Florida Theme Parks

By James | Last updated May 29, 2024

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Though there were parks in Florida before the Second World War Cypress Gardens opened in 1936 and started ski shows in the 1940’s) it was Walt Disney’s vision in 1964 to purchase 27,500 acres of swamp and rough bush land near Orlando that really started the theme park business in Florida combining roller coasters, flight simulators, family rides, firework spectaculars and musical shows.


When it comes to theme parks, Central Florida probably has more than any other place in the world

The first Disney park, Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, followed eleven year later by Epcot (Walt Disney never lived to see his dream of the future, having died in 1966), then Disney’s Hollywood Studios and finally Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

In addition, Disney also opened two water theme parks, namely Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Meanwhile other parks were built around Orlando including SeaWorld (the largest marine park in the world) and Universal Studios and further afield Busch Gardens Africa opened near Tampa.

The newest Florida theme parks are Legoland Florida that has risen from the defunct Cypress Gardens and opened in 2011 followed by Universal’s new water theme park Volcano Bay that opened in 2017, replacing Wet n’ Wild which closed the year before.

For a number of years, Florida has boasted 8 of the 12 top spots for most visited theme parks in North America (i.e. including Canada) according to TEA/AECOM in their annual Theme Park Attendance Reports. The table shows estimated 2017 numbers (with 2016 numbers and percentage change):

RankPark and Location20172016Change
1Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida20,450,00020,395,0000.3%
2Disneyland, Anaheim, California18,300,00017,943,0002.0%
3Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida12,500,00010,844,00015.3%
4Epcot at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida12,200,00011,712,0004.2%
5Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida10,722,00010,776,000-0.5%
6Universal Studios at Universal Orlando, Florida10,198,0009,998,0002.0%
7Disney’s California Adventure, Anaheim, California9,574,0009,295,0003.0%
8Islands Of Adventure at Universal Orlando, Florida9,549,0009,362,0002.0%
9Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, California9,056,0008,086,00012.0%
10Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California4,034,0004,014,0000.5%
11Seaworld Fl, Orlando, Florida3,962,0004,402,000-10.0%
12Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa, Florida3,961,0004,169,000-5.0%

In 2017, all Disney parks in North America showed a small increase in attendance except for Hollywood Studios that fell slightly and Animal Kingdom had a large increase on the back of the opening of Pandora.

Universal Studios continues to grow and Universal Studios at Universal Orlando have overtaken Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim. SeaWorld is still struggling with falling visitor numbers at all their Florida parks.

For historical data, see our article and graphic showing the increase in Florida theme park visitors from 1998 to the present day.

Today there are literally dozens of theme parks in Florida. For more information, click on the related links in the sidebar (right of page).

A large proportion of Florida’s income comes from tourism. For example, in 2004, tourists spent a record $57 billion, up over 10% on 2003 and that is despite Florida being hit by four major hurricanes in 2004. A significant proportion of that money was spent in the many theme parks in Florida.

Figures dropped off from a peak of around $65 billion when the recession hit but by 2015 the figure for out-of-state tourism spending had risen to a record $108.8 billion, up 3.9% on the previous year. By 2016 that figure had risen to $111.7 billion with over 116.5 million visitors.

See also:- Buying Theme Park Tickets