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Wrapping up the 2010 Best Theme Park Attraction Tournament

April 4, 2010, 9:56 PM · So... what to make of this year's Best Theme Park Attraction Tournament?

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!

Replies (21)

April 4, 2010 at 10:05 PM · I agree with the Duke / Butler theming. What more can you say!
April 4, 2010 at 10:24 PM · I have to note that I do go way back with Butler. Going to high school in Indianapolis, I played in the Indianapolis Youth Symphony at Butler; my first job was in the box office at the performing arts hall there; I went on many "study dates" in the Butler library, and I watched my high school basketball team get killed in the state tournament every year in Hinkle Fieldhouse. And, oh yeah, my high school's graduation was at Butler, too.
April 5, 2010 at 12:05 AM · Well said. I have been a life long fan of Disney and I've never heard of Holiday World before this tournament. I want to go there now.
April 5, 2010 at 1:09 AM · Hi,l'm not at all surprised that The Voyage at Holiday World has beaten the disney ride,good as the Haunted House is,having ridden both rides The Voyage is in a entirely different league and the park is possibly the most friendly in the world let alone the US. Regards J C K
April 5, 2010 at 6:55 AM · The other thing that cannot be forgotten, and I have said it over and over again, is that the Voyage is a one of a kind, masterful coaster experience. It is not like riding your local GCI. For me, it is the most fun you can have on a coaster without an inversion. So, all other considerations aside, please don't discount the fact that the Gravity Group and Holiday World actually caught lightning in a bottle with the Voyage. It is that special.
April 5, 2010 at 5:30 AM · Well said Robert. And Go Butler! Indy has been all abuzz all weekend. All my Butler buddies are on cloud nine!

Also, I agree with James. Voyage is a one of a kind.

April 5, 2010 at 5:43 AM · As a family from Northern IN we take a trip to FL and visit Disney every other year as a family vacation. We have, however, made the trip south 4.5 hours to visit Holiday World just so my husband and kids can ride the Voyage and Raven. With Cedar Point and even Kings Island much closer we enjoy the small park atmosphere you get at Holiday World. Its like your part of their family and not just a number through the gate. As this is not a Disney year for us we are planning our summer theme park visits and Holiday World is on the list. We are looking forward to a great visit there this year especially if the Voyage can win.
April 5, 2010 at 6:02 AM · Very well put. I had never heard of Holiday World prior to your first mention of The Voyage. Then shortly there after I watched something on the Travel channel that was talking about the most thrilling rides in the country and once again, The Voyage was featured.

I am now trying to plan a summer trip out to Indiana just to go to this park that so many people are raving about. I think this is exactly what this tournament and this site is made for, not just to rave about the major parks but to help the lesser known ones shine as well.

Kudos to this site and everyone who makes this place so great.

April 5, 2010 at 6:31 AM · I've been a fan since I was a 4 year old going to the park when it first opened...going again and again then with my kids and grandkids...its just a great place to visit...just enough to amuse the kids, plenty for adults and teenagers, a great water park, CLEAN, do I need to mention that ??? YES...clean, fun, inexpensive, just big enough to have fun and not be worn out. Not to mention the history around the park with Lincoln's boyhood home and cabin. At 67, still a fan.
April 5, 2010 at 7:51 AM · While I have never been to Holiday World, I am glad that it is in the finals this year. I feel this site often concentrates too hard on the larger parks and overlooks some of the smaller parks in our country. Family owned Parks like Holiday World, Knobles and (untill recently) Kennywood have always delivers a great quality, low cost product and deserves as much love as the Universal/Disney Orlando parks or even Cedar Faire and BushGardens.

It is sites like this that need to bring attention to these places and readers cannot call themselves a true theme park insiders unless they visit these parks too.

ROBERT NILES: Please find someone to cover the launch party for SKY ROCKET at Kennywood. This is their first roller coaster in almost 20 years and really deserves its own article on your wonderful site.

Also if Knoebles gets the FLYING TURNS up and running this year, please have someone cover that too. I wait with baited breath. Love Liz -Washington DC.

April 5, 2010 at 6:47 AM · With all due respect, aside from the structure of the tournament, that being seeding and brackets, really it's a weak comparison to liken it to actual athletic competition to make a point. Seeds in this tourney are voted through, based off of either true ride experience execution, popularity, or the ability to rally the troops to this site to vote blindly. Much in the same way the starting line ups for the MLB All Star Teams are voted in by the people, you don't always have the most deserving player starting at his position, but rather the one who is most liked, well known, and whose teams front office PR people manages to rally its fan base around a player and stuff the ballot box to get him in.

In actual athletic Tournaments such as the NCAA, teams upset because they exhibit moments of greatness and execution that exceed what they were supposed to be able to accomplish given their ranking. In some cases they ride that new found enthusiasm deeper into the tournament, continuing to upset higher seeded teams that should have beaten them easily, becoming a Cinderella story.

That's something that can't happen here. It's not as if an attraction can miraculously pull a ride element out of its back side and cause an upset because it exceeded what it normally does day in and day out. It would be like the Coney Island Cyclone as a 16th seed winning because in the 1st round it somehow grew a cobra roll, and then dominated the second round because out of nowhere it developed a 100 foot loop, consecutive corkscrews and an onboard sound system and fire effects. An attraction can't rise to the occasion like an athlete, it can only do what it is designed to do, no more, no less. However, attractions can under perform, as was the case with Expedition Everest being knocked out early do to a static Yeti. Fix the Yeti before next years tournament, and the ride now steps into the battlefield wielding all of the weapons it can muster to advance deep.

I take no issue with The Voyage winning as it is a fine woody, deserving of its praise and performance in this competition. Heck, I'm pretty sure I voted in favor of it almost, if not all of the rounds. I applaud Holiday World for the relationship they share with their fan base, and given the way that things happen in this tournament, they played the game the way it needed to be played to advance their champion through to victory. But really, this situation is about as comparable to an actual athletic competition as American Idol is.

April 5, 2010 at 6:48 AM · When you visit Holiday World, it's like you've come home to see the family. The familiarity and the friendliness make you want to come back again and again. We choose Holiday World over Paramount's King's Island every time, because it is a better value. No, Holiday World doesn't have the same number of attractions as PKI, but you have more opportunity to ride what is there because you aren't stranded in line for hours on end. The park is CLEAN, too. This is probably the most overlooked quality, but SO appreciated. As a parent, I love that the park isn't strewn with trash and leftover food. The employees are always picking things up, and I see the patrons following that lead. I love Holiday World - it used to be one of the best-kept secrets. I'm sure they will meet the challenge of the larger fan base and not lose those things that make them special.
April 5, 2010 at 6:59 AM · Thank You!....for your great comments about Holiday World!....we love HW!....people who love HW, think of it as "our" personal park! feel at home's like a big family reunion everytime you go back....each new ride is like a new addition to the family!....we ooh and ahh over it and take pictures of it with us! the Voyage is no must get to know it before you can judge come on over and take the ride of your life! --- Karen, Corydon, IN
April 5, 2010 at 7:06 AM · Go Butler!!
April 5, 2010 at 7:51 AM · I just want to say that although I did indeed vote for the Voyage, I have never visited any of Holiday World's Facebook or Twitter pages and never knew anything about a "rallying of troops". I just love the Voyage. I also deeply love "The Haunted Mansion", "Pirates of the Caribbean", "Spider-man" and "The Mummy's Revenge". For the most part, I enjoy classic darkrides more than rollercoasters and I've reached the age where if the coaster looks like a plate of sphaghetti I'll likely feel more torture than excitement. The Voyage, however, captures the feeling I had as a child riding the Beast like no other woodie ever has.
April 5, 2010 at 8:03 AM · I couldn't agree more. I've never been to Holiday world, but the onride POV video provided here certainly makes me want to make a trip from Southern California out to ride the Voyage. It just looks like a great ride. All these positive things I'm hearing about the park here makes me want to go even more. I love Disney and I love Fantasmic, so I am really excited about this matchup and I think I'll like either outcome. We have two great attractions from two great parks that have their strengths and weaknesses. This tournament couldn't have a better outcome.
April 5, 2010 at 12:28 PM · As a person who has been singing Holiday World's praises for a very long time on this website...long before The Voyage, I'll second the motion on covering Kennywood and Knoebels.

Also, it was pretty obvious that the winner of the themed ride/roller coaster matchup was going to win. I don't care how good it is, all shows and films take a backseat in a theme park. You go to the theme park to ride, and the shows are just a nice supporting attraction. If you want shows, go to the movies or broadway.

April 5, 2010 at 12:33 PM · The friendly greeter outside Holiday World is the park's matriarch Pat Koch.

Food, game, and souvenir prices aren't based on statistical analysis of how much money the average visitor has their pocket throughout the day.

There's no need for an insider's guidebook because Holiday World prints great tips on their website and doesn't go in for the proximity pricing where drinks are worth more at different locations.

Taking cues from the staff, patrons also tend to be polite, friendly, and helpful.

The prices aren't so high that you see angry parents hell-bent to "get their money's worth."

Entering the park doesn't require jockeying through metro-area traffic.

The park has an immaculate and lovely air-conditioned room (with glider rockers) for nursing mothers.

Oh, and the rides? They totally rock.

April 5, 2010 at 1:36 PM · @Derek Potter...

Thanks for backing me up that Knoebles and Kennywood needs more love. I do really hope their rollercoaster lauches this year are covered here.

@Niles and Need someone to do it for you. *ahem* :)

April 5, 2010 at 5:32 PM · I'm glad HW has such a dedicated following. However, you just screwed yourselves over. Now your unknown park is very well-known, indeed, and will soon be filled with the same backwater hicks and city trash that pack Orlando parks regularly! You've created a monster!
April 6, 2010 at 4:26 AM · My family and I have been to a lot of parks over the years on both coasts, in the south, the north and in the midwest and I have to say that I think Voyage is probably the best coaster we've ever ridden. It is worth the trip to Holiday World for this ride alone. The first time we rode it, we were literally speechless at the end. We were fortunate enough to be able to ride it about ten times the day we were there. It seemed to get better every time. The triple down is just great and the rest of the ride after that is nothing short of incredible. It is like no other coaster. And Holiday World is a great park with many perks and friendly people. The owner of the park was at the entrance personally greeting guests as they entered. I wish we lived closer to this park because I would definitely make it an annual trip. Go out of your way to get to Holiday World to ride Voyage. You won't be disappointed.

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