Top Franchises Drive Top Parks in 2014 TEA/AECOM Theme Park Attendance Report

June 3, 2015, 6:45 AM · If you wanted to succeed in the theme park industry last year, you really needed a powerful new franchise in your parks, such as Harry Potter, Minions or Frozen. That's the story told by the numbers in the TEA/AECOM annual attendance report, released today.

Diagon Alley

The Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort continued as the world's most-attended theme park, closing in on the 20 million-visitor mark, with 19,332,000 visitors last year, according to the analysts at AECOM. That's up four percent from 2013, according to the report, which is produced in cooperation with the Themed Entertainment Association [TEA].

But the big winners in the industry last year were Universal Studios Florida — up 17% to 8,263,000 visitors — and Universal Studios Japan — up 16.8% to 11,800,000. What did both of those parks have in common? Harry Potter, with new Wizarding World lands opening last year at both parks. Universal's Islands of Adventure was unchanged, remaining at 8,141,000 visitors and losing one spot in the rankings to its sibling, USF.

Harry Potter hasn't arrived yet at Universal Studios Hollywood, but the arrival of the Minions in an impressive new Despicable Me-themed miniland last year help the park overcome the construction disruption that typically depresses attendance at parks. USH was up 11% last year, to 6,824,000 visitors, raising the question if USH can catch rival Disney California Adventure in 2016 when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens in Hollywood. DCA gained three percent, rising to 8,769,000.

Other Disney parks posted modest attendance gains, from 0.1 to 3.5 percent, with the exception of the Disneyland Paris parks, which both saw declines. That's especially troublesome at Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, which dropped 4.7% to 4,260,000, despite the arrival of a well-received Ratatouille-themed miniland. Perhaps it should come as little surprise, then, that DLP this summer is heavily promoting Frozen-themed characters and events, which seemed to have helped Disney's parks in the United States to attendance gains last year.

Elsewhere in the United States, 2014 was brutal for theme parks. The report said, "Growth at U.S. theme parks was concentrated in the top nine parks, all of which are Disney and Universal parks, and that together saw visitor attendance go up by 4.2 percent on last year - an increase of 4.1 million visitors compared to last year. This was offset by a 2.8 percent fall in attendance at the remaining 11 parks which together, had 1.1 million fewer visitors compared to last year."

Here is your North American top 20, with attendance in millions and the change from last year:

  1. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom 19.3 4.0%
  2. Disneyland 16.8 3.5%
  3. Epcot 11.4 2.0%
  4. Disney's Animal Kingdom 10.4 2.0%
  5. Disney's Hollywood Studios 10.3 2.0%
  6. Disney California Adventure 8.8 3.0%
  7. Universal Studios Florida 8.3 17.0%
  8. Islands of Adventure 8.1 Flat
  9. Universal Studios Hollywood 6.8 11.0%
  10. SeaWorld Orlando 4.7 -8.0%
  11. Busch Gardens Tampa 4.1 1.0%
  12. SeaWorld San Diego 3.8 -12.0%
  13. Knott's Berry Farm 3.7 Flat
  14. Canada's Wonderland 3.5 -1.0%
  15. Cedar Point 3.2 -4.0%
  16. Kings Island 3.2 1.0%
  17. Hersheypark 3.2 1.0%
  18. Six Flags Magic Mountain 2.8 -2.0%
  19. Six Flags Great Adventure 2.8 Flat
  20. Busch Gardens Williamsburg 2.7 -1.0%

And here is the global Top 10:

  1. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
  2. Tokyo Disneyland 17.3 0.5%
  3. Disneyland
  4. Tokyo DisneySea 14.1 0.1%
  5. Universal Studios Japan 11.8 16.8%
  6. Epcot
  7. Disney's Animal Kingdom
  8. Disney's Hollywood Studios
  9. Disneyland Paris 9.9 -4.7%
  10. Disney California Adventure

Further down the list, the biggest gain in the global Top 20 came from Songcheng Park in China, which crashed the Top 20 with a 38.3% increase to 5,810,000 visitors last year.

Previous theme park attendance reports:

Replies (44)

June 3, 2015 at 7:13 AM · Something interesting to look at. But are they close to accurate? That's the question that pops up.
June 3, 2015 at 7:16 AM · Thanks Robert...

And that is why I hate going to the Magic Kingdom. Way too damn busy, great for Disney but not so fun for us visitors.

Universal Studios Florida 8.3 17.0% - Up 17% big winner here....

Robert - I am wondering how many Season ticket holder there are for Disney?
If you think about it, how many times does an annual pass-holder Visit Disney parks in Orlando. Lets say the pass holder hits MK 2 times per month times 12 months times the number pass holders...

This would be an interesting number to see...

June 3, 2015 at 7:28 AM · Brian,

One thing I've been wishing for is to see the number of unique visitors in each park each year. That's the number of people who pass through the gates, not counting repeat visitors by those people during the year. Comparing that number to overall attendance, which counts repeat visits on subsequent days, would tell us a lot about the effect of APs on attendance at the various parks.

That said, the separation between Disney/Universal and the rest of the industry is getting to be stunning. I see it in the traffic numbers for the posts we publish here and you can see it clearly now in the TEA/AECOM numbers. With Springfield and Fast & Furious this year and Harry Potter next year, I fully expect USH to be over the 8 million mark in 2016. If Joel Manby can't see SeaWorld back above 5 million, then we're looking at a gap between Disney/Universal and everyone else that is larger than the annual attendance at most of those parks.

June 3, 2015 at 7:30 AM · Does anyone know if UO reports attendance similar to DLR -- that is, only the first park entered counts? I thought I read previously that 80% of UO tickets are now park hoppers so I was surprised that IOA is flat. I'm wondering if the 17% gain is really more resort wide but is being reported as USF since EPA starts there.
June 3, 2015 at 7:44 AM · Happy that Seaworld went down but it should have been even lower... yep, not a fan for several reasons, mostly because I really feel for the poor animals...
June 3, 2015 at 7:43 AM · Oh please, Cecilia. The animals at SeaWorld are treated better there than anywhere else they can be on Earth. That's why it's the leading source for rescue and rehabilitation of injured animals from the wild. SeaWorld's down because it's not spending enough time developing compelling IP to compete with Universal, which is just destroying it for the "after-Disney" market share in Florida and Southern California.

Also, nether Disney nor Universal provides hard attendance data to AECOM, to my knowledge. AECOM estimates based on information about relative attendance changes released by the parks, as well as sampled observations of park entries. The concept, however, is to count the first park entry of the day alone.

June 3, 2015 at 7:52 AM · Early Entry was at IOA-only for the majority of 2014. IOA being flat on first-click admissions makes no sense to me...
June 3, 2015 at 7:59 AM · That's the single-most-curious thing to me in the US side of the report, too, Seth. I think that the overall UOR attendance relative to Disney feels about right, but the distribution of its growth over 2013 between the two parks seems way too lopsided to me.
June 3, 2015 at 8:00 AM · 10.SeaWorld Orlando 4.7 -8.0%
12.SeaWorld San Diego 3.8 -12.0%

While Universal's Harry Potter can possibly be the excuse for lower attendance in Orlando, it cannot be the excuse for San Diego.

SeaWorld is still suffering from the death of a trainer and the documentary. No animals were killed. The Shamu show is no longer the draw that it once was.

Disney parks is moving up slowly and surely like a turtle. Universal is a bit like a hare with big jumps and a few snoozes under the shade.

June 3, 2015 at 8:20 AM · If Kong brings in another 11% percent like Minions, could both IOA and USH pass DCA in 2016? Ouch.
June 3, 2015 at 8:30 AM · 19.3 million visitors to the Magic Kingdom. Wow. Astonishing. That's an average of over 53k a day in the park. Contrast that number with a world renown coaster park like Cedar Point that pulls about 16.6M/day (adjusted for half year operations) and you see why themed entertainment is king.

The Magic Kingdom pulls more people in 20 days than my disowned home park, Worlds of Fun(?), pulls all season. Wow.

PS I can't wait to visit SeaWorld Orlando next year...crowds are down but the coasters and shows are still top notch! Oh yeah!

June 3, 2015 at 8:49 AM · The best representation of Orlando in 2014 would be a scenario depicting Queen Elsa having an epic battle with Harry Potter. The fight takes place in SeaWorld, the two combatants completely tear up the place like the final scene in a Micheal Bay film. In the end, SeaWorld is completely devastated. Elsa wins, but barely; completely battered, bloodied and barely even standing.
June 3, 2015 at 8:51 AM · Robert - Nice come back the Sea World comments or as I call it (I believe everything I see on TV crowd). Hey look, a dead flying monkey on TV - it must be real...

I do miss Busch running Sea World. I used to enjoy some free beer while in the parks. And I am pulling for them to make a come back. A new coaster will help a bit but I have no clue how much. But we do plan on hitting Sea World next year...
And BGT is a fantastic Park...

Here is a slogan - Tired of the Disney crowd- Come to Sea World! No waiting in lines... Everyday is a fast pass...

Why did she not mention all the animals Sea World have saved over the years?

June 3, 2015 at 9:12 AM · I noticed in the report that not a single water park in California made the top 20 worldwide list in terms of attendance. Raging Waters San Dimas is clinging to 13th in North America. It's just not really a thing here, despite the favorable weather. And with our state's historic drought, it's a wonder that water parks are still allowed to operate in CA at all.
June 3, 2015 at 9:24 AM · Very interesting report as always. The Sea World drop is of concern. The documentary really did its thing. I still feel they will recover in time as they are excellent parks. Plus they HELP lots of animals!

USH up 11% is great, I was expecting a 5% gain. Great news since theyre investing a lot in plussing the park. 8 million in 2016, DCA level almost, seems a little too optimistic though. But hey Harry Potter.

June 3, 2015 at 9:52 AM · I hate all the negative comments about the Sea World parks. What do these people think should be done with the animals? They would never survive in the wild.
June 3, 2015 at 11:44 AM · I absolutely respect other's opinions... I didn't mean to be harsh, it is just my opinion and I said the animals were one of the reasons... I also find SeaWorld "boring" but, again, it may be me. Many people I know finds Epcot boring and it is one of my favorite parks... The documentary was pretty "eye-opening" but I also felt bad while visiting and seeing the animals, I personally believe animals are not necessary for good entertainment (I worry about the animals in the Animal Kingdom too but I still love the park...). I do not believe everything I see on TV but I am also not blinded by my love of the parks...
June 3, 2015 at 12:08 PM · Yes, Potter is a mighty franchise, and a sure draw. But I think it's exaggerated to say that you "need" a franchise in order to be successful in the theme park business. Magic Kingdom had an attendance gain of 4%, and their only new ride was 7DMT. A 1930s animation classic doesn't qualify as a current franchise.
June 3, 2015 at 1:22 PM · Hi Cecilia - you are correct about your own opinion.. It is just that folks are tired of hearing that Blackfish story.

Much of their claims have been proven to be incorrect and or fabricated. They wrote a story to push their opinion on you and well, you fell for it.

No different than listening blow hard on a talk show and folks listen and believe the garbage.

I am just pulling for Sea World because they do a lot of great things to distressed animals but that message was lost..

Have a nice day...

June 3, 2015 at 1:41 PM · Missing from the FAQ section of the report:

How come your published report lists Universal Islands of Adventure above Universal Studios Florida, when the latter had more visitors than the former?

7. Islands of Adventure - 8,141,000
8. Universal Studios Florida - 8,263,000

Is it because you guys aren't that good with numbers?


June 3, 2015 at 1:46 PM · While I am not sure how accurate these estimations are, there are several interesting things about the results:

-All six North American Disney parks received attendance gains despite annual price increases and only one receiving significant investment in 2014. I guess the brand name is so strong that occasional investment is enough to keep attendance increasing.
-Meanwhile, I'm shocked how much the Paris Disney Parks' attendance dropped. Either Ratatouille didn't resonate well with visitors or everyone is waiting until the refurbishments are complete before visiting. Hopefully Disney is able to reverse this decline as Disneyland Paris is a pretty nice park (Walt Disney Studios could be as well with the DCA treatment).
-Universal has proven that Harry Potter is still the biggest theme park franchise out there. USF and USJ both saw pretty big increases this year, though I'm surprised there wasn't at least a small increase at IOA. Despicable Me also gave USH a bigger increase than I was expecting, and I fully expect this park to increase by ~20% in 2016 once the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens and challenge DCA for second place in California.
-I expected SeaWorld to have a significant decrease in 2014, as it was an off year for the parks and they were still being hit by Blackfish controversy. However, the attendance drops in Florida and especially California are larger than I anticipated. That said, I have faith that Joel Manby will turn the company around. The announced 2016 additions are already a great step in the right direction.
-Among regional parks, this report shows that constant investment is needed to maintain attendance. However, I'm surprised that Kings Island added the biggest coaster in North America last year yet only saw a 1% increase. I'm also surprised that Cedar Point fell 4% despite adding a couple new family rides, though the park did feel lightly populated on my visit compared to what is typically reported. Lastly, I would be really interested to see the numbers for the entire Six Flags chain and see how well the "new attraction for every park every year" strategy is actually paying off. SFMM and SFGAdv certainly didn't benefit from their additions.

June 3, 2015 at 2:23 PM · @ Robert,

I would suggest that the lopsided growth for USF relative to IOA has to do with the early entry hours shifting from IOA, where it had been for years, to USF.

Everybody goes to Diagon Alley first now. I think it's a sign of great health in both parks that their overall attendance is so well balanced now.

June 3, 2015 at 3:14 PM · Actually, IOA usually has the early entry hours, not Universal Studios. Another reason that some of these stats appear a bit off. They only do early entry for both parks on peak attendance days. Note: The OU & Parkscope Insiders that have seen the actual attendance numbers say the TEA figures for IOA and Universal Studios are too low. These gentlemen have excellent track records for accuracy & I would believe them over TEA anyday.
June 3, 2015 at 2:47 PM · AJ Hummel- the biggest theme park franchise is Mickey Mouse, not Harry Potter. Hence the attendance #s at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.

Second, as for the report the attendance at each park includes Park Hoppers at properties where such tickets exist. It's the only way to get an Apples-to-Apples comparisons with other operators that don't have multiple gates at their properties. This idea that only the entry at the first park visited counts is nonsense. For all practical purposes of operating a theme park you need to know how many people will enter the park that day. Whether they also attend a second or third park is irrelevant.

If you ask a cast member at a Disney park what they're attendance is and they share a number. That number will be the total # of guests that enter the park. Not the # of guests that enter the park first before going to another park.

The only # that is irrelevant in planning and only relevant to bodies in the park NOW is re-entry. Re-entry is just the same person returning. That # is only relevant for determing when to shut down your gates because a park is at capacity.

June 3, 2015 at 3:44 PM · Interesting to note that the 2 Disneyland Paris parks are down 4.7% but the three other French parks are up an average 11.5%. This is despite a major new attraction, so that suggests to me it's the Disney parks themselves that are proving a turnoff and they really need to pull their finger out.
June 3, 2015 at 3:50 PM · @Rob:
And those numbers would be? Come on, we can keep a secret. Pinky promise? ;-)
June 3, 2015 at 5:39 PM · Well if you're a Disney fanboy (and you believe the numbers in this report) you should be VERY HAPPY.

Mr Niles writes: "If you wanted to succeed in the theme park industry last year, you really needed a powerful new franchise in your parks, such as Harry Potter, Minions or Frozen."

I Respond: If you agree with this conclusion then it should be clear that Universal is not going to catch Disney in the Orlando market. Once again all of the Disney Orlando parks crushed IOA and USF (smallest margin 2 million guests). And they are maintaining their lead without adding what some would call an E-ticket attraction.

Moving into the next two to four years Disney will add attractions based on POWERFUL IP ('Frozen,' 'Star Wars' and 'Avatar') as well as the massive retail expansion at Disney Springs. Further, they will enjoy the benefit having having thousands of freshly renovated hotel accommodations.

So WDW is about to enter a period of rapid development of high profile attractions during a time where their attendance numbers are dominating the market.

June 3, 2015 at 5:43 PM · Also (repeating myself from another thread) if you believe the numbers that are published you can add the two Universal Parks in Orlando together and they'd be almost 3 million guests below the Magic Kingdom's.
June 3, 2015 at 9:27 PM · Sea World isn't that great of a park, which is why the attendance numbers are down. You take away the beer googles and you can see it's not really note worthy for an Orlando park.

If they brought back the beer... I may change my opinion just sayin'.

June 3, 2015 at 6:43 PM · Re:TH Creative

Adding on to your point, I think it also helps that Disney has lots of nostalgia behind it. Who doesn't know Peter Pan or Winnie The Pooh?

June 3, 2015 at 7:53 PM · Just as I expected. Universals great success has been beneficial for disney as all of their parks have increased, except paris. The biggest parks to watch imo are Tokyo Disneyland and sea. Both have major expansions beginning with a new fantasyland, which given Oriental Land cos history you can expect to be significantly better than disney worlds. Probably an even a bigger draw is the Frozen land coming to Disneysea. I can easily see Tokyo's parks claiming the 2nd and 3rd spots after the expansions.
June 3, 2015 at 8:59 PM · @ajhummel, it's true that Disney hasn't made many large investments in the parks recently, but there have been many many small incremental improvements and they add up to a lot. I want Disney to build more E-tickets, but in the meanwhile I appreciate the feeling that they keep doing little things to maintain or upgrade the parks, something that smaller regional parks just don't or can't do. Also, we might, as theme park geeks, have to admit that even though we thought magic bands were evil and a bad investment, that they have clearly been a success, helping drive growth that should lead to more expansion.
June 3, 2015 at 9:20 PM · Notice Universal Studios Japan's attendance exceeds that of the three Disney Orlando theme parks with the exception of MK. In Japan, the attendance differences between Disney and Universal isn't as spread out. This is what happens when Disney doesn't have the advantage of being in the Orlando bubble. There might be some hope that USH might rise significantly higher in attendance after Harry Potter opens.
June 3, 2015 at 10:29 PM · "Once again all of the Disney Orlando parks crushed IOA and USF (smallest margin 2 million guests). And they are maintaining their lead without adding what some would call an E-ticket attraction."

A 2 million attendance margin really isn't that big. USF is up 1 million from due to Potter being open for half a year. Once it hits a full year of operation, it really isn't going to take much for USF and IOA to pass DHS and maybe even DAK before 2017.

June 3, 2015 at 10:37 PM · Jonah, I agree that Disney has been making minor improvements, but I am still surprised that attendance continues to rise despite the lack of marketable investments and continued price increases. Florida opened the remainder of New Fantasyland last year, and since nobody from out of town is going to just visit the Magic Kingdom the increases at the other parks can be tied somewhat to that. What surprises me is that the Disneyland Resort in California, which hasn't really done anything since the grand reopening of DCA in 2012, is still seeing increases two years later even with the more expensive tickets and decrease of annual passholders. I guess there must just be some who wanted to wait until the crowd died down before their visit. It is going to be really interesting what happens to Disney in the upcoming years because for the first time ever the chain is starting to have some serious competition and I doubt they're current strategy of only adding a few new attractions per resort per decade will be able to work indefinitely. Minor improvements are great, but E-tickets are what lead to significant attendance increases.

Also, to, I think I know what you intended to say, but what you said isn't quite correct. If Mickey Mouse was truly the biggest franchise in the industry, Toontown would be the most popular area of Disneyland and a dark ride themed to Steamboat Willy would generate 3 hour lines. Obviously, this isn't the case. Disney as a brand is well known and has an outstanding reputation, so I think the resorts are a draw more because of the history and the overall experience than because of any one particular franchise. On the other hand, half the people who visit Universal are probably doing so mainly because of Harry Potter. Think about it like this: How much of an attendance hit would the Disney parks take if Mickey Mouse was removed completely? Some, certainly, but probably not more than 10% or so. How much of an attendance hit would Universal take if they removed all the Harry Potter attractions? I'd guess at least 25%. Therefore, I'd say Harry Potter is by far the more popular franchise, and given the others in use it is currently the top theme park franchise.

June 3, 2015 at 10:56 PM · AJ's percentages are about as scientific as TEA's report... :P
June 4, 2015 at 3:14 AM · James writes: "A 2 million attendance margin really isn't that big."

I Respond: If either USF or IOA reached 10 million guests it would represent a 25% jump in a single year. I'm sorry but yes that absolutely is "that big."

June 4, 2015 at 6:30 AM · Re: AJ

This might be a bit of a stretch, but I believe another, albeit smaller, reason that Disney is more successful is that they have a bigger resort.

Grant it, this is a pretty unfair advantage, as Walt bought a whole crapload of land about a decade before Universal even considered building a Florida park. But still. You've got four parks, two water parks, a shopping center, and more on-site hotels than I dare to count. Disney is probably the only themed resort where you can spend your entire time on property and still have a filling vacation.

Universal knows this and is trying to replicate the same method. Hence the new hotel and the upcoming water park. Problem is that Universal's property is significantly smaller, so they can only expand so much.

Again, might be a bit of a stretch, but I thought it was worth considering.

June 4, 2015 at 7:21 AM · A 2 million increase is too big in one year, but not too big in 2 years. In 2013, USF was 7.1 million in attendance. It is now 8.3 million. Another 2 years is required for any Universal Orlando park to hit 10 million while Disney theme parks continue to increase 2 or 3% per year. Avatar might be the game changer for Animal Kingdom. Could Animal Kingdom exceed Epcot's attendance?
June 4, 2015 at 10:50 AM · I knew TH would be in here with his Disney cheerleader skirt on.... "I don't believe these numbers for a second" in one sentence.... uses them for the basis of his arguments elsewhere... (facepalm).
June 4, 2015 at 1:06 PM · Not quite sure what NB means when he says I use TEA/AECOM for the "basis of my argument." Without seeing their math the numbers presented have little or no credibility.

Having said that, if I were to bet a paycheck on the actual rankings of the Orlando market, I go with:

1. Magic Kingdom
3. Universal Studios
4. (Tied) Islands of Adventure / Animal Kingdom
6. Disney Hollywood Studios

When Avatar & Star Wars Opens:

1. Magic Kingdom
2. Animal Kingdom
3. Disney Hollywood Studios
5. (Tied) Universal Studios / Islands of Adventure

June 4, 2015 at 2:44 PM · In each year since Potter opened, DHS and DAK have only had gains of no more than 2%. When Potter opened up last year, attendance went up by 1 million. Considering that it was only open for half a year, 2015 will have the first full year of operations for Diagon Alley. Thus, it seems likely that it will get at least another million this year since there are many who haven't seen the new area yet and will do so. In that event, the Universal Orlando parks have a good chance of catching up to the lower Disney parks.
June 4, 2015 at 4:59 PM · TH: From what I've read elsewhere, I believe your rankings are probably right on. Many prominent insiders are basically saying the same thing. Generally, it seems that the feeling is that MK, Epcot, Universal Studios & IOA have higher attendances than the TEA report and that DHS is considerably lower than the report. I guess we do agree on some things..... Much too far in the future, though, for me to comment on the post Avatar/Star Wars/Nintendo/Fast & Furious/Kong/Water Park rankings.
June 5, 2015 at 5:03 PM · I too am pulling for the Sea World parks. I just got a 2-YEAR Premium Pass for only $155!!! It includes parking and discounts. Can't beat that anywhere else in the theme park community. I live about 175 miles from the San Diego park BUT will be making at least 3 or 4 visits a year. Thoroughly enjoyed my last visit and am thoroughly convinced that Sea World is a great place when it comes to the care and respect for animals. We as a society need places like Sea World to actually form a bond with animals that we would never have the privilege of safely encountering in their native habitats. Coming into contact with these magnificent creatures helps solidify a bond and appreciation that motivates us to do our part in preserving the environments that they live in. If we can't see (and sometimes touch) them, then we tend to not care if they live or not. If we can't interact, then we tend to not care enough to help. Sea World provides a go-between between the animals it houses and the public. We need Sea World and the various species in our oceans have benefited from it's existence.

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