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Tournament final: Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas vs. Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights

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Published: April 4, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Here we are: the finals of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament. For the past few weeks, we've been voting our way down to the final two as we select America's best theme park event. Today, we'll pick our winner.

The finalists are:

Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas

Readers have raved about the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee theme park bathing itself in lights and holiday decor for this annual holiday festival. Dollywood's known for its musical productions, and Smoky Mountain Christmas continues that tradition, with specially-themed shows for the season. The cold mountain weather's a great fit for the season, too, and readers say they appreciate Dollywood's embrace of religious symbolism in its Christmas celebration, instead of secularizing the holiday, as some other theme parks do with their Christmas events.

Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights

USF didn't create the first theme park Halloween event. (Knott's Berry Farm in California earned that honor.) But Universal Orlando's taken Halloween to a new level, building an unparalleled event in terms of scope, popularity and economic impact. With its aggressive online social networking, Halloween Horror Nights has become almost a 12-month experience for its fans, rather than a one-night deal in October. Sure, fans rave about the scares and the haunts. But it's the overwhelming social camaraderie that builds in a great Halloween event such as this, as people come together in laughter or screams in response to the park's scareactors, that makes this event so beloved by its many fans.

These events are here because they have built strong emotional connections with their fans - connections that these parks have maintained through social media and used to drive votes in this tournament. Your fellow readers have spoken. If you've not checked out these events, you should.

But, as they say, only one can be the champion. It's time to vote.


Polls are open for just 24 hours, closing at noon Eastern on Tuesday.

I'd like to thank everyone for participating in this year's tournament. And I'd like to invite our new visitors to click around and take a closer look at the Theme Park Insider website. As dedicated fans of your favorite theme park, you've got some great insider experience and tips that I'm sure other readers around here would love to hear about. So, please, feel welcome to jump in on the discussion forum, tips page or park review pages to leave your ratings and reviews of the attractions you've experienced. We're just fans helping fans here, and we'd love to have you join us, too.

Update - Polls closed: And congratulations to Dollywood for its victory in the final, as Smoky Mountain Christmas has won the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament title as the Best Theme Park Event in America.

Thanks, again, to everyone who participated in this year's tournament!

Readers' Opinions

From 131.230.75.88 on April 4, 2011 at 9:20 AM
Voted for Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas. It has been a family tradition since the event began in 1990 and it truly makes our Christmas season special!
From 99.197.64.57 on April 4, 2011 at 10:05 AM
Dollywood makes our Holiday much more special. We go to Pigeon Forge for Thanksgiving and spend that day relaxing as a family and the rest of our vacation is spent at Dollywood enjoying the shows and loving the way that they really bring home the true meaning of Christmas. From the birth of Christ to the trueness of Santa Claus. We wouldn't miss it.
From James Rao on April 4, 2011 at 10:12 AM
In my mind, a vote for Dollywood is a vote for Silver Dollar City. Gotta give my props to Herschend for doing such a great job on a much smaller budget than the big boys.

Besides, Christmas is hands down a better holiday than Halloween. At least you get a day off out of it!

From Joshua Counsil on April 4, 2011 at 11:16 AM
I gave it to Halloween Horror Nights. Truthfully, I haven't experienced either, but I always love the amount of PR gold that goes into HHN. I always visit the creatively designed website, watch behind the scenes exposés, and read any trip reports related to HHN on this site.

Celebrating the true meaning of Christmas means the event is limited to Christians. Celebrating the true meaning of Halloween can be done by all. HHN has a broader appeal and takes the cake, in my book.

From Audra Hicks on April 4, 2011 at 11:23 AM
Had to vote for our favorite Park... Dollywood! We buy season passes every year because it is such a fun place to visit while camping in the Smoky Mountains. This park stays up to date with attractions, family oriented & really cares about its guests. We enjoy the Smoky Mtn Christmas every year at Dollywood. Even in the cooler weather you can ride rides, walk around and see the lights and just have a great time all day! We camp in our travel trailer in Pigeon Forge & usually stay for 7-10 every other month. While there it is a must to visit Dollywood at least 2-3 days out of our stay and sometimes more! Love it!!! :)
From Bill Lohr on April 4, 2011 at 11:46 AM
Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas event is so well done. Every detail is looked at to make your stay a great event. The park offers so much to do with all of the rides as well as many great shows. The park is decked out more than anywhere I have ever seen and they even provide great themed food as well. We go for 2 or 3 days each year and enjoy every minute of it. We travel 9 hours to make the trip each way. The park offers more then you can do in just one day. Great Job Dollywood, I hope you win this tournament!
From 131.230.74.187 on April 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM
Smoky Mountain Christmas is to good to pass up. Visit at least 4 times during the festival alone. They continuously update it every year as well so there is always something new to see or do!
From 131.230.74.123 on April 4, 2011 at 12:16 PM
Christmas is my families favorite time of the year to visit theme parks. It is something that always seems to bring us closer together each year. While the Christian aspect of Dollywood is great its not the only reason we love it so much. Its their ability to keep the family atmosphere in the park and share that warmth with their visitors that makes us return year after year.
From 166.182.64.57 on April 4, 2011 at 4:09 PM
I love Dollywood especially at Christmas. They truly present Christ in everything they do. I hope you win. You truly deserve too.
From 98.19.227.247 on April 4, 2011 at 6:10 PM
season pass holders we love dollywood.
From 66.245.122.46 on April 4, 2011 at 6:13 PM
If Halloween Horror Nights doesn't win then this is going to be the worst late April fools joke ever.
From Nick Markham on April 4, 2011 at 6:43 PM
I am truly shocked. How does Dollywood surpass the great Universal HHN's like this? Very interesting...
From Steven Lee on April 4, 2011 at 7:26 PM
Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas is AMAZING! It is not just great because of its size and magnitude based on the fact it is at a regional park like Dollywood. This much attention to detail to ANY parks Christmas event would make it spectacular! They have won the "Best Christmas Event" Golden Ticket now all 3 years it has been a category, even receiving more than double the votes Magic Kingdom did in 2010. It is an event that everyone who enjoys the Christmas season should experience at least once in their life. Although they will need to visit twice since you can not possibly see all the Christmas festival has to offer in one day. 7 unique shows, Polar Express 4D Experience, a Santa's workshop with "larger-than-life" sized toys, Breakfast with santa, 4 million Christmas lights, and the FOOD! They are constantly adding new displays and updating shows and food menu's.

Overall Dollywood just captures what the Christmas season is all about and that is why I voted for Smoky Mountain Christmas!

From 72.27.37.158 on April 4, 2011 at 8:17 PM
Dollywood all the way Halloween is not a real holiday only some countries celebrate it more people celebrate Christmas.
From 74.82.68.144 on April 4, 2011 at 11:19 PM
The joy's of spending time with my family at Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas are one's I will never forget! I hope to one day share this event with my own children as my parents did with me. Dollywood has definitely helped create some wonderful emotional connections between their family and ours.
From 68.213.35.252 on April 5, 2011 at 6:41 AM
As a season pass holder for many years, Dollywood is the best for young and old alike. It is a magic wonderland of lights, sounds, smells at Christmastime. Wonderful!
From 68.34.147.24 on April 5, 2011 at 8:04 AM
Whether HHN wins or not, it surpasses anything else. End.
From 24.49.13.66 on April 5, 2011 at 8:24 AM
Smokey Mountain Christmas is just amazing. The feel of love, peace, joy and all the things that Christmas entails is there. Not to mention the shows, the food, and the lights. How could this not be your favorite seasonal theme of any park. In America, how could we forget the true meaning of Christmas. This is a commercial park, but the feeling is the least commercial of any park I've been too, and that says a lot since Christmas has become so commercial in the last 20 years.
From 72.71.108.206 on April 5, 2011 at 8:37 AM
We buy Season tickets to Dollywood and use them frequently since we live only an hour's drive away. Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas is an event that always brings great joy and happiness to our whole family and we look forward to it knowing how much fun we are going to have. Ever see a 64 year old grandma act like I kid? That would be me......
From 74.82.64.16 on April 5, 2011 at 8:51 AM
Universal studios Florida's halloween horror night of course!!!
From James Rao on April 5, 2011 at 9:29 AM
Kudos to Dollywood for their "David and Goliath"-style victory over Universal.

That's two years in a row that the little guy with the active social network soundly thumped the big guy who didn't want to get involved.

From 66.134.101.43 on April 5, 2011 at 9:52 AM
This is so great. Dollywood is one of the great treasures of the theme park industry. They are the top in making its guests family and not just a dollar figure. There staff truly cares that you have the best time you can.
From 24.149.84.4 on April 5, 2011 at 9:54 AM
Dollywood is tops, I take my family down to Pigeon Forge 3 or 4 times a year. We love all of the Festivals at Dollywood but Christmas is just the best.
From Joshua Counsil on April 5, 2011 at 9:56 AM
^ Or you could be cynical and look at it as the big guy, Christians, thumping the little guy, atheists.
From Joshua Counsil on April 5, 2011 at 9:56 AM
^ Or you could be cynical and look at it as the big guy, Christians, thumping the little guy, atheists.
From 75.105.0.53 on April 5, 2011 at 10:16 AM
The guy who keeps making the posts about Christmas being limited to Christians...please explain why the athiests are the first ones Christmas shopping and also learn the facts, Halloween also has it's roots in Christianity, All Hallo's Eve, the lead in to All Saint's Day. The modern celebration of Halloween is a combination of that Christian Holy Day and the druid's festivals. Either way, Dollywood wins hands down with their portrayal of the true Christmas Spirit.
From James Rao on April 5, 2011 at 11:06 AM
Both Holidays have origins in Christianity. And based on the moral condition of our society today, there are far more atheists than Christians. So the David and Goliath metaphor works in both cases.
From 72.51.165.28 on April 5, 2011 at 11:27 AM
Yeah! My favorite theme park in the US won, with my favorite theme! Visit Dollywood often and enjoy the seasonal treats!
From Joshua Counsil on April 5, 2011 at 3:09 PM
I was just having a little fun and I realize All Hallows Eve was affiliated with Christianity, but since people retorted...

As of 2008:

American Christians: 78.4%
American Atheists: 1.6%
American Agnostics: 2.4%

(http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf)

I'd say that's a pretty big divide, no?

Regardless, congrats to Dollywood. I'll have to check out that event sometime down the road.

From Bobby Miller on April 5, 2011 at 3:56 PM
Question to you Robert. Where were all these 1397 people during the last 10 months and why are so many not even registered on TPI? The same thing happened last year so that the results are nothing but ballot box stuffing. What's the sense of an everyday TPI member voting, only to have a lot of new posters jumping on board just to vote in their home park event or ride? All posters should be registered in order to vote, atleast we everyday members can see who's posting comments and maybe there won't be so much ballot box stuffing. JMHO.
From James Rao on April 5, 2011 at 4:39 PM
A Christian is someone who follows the example of Christ, not someone who "says" they follow the example of Christ.

I'd put the tally as follows:

True Christians: 1% (Jesus)
Everybody Else: 99%.

As for the voting, all are welcome. Dollywood got involved and mobilized their fans through Twitter and Facebook. Universal is too big for us now, so they chose to stay out of the fray. Why penalize Dollywood because of a lackluster effort by Universal?

Besides, we always get a few new folks on the site with each new tournament. I say, keep 'em coming!

From 24.101.41.218 on April 6, 2011 at 10:45 AM
I'm not a member of the site but I frequent it often. It seems obvious that a bunch of people who don't visit the site often suddenly came on to vote and comment up Dollywood. I have to wonder if maybe park employees or maybe just rabid fans swamped the site in an attempt to gain the park some attention.
From Anthony J on April 6, 2011 at 3:13 PM
Heading to Dollywood this year for the first time over the Summer and then if I love it as much as I think I will, I'll definitely try to make it out for Christmas next year. I can't wait to visit and I've been meaning to do it for years, but this tournament win makes me even more excited about it.
From Thomas Maner on April 6, 2011 at 8:31 PM
Both are great events, (I want to attend Halloween Horror Nights), but I'm glad Dollywood won. Smoky Mountain Chirstmas is truly spectacular!
From Steven Lee on April 6, 2011 at 8:32 PM
Personally I read this site on and off. The reason I am not reading it daily is because I live in the Midwest. I do not visit the California or Florida parks that often so therefore I do not find there is enough material here to keep me a daily reader. However I must say during this tournament, I am on here everyday. The tournament causes me to actually visit the site multiple times daily to see people's comments and how my favorite parks/attractions/events are doing. I must say when there is a park like Dollywood or Holiday World in the tournament I will post a link and ask for votes non stop. Why? Because so many sites already cater to CA and FL parks that I think it is time that people realize that they DO NOT have the "BEST" attractions, events, staff, etc. It's those local parks that truly have this heart and sole, and above all a truly loyal fan base that appreciates what they do both for them as guests and the communities they rely on. The site does not cater to those parks and therefore those loyal fans do not read or become members of this site. I try to drive as many votes as possible for those smaller parks because I think it is unfair for a site who 90% of the time focuses just on CA and FL to feature a "America's Best" tournament. Seriously, that is like having Disney holding a tournament themselves asking who is better. You know it is always going to be a CA and/or FL park winning on here if it was not for those postings.
From Steven Lee on April 6, 2011 at 8:34 PM
Also Thomas Maner, welcome to Theme Park Insider!

(Judging on his joining date the tournament got him to become a member).

From Thomas Maner on April 6, 2011 at 9:51 PM
Thank you Steven, Yes I joined because of this tournament. Dollywood is a great park with a friendly staff, and I'm proud to have it here in East Tennessee. That said I'm still planning on going to one of the Orlando parks (hopefully) next year.

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