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Universal Orlando closes the gap with Disney in 2010 theme park attendance report

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Published: June 16, 2011 at 4:57 PM

The 2010 TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Report is out today. And if last year was Disney's triumph, this year was the Revenge of the Rest of the Industry, as overall attendance at US theme parks grew 1.8% over 2009.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Your big attendance winner for 2010? Universal's Islands of Adventure

Universal Orlando, predictably, led the charge, with the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter pushing Islands of Adventure to a stunning 30.2% increase in annual attendance. That increase wasn't enough to vault IOA ahead of any of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, although three of those four parks posted attendance declines in 2010. Both the Universal Orlando theme parks jumped SeaWorld Orlando, though, which posted the biggest drop in attendance last year, losing 10.2% of its visitors from the year before.

Two other SeaWorld theme parks, SeaWorld California and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, were the only US parks in the Top 20 to post declines in 2010, as many Six Flags and Cedar Fair amusement parks recovered from their attendance declines in 2009.

Here is the US Top 20 for 2010:

  1. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, 16.92 million, -1.5%
  2. Disneyland, 15.98 million, +0.5%
  3. Epcot, 10.83 million, -1.5%
  4. Disney's Animal Kingdom, 9.69 million, +1.0%, up one position
  5. Disney's Hollywood Studios, 9.60 million, -1.0%, down one position
  6. Disney California Adventure, 6.28 million, +3.0%
  7. Universal's Islands of Adventure, 5.95 million, +30.2%, up two positions
  8. Universal Studios Florida, 5.93 million, +6.1%
  9. SeaWorld Orlando, 5.10 million, -12.1%, down two positions
  10. Universal Studios Hollywood, 5.04 million, +26.0%
  11. Busch Gardens Tampa, 4.20 million, +2.4%, up one position
  12. SeaWorld San Diego, 3.80 million, -9.5%, down one position
  13. Knott's Berry Farm, 3.60 million, +8.0%
  14. Canada's Wonderland, 3.38 million, +7.0%
  15. Kings Island, 3.11 million, +3.7%
  16. Cedar Point, 3.05 million, +3.7%
  17. Hersheypark, 2.89 million, +3.0%, up one position
  18. Busch Gardens Williamsburg, 2.80 million, -3.4%, down one position
  19. Six Flags Great Adventure, 2.70 million, +2.5%
  20. Six Flags Great America, 2.70 million, +10.2%

Internationally, here are the top 25 parks in the world in 2010:

  1. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
  2. Disneyland
  3. Tokyo Disneyland
  4. Tokyo DisneySea
  5. Epcot
  6. Disneyland Paris
  7. Disney's Animal Kingdom
  8. Disney's Hollywood Studios
  9. Universal Studios Japan
  10. Everland, Gyeonggi-Do, South Korea
  11. Disney California Adventure
  12. Universal's Islands of Adventure
  13. Universal Studios Florida
  14. Lotte World, Seoul, South Korea
  15. Hong Kong Disneyland
  16. SeaWorld Orlando
  17. Ocean Park, Hong Kong
  18. Universal Studios Hollywood
  19. Walt Disney Studios Paris
  20. Nagashima Spa Land, Kuwana, Japan
  21. Europa Park
  22. Busch Gardens Tampa
  23. Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, Yokohama, Japan
  24. De Eftleing
  25. SeaWorld San Diego

Let's not forget that Disney swelled its US attendance in 2009 with the "get in free on your birthday" promotion, and suffered a letdown with the end of that deal in 2010. Yet the Disneyland Resort remained strong, both due to the strength of World of Color at California Adventure and ongoing economic weakness keeping millions of Southern Californians close to home.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment needs to find something to offset last year, as its flagship park in Orlando suffered the most at the hands of Harry Potter, with Universal capturing much, much more of the Central Florida tourist market on their "non-Disney" days.

Your thoughts?

Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on June 16, 2011 at 6:57 PM
FWIW, looking back at our our predictions of what would happen in the report, Eric G came closest to getting the Top 10 order correct, missing only the Hollywood Studios/Animal Kingdom flip.
From Daniel Etcheberry on June 16, 2011 at 7:12 PM
Almost everyone says that Disneyland is better than Magic Kingdom, yet Magic Kingdom is always number one.

Amazing how Universal can't beat any Disney park even with Harry Potter! What will it take? free butterbeer?

From Robert Niles on June 16, 2011 at 7:25 PM
The gap between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom has closed over the past three years, with Disneyland climbing from 14.7 million in 2008 to 16 million in 2010 and the Magic Kingdom declining from 17.1 million to 16.9 million. That's a 1.5 million visitor swing in three years. I expect the gap to close further in 2011, with Star Tours bringing in more visitors to Disneyland while people stay away from the MK due to the Fantasyland construction.

In 2012 though? Well, then things get interesting.

From TH Creative on June 16, 2011 at 7:43 PM
This day is like Christmas for Mr. Niles. Statistics AND theme parks? For RN this is like ... numbers crack!

While the Disney dip in Orlando is certainly noteworthy, the loss seems rather insignificant (especially compared to Sea World's debacle). Considering the size of SWO's drop, one wonders how long trainers will stay out of the water.

Potter fans can spin away, but there's no doubt that, once again, Disney DOMINATES.

Disney's six U.S. parks take the top six domestic spots by welcoming 69.3 million guests -- boasting an average of 11.55 million visitors per park.

By comparison the three Universal parks brought in 16.92 million guests -- averaging 5.64 million visitors per park, or less than half that of the Disney parks.

Worldwide Disney holds slots one thru eight. The sum total attendance of the planet's eleven Disney theme parks is an ASTOUNDING 116.6 million guests. Correct me if I am wrong, but that's like, the entire population of a country that has 116.6 million residents!

AND WHAT WILL BE THE BIG STATS TO LOOK FOR NEXT YEAR?

(1) The impact the earthquake has on attendance at the parks in Japan.

(2) What (if any) will be the drop-off at Islands of Adventure after Potter is no longer "the new thing."

From Mark Migliaccio on June 16, 2011 at 7:40 PM
Geez, what happened at Seaworld San Diego and Busch Gardens Williamsburg? I understand the Seaworld Orlando. This recession must be hurting the higher end regional parks.
From Steph Ramos on June 16, 2011 at 8:12 PM
Hmm...interesting numbers.....I'm curious to see if the recent price hike at the Disneyland parks in Aneheim will have any significant effect on the attendance numbers for 2011...
Considering its brand popularity and the opening of a lot of major attractions on site (Star Tours, The Little Mermaid Ride, and Cars Land in the near future) I'm pretty sure the numbers will continue to rank high...but probably not as high as they were...
Gotta admit Disney might be taking a bit of a gamble by introducing a price hike at the same time new attractions are opening up...and all in a time when unemployment numbers are increasing once again. Gotta hand it to you Disney, that's one ballzy move on your part!
From James Rao on June 16, 2011 at 8:26 PM
Hey, a couple people made the correct predictions in this thread, too!

Gotta go with TH here... saying "Universal Orlando closes the gap with Disney..." is like saying, "The Monkees matched the Beatles" because of their initial wave of success in 1967.

One thing no one really saw coming was that IOA's Harry Potter expansion would have such a dramatic impact on SeaWorld. Sure, people thought IOA would pass SWO, but did anyone think it would be at the expense of SWO? It looks like vacationers did change their Orlando plans: instead of venturing off WDW property to go to SeaWorld as they had in previous years, they went to IOA. Interesting.

Also, the fact that BGW slipped a bit shows that you can't just rip out a classic and beloved coaster (Big Bad Wolf) and not impact your bottom line!

Can we finally pencil in Knotts Berry Farm as the flagship Cedar Fair park? ;)

I'm shocked Worlds of Fun has not yet made the list. Shocked, I tell you!

As for 2012, DCA is gonna have an even bigger attendance boost. Cars Land is going to be a monster hit.

From Robert Niles on June 16, 2011 at 8:38 PM
The SeaWorlds in Orlando and San Diego have had three straight years of declining attendance, according to AECOM - the only top parks in America to do so. Meanwhile, Disneyland, California Adventure and Disney's Animal Kingdom were the only parks to score three straight years of increases.

One other park that struck me was Universal Studios Hollywood. Recovering from the backlot fire and adding King Kong 360/3D helped the park score a huge attendance increase. Add that to the Disneyland Resort's continued strength, as well as Legoland California's self-reported growth, and I suspect that while Harry Potter hurt SeaWorld in Orlando, it's been the triple-team of Disneyland, Legoland and Universal Hollywood cutting into SeaWorld in San Diego. The new Manta can't arrive quickly enough.

As for those Disneyland parks, I don't think the price increase will matter one bit. Attendance will rise this year due to Star Tours and Little Mermaid and next year due to Cars Land.

On the international list, I expect to see Universal Studios Singapore knocking SeaWorld San Diego from the top 25 in 2011. But, again, my batting average on these predictions would get me cut from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

From Anthony Murphy on June 16, 2011 at 9:14 PM
Good to see SFGA make the list. Its, in my opinion, a park that hasn't risen to its full potental. Its a good park that, with some good investment, can be a great park.

Its interesting to see that Disney really still takes the cake in what is being considered a "bad" year. Even with Harry Potter, IOA can't take AK or DHS! Heck even the park everybody loves to hate, DCA, is doing great.

From Joshua Counsil on June 16, 2011 at 9:51 PM
Disney may not listen to its fans, but it certainly listens to numbers. Hopefully, the overtaking of Hollywood Studios by Animal Kingdom will get them in gear to overhaul the former. Star Tours was a great start, but significant work remains.

Good for IoA. That's a pretty amazing jump. If they want to keep that position, they better spruce up the rest of the park, much of which is dilapidated.

From Tony Perkins on June 17, 2011 at 12:06 AM
The thing that holds Disneyland back from surpassing Magic Kingdom is the issue of capacity. DL just doesn't have it in abundance like MK does, even though DL squeezes in many more attractions. On the other hand, the intimacy of DL is the reason why it is the best park in the world. Hopefully future attendance figures will bear this out.

What's Legoland California's numbers? I'd be surprised that they didn't reach 2 million guests in a year.

From 75.112.157.242 on June 17, 2011 at 6:01 AM
Mr. Perkins writes: "The thing that holds Disneyland back from surpassing Magic Kingdom is the issue of capacity. DL just doesn't have it in abundance like MK does, even though DL squeezes in many more attractions."

I Respond: I certainly agree with that assessment. I also think MK attracts a more international audience. The economy of Brazil seems to be pretty strong and (although this is anecdotal) friends and family who are WDW cast members have remarked on an increased presence of Brazilian guests over the past year. God Bless them we love them. I am hoping with all of my heart that rumors of a planned Brazilian Showcase at EPCOT come to pass.

Mr. Perkins writes: "On the other hand, the intimacy of DL is the reason why it is the best park in the world."

I Respond: While I disagree with that assertion I will contend that regardless of how the parks match-up in terms of quality there should be little (if any) doubt that when the Fantasyland expansion opens (with the Disney NextGen features) WDWMK will be (hands down) a far better park than its predecessor.

From TH Creative on June 17, 2011 at 6:13 AM
(Apologies if this double posted ... darn log in)

Mr. Perkins writes: "The thing that holds Disneyland back from surpassing Magic Kingdom is the issue of capacity. DL just doesn't have it in abundance like MK does, even though DL squeezes in many more attractions."

I Respond: I certainly agree with that assessment. I also think MK attracts a more international audience. The economy of Brazil seems to be pretty strong and (although this is anecdotal) friends and family who are WDW cast members have remarked on an increased presence of Brazilian guests over the past year. God Bless them we love them. I am hoping with all of my heart that rumors of a planned Brazilian Showcase at EPCOT come to pass in 2014.

Mr. Perkins writes: "On the other hand, the intimacy of DL is the reason why it is the best park in the world."

I Respond: While I disagree with the assertion I will contend that regardless of how the parks match-up in terms of quality there is little (if any) doubt that when the Fantasyland expansion opens (with the Disney NextGen features) WDWMK will be (hands down) a far better park than its predecessor.

From Jeff Elliott on June 17, 2011 at 6:39 AM
I find it odd how large of a jump that Universal Studios Hollywood had.....any explainations for that? Potter confusion?
From TH Creative on June 17, 2011 at 6:45 AM
Maybe, King Kong?
From TH Creative on June 17, 2011 at 7:26 AM
Related: SeaWorld's Aquatica attendance dropped by 6.3% -- more than twice the amount of any of the other water parks in the top twenty that experienced a decrease in attendance.
From Kelly Muggleton on June 17, 2011 at 8:37 AM
I think the Brit market doesnt really hit Disneyland either. The Disney advertising here has been for Disneyland Paris and WDW... I dont think it would hurt to push the West Coast here, I know a lot of people who are going/have been to California this year - more than Florida. Although I dont know the exact figures for Brit attendance but with the amount of flights that land in Orlando/Sanford each day....my mind just did a little boggle :-)
From Ted Heumann on June 17, 2011 at 10:09 AM
In response to TH Creative's first post, it's like having the ENTIRE population plus of Mexico (the 11th most populous country in the world), going to the Disney Parks in one year.
From Ted Heumann on June 17, 2011 at 10:24 AM
In regard to Knott's Crappy Farm, they may have increased their attendance, but they did it by giving away the admission. They sold annual passes for less than the price of 1 day admission and they are usually 1/2 or less than Disneyland (and that's still about 75% too much).
Disneyland is able to increase their attendance because they have 1 million annual passholders, but they still make a MINIMUM of $250 Million a year just off of Annual Passholders.
From Bill Lohr on June 17, 2011 at 12:06 PM
I was glad to see that Hersheypark and Busch Gardens topped Kings Dominion even with their big coaster addition. Kings Dominion needs to see that these other parks provide MUCH better shows and family rides as well as better food. This makes the parks something that all age groups can enjoy. KD needs to look at this and make changes to return to its roots. Coasters alone are just going to bring a select group of guest. KD is unlike many of the other Cedar Fair parks in that people have more of a choice in that area. I hope they finally take note and see they need change!
From TH Creative on June 17, 2011 at 6:34 PM
While surfing Youtube, I was struck by the fact that only around 160K have hit the "Play-Testing with Mickey Mouse" clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5wC-dBx7-Y&feature=related

Does anyone know if the park's daily capacity limits would prevent it from reaching 20 million?

From 99.38.249.157 on June 18, 2011 at 8:54 AM
I'm not surprised to see IOA to surpass USF in attendance, though barely. A lot of people wanting to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter went to both parks and I wonder if some went to USF thinking they had the Harry Potter land. What surprised me was USH increased so much. Did King Kong 360 generate that much buzz? Isn't it just a small part of the studio tour and not a ride on its own? I think the new Transformers ride will be huge for USH once it opens (and much needed).

Another thing that surprised me was Kings Island again surpassing Cedar Point. Does it have a longer operating season than CP? Also I wonder how far off Six Flags Magic Mountain was from the top 20 (#21?). I wouldn't be surprised if SFMM reentered the top 20 next year with the launch of Superman Escape from Krypton and the soon to be open Green Lantern First Flight. Also Knotts Berry Farm is getting close to surpassing Sea World San Diego for CA's #4 park, maybe next year?

From 98.21.205.107 on June 18, 2011 at 9:42 AM
I was somewhat surprised to see Animal Kingdom is above Hollywood Studios, but I find it fitting since I personally would rather visit Animal Kingdom that Hollywood Studios and the last time I visited Walt Disney World I chose to go to Animal Kingdom but left off Hollywood Studios. It seems like it does not have enough trees for one thing; your in the hot sun all day..... you don't want to be in a brick city. That and then the lack of rides and attractions I actually care about.
From 98.21.205.107 on June 18, 2011 at 9:45 AM
I'm really suprised by Disney's California Adventure being so high on the list (above Universal even). I personally would think people would be waiting to go there until after the expansion and makeover is close to being done (atleast until 2011 with the opening of Little Mermaid) so I am surprised at the high attendence for 2010..... but I assume that the attendence will go up the next two years because of all the awesome new things that are planned to open.
From 98.21.205.107 on June 18, 2011 at 9:48 AM
I almost wish the Islands of Adventure was a little higher on the list just to shake Disney up enough that they would put more money into the other parks other than Magic Kingdom. I think they are doing awesome stuff with the Fantasyland Expansion, but the other parks could use something new added to them.

Maybe if Islands was a little higher on the list they would hurry up with the much needed Animal Kingdom addition to make it more of an all day park.

From Anthony J on June 18, 2011 at 11:17 AM
You might think those -1.5% numbers are pretty insignificant. but when it's 1.5% of a number like 17 million.. that's 255,000 guests less.. If you were to average them at $100 a head for admission/food/merch, that's a loss of over $25 million from the prior year.
From 98.21.205.107 on June 18, 2011 at 12:27 PM
If these numbers are strictly based on attendance..... I'm curious how they rank by profits and total money brought in by tickets.... (less tickets at a higher price for example might come out to be a bigger bang)
From Michael Owen on June 19, 2011 at 8:51 AM
The power of Potter is very clearly shown in those attendance figures. Maybe the difference of increase between IOA and Universal Studios will be somewhat disappointing for the bosses at the resort, but apart from that it's been a great year for them.

Walt Disney World were always going to face drops this year. Ticket and hotel deals were less attractive and there has been no major new attractions to boast. Star Tours, if marketed properly, will likely see Hollywood Studios overtake Animal Kingdom once again this year.

SeaWorld is the big story, that's a huge drop. Universal have clearly made up some ground on Disney and took guests away from WDW for a day or so, SeaWorld need to get on that bandwagon and start clawing back so visitors.

From 206.74.245.126 on June 19, 2011 at 5:14 PM
I hear a lot of talk about Harry Potter and how much it is doing for Univeral, and I do think it has enhanced their attendance..... but for them to still be what I would consider low on the attendance list (I mean they are below Animal Kingdom).... it makes me wonder.... what was their attendance like before? Because all I hear about lately is Harry Potter Harry Potter.... so if it is such a big deal and it only got them this much attendence.... What happens in the next few years when the newness where's off? I mean, I'm really surprised that it did not even beat out Animal Kingdom.... Especially after all that hype.
From Derek Potter on June 19, 2011 at 7:38 PM
The answer to the Cedar Point/Kings Island operating season question is yes. Kings Island had a slightly longer operating season than Cedar Point, and they usually also have better weather in the spring and fall seasons. Weather generally is the deciding factor between which one wins. When comparing attendance figures, people often overlook the fact that parks like Cedar Point, Kings Island, and Canada's Wonderland only operate for about 120-130ish days a year as opposed to warmer weather operations, which are typically open year around or close to that. To pull over 3 million guests to the park in that amount of time is a great showing.

Nice to see a great place like Hersheypark also getting an attendance boost. A notable decline for me was Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, although it wasn't as big as I might have suspected. Kings Dominion whiffed with Intimidator when they shouldn't have (not completely their fault)...not to mention they have some work to do in other areas of their operation.

As great as the IOA comeback is, the Disney machine rolls on in terms of winning attendance battles. I suspect it will always be that way too. The multiple small parks and all of the hotels and ways to entice people to stay on the property multiply their attendance, regardless of the costs. Whether or not people are actually spending money in the Disney resort might be another story, but they certainly are buying tickets. For IOA, the magic of Harry Potter probably has another couple of years before it becomes just another great attraction, but I don't see it bringing another 30% increase. If Universal wants more Orlando market, they can't stop now. Disney is still in autopilot and perhaps even still recovering a bit from the freebie extravaganza of 2009-10. That won't last forever.

From Robert Viands on June 21, 2011 at 5:42 AM
Nice discussion. IOA's numbers are where they should have been all along if you review the last 4 years.
IOA
2007 – 5,430,000
2008 – 5,297,000
2009 – 4,627,000 (-11%)
2010 – 5,950,000 (+30%)
USF
2007 – 6,200,000
2008 – 6,231,000
2009 – 5,530,000 (-10%)
2010 – 5,930,000 (+6.1%)

USF attendance dropped over 4 years. The new coaster is always broken, and the Simpson ride is just a simulator.

The big question, is what makes so many people visit Disney?

I think it's babies growing up in Disney rooms, the moms take the kids to Disney year after year, as a way to show they're experts. Do you hear about kids growing up in Sea World rooms? They may have a stuffed Shamu toy, but that's about it.

From 78.46.46.21 on June 22, 2011 at 12:37 AM
What a joy to find such clear thinking. Thanks for psoting!

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