Golden Ticket Awards – so much more than swag

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!

Chow, baby!

Because there really is someone named The Hungry Cowboy.

And he visited us.

And he made a video:

And now he wants to come back.

Come on now, Cowboy – Texas ain’t all that far from Indiana …

Into the woods with Thunderbird

So how is Thunderbird construction coming along?

We’re ready to go vertical!

Coasters of the Corn

Let’s take a closer look.

In this episode of the Hard Hat Chronicles, James takes us into the woods and explains one big commonality Thunderbird will have with its Holiday World siblings.

Do you have any questions for James to consider answering in an upcoming episodes? Please post them here and maybe he’ll give you a shout-out in the coming weeks and months.

An amazing meeting venue

Oh, those Golden Tickets …

So how did we do this year?

Leah and Lauren accepted the award:

And for Cleanest Park? Fifteen years in a row:

Thanks to our wonderful Hosts & Hostesses for keepin’ it clean – all day, every day!

It’s time to walk the red carpet

It’s that time again, already:

In just a few minutes, the Golden Ticket Awards ceremony begins.

You know … the Academy Awards of the theme park industry?

(Can’t continue without a quick and sincere #RIPJoanRivers shout out.)

Our team is ready to “Bring Home the Lucite,” as Will Koch used to love to say.

Would you like to watch? The host park customarily streams the event live. Tonight’s West Coast ceremony begins at 9:30pm CDT.

The Secret: How we kept it

It’s been a little more than a month since our announcement for 2015, and I’m still in shock that we managed to keep this massive project under wraps. And I’m even more in shock that our fans just loved that we kept the secret.

Frankly, we were all braced for people to discover it two days out.

We decided if that happened, it would be okay. After all, we still had an awesome teaser video to reveal.

Two days out, though, a message popped up in Paula’s Facebook inbox: Someone had found our trademark application. He admitted it took him a long time to find. But he found it.

The jig was up.

Then he added something we didn’t expect: He didn’t want to spoil the secret. He just wanted to let us know he had uncovered it.

So when Announcement Day came, and almost everybody was still in the dark, we were bewildered, but proud. It was wonderful to see the fruits of our undercover labor pay off so well.

Now that everyone knows, they still can’t believe how we kept this secret.

So I thought I’d explain the many steps we took to keep the Thunderbird under the cover of night:

The Cone of Silence

We kept the secret on a need-to-know basis. And when the need to know came, we literally told each individual they were being brought “into the cone.”

I kind of wish I was kidding.

As a group, our full-time staff didn’t know until the morning of the announcement. Our seasonal employees found out along with the general public (with the exception of a select few in Warehouse who innocently opened a box of Thunderbird key chains, and then got a free lecture about keeping quiet).

We took no chances.

The workers on the construction site only knew their individual piece of the puzzle (meaning the folks pouring concrete knew where to pour concrete and how much, but did not know what was happening above those footers).

Leah's Inbox

This is what my inbox looked like for several months.

Code Name: BT

Nobody spoke the word Thunderbird out loud, except in hushed tones – and rarely – behind closed doors.

We also never uttered these words: steel, wing, launch, or coaster.

We did discuss in slightly less-hushed tones “Big Turkey” or “BT” or “BT-15” (Big Turkey was our placeholder name before we landed on Thunderbird).

This included contractors. VP James made it very clear that they were never to use the real name or ride type, only BT or BT-15.

Even the launch room became the lunch room (which became the jerky room – if you want to understand that jump, ask James).

Hiding in Plain Sight

We knew from experience (and watching other parks) that roller coaster enthusiasts would search for our trademark application. We considered applying for three or four different names, so no one would be quite sure which name would prevail. Ultimately, we decided that we needed to apply for the trademark under another company. Thus Croatan LLC was born in my name, with the address of our trademark lawyer’s office in Evansville (if you want to understand why I chose Croatan, look up the story of the lost colony of Roanoke—it’s fascinating). Croatan LLC almost flew under the radar (get it?).

Of course, now that I’ve shared this, we’ll have to be even sneakier next time.

B&M? What’s that?

Every box, every document, every label, every scrap of paper with those letters was shredded, hidden, and burned (not really) by VP James. He actually filled his car’s trunk with labels from the boxes when our anchor bolts arrived. He also stripped our documents of any trace of those two letters before submitting anything for permits.

I’m pretty sure his job became a lot easier on July 25.

From left: Tony, Eric, Alison, James, Steve, Leah, Lauren, Lori, Matt

Clermont’s Clever Codes

We got to visit Clermont Steel in Cincinnati to see our coaster being manufactured. They have their own system of coding, just in case some coaster enthusiasts wanted to go sneaking around after hours.

I wouldn’t dare share what our code was.

Clermont and B&M were great about keeping the secret.

VP Eric's selfie at Clermont Steel

Since we had pushed manufacturing up ahead of schedule, they ran out of room to store our steel, but they were very respectful of our secret and made do until we made our announcement.

On our visit back in May, VP Eric took tons of pictures, which he promptly put in a Dropbox folder which he shared with us, and immediately deleted from his phone.

I, on the other hand, took a few photos and set a code on my phone (which I never do) just in case it fell into the wrong hands.

VP James even took a selfie with another park’s coaster—next to the lift hill piece of course—just to cover his tracks (ha—get it?).

Immediately following the announcement (well, after the congratulations and interviews were over), I posted my coaster selfie and another track photo on my Facebook page. I was so excited to post at last!

Now that all is said and done, I hope I can soon start saying “Thunderbird” out loud without experiencing a small anxiety attack.