Theme Park of the Day: Legoland California

Is theme park attendance up or down this summer?

July 8, 2016, 11:06 AM · How are the crowds at your favorite theme park this summer? We won't have any official data until parks' parent companies start filing quarterly reports later this year, and for Disney and Universal parks, we won't get any hard attendance numbers until the annual TEA/AECOM estimates come out next spring. But initial reports from fans and from monitoring wait time apps suggest that crowds might be lighter than normal at many top parks.

In my Orange County Register column this week, I write about the relatively small crowd fans encountered at the Disneyland Resort over the Fourth of July weekend, which Theme Park Insider reader Rob McCullough also brought up for discussion here on the site. Visitors to Orlando also seemed to missing the truly overwhelming crowd levels that we've see in those parks in the past.

Is that what you've seen on your visits to Disney or Universal? We'd love to hear from fans visiting other parks, too. How are the crowds this summer, compared with summers past?

Theme park attendance reflects an almost countless number of variables. The British pound crashing after the Brexit vote has led many would-be visitors from the UK to cancel or scale back their vacation plans to Orlando. Meanwhile, the ongoing mess in Brazil has hurt visitation from that country. Those are two of the Orlando parks' biggest foreign markets, so the loss of a significant number of visitors from them will show in shorter lines at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

Back here in Southern California, Disneyland's annual pass price increase might be leading many former Premium annual passholders to downgrade or drop their passes entirely, holding down attendance levels on holidays and summer weekends. And the new variable pricing plans for one-day tickets at Disney and Universal might be dissuading day visitors from coming on previously busy holidays, as well.

Meanwhile, the industry is competitive as ever, with VR coasters at the Six Flags parks, massive improvements at Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott's celebrating a big anniversary, and big new coasters at SeaWorld, Cedar Point, and Dollywood.

So here are the questions: Is attendance really flat or down this summer at the top parks? If so, does that reflect a general downward trend for theme parks, or are fans just spreading their visits around more evenly, with increases at smaller parks? Or... is attendance still going up, but simply flattening from day to day at the top parks, with previously peak days down but previously slow days busier?

How have your plans for visiting theme parks changed this year? And what are you seeing when you visit the parks?

Read Robert's Column:

Replies (44)

July 8, 2016 at 11:58 AM · Hi Robert. I'm in the uk right now and definitely think the economic outlook here will have a massive effect on britains travelling to Orlando, at least in the near future. Not only does the falling value of the pound mean more spending money is required. But also flights and accommodation will undoubtedly end up costing us more. I already have a trip booked for November and am taking a hit massive hit with the currency exchange. Will be my last for a while I fear.
July 8, 2016 at 11:59 AM · I've dealt with a lot few Brazilians this summer, we usually have quite a lot of them but not this year. Our Sea World numbers are down as are Universal's and Disney is so so. I've gotten a lot of complaints about the high price of tickets and have noticed that instead of 5 and 6 day Disney's they are tending more towards 2 and maybe 3 day tickets.
July 8, 2016 at 12:04 PM · In my opinion Britex wouldn't have a large effect as yet as the majority of UK visitors plan 1 or even 2 years in advance
Therefore it would only make a difference next year if the £/$ dosnt improve
July 8, 2016 at 12:15 PM · Long-time listener, first-time caller. Cedar Point has been doing near constant discounts and promotions in the local market. The deals on tickets are better than I can ever remember, thinking about getting a free entry ticket next week by making a Red Cross donation.
July 8, 2016 at 12:21 PM · Disney in Florida is advertising and offering special discounted Florida resident 3 and 4 day tickets this summer. Usually, Disney offers the discounted tickets in the slower shoulder months and suspend sales of them for the summer. The tickets they are selling only had the Fourth of July listed as a blackout date.
July 8, 2016 at 12:48 PM · Disney in Orlando was really down this July holiday. Never seen it so quiet. Perhaps a lack of investment from Dinsey with no MAJOR attractions for nigh on a decade is finally coming home to roost.
July 8, 2016 at 12:58 PM · Hi Robert. Just got back from Orlando after spending a week in the parks from June 20 to 26. We hit Both Universals, Sea World, and Magic Kingdom and in every place the attendance and lines were very light. We have been to all of these parks before multiple times at different times of year, and the crowds we encountered this last time were the smallest I have ever seen. While wait times reached an hour on all the key rides at times, it was not uncommon for 10 minute wait, or even a walk-on at any of the rides. Mako was 10 minutes for the better part of the day! I asked the shop employees at Universal if this was normal, and they said absolutely not. Usually it is so busy they can't see the floor, let along take time to converse with patrons and actually relax.

I heard A LOT of chatter in the parks, the town, and even back home before we left (Oklahoma) about the shooting tragedy that had happened, so I would guess that was part of the reason people stayed away. But other than the rides and locales that get busy no matter what (Hogsmeade/Snow White coaster were both busy) it was very sparsely crowded for the first day of Summer.

I will say that this year the cost of the places is starting to really get out of hand, and we are a married couple without kids. $17 for a spray mister at SeaWorld, $14 for two Butterbeers in cups not in mugs, and $30 to eat a burger and fries in Future World is borderline crazy and starting to creep into not really worth the money - Not sure how the families of four will be able to keep up the pilgrimages...

July 8, 2016 at 1:13 PM · I think the level of construction going on for all of the parks may have something to do with it. I know that it has stopped me from making traveling plans to the parks. At least until I know when attractions are officially opening up. It can be quite expensive for a product that isn't fully operational.
July 8, 2016 at 1:15 PM · I am from Canada and with the Canadian $$ being as weak as it is in the past few years, we too are missing our yearly trip to Florida for the first time in 10 years. I have friends who were planning to take their families and they too are not going this year. Sadly with the rising costs of making the trip and the weak dollar it has finally hit our upper limit.
July 8, 2016 at 1:32 PM · Spoke with a few AP holders at Universal Florida and they were amazed how the July 4th crowds were so small. Hope this constant spiral of price increases have finally taken hold on the attendance. As with everything, the parks will continue to up the prices until attendance takes a hit.
July 8, 2016 at 1:36 PM · Disneyland and DCA out in Anaheim had very low crowds on the 4th of July. So low that you could walk on most rides or have a wait under 10 minutes, in the middle of the day. On Father's Day we walked on to RSR and Grizzy - single rider lines were empty, throughout the day. My theory as to why the attendance is low, is the variable pricing. I think it confuses people. That coupled with the increased AP's, I've seen quite a few AP holders blogging online that they just cannot afford to renew for their families. Colleagues of mine have made the same statement.
July 8, 2016 at 1:54 PM · Although many Brazilians do visit Orlando in July, most of Brazilian's crowd come in January, February and mid-end December. So I don't think that it will have a considerable effect in Orlando's attendance during North Hemisphere summer.
July 8, 2016 at 2:33 PM · I am currently in Orlando and spend 4th of July at Hollywood studios. Tower of terror didn't go past a 40min wait and I think Aerosmith was 60min max! I expected the crowds to be crazy, but they just havnt been. Even now it seems pretty tame to what I have experienced in the past.
July 8, 2016 at 2:33 PM · I have been visiting Disney theme parks (WDW and Disneyland) regularly for the past 38 years. At the current prices I won't be visiting again any time soon.

Last year I did visit Japan and got to see the Tokyo Disney Resort. It is priced much more reasonably than the US parks as well as providing a much better experience.

I visited Knott's last year as well and I must say they have stepped their game WAY up and are offering a value much greater than Disneyland.

Because of the week Pound I will be visiting the UK for the first time in 18 years. I am very excited to visit Blackpool Pleasure Beach!

July 8, 2016 at 3:17 PM · Was at all four Disney parks in Orlando in June the same week as the alligator incident. Everywhere seemed crowded as hell to me.
July 8, 2016 at 4:37 PM · I was in disneyland for the past 2 days, to be fair, it wasn't too busy. Some rides were nearly 2 hours but only RSR and Hyperspace mountain. But apart from that the queues tended to be from a 20 minute wait to 60 minutes. Also quite a few rides were just walk ons.
July 8, 2016 at 5:02 PM · I think that we simply have a perfect storm at the moment, with many things happening simultaneously that, while not capable of causing significant attendance decrease on their own, have stacked their effects and resulted in a noticeably slow summer season. At the moment...

-Prices are up but disposable income is down
-Parks are offering strong incentives to visit during less crowded times
-Problems internationally are likely contributing to fewer foreign visitors this year
-There have been a lot of attractions announced, but many are not open yet and infrequent visitors are likely delaying trips
-With the number of recent high-profile tragedies, there is probably less desire to travel to popular tourist destinations for fear of something going terribly wrong for real

My hunch is that overall visitors for the year will still be an increase over last year at most major theme parks, but this summer is likely to be one of the slowest in recent memory. That does not mean that the parks will be empty, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if attractions that routinely average 60 minute waits instead average 30 minute queues.

July 8, 2016 at 5:13 PM · I agree that Brexit hasn't hit yet. South American issues sure, and prices a definite yes. I've avoided the SoCal parks entirely so far - hitting Knott's with family this year as it is the best deal and best park for the money. The comment about 14.00 butter beers (etc) is "on the money." As a total Diznoid, never thought I would be without my pass - and then suddenly stopped renewing... I cannot imagine I am the only person to find the prices - especially for up-sell Flashpasses - utterly ridiculous. Every year I paid for VIP - until the "cost of living increase" just did NOT get close to the "cost of fun" increases that have happened year after year after year after year. My 2 cents.
July 8, 2016 at 6:39 PM · As a premium AP holder at Disneyland for 15 years, I will be letting my pass lapse for a bit. With the insanely high cost of the higher tier passports, and the current construction, I'll be taking a hiatus from visiting. When the new land opens, I'll look at getting a pass again.
July 8, 2016 at 6:40 PM · Pretty ironic that this year of all years is when the Orlando parks start to decline in attendance. I thought attendance would really spike this year with all three resorts coming out with major new additions; SeaWorld with Mako, Universal with Kong, and Disney with Disney Springs, (hopefully) Rivers of Light, and Frozen (Hey, if you build it, they will come). So this comes as a complete surprise to me. Now, I just came back from a huge European vacation. I bring this up for very specific reasons that I think could mean something about the Orlando market's current situation.

First off, we spent our first few days in London. The day we left London for Paris was the day that the UK voted to get out of the EU. So the local news was ablaze with the big vote, and once in a while there would be sign or a sticker on someone's home or business about what people should choose, kinda like how here in the States people have signs and stickers saying what candidate you should vote for. The people who wanted to stay in warned that losing that immediate connection with all those other European countries would deal a huge blow to the economy. The young voters especially were concerned about how that would affect them for the rest of their lives. Obviously I'm not a British citizen, and my understanding of economics is very basic, so I can't say for sure if I think pulling out of the EU is negatively affecting the UK's economy or not, let alone if it'll discourage any of them from visiting Orlando. But according to what I saw, we shouldn't be surprised if that's what ends up happening.

And I do think the terrorist attack might have something to do with it, too. (on a side note: that literally happened on my birthday. Ninety minutes from my own home. Yup.) There was a huge Gay Pride flag in front of England's American Embassy, reminding any and all passerby's of that tragic event. But I do think that people will work up the courage to visit Orlando again if that's why they're not visiting. Remember that huge terrorist attack that happened in Paris? The French certainly do. Not only did they have security checks at all the important landmarks, but they had soldiers patrolling the streets in full uniform and with fully-loaded machine guns. But even so, Paris was still alive with tourism. It could actually get pretty crowded sometimes. Now, Paris's terrorist attacks were quite a few months ago, while Orlando's was not even a month ago. So in time people will start coming back.

July 8, 2016 at 6:56 PM · I'm with @KarenG above - Canadians have seen up to 30% drop on our spending power. There still seem to be a lot of Blue Jays, Raptors, and Maple Leafs caps jerseys in the parks, but probably far fewer than there would have been if the dollar hadn't tanked last year.
July 8, 2016 at 8:11 PM · I am a tour operator owner from Brazil and I can say that all brazilian operators are going in july with groups at least 70% smaller than last year. My big groups are in july. 4 years ago I had 350 people in my group. Last year I had 150 and this year I have only 43. I am in Orlando right now and never seen so few brazilians in parks and shopping centers. Pedro Braun
July 8, 2016 at 9:18 PM · This was observed by someone on another theme park site, but another factor as far as why Disneyland was not very crowded this Fourth of July: last year (2015) the holiday was on a Saturday, which was convenient for people visiting from out of town to visit Disneyland.

This year, the holiday was on a Monday. For people visiting from out of town, Monday was likely their travel day to return home. People reported that Sunday (July 3) was considerably more crowded than Monday (July 4) this year.

July 9, 2016 at 7:27 AM · I think a lot of it is to do with rising prices and the impending new attractions.

Disney has been slow to open new attractions in the last 10 years and let things stagnate at WDW for too long, but now, with several new things announced and some just starting to open (Frozen), many people from far away are just delaying their visit. I am in the UK and we probably would have visited in 2015/16 had there been significant new stuff at Disney in the last few years, but instead I am just thinking, lets wait until Avatar is open at least.

From a UK perspective, I don't think the pound value has much to do with it, as someone said, people plan well ahead so it wouldn't affect this summer. Whilst a lot of fuss and maybe overstatement has been made about the 'crashing' pound it is actually only a fraction lower than it fell to in 2009 and then it didn't seem to affect trips to Florida from the UK, and there was little or no talk about it doing so. So whilst I am sure the devalued pound wont help, I don't think it will make a lot of difference (unless it continues to fall of course)

July 9, 2016 at 4:13 AM · I'm from Canada, and regularly visit the sunshine state, but I know we're delaying returning to Florida until apx. 2020 - and for all the reasons previously listed. The big combination being cost and construction. It's never been more expensive to visit the premiere parks, and there's never been so many cranes and construction walls.

Star Wars, Avatar, and Pixar have a long while to go before they open, Frozen and King Kong don't appear to be "must see" attractions, and a full theme park vacation for my family will cost in excess of five thousand dollars - if I cut corners. That's too much, without enough new to see.

July 9, 2016 at 4:39 AM · The Magic Kingdom didn't have phase closures this year on July 4th. When's the last time that happened?
July 9, 2016 at 5:56 AM · We're also delaying our next Orlando trip until after the opening of Pandora. At least that will make up for the fact that DHS will still be half shuttered.
July 9, 2016 at 6:09 AM · I live in the uk and travel to Florida every three years and what is putting me off is the price hiking every year by the theme parks. It is getting more and more expensive to have fun.
Every year Disney raises there prices with universal and other parks following not far behind.
What also doesn't help is all the add ons like parking that also keeps going up in price.
To have fun at all the parks in Florida costs a third of my holiday which is getting more and more expensive by the year. Maybe this is why attendances are down. The people have had enough of the constant price hiking. These are companies that are making billions and billions of dollars that are bleeding us the customers dry.
Maybe the theme parks should review the price hiking and be more customer friendly
July 9, 2016 at 8:54 AM · Universal Studios Hollywood was hit hard with guests Sunday July 3rd. The line to get into the park stretched way into CityWalk.
July 9, 2016 at 9:45 AM · This is the first year I don't have an annual pass to Walt Disney World. They price hiked so much it is no longer affordable to us. Can't say I miss it. Everything there is beyond reasonably priced anymore.
July 9, 2016 at 5:34 PM · I think Brexit is not the point, mainly because this just happened a few weeks ago and planning a trip abroad takes months. I think the prices increases is definitely one problem (honestly, we are reaching the limite of what may be considered a fair and affordable price for a family vacation). I absolutely love Disney, but at one moment, inevitably, people will stop and think "Shall I pay that much to be a in a place very crowded and that I always need to pay extra to have a 'premium package/advantaged'?". Also, adding to the list, we may point the horrifying incidents of Pulse and the death of that kid by a alligator. Two shocking moments that put the spotlights of the globe over Orlando in a not good way.
July 10, 2016 at 12:34 AM · I'm from Scotland, visited Orlando in 2015 and going again in 2017. Visiting all the parks but not Disney. Pricing, ridiculous queue times and lack of new rides has stopped us returning. Magic kingdom still has it but the outdated feel of half the park made visits to Epcot a bit depressing. HS and AK still have their moments worth repeating but there isn't enough to do. Avatar and Star Wars seem a long way off.
July 10, 2016 at 1:06 AM · hi, we have visited Orlando now from the uk for the past 10 years and this year as an adult group of 5 people its costing us almost £18,000 that is without any money for day to day spending!! The uk brevet will not have a huge impact immediately but the falling pound against the dollar will have an impact if it doesn't even out soon. the parks need to look at pricing once inside for food and beverages as it does get kind of ridiculous at how much a snack and a drink can soon rise too. for next year we are considering staying in Europe..
July 10, 2016 at 5:12 AM · I went to Aninal kingdom Yeaterday (the 9th) and it was not crowded at all, Everest was average 20 wait line and so was dinosaur , only thing that had a somewhat long line was Kali with a 60 minute wait , the rest was short and as you walked through the park you weren't bombarded with hundreds of people.
July 10, 2016 at 4:32 PM · WDW has not blocked out any summer dates on cast member main gate passes.
July 11, 2016 at 1:22 AM · Guys-The castle in the Magic Kingdom is a gym. Expect attendance to go up. All I'm sayin.
July 11, 2016 at 5:18 AM · Travelling from Ireland in late October this year and for me its a cost issue Euro V Dollar is low. But also the cost of a two week Disney ultimate pass is too expensive and I have bought this pass on previous visits. This time its a five day pass and that's only because I got a deal on undercover tourist of 5 days for the price of 4 days.
July 11, 2016 at 7:17 AM · Just as a resident of Orlando I can tell the traffic is down from what it normally is. My girlfriend was at Epcot on Saturday, typically the busiest day of the week, and she was able to do most rides with a less than 30 minute wait, and was able to eat lunch in Japan with no reservations. It's still busy around town, but not nearly what we usually see.
July 11, 2016 at 11:31 AM · Disney is not a good value anymore. The apathy has finally set in.

Disney must replace Bob Iger with a CEO who understands that Disney's financial success depends upon the goodwill of its fan base.

July 11, 2016 at 12:53 PM · Just want to add that I again tracked wait times over weekend (July 9&10). Lines continued to be extremely manageable. Sure there were several attractions with 60+ minute waits, but those were generally also the rides with FastPass and/or Single Riders. Looks like we will have a great weekend and may even decide to head back to the hotel mid-day for a swim/nap break.
As a pass holder, I have to say I'm liking the strategy of increasing the one-day prices on the traditionally busy days. In the long run,it may make for a better experience in park - although it's an experience that comes at a price.
July 12, 2016 at 10:19 AM · I have to agree with alot of people that Disney World just does not hold the value it once had. Theres been no substantive improvements to the park in over a decade. My Mom, who is your typical disney world pixie dust fanatic even mentioned on our last trip two years ago that the magic is gone. I don't feel the need to pay more money to ride the same rides i did a decade ago, in a theme park with declining food quality and obnoxious crowds. Universal could take them out by decreasing ticket prices, since they at least have improved their parks more to a point where I don't feel i am being ripped off, but even they are getting too pricey. Hopefully a time of reckoning is coming for both of the parks and we could see a decade of lower prices/increased investment in the parks, but for now its cheaper to travel the world than it is to go to Disney World.
July 12, 2016 at 11:48 AM · If you look at the numbers for the last 2-3 years you'll see that the growth rate at WDW has been low/flat while USO/IOA has been pretty good. In Orlando Universal is stealing some of the Mouse's cheese. So this seems to be a pattern before the recent events. Couple this with the recent mass shooting and alligator attack, the poltical and economic issues in the UK, the Brazilian recession and the Olympics, and general stagnation of income vs inflation of theme park prices and I'm actually surprised the numbers are as good as they are. Here in California it's a slightly different story. Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have seen steady growth. Maybe it's because the economy in California and the West is generally doing better or the fact that Disneyland has 16 million people within a couple of hours drive making it less susceptible to outside events? If Disneyland numbers are down I'd say it's because of the construction and lack of any new big attractions which is more important to a local-driven park. I personally have been reducing my trips to the mouse trap because of the overcrowding so maybe I need to get down there soon.
July 12, 2016 at 1:50 PM · I'm waiting for the Spring SoCal locals special. They cost $60 per day for the 2 or 3 day non-hopper pass. I'm sure prices will go up 5% next year. It's just not worth going at regular prices.
July 14, 2016 at 9:51 PM · As a Florida annual pass holder of over 10 years. This year I let my past lapse and will not be getting another one due to the higher cost. Not sure if in the near future I will but when a hamburger now cost $14 I have to agree the magic is gone

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