The Smoky Mountains welcomes Golden Ticket Awards
Dollywood showers amusement industry with southern hospitality
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Although smaller ripples from the global pandemic still exist, the return to normalcy has been a blessing, one of which is the ability to gather together and share.
Amusement Today was pleased to welcome everyone back in 2022 with the return of the Golden Ticket Awards event. This year is the 25th anniversary of the global acknowledgments, and the excitement is bigger than ever.
The host park, Dollywood, welcomed industry colleagues from park operators to vendors to suppliers and various service providers.
“We are very proud to host our colleagues in the amusement industry at Dollywood Parks and Resorts. True hospitality is what we strive for every day, and it will be special hosting the Best of the Best,” Eugene Naughton, Dollywood Parks and Resorts president, told Amusement Today.
For a quarter century, Amusement Today has assembled some of the most knowledgeable and passionate travelers to share their expertise. The panel of voters is never the same from year to year, so each rollout of awards always comes with some new winners and some interesting surprises. The first set of awards in 1998 consisted of a dozen categories printed in a small, eight-page insert in the August issue of AT. Over the years, the categories have evolved, the size of the panelist group has grown, suppliers and journalists have become involved in industry-only categories, and the awards themselves have transformed into The Networking Event of the Year.
As the host hotel, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort provided ample locations and opportunities to sit back, relax and share “industry talk.”
“There is a value that you can’t put a price on when it comes to meeting in person,” said AT Publisher Gary Slade. “We never stop learning from each other and encouraging each other.”
“It’s so easy to get caught up in weather woes and routine snafus. It is good for the soul to gather and celebrate the endless positives the amusement industry provides to guests every year,” said Tim Baldwin, Golden Ticket Awards Communications Coordinator. “Seeing these friends — and making new ones — within this atmosphere is energizing. We don’t just need that as professionals, we need it as human beings. It is invigorating.”
Dollywood opened its gates in 1986 after Dolly Parton — against the wishes of her advisors — decided she wanted a theme park in her Smoky Mountains. Taking a property dating back to 1961 (Rebel Railroad) that grew under many names, including Silver Dollar City, and partnering with Jack and Pete Herschend, she infused her spirit and love for the Smokies — and people in general — bringing life to the park it had never seen before. Decades later, it welcomes millions of people each year, has added a water park, is putting the final touches on a second resort hotel and has long-range plans to continue its exponential growth.
New for 2023 was the largest investment by the park into a single attraction. The expansion of Wildwood Grove saw the addition of Big Bear Mountain, an enormous family roller coaster supplied by Vekoma. The triple-launch roller coaster is the longest in the park’s arsenal of 10. Attendees of the Golden Ticket Awards got to enjoy it firsthand.
Winners were announced in 23 categories inside Dollywood’s Showstreet Palace Theater on September 9. In addition to those awards, two Publisher’s Picks acknowledged success in industry practices, and Golden Ticket Awards Legends cast a spotlight on parks and people that serve as inspiration to the entire amusement industry.
Attendees were able to observe and enjoy the numerous attractions, food, entertainment and ambiance of Dollywood during the event. Full coverage of the Golden Ticket Awards will appear in the November I issue of Amusement Today.
All stories this issue
by Tim Baldwin
unless otherwise noted