Tournament Semifinal 2018: What is the best theme park in America?

March 30, 2018, 10:03 AM · Congratulations to defending Theme Park Insider Award winner Efteling, which won its way into the final of this year's Theme Park Insider Tournament by defeating six-time Theme Park Insider Award winner Tokyo DisneySea in yesterday's semifinal. Today, we will determine which U.S. theme park will take on Efteling for the overall tournament title.

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom won its way to this point by defeating its WDW siblings in the first round, followed by wins over big brother Disneyland and then cross-town rival Islands of Adventure.

Meanwhile, Cedar Point came through the regional park bracket, winning the title of North America's best coaster park before beating Dollywood to earn its place among our top four parks.

Popularity held in the tournament this year, as the Magic Kingdom is the most-visited theme park in the United States (and the world), according to the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index attendance report, while Cedar Point is the most-visited seasonal park in the U.S. But which one wins on quality and deserves a place in our tournament final?

Thank you to everyone who has voted in the tournament so far. I also would like to invite you to keep rating parks by browsing our Disney, Universal, and other theme park listings pages. We will see you Monday for the tournament final!

Replies (25)

March 30, 2018 at 10:40 AM ·

I guess I can't vote, since I've never been to Cedar Point. Technically, it's not really a theme park, is it? Mostly coasters, which makes it an amusement park.

March 30, 2018 at 11:03 AM ·

As somebody who has been to both, I can say that both are a Theme Park. Cedar Point has quite a few lands that are themed with food, stores, and rides. I would consider this to be a Theme Park.

With that being said, I still voted for the Magic Kingdom because nothing can compare. The Magic Kingdom took the Disneyland idea and expanded on it. Most theme parks use the Magic Kingdom as a reference point.

March 30, 2018 at 11:15 AM ·

I always find these polls or contests pretty useless because Disneyland is universally loved and popular. But what always gets me is that 90% of those I know who love Disneyland never flew out of CA to experience something else. To them that's all they know. I'll say 70% of those who live in CA never went Knotts Berry Farm. I've made it my mission as a theme park and coaster fan to talk to people and let them know there are parks all over that offer something different and unique that Disney don't and even with flights and hotel cost, you still saving more money than if you were to go to Disneyland for 4 to 5 days!

March 30, 2018 at 1:08 PM ·

Can't ever vote for the Magic Kingdom. It is not now nor will it ever be what I consider a complete park experience. Eye candy yes, detail yes, good food, sure. Very few actual rides, and no thrill rides to speak of, waaay too expensive, too many people, and sorry...overrated. If you want the complete park experience at Disney, you have to visit at least three different parks.

I would vote for say...IOA, because it has the complete experience (theme plus thrill), but Magic Kingdom, Nope can't do it. Ride quality at CP plus location and sheer amount of great rides outdoes Magic Kingdom.

I leave Cedar Point everytime with a smile and knowing I got a great experience and good value. I leave Magic Kingdom impressed by the detail, but wondering at the end of the day what all that money actually bought.

March 30, 2018 at 1:22 PM ·

I would choose CP simply because I love Coasters the most when I visit parks. CP doesn't have much theme but Top Thrill Dragster's theme is right on point with that ride. With the addition of Steel Vengeance this year, CP is like an all star team of Coasters...

March 30, 2018 at 1:55 PM ·

Still a fan- yes, Cedar Point's specialty is coasters, but dismissing it as being worthy of consideration on this site based solely on the word "theme" is a bit unfair. In that case, it should never have been included, and shouldn't be discussed in here. Yes, it does have themed areas- Frontier Town; Frontier Trail; Camp Snoopy; Planet Snoopy; the Midway; Celebration Plaza; heck, with the improvements that have been and are being done to it, I'd consider the Cedar Point Beach as a themed area. If you limit voters only to those who have visited each and every park that was declared eligible then we'd only have a handful of people who could vote. Part of the wonderful resources that Theme Park Insider provides us are the chances of reading about those parks that we have not ever visited but might want to someday, or those that we will never be able to visit but wish we could. Like any voter in a political election, we should be educated in the candidates or issues, but we don't need to have actually met the candidate to decide if they are qualified and worthy of our vote.

March 30, 2018 at 2:53 PM ·

I didn't dismiss Cedar Point because of the word theme, I dismissed it due the word quality. It's tough for any other theme park to provide the cleanliness and quality that Disney provides daily in all of it's parks worldwide.

March 30, 2018 at 3:39 PM ·

My vote goes to Cedar Point, even as someone who typically favours theme over thrill. CP is packed to the rafters with charm, atmosphere and a beautiful sense of place that makes it feel like a one of a kind, while MK is just too stage managed and crammed full of people for me to ever really invest in it.

I resist the idea that the only definition of "theme park" is one of "immersion in make-believe lands". To me, it means a commitment to an ideal and an evocation of a particular atmosphere - and in this, CP entirely succeeds, world-class coasters and all.

And FWIW, I would *love* to see the final be a match up of Efteling vs Cedar Point. In many respects they're about as far from each other as two parks can get, and yet there's something to the atmosphere of both that makes them feel almost related. I'd find that one a very tough call.

March 30, 2018 at 5:16 PM ·

Been to both. Coasters don't impress me and neither did Cedar Point. Easy choice here.

March 30, 2018 at 10:22 PM ·

Okay, let’s break it down.

Dark Rides – On the surface one would assume that Magic Kingdom wins this category hands downs since Cedar Point doesn’t have any dark rides, while Magic Kingdom has some of the best in the world. However, one cannot forget that Cedar Point stays open late and therefore NIGHT rides are available – and night rides, especially on world class coasters like Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster and high-quality amusement rides like MaxAir and Skyhawk, offer a completely different experience than those same attractions do during the day. I wouldn’t give the edge to Cedar Point, but I wouldn’t completely count them out either. Cedar Point is an amazing, otherworldly experience at night, and that fact cannot be dismissed. However, The Point does need a couple traditional dark rides to really compete in this category. ADVANTAGE: Magic Kingdom.

Roller Coasters – The Magic Kingdom specializes in family rides while Cedar Point specializes in “big boy” roller coasters. MK’s collection of coasters, on their own, would probably not rank in the top 10 at Cedar Point, which has arguably the best collection of roller coasters on the planet. (HUGE) ADVANTAGE: Cedar Point.

Non-Coaster Thrill Rides – Cedar Point in another landslide. The place has over 80 rides, and more than half of them are thrilling, teen and adult oriented attractions. Cedar Point dominates MK in this category. Dominates. It isn’t even worth discussing. ADVANTAGE: Cedar Point.

Family Rides: The Magic Kingdom specializes in family attractions, but it doesn’t run away with this category either. Cedar Point has about two dozen family rides of its own, including a bona fide sky ride, a scenic, non-upcharge train ride (so glad IOA lost last round!), and the world-famous Cedar Downs, a unique racing derby, merry-go-round style attraction that is not-to-be-missed on any visit to the Point. While many would argue that the Magic Kingdom is the pinnacle of family destinations, I am not in that group, because Cedar Point is also an excellent family park. ADVANTAGE: Draw.

Kiddie Rides: The Magic Kingdom really doesn’t have many kiddie rides, as most everything is designed for families to experience together (as I stated previously). So, if you just want to take your little ones to a park and let them ride attractions specifically geared for pipsqueaks, then Cedar Point might be the better option. This grand old park has three areas with dozens of rides dedicated to little tykes: Kiddy Kingdom, Camp Snoopy, and Planet Snoopy. I don’t frequent these areas much now that my kids are older so really, they are a non-factor for me, but clearly Cedar Point offers plenty of things for young ones to do. ADVANTAGE: Draw.

Water Rides: Cedar Point has a Shoot-the-Chutes ride and a White Water Raft ride. MK has Splash Mountain, which is perhaps the best flume ride on the planet, and other non-soaking attractions like Pirates (the worst version on the planet), Small World, and the Jungle Cruise, among others. If you actually want to get wet on a water ride, Cedar Point is the better option, especially when you consider that the Point also has a water park, Cedar Point Shores, just outside the back gate which is included with your admission if you buy a “Two Day Any Day” ticket for $70, which is ~$50 cheaper than a single day ticket to MK. However, I won’t include their water park as a factor since Cedar Point Shores is technically a separate park. ADVANTAGE: Magic Kingdom.

Shows: Magic Kingdom wins this category, of course, but Cedar Point does have a good assortment of musical revues, kids’ shows, and live entertainment throughout the park as well. So, it’s not a blow out, by any means, but obviously the caliber of entertainment and entertainers at the Magic Kingdom is significantly better than at Cedar Point. ADVANTAGE: Magic Kingdom.

Food: The Magic Kingdom is the clear winner in this category as well since all the Cedar Fair parks are just now starting to realize the importance of offering unique, high quality foods, snacks, and desserts to their visitors. Cedar Point really doesn’t/can’t compete in this space, but with Melt and Pink’s now in park, and Famous Dave’s just outside the park on the marina side, they have definitely upped their game. ADVANTAGE: Magic Kingdom.

Total categories: 8
Magic Kingdom Advantage: 4
Cedar Point Advantage: 2
2 Draws.

So, Magic Kingdom is the better destination based upon these ratings – if the ratings are given equal weights. However, if you are a coaster lover or a thrill seeker, it can be objectively argued that Cedar Point is hands down the better option.

Look, there are reasons why everyone outside of the TPI bubble has rated Cedar Point as one of the best parks in the world for decades. The Point has Maverick. It has Millennium Force. It has Top Thrill Dragster, Gatekeeper, Valravn, Raptor, Magnum XL-200, and soon it will have Steel Vengeance, a serious contender for TPI's Best New Roller Coaster award this year. It has a beach. It has a lake. It has a bay. It has an onsite hotel that is beautiful. It has some of the greatest rides on the planet, and it is all in one picturesque, 364-acre plot of land located on a Lake Erie peninsula in Sandusky, Ohio. The Point has been operating since 1870 and, just like the Magic Kingdom, has a rich and vibrant history waiting to be explored by the young, old, and everyone in between. It is a fantastic park and one that every theme park enthusiast in the world should visit at least once. And it is, without a doubt, park against park, 1-v-1, a significantly better vacation destination than most people in this poll are willing to give it credit for being. Cedar Point is, in its own way, just as fantastic and amazing as the Magic Kingdom, and is 100% deserving of being in the TPI Final Four.

March 30, 2018 at 7:38 PM ·

I voted Cedar Point just before James rant, thank Bob, now I feel validated.

March 30, 2018 at 7:41 PM ·

Rant?!?! I thought I was being quite scientific. ;) Oh well.

March 30, 2018 at 9:02 PM ·

I don't understand the passionate speech justifying Cedar Point? Your point appears to prove why it deserves to be in the final four and yet it's already been voted in?

Dark Rides: Give me night rides on BTMR and SDMT over Millennium Force any day. I think it's a bit unfair not to acknowledge that MK takes on a whole different vibe at night as well. Adventure Land, Tomorrow Land, and the new additions to Fantasy Land are quite magical in their own right. This greatly reduces how special Cedar Point is made to seem at night.

Thrill Rides: About half at Cedar Point are generic run of the mill rides you can find at plenty of theme parks, amusement parks, or fairgrounds across the country. Pretty ho-hum if you are asking me to consider that as an advantage over MK. My home park of Elitch Gardens has an advantage over MK in this category. Doesn't make it better.

March 30, 2018 at 8:57 PM ·

I realized the Florida Principle was going to handily give this one to Magic Kingdom, so I voted for Cedar Point mostly because I've always wanted to go there, but haven't been able to.

March 31, 2018 at 6:56 AM ·

Barry, I love the Magic Kingdom. It is a fantastic park. But to me it is NOT an easy decision between it and Cedar Point. Not park against park. If I want to ride coasters and thrill rides, Cedar Point is the way to go - probably over any other park on the planet. If I was to be fully immersed in a fantasy environment, well, DAK is the best WDW option, but Magic Kingdom is no slouch either. My point is not that Magic Kingdom does not deserve to win, but rather that the vote should be far closer - I am very surprised this contest is so lopsided. In my mind, Cedar Point is, park against park, a better destination than Islands of Adventure, yet IOA gave MK a much better battle. Maybe TPI fans just don't like big boy coasters? I don't know. There is an obvious bias on TPI for all things Orlando and there always has been. I don't have an issue with that bias, I just want to make sure that people are really considering their vote rather than simply picking whatever Orlando park is in the contest. When I wrote that Cedar Point deserves to be in the Final Four, it was meant to imply that it has every right to then be in the Championship as well. Sorry I did not make that implication more clear.

As for your statement about BTMR and SDMT over Millennium Force, I am not sure how to take it. Obviously and objectively Force is a far superior coaster. But, there is nothing wrong with the graceful night rides offered by BTMR and SDMT (although SDMT is a bit too short for my taste). Again, my point is not to diminish the Magic Kingdom, but to make sure people are considering all that Cedar Point has to offer. It is a fantastic park, and worthy of everyone's consideration (PS Maverick, not Millennium Force, is the best coaster at Cedar Point, IMHO).

As for the "run of the mill" comment - yes, there are a lot of county fair style amusements at Cedar Point, and maybe as many as half the attractions in the park as you pointed out. But what you failed to mention is that count still leaves over 40 other attractions that are NOT run of the mill, about double what is in the Magic Kingdom today. Furthermore, many of those run of the mill rides are the kiddie rides, something Cedar Point provides WITHOUT sacrificing adult thrills, which is a good thing. And no, Elitch Gardens is not in any way comparable to the Magic Kingdom or Cedar Point, and really should not be part of this conversation. It is the armpit of the theme park world, I am sorry it is your home park. Glenwood Caverns is probably a better option.

Anyway, I love the Magic Kingdom and I love Cedar Point. To me, this battle is the toughest choice in the tournament so far, and, in my mind, worthy of a more extensive debate.

March 30, 2018 at 9:33 PM ·

James, My point with Elitch Gardens is that on my trip to Cedar Point I walked away thinking that parts of that park were no better than what Six Flags was running at Elitches (which was when I visited Cedar Point). Many of the thrill rides are similar in style. If (IMO) I can compare it to Elitches it in no way deserve to be compared to MK as a proper Theme Park. Please do not get me wrong...Cedar Point is not Elitch Gardens and perhaps it is a bit harsh to mention it. My thing is that it still feels too much like a cement slab with a bunch of big boy coasters. While many on TPI go nuts for these coasters and obsess over credit; I am not one of them and fail to see Cedar Point in all its glory. The glory is undoubtedly there for those that are into though. For that, you made an incredibly compelling case and respect your passion and love for the park.

March 30, 2018 at 9:51 PM ·

It's all good, Barry! If nothing else, we livened up the debate - which is all I was really after in the first place! =)

By the way, if the last time you went to Cedar Point was from 1999 - 2006 when Six Flags ran Elitch Gardens into the ground, you really ought to give it another shot. Lots of great improvements have been made since then. And, while you're at it, stop by Kings Island on the way. The one-two punch offered by these Cedar Fair parks is quite a treat, especially for coaster fans. If you're bored sometime (and you need help falling asleep) you can check out my five part (ugh!) trip report from 2014. It starts HERE. And if you are REALLY bored, I wrote a one page article about our visit in 2016 as well. You can find it HERE. (PS After my 2016 visit I need to amend my 2014 report, because I firmly believe that between the two parks - Kings Island and Cedar Point - the Point has the better coaster collection...but I do love me some Banshee for sure!).

Have a great Easter, brother!

March 30, 2018 at 9:59 PM ·

Thank James, I will definitely give those a read. I admit I am probably grossly outdated on what Cedar Point is and how it truly stacks up. Thus the flaw in voting I suppose. Educate yourselves people.

Have a great one too, James!

March 30, 2018 at 10:59 PM ·

I must say.. If you want an overall theme park with thrill rides. Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA is the best. It is a beautiful park when you walk in thru the park, it is beautiful throughout the park. It is totally set in a European setting. Very well done. Cedar Point still has the best roller coasters on the planet..

March 31, 2018 at 1:01 AM ·

You can't really compare these two parks against each other fairly. Both parks are good at what they do and they both were made to do different things. CP is a rides park, its a huge amusement park and it doesn't try to be anything else. MK was made to be a transformational experience and heavy on family (primarily Disney branded) entertainment.

Now with that out of the way i'm going to compare them anyway :)

MK is not my favorite park in America (that goes to DAK and then Disneyland) but I think MK is a better park than CP. In regards to overall experience CP is definitely the next best to Disney but that's exactly what it is...next best. I think MK has more breadth than CP and the quality is noticeably better. When you walk around WDW its extremely evident that Disney could easily do what CP does and there's just no way CP could ever do what Disney does.

Hall of Presidents, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pirates (albeit a weak version). Also MK has the absolutely incredible new firework show Happily Ever After every night. IMO these are just better attractions than anything you will find at CP. Not that I don't enjoy Maverick and TTD, but its just not the same.

March 31, 2018 at 5:07 AM ·

there is no better attraction in America period than the Cp attractions. u enjoy ur MK or whatever it is. i will be in CP enjoyn my 2 week vaca. idc what u enjoy. ur not a roller coaster guy

March 31, 2018 at 6:51 AM ·

The question is, why would Cedar Point want to do what Magic Kingdom does, or vice versa? I think both parks are perfectly happy doing what they do best - and it is likely neither park would be as enjoyable if they tried to do things differently. Sure, we'd love to see a few more dark ride adventures at Cedar Point, and a few more thrills at the Magic Kingdom, but wholesale changes would probably be a mistake. Besides, it is better to live in a world where both dichotomies exist and are available to entertain us.

March 31, 2018 at 10:08 AM ·

Robert, the rounds may need to be changed for next year as MK had a last second victory over IOA in the quarters but this is a rout.

April 1, 2018 at 6:22 AM ·

one day left to live on earth and i had to choose which park i would spend the day at. Easy choice, CP. drops the mic.................

April 1, 2018 at 6:37 AM ·

CP has a reason for people to buy fast pass plus and MK doesnt, hehe, oh well

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