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 six of the top 10 North American theme parks located in Orlando (SeaWorld slipped into eleventh place in 2017. Worldwide, Disney’s four Florida parks make the top 10 list with Disney’s Magic Kingdom taking the top spot for more than 14 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 150 million visitors worldwide in 2017. Over 40% of those visits were to Disney’s Florida theme parks and water parks.
In second place with over 66 million visitors is the Merlin Entertainment Group which operates the various Legoland, SeaLife and Madam Tussauds exhibits amongst others.
Universal Parks and Resorts rank third with over 49 million visitors and SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment rank ninth with 20 million.
Disney saw a small drop off in their Orlando water parks and at Hollywood Studios, but a big improvement in both parks in Paris and a massive rise following the opening of Shanghai Disneyland.
The SeaWorld group of parks continue to suffer and their Florida parks were hit badly again.
Top 10 North American Theme Parks
For 2017, the top 10 North American theme parks are (SeaWorld and Busch Gardens included for completeness):
|Rank||Park and Location||2017||2016||Change|
|1||Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||20,450,000||20,395,000||0.3%|
|2||Disneyland, Anaheim, California||18,300,000||17,943,000||2.0%|
|3||Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||12,500,000||10,844,000||15.3%|
|4||Epcot at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||12,200,000||11,712,000||4.2%|
|5||Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida||10,722,000||10,776,000||-0.5%|
|6||Universal Studios at Universal Orlando, Florida||10,198,000||9,998,000||2.0%|
|7||Disney's California Adventure, Anaheim, California||9,574,000||9,295,000||3.0%|
|8||Islands Of Adventure at Universal Orlando, Florida||9,549,000||9,362,000||2.0%|
|9||Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, California||9,056,000||8,086,000||12.0%|
|10||Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California||4,034,000||4,014,000||0.5%|
|11||Seaworld Fl, Orlando, Florida||3,962,000||4,402,000||-10.0%|
|12||Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa, Florida||3,961,000||4,169,000||-5.0%|
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 are 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 should see a jump in 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 major expansions planned. Toy Story Land opens in 2018 and Star Wars Land in 2019 whilst at Animal Kingdom the long awaited Avatar themed Pandora has now opened.
Like in 2016, the big loser in a sense is the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment group. Both SeaWorld in San Diego and in Orlando have 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.
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 2017, the top 10 North American water parks are:
|Rank||Park and Location||2017||2016||Change|
|1||Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon at Disney World, Orlando, Florida||2,163,000||2,277,000||-5.0%|
|2||Disney’s Blizzard Beach at Disney World, Orlando, Florida||1,945,000||2,091,000||-7.0%|
|3||Universal’s Volcano Bay, Orlando, Florida||1,500,000||-||New|
|4||Aquatica, Orlando, Florida||1,382,000||1,536,000||-10.0%|
|5||Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels, Texas||1,006,000||1,037,000||-3.0%|
|6||Water Country USA, Williamsburg, Virginia||711,000||733,000||-3.0%|
|7||Adventure Island, Tampa, Florida||631,000||650,000||-2.9%|
|8||Six Flags White Water, Georgia||559,000||568,000||-1.6%|
|9||Schlitterbahn, Galveston, Texas||545,000||562,000||-3.0%|
|10||Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, Arlington, Texas||533,000||549,000||-2.9%|
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. This year, Wet ’n Wild is missing from the figures but Volcano Bay has already taken the number 3 spot.
Figures are generally down on 2016 but 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.
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).