last year when a ton of people got involved. A great attraction has fans, and I would like to hear their voices.

    I would keep the polls open at least four hours. Then, maybe send an email to the PR departments of all parks involved in advance, so that they in turn can get the word out via social network..so that some of these matchups (you know the ones I'm talking about) aren't so lopsided. Even with a small window like two hours, fansites and a facebook page with legions of fans can generate votes fast.

    I also think we should close the comments section to non-registered voters (anonymous posters) for those particular threads during the tournament, so that those who take the time to register with the site, and all of us already here at TPI get to fire all the shots. That's some of the best fun of the whole thing.

    I have a feeling that the final matchup between ride and show will be fairly anti-climactic. I could be wrong, but I'm thinking that the ride will win pretty handily.

    From James Rao on December 14, 2009 at 8:01 PM
    Sounds brilliantly fun!

    And I have no problem with the two hour voting window thanks to my newly purchased iPhone (Merry Christmas to me!). I can vote at anytime from anywhere...and do it in style. All the babes on the city bus will wonder what I am up to with that smarmy grin of self satisfaction plastered on my face as I input my coveted vote! But I won't give them the time of day...no, I am too cool for that. I will just place my vote, then nonchalantly return to reading the latest issue of my favorite Spider-Man comic book. I can't wait!

    I do agree with Derek about the anonymous posting, though. Make people put a name to their comments, even if it is a distinctive, yet fictitious moniker like mine. ;)

    From Anthony Murphy on December 14, 2009 at 8:54 PM
    Great!

    BTW, Raging Bull should be first because its the best! :)


    I think the theme parks will impliment their fbook followers to bring traffic to the site. Good your the site!

    From 166.214.130.68 on December 14, 2009 at 10:23 PM
    I don't have the luxury of the iphone (unless James will let me borrow his.... lol) so voting in a 2 hour time frame might be harder for me. I am wondering if that might make the results slightly different due to it possibly being only the people who were able to get to thier internet connection or whatever at the time of the vote. Being it's your site though, and your putting the time into setting it up..... I say do it however you want!.... lol. I will say that sometimes (even though I am registed on the site) I do like to put comments without registering because I can (without logging in) and sometimes it is nice if you say something that you are going to be argued with about or feel like your difference in opinion may be chastised for, you don't have to worry about feeling personally attacked (like if I were to say something controversial to those on this site like.... I'd rather have a new rapids ride than a new B & M hyper..... oh the verbal reprimand from some of the thrillseeking readers that would probably follow...... lol).
    From Sylvain Comeau on December 15, 2009 at 12:56 AM
    The new format is a good idea, because the movies and live shows never had a chance to shine before (rides were sure to win because, well, most people go to the parks for the rides). By the way, I'll be stunned if Mickey's PhilHarmagic doesn't win in the best movie category.
    From 74.161.247.26 on December 15, 2009 at 2:41 AM
    Disappointing to say the least. The more restrictive you make any 'contest', the less reliable and more biased the outcome will always be.

    A '2 hour voting window'? For what purpose? Do you really think that will enable all the interested parties to participate? This is a 24 hour world, people work, attend school, have families to take care of and have many other entertainment optiona available during whatever 2 hour period 'you decide' is the only time to cast a ballot if desired. A true sampling? Get real.

    Only one ride or coaster from the same manufacturor? Why not only one ride from each park or each company that owns a park? Why not only one dark ride or one water ride? Thats like saying all Fords, Chevys or Toyotas are the same because they are made by the same company? I don't even ride coasters, but I know those that do would not consider them all 'equal' because the same company makes them. And I'll bet B & M would tend to disagree iwith you as well that they're all the same because they make them?

    Sounds to me like you had a year +/- to rework 'your contest' and you decided to use the the polling and voting laws from Mississippi or Alabama as your blueprint. Shame on you...I'll cast my vote now, I won't be voting under this silly, restrictive, biased rules structure. You and the kids have fun with your contest and your site. Bye, bye

    From Anthony Murphy on December 15, 2009 at 8:51 AM
    You won't vote because you and your little friends can't create programs that would stuff the ballot box? I found last year's contest extremly bias and this is a good way to get people to come back to the site.

    I am starting to second the idea to only let registered members comment. They do not seem to have a problem with this new way of doing it.

    Does it stink I can't vote on all of this? Yes, but I really don't think I can give rides such as Top Thrill Dragster, Kinga Ka, Curse of Darkcastle, etc a fair shake since I have never been on them.

    From James Rao on December 15, 2009 at 9:22 AM
    And so it begins....WAR!

    Yeah, baby, you've gotta love tournament time!!! Whoo-hoo!!!

    From Derek Potter on December 15, 2009 at 9:53 AM
    ...and the accusations start flying already. Ballot stuffing? Really? Sounds more like sour grapes to me. As I said before, a great attraction has fans, and fans voted last year. The word was put out, and loyal fans showed up. It can't be helped that Cedar Point fans are just as loyal, if not more so than the Disney ones. If you want to make it a closed, country club-esque vote that would be uninteresting, anticlimactic, and biased in it's own right, that's your thing. The industry is about people, and I would like to know what the people think. Not just the Disney superfans or the coaster superfans, not just the people of Florida, California, or Ohio, but all park fans everywhere. If we can hand a vote for President of the United States to every uneducated and biased person 18 years and older, then surely we can give park fans a good window of oppurtunity to cast their vote in this little tournament.

    Anonymous poster 74.161.247.26, some of your issues with the contest are valid. Perhaps if you A) presented an argument free of veiled insults and assumptions, B) Had solutions instead of just complaining, and C) were registered with the site instead of posting anonymously, you might have an audience.

    BTW Robert, I'm sure you've put a lot of thought into this thing. Regardless of my opinions on the tournament structure and such, thanks for putting it together. It's fun, and is always a great social experiment if nothing else.

    From Erin B on December 15, 2009 at 10:19 AM
    My only complaint is the two-hour voting window. Like others have said, some of us won't be able to vote within that time period which is a total bummer. Hopefully you'll consider changing that. Aside from that, I'm excited for the tournament! Last year's is what brought me to join this site [hey, I was being called out on my other forum and had to step in :) ], and I'm happy to be a member here.
    From Todd Houts on December 15, 2009 at 11:11 AM
    Thank you Derek for your suggestion that the anonymous poster should offer solutions or alternatives instead of solely complaining. In fact - didn't Robert have a recent post (rhetorical question) about a certain Mr. Disney's management style that basically said the same thing: paraphrasing "I know the gag doesn't work. Instead of telling me that tell me how to fix it."

    Thank you Robert for all the hard work you put into this tournament each year. I say let's give Robert's new format a try. If it doesn't work - he'll tweak it next year. And the loyal TPI readers will be just as grateful when it returns in 2011 in whatever format. BTW: I applaud the decisions you've made. My problem won't be the ability to vote during the 2-hour window (either via iPhone or my allowable use of my work computer), it will be to REMEMBER to vote when I get tied up with actual work.

    Looking forward to the preview of the 2010 entrants over the next 64 days as well as the tournament itself.

    From Anthony Murphy on December 15, 2009 at 12:12 PM
    No ballot stuffing? There was a crash of the site because of a program voting over and over again for the same attraction. But its old news. People went out and "caucus"-ed for the votes and very fairly got their people to come out. I think it might be different this year. I am sorry if I came off brash before. You are right, we should figure out how to fix the problem rather than just complain. However, I doubt it can get any better than this. I am bummed out by the 2 hour thing, but thats the way it goes.

    As for the timing, oh Robert I do not know how you can do this, but could you make it East Coast times instead of West Coast? The time difference kinda kills since your mornning is us on the East of the Mississippi's mid morning (and we are at work!)


    Its perfectly fine to have your favorites. While I am a big fan of Disney, I also like most of Universal's attractions, Seaworld's coasters, and SFGA's underrated roller coasters. I think this years will be better due to the fact that we will be comparing apples to apples. I mean, how can you compare Pirates of the Carribean to Manta? One is one of the top dark rides, one is the top flying coasters. How to you decide? Tower of Terror vs. Mummy? That might be a little more realistic.

    Also, another thing to remember: Unless I am mistaken, nobody gets anything from this except bragging rights. I say we should make a prize to give to the winner (like a trophy or something :). So lets all cool it off a bit and not get worked up (me included)

    ACE did it for Batman the Ride.

    From Sylvain Comeau on December 15, 2009 at 12:29 PM
    It figures that some idiot lowlife would actually take the time and effort to create a program just to rig an online contest to get his favorite attractions to win. To whoever did that: you are a LOSER. Get a life!
    From Joshua Counsil on December 15, 2009 at 1:34 PM
    Oh, it's on, 74.161.247.26! Bring the noise, boy!

    The 2-hour window is restrictive, yes. However, it may help to prevent those fan sites from re-directing everyone to this site for one vote.

    Robert -

    Maybe, unlike last year, you shouldn't announce the next vote. i.e. Don't say "Tune in tomorrow when Goliath takes on The Mummy!" That way, people don't know in advance and, therefore, can't alert all their fanboys to go to the site for one vote.

    From Robert Niles on December 15, 2009 at 2:18 PM
    Think of it as, oh, a sports tournament. The game's on between noon and two (for example) and if you want to play, that's when you have to show.

    That said, I will be posting a complete tournament schedule, with match-up times, before the tournament begins, so people can plan when to visit and vote.

    Now, it's my hope that people will visit for every match-up, coming back to the site multiple times a day to vote and check results. But with the schedule, at least people will know when their favorite match-ups are happening.

    And, trust me, I know the "prime times" for most visits to the site and will schedule the hottest match-ups for then (early evening on the east coast, late afternoon on the west).

    To pull back the curtain a bit more, this is a bit of an experiment in "interactive live programming" on the site, to see how it goes. If it seems to be bringing in a large audience, I might try additional interactive live programming events, in text or video, in the future. And if it totally blows, I'll tweak the tournament again for 2011.

    From Larry Zimmerman on December 15, 2009 at 2:50 PM
    Noon and two in which time zone? Pacific? That might work for me in Eastern Time, because I work in a facility that a) doesn't allow cell phones or PDAs, and b) won't let me log into TPI on work computers.

    I pity those, however, who work in similar circumstances in Central and Mountain (and especially Hawaii and Alaska, to say nothing of those in Europe and the Far East who loyally follow your site...).

    Seriously, the two hour window will hamper participation. Is there any way you can "roll" that window around the world? (No. I know there isn't without limiting voting to registered members.)

    Oh, and I hate to pick a scab, but you realize, I'm sure, that Apollo's Chariot is vastly superior to Goliath at SFGA...Diamondback is newer, but still can't match the eye-watering, breathtaking nature of the Chariot. It will be difficult voting for a lesser species of the B&M Hypercoaster... too many factors play into a ride's personality to be able to say "if you've ridden one, you've ridden them all."

    It's your contest, and you make the rules, but I think your quest for simplicity will skew the results too far to be a true measure of "The Best Attraction In America." Just sayin'.

    From 98.149.76.250 on December 15, 2009 at 5:18 PM
    Leave the tournament open all day, this isn't a sport's tournament, it's a damn Internet poll.
    From TH Creative on December 15, 2009 at 5:30 PM
    Why not just give the award to the Jungle Cruise and be done with it?!

    Sigh.

    Two hours is fine. When it comes the design and management of this fistfight, "In Niles We Trust."

    From Doug Kelley on December 15, 2009 at 9:36 PM
    While you're limiting roller coasters by grouping those that are similar, you might as well do the same thing for other categories. All dark rides are about the same so lump them into one representative attraction. Similarly, those heavily themed, slow and short roller coasters can be lumped into one pile with one representative. Oh, might as well lump all those show-type attractions together like Small World and American Adventure; they're about the same. Actually, why not make it really simple by lumping all the attractions into one representative attraction and we can all vote for it. That would be fun and non-confrontational! :)
    From Mark Kausch on December 16, 2009 at 11:01 AM
    I, too, am not fond of the two-hour window, but I'm grateful that you live in SoCal. Robert, you are a late sleeper, aren't you?

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