Rank the USA park companies

Edited: April 26, 2020, 9:21 AM

1. Disney

2. Herschend
Their two flagship parks Dollywood and Silver Dollar City are my two favorite non Disney parks in the country. On the other hand their other park, Wild Adventures in Georgia, is one of the worst parks I have ever been to.

3. Sea World
I really dislike some of the business practices this company has taken on while they have struggled financially, such as: mandatory paid lockers, outsourcing their call center to contractors in other countries, and quick queue vending machines at rides entrances (seriously how tacky can you get?)
But their parks all are very clean, well landscaped, have a plethora of attractions, and most all of the attractions are really good as well. The two Busch Parks are right up there with the two Herschend parks.

4. Cedar Fair
Okay so I am not the biggest Cedar Fair fan but I do think CP and KD are great parks, and KI will be a great park in a few years as they take out more old rough rides and replace them with new ones. I haven't been to Knotts in about 10 years or so but I will admit it looks a lot better now than the Knotts that I know. Even though my most recent visits to CP were pitiful i'll give them the benefit of the doubt because the last time I went there it was SV's opening weekend and they were clearly having major staffing issues, and before that was the last year of Kinzel which was notorious for being cheaply run and was a long time ago.
I will say that I like the second tier SF parks better than the second tier CF parks. I actually kind of like SFSTL, SFDK, and SFOG and don't care for Valleyfair, Dorney, and Michigans Adventure. But Cedar Fair does have enough good parks now for it to be over Universal in my ranking.

5. Universal
I like IOA and the studios park in Japan, but that makes only one park in the USA that I really like. The other two aren't bad but I wouldn't consider them great parks by any measure. USF has Diagon Alley but that area is small, cramped, always packed with little ventilation in the Florida humidity, and I don't care much for the coaster. Way over-reliance on simulators. I guess their parks aren't my cup of tea.

6. Six Flags
If SF had better maintenance, operations, less ridiculous ads, and no stupidly inconsistent locker policy, I would definitely rank their parks above CF.
Like I said earlier I actually really like many SF parks on the surface but hugely excessive amount of ads (not only for other companies but the giant billboards everywhere advertising season passes, dining passes, flash pass, etc) combined with the terrible inconsistency make them the undisputed trashiest company in the industry. Just one quick example of what I am talking about: a couple years ago I went to SFOG in the summer and then again during Holiday in the Park, and all the same seats that were broken on Superman in the summer were still broken in the winter...that is totally unacceptable especially considering they were closed weekdays October and November. I could easily write a book on "Six Flags experiences" like this. Also LaRonde is the worst major park in the continent.

Replies (4)

April 26, 2020, 5:31 AM

Are you asking for which group of parks we like the best, or who we think runs the best operation ? Because while I prefer going to a Universal or SWE park over a Disney Park, I can’t honestly say that either do a better job of running a Park than Disney does.

April 26, 2020, 9:21 AM

Your favorite parks. I can see how that is misconstrued i'll change the topic title.

Edited: April 26, 2020, 3:13 PM

1). SWE - The mix of rides and animal attractions has always been a favorite for my family. Their water parks in Florida are also our favorites, and it isn’t even close (however I should mention we have not yet been to Volcano Bay). But there is no denying though that their entertainment quality has been heading in the wrong direction. Cutbacks have definitely taken a toll, but on the plus side, they have been adding a good amount of rides to make up for it. The affordable Quick Queue options they offer is huge as well, which can really impact the experience for a reasonable cost. Food is not great, but they do have at least one good option at each park, and we always do the Dine with the Orcas at the SeaWorld Parks. We haven’t been to Discovery Cove yet (I’m waiting until both my kids reach age 10), but I’m guessing that will only bolster my top choice.

2). Universal - I’ve always been a huge fan of their attractions. But their food & night shows, don’t match the quality of their attractions. Add in an overpriced Front of Line program, and those things keep them out of my top spot. The “Dark Arts” night show in the Hollywood Park is a step in the right direction, but still a long ways away from the Disney productions.

3). Disney - as a thrill seeker, the Disney attractions don’t do nearly as much for me as the above two do. But there is no doubt whatsoever that they are the absolute best at running a park. The dining options are second to none, and the Fastpass system is an industry best as well. Most of all, their night time shows are spectacular. But there are many hours in a day at the park, and for the majority of those hours, I would be more satisfied with a day at a SWE or Universal Park.

4). Cedar Fair - I’ve got a bit of a Regional bias towards Cedar Point & Canada’s Wonderland, which make them my favorite parks within driving distance, and lock them in the spot below the Big Three. Having a somewhat reasonably priced Fast Lane system, helps as well. In addition to numerous trips to those two parks, I’ve also been to Kings Dominion, Carowinds and Knott’s all of which are OK, but didn’t impress enough to line up return visits. Overall, I think the parks that used to be part of the Paramount portfolio took a hit, when Cedar Fair took over. If I had one wish to bring anything back to the theme park industry, it would probably be for Paramount Parks to re-acquire their former portfolio.

5). Six Flags - I’ve only been to Magic Mountain, and Darien Lake, the latter of which is only managed by Six Flags at this time. Magic Mountain has an incredible lineup of unique coasters & thrill rides. As much as I went in, wanting to say that Cedar Point’s coaster lineup was better, I couldn’t. I like how they have the DC Comics license, but I don’t think they utilize it to its full potential. I also found the “flash pass” system to be confusing at the time, so didn’t try it out (I think it was kinda pricey too if I remember correctly).

6). Herschend - only been to Dollywood (a few times), and it was always good, but I think the surrounding area always left a stronger impression than the park itself. I really hate that they removed the “River Battle” attraction, and Wildwood Grove does not make up for that loss !

7). Merlin - I like that they try to do something different, with the Legoland Parks, but those parks just don’t do all that much for us. Maybe they would be better off being further off the grid, because their Regional competition does make the parks seem pretty pale in comparison. One thing that I do have to give them props on, is the differences between the East Coast & West Coast Parks. They really are two very different experiences.

April 26, 2020, 4:59 PM

1. Universal - No other park chain does as great of a job transporting visitors into another world as Universal. While the parks as a whole are not as cohesive, each individual area is extremely well themed and the rides themselves are cutting edge. With the exception of the prices, there is very little I don't enjoy about any of the Universal parks I've visited.

2. Herschend - Dollywood and Silver Dollar City are both among the country's best non-IP parks, and are able to hold their own against any regional theme park out there. They offer a wide variety of experiences, excellent theming, and a different feel than the more corporate parks out there.

3. SeaWorld - If Busch Gardens was split off, it would top this list as those two parks are IMO the best regional theme parks in the country. The SeaWorld parks bring down the overall quality of the chain slightly, but they still offer excellent coasters and animal attractions. Unfortunately, this is the chain that has suffered from poor leadership and a decline in many areas over the past several years.

4. Disney - Here's the thing with Disney...if you look at the whole operation, they're the best. However, if we look at it park by park, all of Disney's non-castle parks (at least that I've visited) are incomplete parks that rely on the others at the resort to fill in gaps within their offerings. Additionally, I haven't been overly impressed with their more recent additions, and FP+ in Florida means a WDW visit requires far more advance planning than a visit to any other theme park in the country.

5. Cedar Fair - Admittedly, most Cedar Fair parks outside of Ohio are not great parks, but all but a couple definitely qualify as good parks. Each has a distinct personality, offering variations on similar attractions but with distinct themes and feels to their guest experience, plus every park has a couple one-of-a-kind gems. Add in generally good operations and upkeep, and you've got a chain of regional parks well worth visiting for locals and tourists alike.

6. Six Flags - Six Flags does coasters right, and if that's what you're looking for they're the chain to go to. Unfortunately, I feel their parks largely tend to lack in other areas, and they are okay with cutting corners to increase profit even if it impacts the guest experience significantly. Add in an abundance of advertising within the park and generally identical ride line-ups among every park in the chain (with one or two unique coasters at each), and you get parks that work well for locals but aren't as travel-worthy as others. I still think most Six Flags parks not named La Ronde are worth checking out for the coaster enthusiast, but there are fewer Six Flags parks I would go out of my way to return to than Cedar Fair parks.

7. Parques Reunidos - I know they're primarily a European chain, but they do operate a couple notable parks in the US (namely Kennywood and Lake Compounce). Of all the park operators, they are the ones I've had the most guest service issues with, and their parks feel like properties that were great at one time but have suffered due to budget cuts and neglect.

8. Merlin - Again, primarily a European operator, but they run the Legoland parks in the US. I've enjoyed every visit to the Legoland parks, but I'm not really in their demographic.

9. Premier - Operator of a few small regional parks (including Elitch Gardens), this chain rarely gets mentioned because their parks aren't particularly noteworthy. I didn't have a bad time at either of their parks I visited, but neither gave me any reason to return.

10. Fun Spot - More family entertainment centers than theme parks, these parks are great way to extend your evening after Disney and Universal close but aren't worth visiting otherwise.

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