Announcing the Winners of the 2023 Theme Park Insider Awards

January 1, 2023, 9:41 AM · Theme Park Insider readers have voted, and now I am honored to announce the winners. Based on your nominations and final-round votes, here are the winners of the annual Theme Park Insider Awards.

Best New Attraction

Two new rides stood above all others in our first-round vote this year. Our finalist was Iron Gwazi, the RMC coaster from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, but our 2022 Theme Park Insider Award winner is...

Guardians of the Galaxy - Cosmic Rewind at Walt Disney World's Epcot.

Epcot's first roller coaster is not just a fun coaster ride. It's a complete attraction experience, starting the moment you enter Epcot's "Wonders of Xandar" pavilion, inspired by the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Throw in some nifty pro-show tricks and a varying on-ride soundtrack, and Cosmic Rewind pushed enough buttons to capture our award.

Best Holiday Event

Our finalists for best year-end holiday event were Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's Christmas Town, Holidays at Universal Orlando, Knott's Merry Farm, SeaWorld Orlando's Christmas Celebration and Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas. But your choice as the winner for Best Holiday Event was...

Holidays at the Disneyland Resort

Holidays at the Disneyland Resort.

Disneyland celebrated not just Christmas but a diverse collection of year-end traditions with its Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure and classic attraction overlays, including this year's 25th anniversary of It's a Small World Holiday. The Holidays at the Disneyland Resort has become Southern California's leading holiday tradition, and a winner with our readers.

Best Halloween Event

You nominated Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa, Knott's Scary Farm, and Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in this category. But your winner, once again, was...

Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida.

Universal Orlando's hard-ticket Halloween event continues to set the creative and business standard for after-hours parties in the theme park industry. It's been a hit for 30 years now and continues to remain our readers' favorite place to enjoy fear.

Insider of the Year

The Insider of the Year Award honors someone in the themed entertainment industry whose body of work merits this individual honor, in a year when their work drew special attention. Theme Park Insider's 2022 Insider of the Year is...

Bob Weis
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Imagineering

Bob Weis, former Global Ambassador and former President of Walt Disney Imagineering.

Bob retired from The Walt Disney Company at the end of 2022, but he's far from done working as a creator. While we thank Bob for his amazing work on projects from Tokyo to Shanghai and beyond, we can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Best Theme Park Hotel

Ten finalists topped your nominations in this category this year, and your winner for Best Hotel is, once again and for the sixth time...

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney World offers several Deluxe properties, but Animal Kingdom Lodge stands out for its immersive setting among the wildlife of Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, along with its outstanding on-site dining and service.

Best Theme Park Restaurant

Another full field of 10 finalists competed for the Best Restaurant honor in a tough year for the dining industry. This year's winner is...

Blue Bayou Restaurant

Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland.

The Blue Bayou won our initial award in this category, way back in 2002. Twenty years later, it's back on top, testifying to the enduring appeal of the iconic setting and menu at this restaurant on the banks of Disney's original Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Best Theme Park Show

Based on your nominations, our finalists in this category included The Bourne Stuntacular from Universal Studios Florida, Festival of the Lion King at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Universal Orlando's Horror Makeup Show, and WaterWorld at Universal Studios Hollywood. And the winner for Best Show is...

Fantasmic! at Disneyland.

Fantasmic! celebrated its 30th anniversary on the Rivers of America at Disneyland last summer. While the show has changed over the years, it remains an all-time favorite with theme park fans.

Best Roller Coaster

This year, Theme Park Insider readers' finalists in this categories were Carowinds' Fury 325, Island of Adventure's Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Kings Dominion's Intimidator 305, Dollywood's Lightning Rod, SeaWorld Orlando's Mako, and Maverick and Steel Vengeance from Cedar Point. And the winner for Best Roller Coaster, for the second year in a row, is...

Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure.

With outstanding coaster elements, engaging theming, and wonderful decoration from the queue through the ride itself, VelociCoaster wins raves both from devoted roller coaster enthusiasts and casual theme park fans, making a winning combination for everyone, including our readers.

Best Attraction

Ten top attractions moved on from the nomination round to our finals this year. And, once again, our readers' choice for Best Attraction was...

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Rise of the Resistance has won each year since its 2019 debut at Walt Disney World, wowing fans with incredible placemaking and engaging storytelling across multiple ride systems.

Best Theme Park

Theme Park Insider readers favored the world's most popular theme parks in this year's nominations. Which makes sense - people end up going to the top parks so often because they are top parks. But in the final-round vote, three parks stood above the rest of the finalists: Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, the original Disneyland in California, and our winner:

Tokyo DisneySea

Tokyo DisneySea at the Tokyo Disney Resort.

A great theme park isn't just the sum of its parts. A great park delivers immersive theming, stunning decoration and outstanding customer service throughout, in addition to world-class attractions and entertainment. The best of the best is also a great value, too, as the reasonably-priced Tokyo Disney Resort parks continue to do. Winning our Best Theme Park honor for the seventh time, Tokyo DisneySea proved again this year that it delivers for theme parks fans around the world.

Thank you to the thousands of Theme Park Insider readers who participated in this year's awards process, from submitting nominations to voting in our final-round polls. It continues to be my honor and pleasure to bring you theme park news and coverage throughout the year. Thank you for being part of Theme Park Insider.

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Replies (18)

January 1, 2023 at 11:35 AM

Blue Bayou is a wild choice, but otherwise not much to quibble with here.

January 1, 2023 at 12:43 PM

Congrats disney insider award recipients! Can’t wait for next year’s surprise winners!

January 1, 2023 at 2:26 PM

I agree with all of these choices except Blue Bayou. You’re paying for atmosphere, but getting mediocre food quality. In Disneyland Resort alone, Galaxy’s Edge has more options, Carthay Circle has better options without being in darkness, and even Tangaroa Terrace has significantly better and cheaper food choices while maintaining a good amount of atmosphere.

January 1, 2023 at 6:51 PM

I would like to point out that Iron Gwazi is located at Busch Gardens Tampa not in Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

January 2, 2023 at 12:23 AM

Glad Tokyo DisneySea got the top spot. It truly is the best.

January 2, 2023 at 12:25 AM

Ugh, projectgamma. Of course. Forehead slap and fixed. Thanks for the catch.

January 2, 2023 at 1:04 AM

Even though I don't necessarily agree with all of them, I can't really fault any of the winners in what is largely a Disney and Universal popularity contest. I hope I'm able to get over to Japan in the next five years or so (very very tentatively aiming for a 2025 trip) and experience Tokyo DisneySea myself, as I want to understand what puts it above other parks like Islands of Adventure and Phantasialand that, at least on paper, seem equal if not better.

January 2, 2023 at 4:49 AM

It would have been nice to see something outside of the Disney & Universal portfolio’s win something. There is an entire World of Theme Parks out there with plenty of worthy candidates…

January 2, 2023 at 11:21 AM

Should just change the name of the page to Disney Park Insider.

January 2, 2023 at 8:32 PM

@AJ Hummel

Tokyo DisneySea has the best theming of all parks in the world. Every area has picture perfect scenery, amazing food, great shows, and its attractions are always maintained so well that it looks and feels like it’s brand new: Comparing the park’s Indiana Jones Adventure, Temple of the Crystal Skull, to Disneyland’s is night and day(More so that Disneyland’s is in terrible shape.).

When you go, hope you have an amazing time.

January 2, 2023 at 8:37 PM


I was really hoping for Iron Gwazi to win attraction of the year because that one is an amazing and smooth ride. Cosmic Rewind sounded good on paper but it’s a nauseating experience that gave me such a headache(I don’t care how many songs there are, it was a one and done for me).

January 2, 2023 at 10:00 PM

I’ll be going to Tokyo Disney for the first time on my honeymoon this October and I’m really looking forward to it.

January 2, 2023 at 11:21 PM

Wait, Mythos is not the best restaurant according to Theme Park Insider?

January 3, 2023 at 9:19 AM

Most of these were not my choices, but I can't find a lot of faults in most of the award winners here.

The one I can criticize is the choice of Blue Bayou. Yes, the theming and ambiance of the restaurant inside of POTC is top notch, but the menu and overall dining experience falls pretty short for me. There's nothing necessarily wrong with the food, but it's a bit on the stale side and the prices, which have constantly increased over the years in an attempt to reduce demand, make it a particularly poor value. Personally, the San Angel Inn in EPCOT, which is somewhat modeled after Blue Bayou thematically yet wasn't even a finalist here, has a far superior menu.

January 3, 2023 at 2:43 PM

Love this list, as always.

Agree with others on Blue Bayou. My last visit around the time of D23 Expo was disappointing. Lovely atmosphere. Food was fine. Yet felt very rushed—food arrived before my glass of wine, dinner came when salad was still on the table, and we were out within an hour. That’s poor service and hardly the relaxing break I was expecting.

January 4, 2023 at 6:44 PM

Disney continues to dominate themed entertainment experiences. No surprise. And when will Universal Orlando produce a solid, signature night time, close of day show? [EDIT]

January 5, 2023 at 6:34 AM

Universal’s Cinematic Celebration is, in fact, a solid, signature night time, close of day show.

January 5, 2023 at 9:00 AM

I also heard that Ghoulish! was really good, though it was unable to run after Hurricane Ian, so I didn't personally watch it when we visited in October.

The Dark Arts show at IOA is also really good (though it's not the greatest spot to put on a nighttime show due to overcrowding).

I would agree that IOA could use a nighttime lagoon show that could be seen from multiple angles a la EPCOT (though something better than HarmoniUS).

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