Wrapping up the 2010 Best Theme Park Attraction Tournament
Published: April 4, 2010 at 9:56 PM
I've heard the complaints from some readers: That this year's tournament is diminished because The Voyage, a roller coaster from Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, has made the finals and, given its strong support from fans coming to the site from Facebook and Twitter, might win the whole thing.
And those critics have a point. I mean, come on, a 5-seed from a tiny location in Indiana shouldn't possibly hope to make the finals of the 64-team tournament, to face in the finals a 1-seed from the biggest name in the field, representing an institution that starts with the letter "D"?
That never happens in real life, right? ;-)
Maybe this *is* destiny. Maybe "Hoosier Hysteria" lives again.
Or maybe this tournament represents something a bit more fundamental than that. Let's not discount what Holiday World's fans are saying here. Let's listen to them, instead.
First, let's set aside the idea that The Voyage got this far simply because Holiday World's PR person rallied its fans via Facebook and Twitter. Other parks, with larger social media fan bases, tried the same and didn't get past The Voyage.
Holiday World's fans turned out not only because The Voyage is a great ride (I rode it last summer and instantly became a fan, too), but also because of the relationship that Holiday World and its fans have with each other.
In all the fuss we make about storytelling, setting and ride systems, we must not forget that theme parks are first in the hospitality business. When we enter a theme park, we want first to be made to feel welcomed. We want whatever experience we encounter within that park to provide good value for our money.
Holiday World excels at hospitality. We've mentioned many times on this site the park's free parking, free soft drinks and free sunscreen - expenses that, together, will set you back $30 or more at most other parks. But Holiday World extends its hospitality to its guests beyond the park gates.
Plenty of theme parks have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. But few will retweet or acknowledge posts from fans and independent websites, such as this site. Count Holiday World among those. Not only that, Paula Werne, Holiday World's PR person, posts here on Theme Park Insider in response to readers' questions about her park. To Holiday World, social media are actually, well, social - a conversation between the park, its fans and the people who cover the park - and not just another one-dimensional channel to distribute the park's PR, as it is for Disney and Universal.
Because readers feel part of that conversation with Holiday World, when the park asks them to rally for one of its attractions, they respond. But let's not forget that Holiday World established the foundation for that conversation by providing great value and strong in-park hospitality, as well as three world-class roller coasters, with The Voyage the highlight.
When fans cast the votes for The Voyage, I'm hearing a message that goes beyond their enthusiasm for this individual ride. I'm hearing people express their support for a park that values their business. For a park that doesn't nickel-and-dime them at every opportunity. For a park that treats them as *people* online and not simply as prospective sales.
And I'm hearing fans that crave an opportunity to let other people around the country, and the world, know those things. Disney fan sites don't cover Holiday World, or provide an easy channel for its fans be heard. Roller coaster sites too often segregate discussions into steel vs. wood, pigeon-holing Holiday World as a "woodie" park, and not enabling its fans appeal to a broader audience.
At Theme Park Insider, I don't care which company builds or runs a theme park. I don't care whether a roller coaster is steel, wood or a hybrid. All, I care about is whether a park provides a great experience, at great value, for its guests.
Let's not forget that Disney does that. Fantasmic! is one of my favorite shows, and would be a worthy champion for this tournament. I'm not counting it out, and no fan should. (The final vote is Monday from 11am-7pm ET, 8am-4pm PT.) But this tournament provided a forum for Holiday World's fans to draw your attention to their beloved park... and they took it.
And I couldn't be happier. No, Holiday World isn't a Disney clone. Its park lacks the immersive detail of a Disney park. But it's wonderful fun, with thrilling attractions, tasty food and great value. Located outside any metro area, you won't find it filled with locals who hang around simply for convenience. Holiday World instead draws a delightful crowd of knowledgeable theme and amusement park fans, who had to make the effort to drive out to Southern Indiana to visit.
If this tournament convinces a few more such folks to discover Holiday World, or any of the other great themed attractions that don't get the attention that Disney and Universal enjoy, then I will consider this tournament to have been a great success.
Oh, and by the way... Go Butler!