Crystal Crown Awards – 2021

It’s our second year presenting a fresh-take on award categories for the theme park and coaster world. With a few returning categories, and a variety of new categories, this is Crystal Crown Awards 2021 – Recognizing Unusual Theme Park Highlights.

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Mack Rides’ Xtreme Spinner

Revolutionizing the new decades-old concept of a spinning coaster, Mack Rides created something truly spectacular. With both Time Traveler at Silver Dollar City and Ride to Happiness by Tomorrowland at Plopsaland De Panne being fan favorites in their respective parks, all one can wonder is where the next installation will go. The true multi-dimension thrills of this product make us think of X2. It’s a new generation of disorienting-ly incredible roller coasters.

Vekoma – Flying Coaster

Two decades after innovating the first true flying coasters, Vekoma went back to the drawing board and took that concept with a mission to perfect it. They did. The innovative use of a turning mechanism that allows for smoother and quicker boarding, dark ride/show elements, and the introduction of launches for Flying Coasters have rocketed the new F.L.Y. roller coaster at Phantasialand to the top of the list of thrilling modern coasters. The applications of this new technology, the launches, and the narrow elements the 2-seater cars offer, allow for infinite great projects for the future. We can’t wait to see where Vekoma’s new flying coaster takes off next.

B&M Wing Coaster

B&M Wing Coasters don’t necessarily rank terribly high with enthusiasts because their pacing and forces don’t quite match that of sleeker loopers and airtime machines. However, there is simply no denying that the product line is incredibly consistent. Every B&M Wing Coaster out there has the same graceful elements, varied ride experience depending on the seat in which one rides the coaster, and a strong presence. It’s nearly impossible for us to really rank all of them definitively because across the board these coasters are such solid rides. You can’t go wrong with a wing coaster.

Lucky Luke/ MP Express

In Movie Park Germany’s continued efforts to revitalize the park and bring new themes and IPs to its attractions, the new paint scheme for MP Express is a particularly clean one. In preparation of the official rebranding to the popular Belgian western-comics Lucky Luke, the Vekoma SLC received a repaint in which all supports are painted one of three shades of brown while the trains are an RCT fever dream with a yellow/black alternating scheme representing the comic’s villains: the Dalton brothers.

Avocado Margarita from La Cava del Tequila – EPCOT

Sometimes less is more. La Cava del Tequila at EPCOT’s Mexico Pavilion has the best margarita composed of Tequila Blanco, agave nectar, melon liqueur and half an avocado. Blend them together and you’ve got an incredible cocktail that even has its own cult following among Walt Disney World fans.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – Universal Parks and Resorts

While there are many dark rides out there that totally immerse and blow our minds, there is only one dark ride where every seat is a front row seat, every scene is above, below, and to the sides of you whilst perfectly blending animatronics, physical sets, and screens. It’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This revolutionarily extravagant dark ride can be found at Universal Orlando Resort’s Universal Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Japan, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal Studios Beijing. Even after nearly 12 years after its creation, the in-your-face action and scenes bring a sense of closeness and immersion that even the newest high-budget dark rides can’t deliver.

Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for the Sunken Treasure

Funny isn’t it? The popular Pirates of the Caribbean motion picture franchise has its entire existence to thank to the original Disney dark rides. Yet, Shanghai Disneyland’s staple opening-day attraction is focused primarily on the movie franchise itself. This is by no means a bad thing, rather a full circle moment if ever there was a perfect one. Shanghai’s Pirates of the Caribbean is a spectacular (and MASSIVE) dark ride blending giant screens, show scenes, physical sets, animatronics and… lots of water. For those fortunate enough to have ridden, it’s easy to see that the best IP-Based ride is Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

HB World (Suzhou, Jiangsu, People’s Republic of China)

Forced perspective is the way to go right? Usually, yes. However, Suzhou’s HB World did the unimaginable: they created full-scale creations of famous landscapes, cityscapes, etc. from famous Huayi Brothers movies released in China. The park’s most impressive land is the expansive and overwhelming recreation of the movie scene of the Tongtian Empire. A massive temple in which rides, meet ‘n greets hide and are dwarfed. Words can’t explain the true difference between life-size recreations and the usual forced perspective. In addition, the details found on every wall, every bit of infrastructure were unusually precise. Spending a day at HB World makes one thing very clear. The budget went into world building, and despite it’s medium-sized ride roster, the park is on our must-return list.

TRON Lightcycle Power Run

Lights are finally a recurring theme on new (mostly high-budget) roller coasters and we couldn’t be happier! But what better lights than a Lightcycle’s – the ride vehicles themed to lights themselves? Not only do the TRON lightcycles change colors for special effect scenes, they also interact with over a dozen scenery pieces on-ride to really tie the whole experience together. Is that not enough to warrant best light package? Well, the ride’s giant canopy is a spectacular lightshow by itself, but wait for a train to run through and hexagons to ‘rez’ up along the trains’ route back into the show building. The entire attraction on/and off-ride is a feast for the eyes. A spectacular light show you get to ride.

Pandora, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Ever visited a park and been extremely disappointed by their bathrooms? I can list dozens of parks where I would rather hold it than use their facilities. However, on the flipside, there are parks out there with clean, modern, and aesthetically pleasing bathrooms. Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Pandora has thematically impressively well-integrated bathroom buildings. Once inside, the cleanliness, spaciousness, and immaculately modern and stylish restrooms seal the deal. They’re simply the best bathrooms of any theme park we’ve been to.

Schwur des Kärnan at Hansa Park

Pre-shows, we all love them, and we all hate them (Flight of Passage, I am looking at you). Seldom is it that we find a pre-show that really adds to the experience and doesn’t quite feel like a small room to corral the crowd in anticipation of the next bit of queue or station. With Schwur des Kärnan, you’re in for something really unique that can be both frustrating and enjoyable at the same time. Be warned for spoilers here! There’s actually two preshows: one to store your bags and then the main show takes you to a Room of Spells. In here, you line up as usual in a row that corresponds with one of the rows for the coaster train. However, as the room starts spinning, you’ll probably end up in a totally different row! A really cool effect and it alters every time you ride. So quite clever but on the down side for enthusiasts, it might take a while to get the row who you want.

Ocean Park Hong Kong

There are few parks positioned as spectacularly as Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Sprawling over the hills sticking out of the ocean between Sham Wam and Deep Water Bay, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park offers spectacular views of the South China Sea with roller coasters dangling hundreds of feet over the ocean. The park is situated on 2 sides of the mountain with only an underground funicular and a sky ride to get from the entrance to the ocean-facing side of the park. The park’s multi-level, multi-elevation layout makes for incredible views from literally anywhere in the park. Just walking around and admiring the view is worth the visit.

Ocean Resistance – Chimelong Ocean Kingdom

I’ve only ever cried during a nighttime show once, and it was at Zhuhai’s Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in the Guangdong province of south China. The theme park, currently China’s most-visited park, is spectacular all around. What really turned this too-good-to-be-true day into one that marked this as perhaps our favorite theme park experience ever, is Ocean Resistance. Imagine, all simultaneously occurring: perimeter fireworks, jet skies with fireworks, Flyboards with fireworks, a central lagoon on fire, projection mapping on a 200-foot tall whale shark statue, a laser lightshow, a giant lagoon fountain show, and several sets of drones hovering above the lagoon all choreographed to an intense musical score. It’s so incredibly ovewhelming, over the top and spectacular, that it makes Disney’s best shows seem mediocre and light on the pyro. We get it, it’s south China and all bets are off when it comes to certain safety measures that would prevent a show like this from existing elsewhere in the World, but the Chimelong Group means business and they go all in when it comes to every aspect of China’s largest amusement resort. Avid readers know by now that this park absolutely belongs on your bucket list, but do not leave the park until you’ve witnessed Ocean Resistance.

Disneyland Paris

Why is this important? You may wonder. While American parks are notorious for having (almost always) car access only (a cohesive bus network connection in the best of scenarios), parks in other continents rely on their attendance figures by means of easy access. Being remotely located away from trains, busses, trams, etc. usually doesn’t pan out well for most non-North American parks. For us too, public transit is very important. When we make quick trips across the globe, it’s important for us that the distance between airports, train stations, hotels, parks, etc. is convenient. Disneyland Paris sits (literally) on top of a massive train station with international high-speed train access from two countries away, high-speed domestic train lines in the luxury and tourism variety and a metro station. Of course within a view steps there’s a bus station and a high-tech solar panel parking lot. This isn’t just a metro station or a train station a few blocks away. All of this in one location, practically centered between Disney Village, Walt Disney Studios, and Parc Disneyland. We can literally jump on a plane from the US to Paris, get thru customs, jump on a high speed train (TGV, SNCF OuiGo) and be at Disneyland Paris 10 minutes later. For a continent that’s always been heavy on public infrastructure, it’s only logical Disneyland Paris wins this category.

Jurassic World: VelociCoaster 

While everyone has different tastes, I think many of our readers can agree that Jurassic World: VelociCoaster has a particularly well-balanced and spectacular layout. There truly doesn’t seem to be the same element or force twice along this reasonably long Intamin launch coaster. VelociCoaster features four unique inversions, several unique airtime moments and lots of varied lateral moves. What makes this layout even better is the balance between a “spaghetti-bowl” first half of the ride with lots of theming, and a high-speed coaster enthusiast-pipedream second half with massive elements, strong forces, and the all-time favorite mosasaur roll across the Universal’s Islands of Adventure lagoon.

2021 Park of the Year: Walibi Belgium

This “editor’s choice award” goes to Walibi Belgium. After a rough 2020 due to the pandemic, Walibi Belgium was forced to close it’s doors again early in the summer of 2021 just weeks after opening their new hyper coaster: Kondaa, due to a massive flood that caused lots of damage to many of the surrounding regions. Walibi Belgium put all their forces together to still open up in the fall for a few weeks of Halloween fun. While only some of our team members got to experience Kondaa and others had to visit Belgium without the chance to ride the new Intamin, we’re just happy Walibi Belgium is back!

Thank you for joining us for the 2021 Crystal Crown Awards! Check out our podcast episode version of Crystal Crown Awards with more detail!

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