Sources: Amusement Business Magazine, Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and Economics practice at AECOM.
Orlando is known at the theme park capital of the United States and rightly so with seven of the top 10 North American theme parks located in Orlando (SeaWorld crept back into tenth place in 2018. Worldwide, Disney’s four Florida parks make the top 10 list with Disney’s Magic Kingdom taking the top spot for more than 16 years now.
None of Florida’s theme parks publish actual attendance figures. The figures presented here by TEA/AECOM are estimates based on their extensive research.
Overall, Walt Disney Attractions is far and away the largest theme park company with over 155 million visitors worldwide in 2019, down slightly on 2018. Just over 40% of those visits were to Disney’s Florida theme parks and water parks.
In second place with over 67 million visitors is the Merlin Entertainment Group which operates the various Legoland, SeaLife and Madam Tussauds exhibits amongst others.
Universal Parks and Resorts rank fourth with over 51 million visitors and SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment rank ninth with 22 million.
Disney saw a small improvement in their Orlando parks through Epcot remained flat as did their overseas parks with a couple of parks losing numbers. The hardest hit was Hong Kong Disneyland with a 15% drop in attendance.
Universal Parks & Resorts showed some of the best figures with improvements in all their Florida parks and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment continue to show small improvements.
Top 10 North American Theme Parks
For 2018, the top 10 North American theme parks are (Busch Gardens included for completeness):
|Rank||Park and Location||2019||2018||Change|
|1||Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||20,963,000||20,859,000||0.5%|
|2||Disneyland, Anaheim, California||18,666,000||18,666,000||0.0%|
|3||Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||13,888,000||13,750,000||1.0%|
|4||Epcot at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||12,444,000||12,444,000||0.0%|
|5||Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||11,483,000||11,258,000||2.0%|
|6||Universal Studios at Universal Orlando, Florida||10,922,000||10,708,000||2.0%|
|7||Islands Of Adventure at Universal Orlando, Florida||10,375,000||9,788,000||6.0%|
|8||Disney's California Adventure, Anaheim, California||9,861,000||9,861,000||0.0%|
|9||Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, California||9,147,000||9,147,000||0.0%|
|10||Seaworld Fl, Orlando, Florida||4,640,000||4,594,000||1.0%|
|11||Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California||4,238,000||4,115,000||3.0%|
|12||Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa, Florida||4,180,000||4,139,000||1.0%|
All of Florida’s parks were hit by the 9/11 attacks in 2001 but by 2003 most of them started to show signs of recovery. Disney and Universal in particular have seen strong growth in the last couple of years fuelled by new attractions such as New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom.
At Universal’s two Florida parks, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Simpsons Springfield area and Transformers with Diagon Alley opening in 2014 have all had an impact. Universal Studios overtook Islands of Adventure in 2014 and Disney’s Californian Adventure in 2015 to grab the number five spot behind the four Walt Disney World Resort parks but in 2017 they were back in sixth spot.
Magic Kingdom still dominates Disney’s other three parks with Animal Kingdom jumping ahead of Epcot and Hollywood Studios bringing up the rear. The opening of Toy Story Land in 2018 and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019 is starting to see increasing numbers at Hollywood Studios.
Despite Animal Kingdom often being regarded as a half-day park it holds its own with Hollywood Studios and has now overtaken Epcot. It will be interesting to see what happens at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios over the next couple of years as Hollywood Studios has had two major expansions whilst at Animal Kingdom the long awaited Avatar themed Pandora has also opened.
Like in previous years, the big loser in a sense is the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment group. Both SeaWorld in San Diego and in Orlando had seen double digit drops in numbers. SeaWorld was badly hit from 2013 onwards by the Blackfish documentary and the fallout and protests that ensued. They are continuing to make a concerted effort to win back guests, highlighting their major investment in rescue efforts of endangered animals and sea life as well as new attractions and the numbers are slowly improving.
Legoland Florida is missing from these figures as it still has not made the top 20 but it continues to grow with the addition of new lands and resort hotels, the first of which opened in 2015.
Top 10 North American Water Parks
For 2019, the top 10 North American water parks are:
|Rank||Park and Location||2019||2018||Change|
|1||Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon at Disney World, Orlando, Florida||2,248,000||2,271,000||-1.0%|
|2||Disney’s Blizzard Beach at Disney World, Orlando, Florida||1,983,000||2,003,000||-1.0%|
|3||Universal’s Volcano Bay, Orlando, Florida||1,811,000||1,725,000||5.0%|
|4||Aquatica, Orlando, Florida||1,533,000||1,556,000||-1.5%|
|5||Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels, Texas||996,000||1,016,000||-2.0%|
|6||Water Country USA, Williamsburg, Virginia||736,000||729,000||1.0%|
|7||Adventure Island, Tampa, Florida||656,000||669,000||-1.9%|
|8||Aquatica, San Antonio, Texas||651,000||645,000||0.9%|
|9||Schlitterbahn, Galveston, Texas||567,000||559,000||1.4%|
|10||Splish Splash, Calverton, New York||542,000||539,000||0.6%|
Orlando takes the top four spots with Adventure Island in seventh place. Again Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are ranked first and second with Volcano Bay already in the number 3 spot.
With the exception of Volcano Bay which showed a 5% increase in attendance, figures are generally down on 2018 but again there were several major hurricanes which impacted the southern USA parks, particularly Florida and Texas.
Worldwide, Orlando’s top four make the top 10 but Disney lost the top spot with Chimelong Waterpark in Guangzhou, China ranking first in 2013 onwards and Brazil’s Thermas dos Laranjais pipping Blizzard Beach in 2017 but Blizzard Beach regained the third spot in 2018.
Bear in mind though when comparing numbers that whilst Orlando’s water parks are open pretty much all year round, most other US water parks including Adventure Island are seasonal and typically only open for five or six months of the year.
History of Attendance Reports
Florida’s theme parks typically do not publish annual attendance figures but over the years a number of organisations have published estimated annual attendance figures for both US and worldwide theme parks, water parks and now museums.
Combining details from the parks own PR releases, financial reports, local tourism offices and other sources, each year they compile top 20 lists showing estimated attendance and percentage change from the previous year.
The current attendance reports are produced by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) in partnership with AECOM. Earlier reports were produced by ERA (now part of AECOM) in conjunction with Amusement Business Magazine (since closed).