Tournament 2018: What is the best regional park in America?

March 26, 2018, 10:53 AM · In our second regional final of the 2018 Theme Park Insider Tournament, we are voting on America's best regional park.

Cedar Point got to this round by winning our title as the best coaster park in North America, while Dollywood bested several other family parks, including Legoland California, Holiday World and Silver Dollar City.

As always, we invite you to rate and review the attractions and restaurants at the parks we cover here on Theme Park Insider, in addition to voting in the tournament.

We head to Europe for tomorrow's regional final, before returning to the United States of the battle of Orlando on Wednesday. The tournament semifinals run on Thursday and Friday with the overall final next week.

Europe final: Tuesday, March 27
PortAventura vs. Efteling

U.S. big brands final: Wednesday, March 28
Islands of Adventure vs. Magic Kingdom

Tournament semifinal: Asia vs. Europe - Thursday, March 29
Tournament semifinal: Best park in America - Friday, March 30

Tournament final: Monday, April 2

Replies (14)

March 26, 2018 at 11:12 AM ·

How in the world is Dollywood even mentioned in the same sentence as Cedar Point, let alone getting 43% of the votes?!

March 26, 2018 at 11:20 AM ·

There is no comparison, Dollywood has the better shows and best Christmas entertainment of any regional park. It's not even close. The only way Cedar Fair wins is if the voters only vote on roller coasters. Any other category Dollywoood wins hands down.

March 26, 2018 at 11:33 AM ·

What some folks have to understand is that Cedar Point is not just a steel and concrete jungle like say a Magic Mountain or Six Flags Great Adventure. It is a bona fide vacation destination in an incredible setting that provides for a great family entertainment experience. While it may not have a series of themed lands like some of its esteemed competitors in this tournament, the park itself IS the theme. And that well-rounded collection of coasters.... goodness! To me Cedar Point should give ANY individual theme or amusement park a run for its money. The one thing that holds Cedar Point back a little bit is the lack of any kind of dark ride experience - something I hope they rectify in the years to come. However, today, against Dollywood, a fine family destination in its own right (but one that should NOT have bested my beloved Silver Dollar City), THE POINT is the clear winner.

March 26, 2018 at 11:24 AM ·

Clayton - have you even been to Dollywood?
It's a remarkable place with industry wide recognition as being among the best parks in the world. On top of that, their staff is consistently recognized as some of the best trained and most genuinely friendly at any park including those run by the Disney company.
I am fearful that this will be a run away for Cedar Point because A - it is also an amazing resort destination but more so because B - credit counting fan boys (no disrespect) will give it the win based on the quantity of coasters rather than the overall park experience.

March 26, 2018 at 12:28 PM ·

I threw my love to Dollywood just because of the food options - love me a cinnamon roll!

March 26, 2018 at 1:53 PM ·

I voted for Dollywood not only b/c it's a much prettier park than Cedar Point, with a nice collection of rides, but b/c I got truly outstanding/exceptional service from team members. In fact the service was so exceptional that I made a point of contacting Dollywood after my visit in September to let them know how helpful one particular employee in food service had been; they said that they'd pass this on to her supervisor. The ride ops were also great. The guys operating Tennessee Tornado, seeing me - a 66-year-old woman - in the loading station looking puzzled b/c no-one else was there and the train was nowhere in sight, asked "Would you like to ride?" Yes, please! They were really sweet. Also, I've never had to wait 2 1/2 hours to ride a roller coaster at Dollywood the way I did at Cedar Point. Even with Lightning Rod down for several hours I was able to ride it half a dozen times in the space of a little more than an hour once it reopened. Then there's the fact that everyone and everything at this park is much more laid back than at CP. If it weren't so expensive to fly from Philly to Knoxville and if it weren't an hour drive - expensive trip with Uber - from Knoxville to Pigeon Forge, I'd practically live at Dollywood.

March 26, 2018 at 2:19 PM ·

Bobbie, if you haven't been to Silver Dollar City, you need to plan a trip! SDC is to Dollywood as Disneyland is to Magic Kingdom. It is the less corporate, more intimate version of the "same" park. You'd love it!

But on the "beauty" front, I gotta defend Cedar Point a bit, because it is just as beautiful as Dollywood in a totally different way. Instead of driving up and seeing a park nestled in a mountain range, you drive up and watch as steel behemoths rise out of the water like aliens intent on conquering the earth. Instead of mountains and trees, you get beautiful beaches and scenic water views. And at night, Cedar Point just takes on a whole new life. It is like Christmas six to eight months out of the year. Lights and sounds everywhere, and larger than life rides towering over you providing unrivaled kinetic energy from the front of the park to the back. It is unlike anything else I have seen in my park travels. For what is largely an amusement park, CP is really quite beautiful. Just in a completely different way than Dollywood.

As for the people working at the park - you'll get no argument from me because I agree, Herschend's employees are tough to beat. That down home, Christian vibe produces some quite charming cast members. They stand against all comers as some of the best in the industry for sure. It is hard for the part time teenagers at Cedar Point to contend with what Dollywood (and SDC) offer on this front.

But again, Dollywood IS a great park, just not as great, imho, as Cedar Point.

March 26, 2018 at 3:03 PM ·

@James Rao - James, I went to SDC the year Outlaw Run opened and loved the park but didn't get the same down home hospitality I got at Dollywood. Was supposed to be at SDC last week to cover Time Traveler for another blog, having been unable to make the press preview the previous week due to financial constraints (airfare was $1329!) but both of my flights got cancelled due to snow storms here on the East Coast. Plus the PR person has not responded to my emails; maybe she thinks that b/c I didn't make the media event I blew it. So thus far I'm not very favorably impressed with the powers that be at SDC. Agreed that CP at night is a spectacle.

March 26, 2018 at 3:48 PM ·

Tell them you know me. I get cast member hugs all the time! Love that place! :)

March 27, 2018 at 8:09 AM ·

Dollywood is my "home park." My daughter and I have had season passes for 12 years and enjoy it tremendously. But last summer we crossed off CP from our bucket list. For what we enjoy, riding coasters, this is a very easy choice.....CP hands down! Dollywood does have great shows and is very enjoyable for those that don't want to ride thrill rides, yet still has some pretty cool thrill rides. We ranked Raptor the 7th or 8th best coaster at CP, in our opinion, but it would be the best ride at Dollywood. Love Dollywood, but nothing compares to Cedar Point!

March 27, 2018 at 7:37 PM ·

This is a tough choice, both parks are very good at what they do.

I give CP credit as the park was vastly improved under Matt Ouimet, things were really starting to slip in the late Kinzel years as budgets were squeezed by all the unreliable Intamins and the debt from the Paramount acquisition. Ouimet stopped adding Intamin's and added more reliable (albeit less exciting) B&Ms instead and spent a good amount of money fixing up the park and hotels.

I haven't been to Dollywood since the year before Lightning Rod opened, and it had a lot of problems those first two years, but it seems to be operating consistently now (I don't say that with full confidence. Look at a ride like Xcelerator which has been unreliable for 15+ years and now is SBNO AGAIN).

I agree with the above poster that Dollywood feels a lot more corporate than SDC, at least nowadays, but it is still a great park. It has definitely struggled with some growing pains as it went from being a empty-nest park to a full fledged multi generational resort destination and lost some of that southern charm. I hope they address that.

This is a tough decision. I like that Dollywood has nice scenery and only has one coaster that I don't care for (Mystery Mine), but I definitely feel the park has gotten worse my last few visits. All of the other attractions there are great, it still has a lot of the corny stuff that make it fun, and its clean and well maintained. I have to disagree with the notion that Dollywood employees are the gold standard of the industry, maybe it used to be this way but the past few times i've gone it's been mediocre at best. The crews operating Wild Eagle and Mystery Mine were flat out terrible, I have operated lots of rides in my life and can say considering how long the lines were I was amazed that Dollywood allowed such slow operations.

On the other hand CP has improved my past few visits. Improved landscaping, building maintenance, ride reliability, and it has the fantastic peninsula location and views. The unfortunate thing about CP is that so many of the coasters are mediocre. I really like Maverick and TTD, Blue Streak is nice, Steel Vengeance looks promising, but honestly the rest of the coasters I really don't care about at all. They have lots of really big mediocre coasters and one truly awful one (Magnum).

It's close but i'm going to go with CP because I cant wait to go back, its gotten better while Dollywood has lost some of its luster with me.

March 30, 2018 at 8:29 AM ·

Dollywood is great and all but I'd rather spend my time at CP so I am definitely choosing CP.

March 30, 2018 at 8:33 AM ·

for anyone to call Millennium Force and Valravn mediocre, you have to wonder what this guy expects out of a coaster. I had a nice chuckle over that comment lol....

March 31, 2018 at 7:42 AM ·

Millennium Force and Valravn define mediocrity ... have you ever ridden Superman at Six Flags New England, Expedition GeForce in Germany, or Goliath in Holland? All three are better coasters than MF and they are the same ride model. I even like Superman at Darien Lake & SFA better than MF (though I know some will disagree) because even though they have what would be considered uninspired drawn-out layouts they still are more intense and have more airtime than MF.

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