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Disney slams Universal in 2005 theme park attendance

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Published: December 27, 2005 at 2:36 PM

More big news today:

The Walt Disney Company's decision to mark flagship theme park Disneyland's 50th anniversary with newly installed shows and attractions at all its theme parks around the world paid off with significant attendance gains. Amusement Buisness magazine's annual estimate of global theme park attendance gives Disney's parks in the U.S., Japan and France the top 8 spots.

In North America, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom continued to lead the nation, with an increase of 6.5 percent, pushing the park's 2005 attendance to more than 16 million visitors. Nationwide, attendance at the nation's top 50 parks increased 4.2 percent.

The big loser in this year's report was Disney's archrival, Universal, which saw attendance at all three of its U.S. parks decrease, led by twin 8.5 percent slides at Universal Orlando's Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Apparently, new "Fear Factor" shows on both coasts weren't anywhere near enough to draw fans from the competing Disney parks down the road.

Universal's Islands of Adventure lost the top spot in the annual Theme Park Insider Awards to Tokyo DisneySea this summer, in part due to a lack of new attractions at the Orlando park. Now IoA has suffered the further indignity of dropping behind Disney's California Adventure in annual attendance. (Though it must be noted that DCA's attendance was helped greatly by sopping up the overflow crowds from Disneyland's blockbuster 50th aniversary celebration.)

Here are the numbers for the top 25 parks in North America, courtesy Amusement Business:

  1. Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 16.1 million, +6.5 percent
  2. Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. 14.5 million, +8.5 percent
  3. Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 9.9 million, +5.5 percent
  4. Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 8.6 million, +5 percent
  5. Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 8.2 million, +5 percent
  6. Universal Studios Florida at Universal Orlando, 6.1 million, -8.5 percent
  7. Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., 5.8 million, +3.6 percent
  8. Universal's Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, 5.76 million, -8.5 percent
  9. SeaWorld Orlando, 5.6 million, +0.2 percent
  10. Universal Studios Hollywood, 4.7 million, -6 percent
  11. Adventuredome at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, 4.5 million, +2.3 percent
  12. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, 4.3 million, +5.1 percent
  13. SeaWorld San Diego, 4.1 million, +2.5 percent
  14. Paramount Canada's Wonderland in Maple, Ontario, 3.6 million, +7 percent
  15. Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., 3.47 million, -3 percent
  16. Paramount's Kings Island in Kings Island, Ohio, 3.3 million, -5.1 percent
  17. Morey's Piers in Wildwood, N.J., 3.1 million, +1 percent
  18. Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, 3.1 million, -2 percent
  19. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, Calif., 3 million, flat
  20. Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., 2.9 million, +6 percent
  21. Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., 2.8 million, +24 percent
  22. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif., 2.8 million, +5 percent
  23. Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa., 2.7 million, flat
  24. Busch Gardens Williamsburg, 2.6 million, +8.3 percent
  25. Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2.3 million, +7.3 percent

Readers' Opinions

From Robert OGrosky on December 27, 2005 at 9:41 PM
Im not surprised that my home park Six Flags Great America had a major attendance bump (24%). The addition of the water park worked out great in attracting more people. Hopefully(not that im optimistic)the new management at SF will keep improving the park without making the guests sick by corporate tie-ins.
From Adriel Tjokrosaputro on December 29, 2005 at 4:22 AM
Universal should begin to build something new more than just The Mummy or they will be slammed by the others next year.
From Pete Brecht on December 29, 2005 at 7:11 AM
For the most part, parks that added major new attractions saw noticeable increases in attendance, while parks that were stagnant stayed flat or declined; no suprise there.

However, I simply don't get the public's fascination with the Florida Disney parks. They haven't added anything really significant (unless you count Soarin' at Epcot) in years, yet their attendance is booming. At what point will Magic Kingdom simply reach capacity for the year? As it is, MK is packed much of the time, which really diminishes the experience.

Also, why are the 2005 numbers already out? The Christmas-to-New-Year's week is by far the busiest time of the year for the Florida parks, so to get accurate numbers, they should really wait until the end of the year. Providing the numbers now as as useful as if retail stores estimated their annual sales before Thanksgiving.

From James Adams on December 29, 2005 at 8:44 AM
I think the big surprise is Universal Studios! While they may not have added anything within the last few months, they have consistently added new attractions. Mummy is still fairly new. I'm not sure what this data means for Universal. From a financial perspective, you need an E-ticket attraction to attract people more than just one year. The path is much more clear for IOA - build more attractions!

I also think that Universal hurts themselves in the long run by not catering more to children. Kids can do something over and over (and over and over - trust me on this one) and they will love it even more. Adults, well, not so much. They will only repeat visits if there is something new. A theme park will increase its shelf life by being more family balanced. This is why Six Flags is in the toilet and Disney reigns high.

As for Florida, there's nothing special about the parks necessarily. It just has a greater concentration of parks than most places (8 parks and 4 water parks). Also, they are open year round - constant revenue.

From Robert Niles on December 29, 2005 at 10:55 AM
Let's remember that the Florida parks took a hit in 2004, losing several weeks of attendance to hurricane strikes. With hurricanes this year hitting elsewhere, the Central Florida numbers were likely to rebound.

Which makes Universal's dismal performance all the more surprising. Clearly, the parks' new owners need to reinvigorate Islands of Adventure with a new ride (or three), and find more evening entertainment to keep people in the parks throughout the day (instead of heading back to Disney at night).

Finally, the Amusement Business numbers came out a couple weeks later this year. (In fact, they will appear in the magazine's January issue, rather than the December one, as they have in the past.) Don't know why the reason for the switch -- perhaps the point above was part of the reason. But let's not forget that these *are* estimates -- most parks do not release official attendance data.

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