What do amusement parks and Charlie Bucket of Willy Wonka fame have in common? Why, they all covet Golden Tickets, of course. Over the weekend, Amusement Today awarded its annual industry awards. Sending accolades to the best in the business can be predictable.

Sure, Cedar Fair's (NYSE:FUN) Cedar Point will be named the best amusement park. Holiday World will get the top marks for the friendliest and cleanest park. I've been to both, and the praise is well-earned.

However, because it's a trade periodical, the vote tends to lean toward regional amusement park operators over the themed behemoths erected by Disney (NYSE:DIS) and General Electric's (NYSE:GE) recently acquired Universal Studios.

That's fine. You have to give struggling Six Flags (NYSE:PKS) a fighting chance by politicizing away the heavies. However, save for its Fiesta Texas park in San Antonio reigning supreme for its shows, the company got shut out this year. Even its Superman Ride of Steel coaster in New England, which earned top honors in the steel coaster category last year, was dethroned by Cedar Point's Millennium Force this time around.

It's bad enough that Six Flags has suffered a rough year at the turnstiles. It's crushing enough of a defeat to admit that it won't be until 2006 at the earliest that the debt-heavy operator stands a chance in producing free cash flow. If Six Flags has lost its patrons, its investors, and now its peers, who will be around to deep-six Mr. Six?

The company sold off assets and scaled back spending this year. It was a defensive strategy, and it failed. Six Flags has seen its stock surrender more than 40% of its value this year. So perhaps it's time for Six Flags to go on the offensive, campaigning aggressively to win back the patrons, investors, and peer respect.

Why not follow Holiday World's daring lead and make soft drinks free in 2005? It's not a matter of whether or not Coke (NYSE:KO) will be as agreeable to the promotion as Pepsi (NYSE:PEP) has been with Holiday World. Anyone who argues that Six Flags will miss out on the juicy markups by not gouging park guests for carbonated sugar water is missing the point. Creditors who may wince at easy money bailing on a hot day where soda sales would run brisk don't realize that the leveraged company's debt will only get riskier if Six Flags doesn't go on the offensive to get the turnstiles clicking in the right direction.

Good will isn't just a line item on financial statements. Six Flags needs to do something radical to win back its audience. The disposable dollar will fall elsewhere inside the park. Holiday World is living proof that you can succeed given its huge attendance gains since it started letting guests dispense their self-serve sodas gratis. So step aside, Mr. Six, and take a cue from Charlie Bucket. You can share the fizzy lifting drinks and still inherit the factory.

Have you ever been to Cedar Fair's flagship Cedar Point park? What's the wildest roller coaster that you have ever been on? Have you heard about the new scream machines being built at Paramount's King's Island or Busch Gardens Tampa next year? All this and more in the Roller Coaster Loving Fools discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves to chase coasters, even though he has only been on half of the top 10 steel and wood coasters from this year's list. He owns shares of Disney as well as units in Cedar Fair.