By Leah Koch

Last year, Lauren, Michael, and I went to the Golden Ticket Awards for the first time ever. (Well, with the exception of the times Holiday World hosted the event.)

As we were packing our suitcases, we realized we knew next to nothing about these awards.

From left: Lauren and Michael Crosby, Leah Koch

Okay, so that was a bit dramatic.

Will Koch, in 2007, accepting the Golden Ticket Award for Cleanest Park

We knew a couple facts:

  1. Mom and Dad always came back from the awards with swag. (By the time the awards were getting big enough that swag was involved, we were too old to call dibs on all of the cool stuff—Mom and Dad got to keep it— but we generally walked away with some Frisbees and pens.) Therefore, we knew we were going to get swag.
  2. There was a ceremony for presenting the awards. Dad got to come home with a suitcase lined with Lucite.

Now that we have a few of these ceremonies under our belts, I can report what actually happens at the awards:

  1. Swag. I was right about that.
  2. There is a ceremony.

But seriously, there are so many activities!

There tend to be some really cool tours and experiences. And more hors d’oeuvres than I should admit to. Let’s be real — if it has “crab-stuffed” somewhere in the title, I’m eating at least six.

Now that I’ve completed my second Golden Ticket Awards experience, I’ve found a certain routine in the craziness of it all.

Obviously we show up based on the schedule and go on every possible tour, and we try to explore the host park as much as possible during the day of the awards. We also tend to max out any ERT (Exclusive Ride Time) we can get.

In the evening, there’s a reception, then dinner, then awards. We always return to the hotel before the real festivities begin.

By the time we get to awards, we’ve exhausted ourselves. This year was no exception. We spent a day in the sun at SeaWorld (and I took home a lovely sunburn as a souvenir — sometimes I take our free sunscreen for granted).

From left, Michael and Lauren Crosby, Matt Eckert, Lori and Leah Koch

We got to meet dolphins and see the whales and look at sharks. We also had the dead skin eaten off of our hands by what I call “pedicure fish.”

The ceremony is always fun, and we get to celebrate our Cleanliness as well as the awesomeness that is the Wildebeest.

We’re always happy for the other parks’ successes (Except maybe Dollywood — you’re a fierce competitor, Dollywood! Watch out, friends, we’re coming for you!)

This year, though, we had a new category to celebrate. We didn’t win, but we were ranked the #10 park in the world. Splashin’ Safari is (again) the #2 water park on the planet.

I can’t even begin to describe the pride of seeing our name among Disney parks, Cedar Point, Europa-Park (congratulations for snagging top honors, by the way!), and so many other world-class parks. Along with that swelling pride comes the realization that there are many huge and remarkable parks don’t make that top ten list.

Honestly, I pinch myself a little bit every year we win the Cleanest Park award and then Wildebeest wins #1 Waterpark Attraction. When I see our water park ranked second to Schlitterbahn, I continue to pinch myself. We beat out Disney’s incredible water parks. More pinching; I’m getting bruised …

A part of my personal routine for the Golden Ticket Awards now is to take a moment to let myself be impressed by what my family built, and that I get to be lucky enough to get to continue to be a part of it all.

After the ceremony and the reception following (and after we text Paula our wooden coaster rankings — don’t ask about The Legend, I’m not ready to talk about it yet), we start my favorite part of our routine.

Matt, Mom, Lauren, Michael, and I start analyzing. We start trying to figure out what we can do to win the title of Friendliest Park back (we’re #2). We start talking about our ideas for our master plan, and how each piece of our plan can move us closer to other awards.

The conversation moves past the awards quickly, though, and ends in a conversation about how we’re going to challenge ourselves to be better each year.

So what if you were sitting around the table with us – what would you suggest? Please post below – we’re always interested in your feedback!

Leave a Comment

* indicates required field

  • (will not be published)

5 Responses to “Golden Ticket Awards – so much more than swag”

  1. Missy

    How about an all you can eat buffet lunch/dinner place within the park? Charge two or three prices based on age or even a family rate. I’ve seen and have eaten at a few of them and loved the concept. Thanks, Missy.

  2. Nick

    From a standpoint of winning back the Friendliest Park Award, I think there are several things you guys could do. Not trying to say the staff isn’t friendly or anything, but it’s small things that do it for me. I love it when I encounter somebody who is enthusiastic about their job, and I think that is sort of lacking from some of your younger staff members. I would love to see you guys let your staff start interacting with the guests again over the microphone again on the roller coasters and other rides as well. Also, just making an emphasis to your seasonal staff that being friendly isn’t enough. They’re there to make sure people are able to smile and have fun and they should make it a priority to make sure all guests are happy. As for the other awards, just keep focusing on the minor details in everything, the rides will sell themselves. You guys have done a great job in really focusing on theming the last two years and all that does is add to the overall experience of both parks. At the end of the day, it’s about making HW&SS the best experience possible. You guys already have magic, now all you have to do is figure out how to make that magic more powerful. So I’ll stop being a side-seat owner here and let you guys do your jobs. I wish you guys nothing but the best and I hope to be visiting soon!

  3. Ryan Maddox

    Honestly the one thing that I love about parks is when ride operators make jokes with the guests and talk about the ride over the microphone, I think it makes the whole experience more interactive instead of using a repeated message

    • liana

      Congrats on the wins and bringing so much fun to the midwest. I’ve only been in october.. but for friendliest park.. If you can swing it, I would add more ambassadors around in pivotal intersections to answer questions.. give high fives to kids.. etc… Also, people love interactive characters.. and where the seasonal ladies are pretty.. you are a holiday themed park.. go for uncle sam… Mrs claus… A good witch… etc… maybe each gives out something that if a kid collects all of them they get a certificate or something….. it could be the beginnings of a character investment that could result in a midday parade or something in the future.

  4. Shane

    What I really want at Holiday World is a s&s screamin’ swing. Those things are great and HW needs more thrill rides. It seems like a good fit for the park.