by Danny Miller
Saturday evening, the 2014 Golden Ticket Awards (GTAs) ceremony was held at Sea World San Diego in California. The GTAs have always been a talking point for coaster enthusiasts, as many believe they are “inaccurate” and that they “never change.” While this is not the point of this discussion, I will state up front that this is simply not true, and I encourage anyone who disagrees with me to look back at previous GTAs and take a look at how winners have slowly changed over time. Like most things, the “best” of something (or in this case “favorite”), does not change overnight. It is a long process. See one of my blogs from earlier this summer for a description for what the fundamental differences are between “best” and “favorite.”
I have always been a strong believer in the GTAs being an awards ceremony for “favorites” and not “bests.” I think the awards are simply mislabeled, and calling something the best is simply not possible in an industry where personal preference plays such a huge role in who wins. Also take into account the fact that there is no objective scale used to “grade” theme park attractions. That being said, it doesn’t stop folks from constantly criticizing the GTAs on a yearly basis. While I do not agree with every single award given, I will also say that when you look at it from category to category, for the most part, the awards do make some sense, and I find it difficult to pick out any category where the winner is a bad choice. Did Knoebels really have the best food for any park in the world for years? Probably not, depending on your preference, but to say that Knoebels doesn’t have great food (and a variety of options for that matter) is an opinion not shared by many. On that note, Dollywood also has amazing food, and I personally would put Dollywood near the top of my list along with the Busch/Sea World parks, and the Disney parks, then Knoebels.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises, and likewise the biggest criticism of the 2014 GTAs was the “Best New Ride” category. Most people had penciled in Banshee from Kings Island as the winner back in April when the ride opened. Media Day even saw park personnel dubbing it as “YOUR best new ride of 2014!” Indeed it was. I’ve ridden several of the “New for 2014” rides (Banshee, Firechaser Express, and Wonder Mountain’s Guardian among others), and none came close to Banshee. Even most of those who rode Goliath at Six Flags Great America said the ride had little chance against B&M’s latest inverted monster. It was a sure thing that Banshee would take the award in a landslide victory.
But then it didn’t. Flying Turns, the coaster that has become a punchline over the last eight years, the coaster that didn’t even debut in 2014 (it opened for a few weekends in 2013), took the crown as “Best New Ride” for 2014. How could this be? It’s small, not that fast, and frankly, not an extreme coaster in any sense of the word. It has a short ride time, and took forever to open. So how in the world could Flying Turns be given an award that Banshee absolutely should have won? Simply put, Knoebels deserved it.
I say many controversial things regarding theme parks and their attractions, but this may be the most controversial idea yet. Kings Island created a monstrous, intense, world-beating steel coaster that brought back the intensity that early B&M coasters were packed with. Flying Turns was a wooden bobsled that didn’t even hit 25 MPH. It has poor capacity. It frustrated enthusiasts for years as the park struggled to get it open. Enthusiasts joked that if it ever did open, it would be the greatest thing ever. The thing is, when it did open in October 2013, it kind of felt like it was.
Knoebels has poured their heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into this ride. They have pushed through all the issues, from massive floods to problems with the trains. More than once people speculated whether Knoebels would even finish the ride, saying that it was a lost cause after numerous failed attempts to get trains that would track correctly without tearing themselves apart. A good chunk of land that the ride took up could be used for something that would actually operate. The main brake run and storage area had even been completely rebuilt, and re-tracking was done before the ride ever made one circuit with guests. Well, just in time for Phoenix Phall Phunfest 2013, Flying Turns opened. Some may call it coincidence that the ride followed in the footsteps of the nearby Black Diamond by opening just in time for all of the enthusiasts to ride it, but I say it was a brilliantly executed plan on the part of the park.
When you think about it, so many of the folks that for for the GTAs are older enthusiasts that are very well-traveled. They have to be in order to keep the U.S. bias down (although it is impossible to eliminate). For those people, nostalgia plays a big part in the success of Flying Turns. A handful of folks riding Flying Turns in 2014 had the pleasure of riding some of the original “Flying Turns” rides, like the Euclid Beach Flying Turns near Cleveland (the tallest ever built) and the Riverview Park Flying Turns, a ride that is nearly a mirror image of the Knoebels version. It’s a blast to the past for not only seasoned enthusiasts, but also for younger, budding enthusiasts like myself and my sister that never had the chance to experience Flying Turns in its “Golden Age” form.
While it did not open in 2014, only a hand full of people got to ride in 2013, and it did open after the ceremony for the 2013 GTAs, let alone the actually voting period, which ends long before the ceremony. This is a point most people get, because it honestly would not be fair to deprive a ride of a chance to win just because it opened late. Some people say that Flying Turns winning the awards was predictable and a “typical publicity stunt” pulled by the GTAs. Ok, so maybe we did see this coming. After all, we did say that if it did ever open it would automatically be “the greatest thing ever.” Is it the best ride ever built? Of course not. But the ride opening is a long-awaited event that was welcomed with open (and raised) arms.
To wrap up, let’s get one thing straight. To call an attraction world-class, it has to be special; there is no doubt about that. In my opinion though, it doesn’t have to be one of the best rides in the world to be world-class, it just has to be very special. Millennium Force is world-class because it’s great. Boulder Dash is world-class because it’s great, and they both are very special. Flying Turns may not be the tallest, fastest, or greatest ride every built, but only a fool would say it isn’t special. It may not be the most thrilling ride that was up for consideration for the “Best New Ride” award, but it was certainly the most unique, because there is only one Flying Turns. Honestly, I hope that Knoebels gets to keep that honor, because I don’t know if anyone would have the guts to try and go through everything Knoebels did to make Flying Turns come to life.
This Thursday, you can join Andy Rybarczyk and me on COASTER-net Uncut and discuss your thoughts with us. Until then, I’ll leave you with this thought: Flying Turns may not have opened in 2014, and it may not be as thrilling as Banshee, Goliath, or even Lightning Run, but through all of the trials and tribulations, through all of the failed test runs, through all the naysayers comments, Knoebels prevailed, and made Flying Turns a reality. Congratulations to Flying Turns and the entire Knoebels staff. In my book, you guys deserve this award.