Theme Park Insider Awards: Best Theme Park Finalists

January 25, 2019, 1:52 AM · And now we come to the final category in the 2019 Theme Park Insider Awards — the big one: Best Theme Park. Based on cumulative reader ratings, this year's finalists are:

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Efteling

Efteling

Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland

Tokyo DisneySea

Tokyo DisneySea

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

Your vote below will help determine the winner. Voting will be open until Wednesday, January 30, and comments are open during that time for campaigning.

We will announce the winners of the 2019 Theme Park Insider Awards on January 31. Thank you for being part of the Theme Park Insider community and helping us to select this year's award winners!

Replies (25)

January 25, 2019 at 3:57 AM

So here we go...

Can't speak for Warner Bros. World, Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea(yet) so I won't be voting for them.

While I like Islands of Adventure, the park has stalled in recent years.
Lots of old lands without much improvement in recent years and the only bright spot being Harry Potter in the last 10 years. The expansion of Jurassic Park/World will definitely help, but with Marvel being in Limbo Universal needs a new push in the next years.

Efteling was fun, although more of a classic theme park. The mix of classic rides, a fairytale forest and Rollercoasters does not work that well.

Animal Kingdom for me has many strong places in its park and with Pandora definitely cemented its place as a full Theme Park.

I'm interested to see who will come out on top.

January 25, 2019 at 7:13 AM

I have only voted for things that I’ve been on or to in the awards voting so far and I won’t change my formula now. So that leaves me to decide between Animal Kingdom and Islands of Adventure. Now I did vote for Flight of Passage in the last category but this time I have to go with IOA in a landslide for me. IOA has more rides that I enjoy than DAK. At DAK, Flight of Passage and Dinosaur are really my only must do’s... that’s it! The Kali River Rapids aren’t that great, Navi River Journey is not worth more than a 30 minute wait, and Expedition Everest is a bit too big for my britches. It’s Tough to be a Bug is a one and done and the safari is fine but not outstanding. I know a theme park can be more than just rides but that’s what I enjoy when I go to one. IOA has Spider-Man, Hulk (if you like roller coasters), Popeye (Best theme park rapids ride IMO), Ripsaw Falls, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Kong, & Forbidden Journey! Now if it was Magic Kingdom I would be in a pickle but this... easy vote... IOA.

January 25, 2019 at 7:42 AM

"While I like Islands of Adventure, the park has stalled in recent years.
Lots of old lands without much improvement in recent years and the only bright spot being Harry Potter in the last 10 years."

I can't agree there. I would say that the pace of improvement has slowed, but it by no means has stalled. You seem to discount the rebuilt Hulk, HD upgrade of Spiderman, and Skull Island - all improvements since the WWoHP opened in 2010 (in addition to the Hogwart's Express). When you have a "mature" park, which IOA has become, designers can't simply make additions willy nilly. The park has to be careful about removing older, but loved attractions to make improvements to the park. Is IOA a "perfect" park? No, but it's pretty darn good, and is about to get a lot better with two new roller coasters over the next 2 years to replace Dragon Challenge/Dueling Dragons. I still think they need to do something with Poseidon's Fury and the Comic Book Theater, but seeing as though that can't make any significant changes to Marvel Super Hero Island, there's very little room for improvement for what has become one of the best theme parks on the planet.

I had to vote for DAK. The addition of PtWoA has made WDW's youngest theme park it's most complete and well rounded. The only improvement I can seriously see would be a revamp of Dinoland USA.

January 25, 2019 at 8:13 AM

Not trying to be a downer, Robert, but what percentage of your members have ever been to all these parks? I guess I'm not a "Theme Park Insider", but I do love my Florida theme parks!

January 25, 2019 at 9:14 AM

I still haven't forgiven IOA for taking out Dueling Dragons, so for me this year it has to be DAK. That said, with the new Potter ride and the Jurassic Park ride in 2020? then that could be a whole new ball game.

January 25, 2019 at 10:29 AM


This is difficult since I have only been to two on said list.

Therefore I had to pick from the list of two not a list of six... This is the only way I could have voted...

Could have had two categories:
Best USA Theme Park
Best World Theme Park other than USA.

January 25, 2019 at 11:20 AM

Throwing it out for Disney Sea, just amazing work not just with rides but the park design and sheer presentation making it look wonderful.

January 25, 2019 at 11:57 AM

Sticking with my personal rule of at least 50% experience to vote, I am voting for Tokyo DisneySea. I love IOA and like Animal Kingdom very much. I've yet to visit the other three, but there is no doubt in my mind that TDS is a smidgen more perfect than even Mary Poppins herself.

January 25, 2019 at 12:31 PM

If the nominations are supposed to be based on the most positive reviews on this site, how is Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi a nominee? When checking that review, no one has commented. How many of the folks on here have seen this still very new theme park? Why does this site need to drive a hype train for Farrah's indoor park in the Emirates when there are places with actual positive reviews on your site that deserve that slot? Same as nominating their Batman:Knight Flight when the attraction has no actual reviews and it wasn't open during the media previews. Shenanigans! :)

January 25, 2019 at 1:03 PM

Tokyo DisneySea #1, and it’s only getting better (Soaring, Peter Pan/Tangled/Frozen minilands and a new in-park deluxe hotel).

IOA #2, and its only getting better (Potter coaster, Jurassic coaster and possibly Legend of Zelda/Lost Continent transformation).

Disneyland CA #3, and it’s only getting better (Galaxy’s Edge, Project Stardust and hopefully a new Tomorrowland).

Shanghai Disneyland #4, and...that’s right, ITS ONLY GETTING BETTER! (Zootopia land).

DAK #5, and I hope it continues to get better (Pandora expansion, repair the Disco Yeti, something something Jungle Book and maybe a new land?).

January 25, 2019 at 1:55 PM

Gotta give it to Tokyo Disney Sea (But haven't been to Shanghai or Abu Dhabi).

TDS is better themed than any park I've been to or read reviews of. It also has a very good ride line up, excellent service, great shows, and great food.

IOA also has a very good ride line up, but it lacks the overall quality of shows, theme, and food that TDS boasts.

AK, while a beautiful and improving park (I'd argue it's superior to IOA when it comes to themed environments), still needs to grow in the ride department.

I love Efteling, but it's a very different cup of tea. I just happen to prefer TDS (and TDS's rides, shows, food, and themed environments are rather superior). Efteling's explorability does match that of TDS, though.

Warner Bros and Shanghai Disneyland need to grow some.

January 25, 2019 at 3:52 PM

Dave Bakas, why?

January 25, 2019 at 4:26 PM

Why? Cause we were told the nominees this time would come from the number of positive revues on this site and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi hasn't received any nor has their Batman:Knight Flight as far as I can tell- so how are either nominees in their categories? That's why.

January 25, 2019 at 5:11 PM

He has a point. It seems no one has been to there but it is in the top. I guess a 0/0 is 100 percent in this case.

January 26, 2019 at 9:24 PM

You can’t have it both ways, Dave. Throughout this entire readers’ poll, you have constantly complained, and from both sides of the fence. First, you complained that the nominees are too “All-American”, then you complained that some of the international nominees are not deserving. Which is it?
Why so negative? If you feel that some of your projects are deserving of any of these awards, there are other ways to bring them recognition and boost them up as opposed to tearing down the nominees from a readers’ poll of a theme park fans’ website. Trolling on a theme park fans’ website is a little sad. Why do you do it?
I’ll pray for you, Dave. Everyone deserves one prayer.

January 25, 2019 at 6:14 PM

Of the two I've visited, IOA > DAK. That's not to say DAK is bad (and some areas of it are extremely well themed), but it is a little on the light side in terms of must-do attractions. IOA, on the other hand, easily fills up a full day with their variety of offerings, and even 20 year old attractions at that park remain on par with the best in the business today.

I do agree with a few others that the inclusion of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi is a bit suspect. If there's no minimum vote requirement, I guess the few that have visited enjoyed it enough to make it a contender. Perhaps it's truly deserving, perhaps not, but that's not for me to judge...I've never visited the place.

January 25, 2019 at 6:57 PM

I'm here as a fan,Keith, and have been. I am glad there are more international nominees and I'm not calling anything "undeserving"- just looking for consistency in the criteria that we were told was used. Nothing to do with my personal choices whatsoever.

January 25, 2019 at 7:15 PM

A little dramatic there Keith...I feel your post could have also used the use of Dave's name a few more times.

I voted for IOA but my real favorite is DCA and will be for the foreseeable future. They keep getting better with their excellent refurb, solid Pixar Pier reskin and future Marvel Land.

January 28, 2019 at 10:57 AM

I agree with Brian Emory, let us have an 2 tier grouping. Some of us do not travel over seas.

January 28, 2019 at 2:26 PM

OK, well, I struck out visiting ANY of these parks. My life is so bland. ;-) But after review after review after drooling review of TDS, that had to be my vote. What's better than a Disney park not controlled by Disney?

Rhetorical question, people.

January 29, 2019 at 5:56 PM

I am in the luxury position that I visited all 6 parks. Ofcourse, Disney and Universal will always end up in the top of these tables. They own the IP's and billions of dollars no other themepark in the world can compete with. Nevertheless, there are very few following their own pad and having their own stories. The one who is doing the best job is by far the Efteling. Beautiful unique darkrides, a fairywood that makes Disney jeaulous. And they don't only have their focus on robbing the content of your wallet. For those who are not familiar with the Efteling let's read what Tony Baxter had to say about it (interview on this site:
"Now there are other parks that do a very good job in being relevant to their specific audience. There's one that comes to mind, Efteling, which is a very small-budgeted park over in Holland. It's just as beautiful as Disney in many ways. The park is based on the conceptual ideas of Anton Pieck, who was a contemporary of Walt Disney, and who did beautiful illustrations back in the 20s, 30s, 40, and 50s. They have held to that. Like at Disneyland, if you go in there and are familiar with Anton Pieck's work, everything in there is reflected thematically. I find going to parks a very learning experience, and when you meet with their people, they will tell you that when they've diverted from that, and tried to bring in either generic roller coaster material, or do a Disney-type attraction that looks like our IP — they're kind of embarrassed by an attraction that is very Small World-like, but not Efteling-like. It even has an earworm song that I can hum for you, but I won't. [Laughs] They look at it and they go 'we didn't do the right thing, because it doesn't reflect the values of Efteling.' I think they've been more successful than any park I know of, other than Disney, of developing their own IP, their own rides. They have Pirates-sized rides there, with Audio Animatronics and everything that they generate internally. They don't buy things from outside vendors. So they were a contemporary of Disneyland. They were very small in the beginning, and learned a lot from Disney. I've gone there many times, and I've learned a lot from them. It isn't a phenomenon that Disney alone owns. Whether you're relevant to the world, or relevant to your own specific ethnic population, or whatever it is, that is the key to distinguishing [yourself]."
With the small budget they have, they easily beat the Disney standards on some points. They deserve to win this competition I believe.

January 29, 2019 at 6:09 PM

Well Dutchman, I can only confirm your story. The Efteling is truly amazing. Visited last year with my family and stayed at Bosrijk. The theming and service are equal or above Disneystandards. Absolutely beautiful. 10 outa 10. It's even more amazing how cheap everything is, compared to Disney. My children loved it more than any US park. We can't wait to go back there....

January 29, 2019 at 7:03 PM

Hi Peter, nice to see you enjoyed your visit so much. The park is growing fast. 10 years ago they only had 1 hotel (beautiful), and today also 2 resorts (Bosrijk and Loonsche Land). The service is outstanding. Bosrijk is voted for best resort in the Netherlands for years, apart from the themepark. Their biggest competitors in Europe are Europapark in Germany and ofcourse Disneyland Paris. It's only for their brand that Disney Paris has about 2,5 times more visitors than number 2 and 3 Europapark and Efteling. Disney entree fee is about € 100, Efteling only € 40. Disney Paris for more than 20 years didn't present a new ride. Efteling almost every year. Europark has Mack Rides as their financial back up, Disney Paris the WDC, who are investing 1,1 billion now to upgrade the park. Efteling has to stand on their own feet, no moneytree, and yet they realise to compete with these giants. The Efteling has an organisationstructure non-profit. All the money they earn goes back into the park. Not to the Mack family (Europapark), nor to shareholders (Disney). The profits don't fill anybody's pocket. Thats why they don't pull you into stores with overprized souvenirs after every ride like in every Disneypark. Something very rare nowadays and to be proud of. It's also a protected naturepark. Some foreign visitor complain about the distance between rides, that it's so big. The Efteling is not allowed to build on more than 11% of the property they own. There is a Supervisory board (non-paid) who keep, save and control the park's identity. No ride is build by the managing board without their permission. Dutch coasterlovers would love to see a 100 meter tall B&M coaster in the park. They financial can easily afford that, but it's just never gonna happen. It doesn't fit in the park's id, like that also wouldn't fit in a Disneypark. They have shortest B&M divecoaster (Baron 1898) of the world. But the theming, station and pre-show (with Garner Holt AA) are out of this world. Absolutely incredible. Next level. They pay $10 million for the coaster and $10 million to theme it. They give you a story instead of only a ride. Then they own 4 darkrides who can all easily compete with Disneystandard. Their recent new darkride (Symbolica) contains about 10 Garner Holts AA's. The Holt's employees had never worked with a park with such high demands of theming details. Budget: $ 40 million, about 4 times cheaper than any recent Disney darkride. Give it a thought.

January 29, 2019 at 9:36 PM

Love Efteling, and love that they continue to create attractions with original narratives when most of the themed entertainment industry is addicted to major IPs. Love Symbolica and it's multiple pathways and had it been nominated I would have voted for it as best themed attraction. It is the most expensive single attraction in Efteling's long history.

January 30, 2019 at 10:16 AM

Hello all !
Totally independent parks became rare in the world. I mean : a genuine family owned park or a park owned by a non profit organisation (either private or official).
In the world, the majority of parks now belong to large amusement park chains (Merlin, Compagnie des Alpes, Parques Reunidos, Six Flags, Aspro Ocio, Cedar Fair, OCT... etc) or media conglomerate companies (Disney, Universal, Warner, Studio 100... etc).
Both, in most cases, are topped again by banker-type purely financial investment companies. As such, we're far away from core business, where the relation between park owner and the guests is close and direct. In most cases, the big media companies use parks to boost the media business as such (or mutual boost). In case of the classic chains, parks are often seen as trade assets, just as much as (or more then...) a visitors business. Buy and sell parks at the right moment, to make a profit in view of shareholders, you know? And visitors thought it was all about themselves...

'Consolidation' is the name :
QUOTE : (Park World Online - article 05/08/2011) :
"..... Speaking last September at Euro Attractions Show’s European Theme Park Legends panel session in Rome, Löffelhardt Snr raised the issue of consolidation: “With big companies running parks the danger is they all become the same. I think some parks will come back into private ownership.“ ....."

So, that's where truely independent parks are different. Owner, management, staff and customers form a direct interdependent line.
They know they must be unique, distinguishable and high quality within tiebelted budget conditions. Yet, they do it ! Efteling on this list is an example, and probably the largest SUCH park in the world. (I cannot really compare to Europapark, which is independent as well, but which is after all also a showroom for the Mack family's amusement machine building industry. A double take...)
Anyway, Europe has grown a full set of such truely independent parks, from oldest to newest. Some of the hits include: Tivoli Kopenhagen (DK), Efteling (NL), Puy du Fou (F), Phantasialand (D), Pairi Daiza (B), Astrid Lindgren Wärld (S), Evermore Park -- OUPS, that's in the USA but great !! ... etc)

If parks would be rated on quality-experience-level , divided by available-capital-backing-per-top-attraction , then independent parks would jump out 10-fold ! The average disbalance in investment capital between consolidated media company theme parks, and independent theme parks is close to the braquet 7-15 times.
Exercise time !
Compare €38 M development capital for Efteling's Symbolica, to DHK's Mystic Manor. Nowhere can be found an investment figure for the attraction. We got the figure for the complete West development section of the park : HK$3.63 billion = US $462.7 M. Mystic Point is the by far most expensive part, guess-timate US $310. It includes themed landscaping and also a restaurant. OK, to compare to Efteling, actual Symbolica section also includes restaurant, additional theming and further landscaping, already realised before the attraction came. I guess-timate an additional €5 M on top of the 38, totals €43 M = US $48.1 M.
Capital balance Mystic Point vs. Symbolica theme area : guess-timate 9.6 times more. But experience appreciation from guests : similar !!
There we go !
As a professional who knows how creepy difficult it is to turn every coin 5 times to meet a budget, and still aim at : "I'm doing the best" , the result is stunning !

My reason to vote again, for Efteling. Although many more independent parks, as I listed a few, could have been nominated !

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