2014. Wow. There’s really no other way to describe it. The year hit the ground running with major events at theme parks nationwide, and ended with huge news. In between we saw people build a snowman, celebrated 50 years of bringing people closer to animals, and took an even more amazing trip into a world of wizards and dragons. Coasters broke records, and waterslides defied what you knew was possible. To say that 2014 was a big year for theme parks is vast understatement. Before we finally put 2014 down as legendary, we will pay one last tribute to the year’s best as voted by you! We are proud to announce the winners of the 5th Annual Thrill Weekly Awards-The Best of 2014!
Beginning in mid October of 2014, we asked you to vote on your favorite theme parks and events in a variety of categories. The Thrill Weekly Polls asked theme park fans, guests and geeks to pick what they thought was the best in the amusement industry.
The categories are:
- King of Halloween-Best Theme Park Halloween Event
- King of Halloween-Best Non-Theme Park Haunted Attraction
- Best Theme Park Show
- Best Family Friendly Destination
- Best Theme Park Food Destination
- Best Unofficial Theme Park Site of the Year
- Best Official Theme Park Site of the Year
- Santa’s Pride-Best Christmas Event
- Attraction of the Year
- Waterpark of the Year
- Park of the Year
- Editor’s Choice-Best Theme Park Experience
In each category, except for Editor’s Choice, we opened voting for one week, allowing readers, and fans to vote for their favorite park in each one of the categories. The polls were shared via Facebook and Twitter, with our various readers, and followers. We also encouraged each of the theme parks nominated to announce that they were nominated for the award, via their various social media networks.
Each of the winners are the direct result from the polls, as chosen by the readers of BehindTheThrills.com and the various fans of the theme parks who announced their nominations. The winners are not necessarily the results of the opinions of the Behind The Thrills staff, or advertisers. Every single winner, with the exception of the Editor’s Choice Award, is the direct result of the Thrill Weekly Polls.
Halloween events at theme parks have become bigger and scarier, with several parks pushing the envelope in ways that only independent haunts had the freedom to do previously. Some parks also bring family friendly content to Halloween with spooky, yet non-frightening ways to get kids of all ages into the spirit of the holiday. Nominees are selected based on several factors including popularity of the event, reach of the event and the impact the event has on the industry.
And The Best Theme Park Halloween Event Is-
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando has been conquering Halloween for 24 years. In 2014, the event brought back old school elements of the event, such as defined Scare Zones, which made it feel like a richer experience. The event mixed original content, with some big names in horror to create eight unique haunted mazes. Add in the two shows, (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and The Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute) and you have a recipe for fun, not only terror. The big winner of the year was Michael Myers, as the team at HHN brought the most iconic on-screen killer of all times in a house based on the original John Carpenter film, Halloween.
As 2015 rolls in, Universal Orlando is already teasing big things with HHN 25!
Congratulations to the entire team at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights!
Stand alone haunted attractions can be a different variety of events. Whether it’s the tested and true haunted house, or an entire scream park that is designed just to scare the hell out of you, haunted attractions are some of the best things about the Halloween Season. Haunted attractions are usually free to frighten and freak us out in ways we’ve never seen in theme park haunts, and they are starting to pop up more frequently throughout the year. Nominees are selected based on several factors including popularity of the event, reach of the event and the impact the event has on the industry. It also helps that a few of the nominees threatened us with chainsaws and flaming pumpkins.
And The Best Non-Theme Park Haunted Attraction Is:
A Petrified Forest in Orlando took to social media in huge numbers, and the fans spoke. A Petrified forest offers two unique trails with different stories, and elements, and all completely outside. The haunt has been going strong for seven years, and is looking forward to a huge season in 2015.
Congratulations to A Petrified Forest and their entire team of nightmares!
A day at a theme park is full of great attractions, rides and yes…even shows! A great show can make give you a break from the crowds, inspire you to do amazing things, and even cap off an amazing trip by emblazoning the memories. The nominees for this category were chosen for many factors including popularity of the show, effectiveness of the show and the overall performance of the show. The winner was chosen by you, the readers and fans of the show.
And The Best Theme Park Show is-
A bittersweet victory for fans of the long running band, Off-Kilter at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. The show took the top spot by a huge margin. Off-Kilter was a rock band that played several popular covers, as well as some traditional Irish and Scottish song covers…only they did it with electric guitars and bagpipes. The band has a huge following, and had fans follow them to the various festivals and events that they played. Unfortunately, the show also ended it’s 17 year run at the World Showcase Canada Pavilion in late 2014, as Disney moved to bring in a different act for the area. The band has released five albums, and continues to tour, and play festivals. The fans of the band came out of the woodwork to send the band out on top.
Congratulations to Off-Kilter! With any luck we’ll see them as part of another theme park show, very shortly.
Theme parks are generally magnets for family fun. The atmosphere of tons of rides, shows and good food usually makes for a great experience for everyone. Some theme parks, however, are more family friendly than others. These parks cater not only to one type of rider in the family, but offer something for just about everyone in a well rounded atmosphere that everyone can enjoy. But which one is the MOST family friendly? The nominees for this category were chosen for many factors, including types of attractions, range of height requirements and variety of attractions and shows.
And The Best Family Friendly Theme Park Destination is-
Knoebels is the very definition of family friendly. The park has a several family friendly rides, is family owned and operated, and has been that way for generations. The park is a Pennsylvania institution, and is visited by enthusiasts from all over the globe. The park offers free parking, free admission, and free use of their picnic facilities, which make it a super affordable place to go for a family outing. The fact that they have awesome coasters and classic rides is a bonus. The park is adding it’s first coaster with an inversion in 2015, and the family is still delighted by it!
Congratulations to the Knoebels family, and the entire Knoebels team!
Theme park food is traditionally thought of as corn dogs, funnel cakes and what you would find at your local fair. The parks have taken what guests loved, and expanded on that as tastes change and palettes expand to crave a wide variety of flavors. Parks have gone through great lengths to make food not only something you eat, but in many cases an experience. Nominees for this category are based on several factors including reader reviews, critic reviews, and distinctive cuisine. The winner was chosen by you in the Thrill Weekly Poll.
And The Best Theme Park Food Destination is-
Silver Dollar City returns to the winners circle for the second year in a row, taking home the Best Food Destination Award. Silver Dollar City once again shut down the competition, as their fans spoke loud and clear. With farm fresh ingredients, and all the flavors of home with comfort foods like fried chicken, to pizza and even smoked ribs, it’s no wonder the Branson Missouri park is the destination for the best food. The park boasts over 20 different restaurants, which guarantees something for every taste bud.
Congratulations to Silver Dollar City and the culinary staff!
Best Official Website
This year we took a look at the way that theme parks informed their fans, and those looking to make vacation plans. Which site had the easiest layout, and provided the most information? Which site was great about updating their site with the latest information? In this day and age where guests will come from all over the world, it’s very important that a theme park has a tool that they can use to plan their trip, as much as they can. This year we introduced the Best Official Website of the year. We asked you to name your favorite, and you did!
And the Best Official Theme Park Website is:
Universal Orlando has one of the easiest to use websites that provides tons of great information. From booking a hotel room, to finding information about a favorite ride, the park does it all in such a way that gives guests the most tools possible to plan their vacations. On top of that, the website is constantly changing, and asking guests via surveys what they would like to see to help them better on their trip planning adventures.
Congratulations to the Universal Orlando Web team!
Best Unofficial Theme Park Website
When it comes to theme park news and information, there is a huge variety of choices. From hungry fansites that give you every minor detail of your favorite theme park, to mommy blogs giving you what’s best for the family, and of course news and rumors sites, there’s something for every bit of theme park information out there. This is the one category that seems to be upset people the most, as there are just way too many theme park websites out there to nominate. From people calling “fixed” to being angry that we didn’t nominate their site, it’s filled with the most controversy. The nominees for this category are based on several factors including popularity, the parks covered, and frequency of updates. Since BehindtheThrills.com covers mostly theme parks in the United States, the sites nominated also cover primarily the United States.
And the Best Unofficial Theme Park Website is:
Screamscape has been the top voted website for the past five years of the Thrill Weekly Polls. Screamscape is also the only in any category for all five years! It’s no wonder, as Screamscape gives tons of information and rumors about every single park in the industry. For over ten years, Screamscape has been the go to website for rumors and news for their favorite parks and rides. Many people get the news about new ride openings, and closures long before many theme parks make it public from the Screamscape.
In honor of Screamscape’s fifth consecutive win, we will retire the category of Best Unofficial Theme Park Website.
Congratulations to Screamscape on another year, and earning Legendary status!
Thousands of dazzling lights, special parades and shows make the season bright. Christmas at theme parks are truly magical!There are many types of events that feature piles of snow for those who normally dont have it, or mean green Christmas thieves who have a change of heart. Each one touches on a special feeling that we get only at Christmas. Nominees are selected based on several factors including popularity of the event, reach of the event and the impact the event has on the industry.
And The Best Christmas Event is-
A Sea of Trees, wondrous nights, and Miracles all make up the huge event that is as big as the sea! SeaWorld Orlando takes guests from The North Pole on the Polar Express, to witness Christmas Miracles with Shamu. The event mixes all the classic elements of Christmas with animals to bring one of the biggest and best Christmas spectacles for the entire family!
Congratulations to SeaWorld Orlando and the entire park!
What makes a theme park attraction the best? Is it the death defying drops of a coaster, or the classic fun of a dark ride? Maybe it’s a show that gets your feet tapping, or even a waterslide that sends you rushing to a big splashdown. New attractions, old attractions, attractions that closed this year, we nominated a huge amount based on site searches, news stories and several other factors to come up with a hugely diversified list.
And The Attraction of the Year is-
Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City was one of the first major coasters to use Rocky Mountain Coasters to not only make wooden coasters do things they never have before, but to push the limits of what riders are willing to do with just a lapbar. The coaster is fast, steep and was the first wooden coaster to do more than one inversion. It’s popularity has not waned since opening in 2013. It set an industry standard when built, and it continues to be the coaster that hybrids are measured against.
Congratulations Outlaw Run, and Silver Dollar City!
Waterparks push the boundary of excitement by giving bigger, faster, and more immersive thrills than ever. Whether it’s dropping straight down several stories into a shallow pool, or simply relaxing near some exotic animals, or maybe just under a cool shade tree, Waterparks are a great way to spend time with friends and have fun. The nominees for this category were chosen based on several factors including popularity of the park, types of attractions, and overall atmosphere of the park.
And The Waterpark of the Year is-
WhiteWater is Silver Dollar City’s waterpark, and it is 13 acres of wet fun. In 2014, the park introduced the all new Kapau Plummet, a 70 foot drop slide, that has riders drop to their doom in a tube of sheer fun. Whitewater offers tons of family friendly fun as well, and also offers a “Sunny day guarantee”. How’s that for service?
Congratulations to Whitewater!
Which theme park is the best of the year? That probably depends on who you ask, and where they live. What makes a theme park the best of the year, however is something different. It could be the park with the best rides. Maybe it’s the park with the best service, or cleanest pathways. We’d like to think that it’s the park that takes all the areas serious, and strives to be the best in the industry. To choose the park of the year, we nominated every single theme park we could think of in the country. We broke the country into four different regions, and had polls for every single region as part of our “Park of the Year Playoffs”. The top two theme parks for every single region moved from the playoffs, to the finals. This year was a very different list of finalists than usual, as the power of social media came heavily into play.
The Eight Finalists for Park of the Year Are-
- Universal Studios Florida
- Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
- Sesame Place-Pennsylvania
- Quassy Park-Connecticut
- Silver Dollar City-Missouri
- SeaWorld San Antonio-Texas
- SeaWorld San Diego
And the 2014 Park of the Year is-
Silver Dollar City is the little park that CAN. They take the title for the second year in a row, and are holding it high for the rest to come and get. Silver Dollar City has taken family friendly to all new heights, and will continue to do so in 2015 with their all new addition-Fireman’s Landing. The park will open a ton of new attractions with this new family area that pays tribute to firefighters and heroes everywhere. Silver Dollar City has proven that they are an amazing little theme park capable of big things!
Congratulations to the entire Silver Dollar City family for being crowned Park of the Year for 2014, for the second year in a row!
The final award is the Editor’s Choice-The Best Theme Park Experience. Editor’s Choice is the award that is chosen completely by the editors of BehindTheThrills.com. This award is awarded to a theme park attraction, area, land or theme park that exudes excellence in all of the three following categories.
- Unique Experience-Does this offer something that no one else does
- Immersive environment-Does it take you places like no other attraction or park can
- Customer Service-Do the employees help break the barriers that keep you in the real world? Do they make you feel like you’re really stepping into a different world?
The attraction or area does not have to be a new experience, land or attraction, but it does have to be an amazing experience all the way around. It is always a difficult decision, as there are so many theme parks that do things brilliantly every single day. This is the only award that is not voted on, and is solely the decision of BehindTheThrills.com
In 2014, it was a very tough decision.
And The Best Theme Park Experience of 2014 is-
This was a very tough choice. It should have been so easy that anyone could see it coming a mile away, and in a way it really was. However, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida needed to be more than just an amazing new attraction. It needed to be an amazing experience to win this honor. The customer service was great, as the employees went to great lengths to transform you into Diagon Alley. The environment was amazing, as it immersed you completely into Diagon Alley, and made you feel like you were the boy wizard, travelling to a new world where magic really happened. The one thing that it wasn’t a runaway on was a unique experience.
Let me clarify that a bit. You can not get the experience that you get at Diagon Alley anywhere else in the world. However, there were so many unique experiences this year that it was extremely hard to choose. We had an amazing experience in Hollywood at Super Silly Fun Land. Dollywood continues to grow it’s ride library, and themeing in leaps and bounds. Knott’s did a superb job with Calico Mine Train. And Disney proved that they can do something simple,but make it amazing with New Fantasyland and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Let’s not forget the family, water and birds that we experienced at the all new Roa’s Aviary at Aquatica San Antonio.
All of these experiences happened this year, which makes it really difficult to choose one thing out of them all. After all, we’re not looking for just one thing here…it has to be a mixture of the three, and many many many different theme parks were doing it this year.
Then, one summer day, it happened. We went to Diagon Alley, and needed a wand repair at Ollivanders.We saw that the line was short, so we jumped in and not only did one of us get picked, we both were picked to have a wand choose us. Anyone who has been chosen for a wand can tell you it’s a magical experience…but, to both be chosen? How would the wand keeper pull this off? The first wands were of course not ours, but instead of putting them back, the wand keeper simply switched them, and said something to the effect that the wands were both using tail feathers from the same phoenix. They were destined to be together, just as husband and wife were destined to be together.
THAT was the moment. That was what set Diagon Alley apart from the rest this year. The food is amazing, and deserves an award all its’ own. The ride is a very cool use of technology, and the queue is just breathtaking. However, all of that aside, it’s the little details that really make you lose yourself in the experience.
It’s the little things that make Diagon Alley the Editor’s Choice for Best Theme Park Experience of 2014.
Congratulations to the entire Universal Orlando team!
Those are your winners for the Best of 2014-As voted by YOU!
Once again, the Thrill Weekly Polls started in mid-October and continued with a new category each week. Every park and attraction that won was a direct result of the polls, with the exception of the Editor’s Choice Award.
Thank you so much to everyone who voted and participated in the polls! We had so much fun doing the Thrill Weekly Polls and appreciate all who voted, and helped to spread the word for your favorite parks. The Thrill Weekly Polls will return at the end of October for more fun!
Thank you to all who participated, and congratulations to all the winners!