Disney parks slip, but remain atop global theme park attendance report

June 1, 2017, 8:11 AM · The 2016 TEA/AECOM Theme Index global attendance report is out, and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom remains the world's most popular theme park. But Disney's theme parks mostly saw their attendance slip in 2016, as rival Universal continued to see gains at most of its parks.

The top 25 most-attended theme parks worldwide in 2016:

  1. Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, 20,395,000, -0.5%
  2. Disneyland, 17,943,000, -1.8%
  3. Tokyo Disneyland, 16,540,000, -0.4%
  4. Universal Studios Japan, 14,500,000, 4.3%
  5. Tokyo DisneySea, 13,460,000, -1.0%
  6. Epcot, 11,712,000, -0.7%
  7. Disney's Animal Kingdom, 10,844,000, -0.7%
  8. Disney's Hollywood Studios, 10,776,000, -0.5%
  9. Universal Studios Florida, 9,998,000, 4.3%
  10. Islands of Adventure, 9,362,000, 6.5%
  11. Disney California Adventure, 9,295,000, -0.9%
  12. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, 8,474,000, 13.2%
  13. Disneyland Paris, 8,400,000, -14.2%
  14. Lotte World, 8,150,000, 11.5%
  15. Universal Studios Hollywood, 8,086,000, 13.9%
  16. Everland, 7,200,000, -3.0%
  17. Hong Kong Disneyland, 6,100,000, -10.3%
  18. Ocean Park, 5,996,000, -18.8%
  19. Nagashima Spa Land, 5,850,000, -0.3%
  20. Europa Park, 5,600,000, 1.8%
  21. Shanghai Disneyland, New 5,600,000 (Opened in June)
  22. Walt Disney Studios Paris, 4,970,000, -1.6%
  23. Efteling, 4,764,000, 1.8%
  24. Tivoli Gardens, 4,640,000, -2.0%
  25. SeaWorld Orlando, 4,402,000, -7.9%

Also topping the four million mark worldwide were Busch Gardens Tampa (down 2.0%), Universal Studios Singapore (down 2.4%) and Knott's Berry Farm (up 3.8%). Singapore was the only Universal theme park to see an attendance dip last year. Overall attendance globally among the top 25 theme parks was down 1.1 percent, but attendance was up 1.2 percent among the top 20 parks in the United States, according to the report.

The big winner in attendance growth last year was Universal Studios Hollywood, boosted by the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in April. Shanghai Disneyland also helped turn the year positive for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts by attracting more than five million visitors in half a year of operation. All other Disney theme parks posted attendance declines last year.

The biggest losers were Hong Kong Disneyland and neighboring Ocean Park, which likely saw a loss of visitors to the new Shanghai Disneyland park, amplified by an ongoing tourism slump in Hong Kong. Disneyland Paris continued to disappoint in 2016, too, with its attendance dropping 14 percent. It's likely that many potential DLP guests put off their visit until this year, when the park is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the completion of many attraction renovations.

In the United States, Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks saw increases, while SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks continued their slide. Busch Gardens Williamsburg fell from the U.S top 20, replaced by Six Flags Great America, north of Chicago.

For more of what happened last year:

Update: Let's visualize this:

The two Universal Orlando parks dipped in 2009 as people put off their trips to the resort in anticipation of the event that roiled the Orlando market in 2010 - the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. That's the year that SeaWorld started its decline and that Hollywood Studios (ST on the map - sorry, reverting to my old cast member days when that was the abbreviation for the park) fell behind Animal Kingdom.

The Magic Kingdom starts its climb in 2012/3, which was when the New Fantasyland debuted. Universal Studios Florida gets a boost in 2013 from Transformers, then a big one the next year with the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. And with each Universal Orlando attendance boost, we see a decline at SeaWorld, as Universal claims the clear number two position in the Orlando market, behind Disney World.

Previous theme park attendance reports:

Replies (63)

June 1, 2017 at 8:55 AM · I always wondered if you have a Park hopper type ticket, If you visit MK in the morning, then visit AK in the afternoon - Is that One visit or Two visits?
It is One day but Two parks...
So for attendance is One or Two.

Same idea if you revisit a park after taking a lunch break. One or Two?

June 1, 2017 at 8:41 AM · I can't believe Disney Hollywood Studios numbers....seems like a red flag that the numbers are not accurate.
June 1, 2017 at 8:45 AM · 20,000,000 visitors to Universal Orlando resorts. How many of those guests boost Universal's profits by staying at Universal hotels?

20,000,000 visitors to Disney parks in Paris and Hong Kong. How many of those guests boost Disney's profits by staying at Disney hotels?

What if Disney had invested more in Orlando instead of opening new parks in Paris and Hong Kong? Would Universal be more than a minor blip on the theme park radar? How much higher would Disney profits be if it had avoided the Paris and Hong Kong markets altogether?

June 1, 2017 at 9:22 AM · The shocking number to me is that EPCOT dropped as much as any of the WDW parks despite being the only one that added a new attraction (not one, but two in Frozen Ever After and Soarin' Around the World).

I do agree with Troy that the 0.5% drop in DHS attendance despite closing the back half of the park is quite a head scratcher. Is Star Wars Launch Bay really that big of a draw or are the numbers cooked?

June 1, 2017 at 9:25 AM · It would appear there's many more day passes sold for the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. People aren't hopping to the minor parks.

SeaWorld is left behind. They need a better strategy. The new Orca show is a disappointment.

June 1, 2017 at 9:44 AM · Surprised at the negative number for Disneyland, it seems to still be overcrowded.
June 1, 2017 at 9:48 AM · Remember, the 60th ended and Disneyland closed part of Frontierland, reducing capacity as attendance dipped, cramming people into an even smaller park footprint.
June 1, 2017 at 9:51 AM · @Brian Disney doesn't provide exact numbers. "Our role is to share what the industry operators say officially or, if that information is not provided, to share our best professional estimate."
June 1, 2017 at 10:12 AM · Those Hollywood Studios numbers are weird.

But I know lots of people (myself included) briefly attend DHS every trip just to ride Tower of Terror and the Rock n Roller Coaster. Those are world class E-Tickets. I can't imagine going to Disney World and NOT riding these attractions. Maybe this is a common notion? They could close all of DHS and keep those two rides and I'd still pay for a Park Hopper ticket to get in.

Because even if I'm only in the park for two hours, that's probably still "attendance."

June 1, 2017 at 10:43 AM · The mantra is clearly if you don't invest in your parks the attendance will decline.

Disney till recently has spent the best part of decade cost cutting, no major e-ticket attractions. It's shows.

How on earth Hollywood Studios is getting that reported attendance is suspicious i must say.

June 1, 2017 at 11:30 AM · Animal Kingdom will see a big increase this year, with Pandora.
June 1, 2017 at 1:01 PM · None of these numbers are official. I don't think any of the major chains ever release actual attendance numbers. It's just TEA/AECOM folks counting heads and making guesstimates based upon the previous years' numbers. Take them for what they are worth.
June 1, 2017 at 12:13 PM · I was fortunate enough to have the chance to visit the top 11 parks on this list. I am not at all surprised with number 4 on the list, Universal Studios Japan. On the two days that I visited last year the park was the most crowded easily out of any of the other parks, including the Tokyo Disney ones. That park is supremely awesome though, just remember the Japanese are a lot better at getting to the parks early!

June 1, 2017 at 12:32 PM · AECOM bases its report from publicly released numbers from the parks, and, when they don't have those, estimated bases on observations and other data that they can collect from the companies. Universal and SeaWorld have cited the numbers in SEC filings, so they're generally considered the best numbers in the business.
June 1, 2017 at 12:58 PM · Sea World surely have to do something other than building woeful roller coasters.

Either that or someone has to buy them out.

June 1, 2017 at 1:14 PM · ^Universal and SeaWorld never used to post park by park numbers, just overall attendance increases or decreases as a chain (like Six Flags and Cedar Fair). If they post numbers for each park, it is something new (at least new to me). Do you have links to these SEC filings? And if they are regulatory filings, why wouldn't all the publicly traded companies have to provide them? Including Disney?
June 1, 2017 at 1:21 PM · Orlando had a terrible weekend last June. Couple that with less global travel and Disney had nowhere to go but down.

Avatar will make up for it this year as well as Toy Story and especially Star Wars in the years to come.

Looking at the Disneyland numbers, Marvel Land may be coming sooner rather than later.

June 1, 2017 at 1:37 PM · Marvel Land won't help Disneyland, since that's reportedly planned for DCA. Though Star Wars Land will be a HUGE gate spinner for DL.

EPCOT is going to be the interesting study for next year's numbers. The park isn't planning on adding anything in 2017 (and likely not in 2018 either), so if adding 2 "new" (though re-purposed from existing ride systems) attractions resulted in a 0.7% loss in attendance, what will doing nothing do? Also, will the additional of Pandora have a bleed-over affect on the other parks creating a "rising tide lifts all boats" scenario. If that's the case, we may see Disney move to a one major addition at a time across the WDW Resort instead of Disney pushing little additions at each park. If it's true that one big addition at WDW will cause guests to book a multi-park visit, then it may signal a big shift in strategy from the Mouse.

June 1, 2017 at 2:00 PM · Robert, a couple of times in 2016, you asked readers to predict how the attendance would shake out for Disneyland vs. Universal Studios Hollywood:



I think AJ Hummel wins the crystal ball award for these comments:

For day visitors, I don't think Disneyland's attendance will drop significantly but I do think growth will be pretty much negligible until the next expansion occurs. Disneyland is at the point where they need to improve the experience in order to keep raising prices without losing visitors. On the other hand, I predict a huge attendance increase at USH. We probably won't see the craziness that occurred in Florida, but I do think a growth of 20% is a safe bet for 2016.


My gut feeling is that we'll be looking at something like this in So Cal for 2016:

Disneyland: Small attendance drop
DCA: Small attendance increase
KBF: Minimal change
USH: Large attendance increase
SWSD: Small attendance drop
SFMM: Minimal change

Why? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a big deal and I have a feeling a lot of people who only make a couple park visits a year will probably check out USH in 2016, especially with all of the refurbishment happening at the Disneyland Resort. I also wouldn't be surprised if passholders to KBF and SFMM do a day trip to USH as they are getting the big addition for the region next year. However, I really don't think USH is going to sell a lot of annual passes so return visitors will be limited. The park is too small to justify frequent visits and for what they offer the passes are very expensive. Additionally, if you don't live within 30 miles of the park it can be a real pain to get to on weekdays (no joke...I'm 60 miles from USH and 87 miles from SFMM, but I can usually get to SFMM in less time than USH on a weekday). Lastly, while Disneyland may be undergoing a lot of refurbishment, DCA is opening three new attractions in 2016 and this will probably be enough to keep attendance high.

June 1, 2017 at 2:35 PM · Given how bad things seemed to be for Orlando last year, I am a bit surprised that Universal pulled out increases for both parks. Potter continues to draw, and I think the Kong/Hulk twofer helped IOA, as well.
June 1, 2017 at 3:06 PM · If most of DLR's guests are locals, is there really all that much room for growth in their numbers? The same could be said for the Tokyo parks.

It seems that the parks that have the potential for the most growth are those whose guests are a good mix of locals AND out of state/country guests - Orlando, Hong Kong, and Paris (if economics were favorable). International destinations and tourism hot spots.

June 1, 2017 at 3:01 PM · DL Paris is being negatively impacted by the various terrorist attacks that have occurred in France over the past few years as well as the general economic malaise in Europe over the past couple of years.

It's astonishing given that 10 years ago, DL Paris was regularly over 10M visitors a year, even pushing up to 12-13M a year.

That park and its hotels have to be experiencing significant problems re:attendance based on these numbers.

June 1, 2017 at 3:19 PM · Also, as a Florida resident that's been to DW and UO each around 7-8 times; this is really such an exciting time down here for the theme parks.

If you'd have told me 7-8 years ago that all 3 Universal parks in the US would be pushing 10M annually by 2020 (UOF next year, IoA by 2019, USH by 2020), I'd have told you that you were crazy.

Universal's really stepped up the game, and Disney's responded with all of the big spending they're doing on Avatar, Star Wars, and other attractions.

Now that Universal finally has a corporate owner willing to spend big on the parks (and Harry Potter IP - without which none of this would be possible), it's really created something of a theme parks golden age.

The most interesting thing to me is how high Universal can push attendance at its Florida theme parks (probably up to 12M each after building new hotels on WnW) before going for the 3rd theme park. I'd have to imagine that they'll want a 3rd park set up by 2025 at the latest, any opinion on that?

June 2, 2017 at 4:34 AM · @ Just so you know, during our trip to Pandora later this summer, the only non Disney park we are visiting is SeaWorld. Why? Mako, Manta, and Kraken. SeaWorld doesn't have the money (or the IPs) to compete with the big boys on cutting edge narrative rides, so I hope they continue building world class, big boy coasters. Doing so will differentiate them from the less thrilling, family attractions offered by rival Universal down the road. Someone in Orlando has to cater to the coaster lovers - especially with non-Dueling Dragons rumored to be on the chopping block. Keep up the good work, SeaWorld, things will get better!
June 1, 2017 at 7:36 PM · FACT CHECK

Theme park companies DO NOT release individual attendance numbers. Not sure why this blog post doesn't state that critical fact.

The report released by TEA/ACOM is used as an estimate, due to its lack of accuracy. TEA/ACOM has also admitted the report is one HUGE GUESS.

June 1, 2017 at 11:41 PM · Actually, some major parks outside the US - including Tokyo Disney - do release attendance data. And all major U.S. parks do release relative attendance data in their SEC reports (i.e. year over year change). So the ALL CAPS "fact check" isn't very factual, is it?
June 2, 2017 at 4:32 AM · I concur on the year over year change as we hear these numbers in quarterly stockholder calls and the like. Of course, the issue is that the basis for the numbers may be incorrect, therefore the year over year change is likely built upon a sandy foundation. But we have nothing else to go by, so it is what it is.

Another thing I wonder about is the independent parks like Dollywood and Silver Dollar City. From all reports I can find (which are few and far between), these parks pull real good numbers but are seldom if ever in the TEA report (Dollywood is listed once for its water park, but the theme park reportedly pulls over 3m a year which would put it in the top 20 for North America). Hersheypark appears to be the only independent park listed year after year in the NA top 20. I am guessing that independent parks don't have the same regulatory filing requirements as the publicly traded companies, so how is TEA getting their numbers? (If you read page 75/76 of the report it sounds like these numbers are either given to them over the phone or they use a lot of hocus pocus and pixie dust to pull something out of their butts - I am paraphrasing, of course).

Again, the report is what it is, and it is flawed to be sure, but it is pretty much all we have. And hey, it gives us something to talk about, right?

June 2, 2017 at 8:03 AM · I'm thrilled to see Universal going up and Disney going down...

Disney has always suffered more from overcrowding than Universal. Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios Florida are similar in physical size, but above we see almost 2x the number of guests at MK. I think if Disney can keep the revenue up and bring those numbers down, it will be a more enjoyable place to visit.

June 2, 2017 at 9:02 AM · DB, as a primary Disney fan, I agree with you simply due to the fact that in Orlando, you can have more fun at Universal than Disney due to overcrowding and using the Express Pass. I have been super critical of the FP+, as all I see that it does it extend the wait on attractions that traditionally were not fast pass attractions, like Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and other omnimovers. But recently, discussions about the failure of the TapuTapu bands are making me think about this further. Of course, it may be too early to call it a failure, but a point was made that a virtual line does not allow for the person standing in the virtual line to exit it, so if every ride at Disney has FP+ and an actual line, that is another way the wait times are extended unnecessarily. What I wish Disney would do is find a way to go back to the traditional system. Only have fast pass for the most popular attractions, and make the reservation day of. You can still use the bands to make the reservation. You just have to do it in person. That way your trip can be spontaneous again. Allow advance reservation for shows, parade seating, and dining. Otherwise, you have things like Spaceship Earth with 45 minute waits, when it never had more than 15 minutes before. The issues with Avatar will pass, but there is no way the current system will work with the popularity that Star Wars is going to have.
June 2, 2017 at 9:05 AM · And in case I was not clear: stop allowing FP+ on all attractions. Just the ones that were the most popular, like Splash Mountain, Soarin, and the like. The fast loading omnimovers never needed it.
June 2, 2017 at 10:15 AM · According to the whacky, soothsaying, chicken bone throwing brain trust at TEA/AECOM the Magic Kingdom is down from 20, 500,000 (2015) to 20,395,000 (2016). A difference of 105,000 guests. Divide that 105,000 by 366 days (2016 was a leap year) and the difference is 287 guests per day.

Taken from that perspective, and if you believe TEA/AECOM, little has changed since 2016. And (for the record) I believe the Magic Kingdom stats are inflated.

June 2, 2017 at 10:24 AM · Also, looking at the numbers, I am not sure Universal Hollywood can absorb that percentage of an increase. I will go soon, but that is a pretty big jump for their square footage. Is it all contained in Hogwarts? I can also attest to a recent visit that Disneyland is a great trip, and often overlooked by people around the central US. I usually go only to Orlando, but have been to DL, and it really should not be overlooked (as it clearly isn't based on the numbers). The old fast pass system is still alive and well there and working just fine (but the Haunted Mansion does not need it).
June 2, 2017 at 10:27 AM · JC -- Tapu Tapu is getting confused with Magic Bands because they look the same. This is an unfortunate consequence of both being wrist worn NFC devices.

The system is totally different, and this is what is confusing theme park fans.

Tapu Tapu - stands in line for you

FP+ ride reservation system.

I wish also that Disney would go back to the old system or to something new and better. On the Universal side, I think Tapu Tapu is the future for a queue-free park.

June 2, 2017 at 5:00 PM · It has been reported several times that even with Tapu people are having to wait in a PHYSICAL line up to 30 minutes or more. But this issue could just be a "kink" that needs to be ironed out by the guinea pigs currently paying up to $67 a day to graciously help Universal fix their problems.
June 2, 2017 at 10:57 AM · James -- hopefully this is growing pains, and it appears to be already improving.

Hard opening a park with a totally new queueing system is going to require some adjustments -- both for Universal and for guests.

June 2, 2017 at 4:59 PM · Understood. Just didn't want people to think there was no physical "in line" waiting with Tapu Tapu technology, because currently there is.

(Side note: "Tapu Tapu" always makes me think of that line from Bugs Life, "Who ordered the pu pu platter?" Senility is finally setting in...)

June 2, 2017 at 12:15 PM · The new attendance numbers from TEA/AECOM just reinforce a few simple facts that have been obvious for years:

1. In the themed entertainment industry, the Disneyland/Magic Kingdom parks completely dominate their markets. The only exception to that rule is in Tokyo where Tokyo DisneySea, the most Disneyland-like park of the non-Disneyland parks attracts 80% of the attendance of Tokyo Disneyland despite possibly being a better park.

2. The secondary Disney parks and the Universal parks will never pull more than 60-65% of the attendance of the Disneyland/Magic Kingdom park in their market. A brief bump will occur during years when a new land opens like Avatar or Star Wars Land, but the long term trend will drop back to the 60-65% range. For those of you who may be tempted to point out that USJ is the exception to this rule, please note that USJ and TDL and TDS are in different markets (500 km separation) and USJ is the only Universal park in the Far East other than Universal Studios Singapore while TDS and TDL have to compete with two other Disney parks which are far closer.

3. Disney understands that people want Disneyland when they go to their resorts and will always make investments that encourage people to re-visit the Disneyland park first and the secondary parks sometime after that. Investments in the secondary parks while at times substantial will always be an afterthought to the improvement and upkeep of the Disneyland park.

I'm a huge fan of the Universal parks, but Disney has and will continue to dominate the market for a long, long time.

June 2, 2017 at 12:31 PM · Dr. Hillman writes: "I'm a huge fan of the Universal parks, but Disney has and will continue to dominate the market for a long, long time."

I respond: If I had posted this NB, OT, Applebitter (not a typo) and an assortment of numerically anonymous Universal fanboy/sales reps would have bitten down on my neck and shaken me like a ragdoll


June 2, 2017 at 12:34 PM · @Tim Hillman

I think the drawing power of DL and MK forces Disney to spend more time/money/effort on everything else because they already know MK will draw 20m people even if they don't do anything.

Look at all the work Disney is putting into its cruise ships for example. In a sense, Disney can take advantage of the fact that their top parks "sell themselves" so they can put more work into the rest of the effort.

As far as Universal goes, 10 years ago they were not even the Pepsi to Disney's Coke. Now Universal is comparable to Pepsi, a legitimate competitor with a corporate owner willing to spend big.

10 years ago it was Disney and no one else. Now at least Universal is a legitimate 2nd option in the mega theme park game.

The global market is big enough for both.

June 2, 2017 at 12:44 PM · The people at TEA have tons of connections within the theme park industry. It is relatively easy for them to get real attendance numbers from their contacts. Anyone in Operations, Finance, or Marketing management will know attendance numbers off the top of their head. The numbers aren't as guess-y for many of the attractions as you think.
June 2, 2017 at 2:22 PM · I understand the TapuTapu and Magicbands are two totally different things. My analogy or poor comparison, rather, was to illustrate the inherent flaws in using virtual lines at all, which is what FP+ does. I think the older system, and the system at DL, works better. Not to stir up Mr. TH, but Disney will always dominate the theme parks. Many people don't even associate Orlando with anything else. Disney is my favorite, and I tear up every time I go, but I would be a blind fan if I failed to acknowledge that the strides in Orlando made by Universal have seriously overtaken Disney in the fun department. I can walk to the parks. I don't have to wait in line. The Harry Potter attractions are great. Now, is it a week long vacation? Of course not. The food is also nowhere near the quality at the Disney parks, and they don't have the World Showcase, but I am here to say that Universal has forced Disney to improve, and I thank them for it. Without the wizrding world, I do not believe we would have Star Wars to look forward to. By the way, I can single rider the Forbidden Journey three to four times in an hour at closing. Wonder if that will ever be possible with the Millennium Falcon?
June 2, 2017 at 3:26 PM · JC, it sounds like you need to visit the Disneyland Resort - it is very similar the Universal Orlando in terms of park proximity and intimacy of the experience. However, you'll still have to battle the crowds most of the time - it just is what it is. Although, a good touring plan and realistic expectations will always mitigate some of those headaches.
June 2, 2017 at 4:17 PM · I'm going to agree with JC VanHouten on this...

Yes, Disney is the Gold standard and always will be; they have that special "magic" that the Disney brand will always exclusively have.

But there's no reason why Universal can't keep growing as a competitor as long as they are willing to spend and acquire good IP for the parks.

Who knows? In 25 years, maybe we're talking about a Universal Orlando Resort with 4 theme parks and 2 water parks along with 30,000 hotel rooms with roughly 50-55M guests annually among them.

That'd be great for everyone because you know Disney will do what they have to in order to keep ahead of the game.

Everybody wins.

June 2, 2017 at 4:23 PM · JC writes: "Not to stir up Mr. TH, but Disney will always dominate the theme parks."

I respond: In my report regarding FOP I wrote the EXACT SAME THING which earned me critical comments from the (very small) TPI peanut gallery.

June 2, 2017 at 5:16 PM · It's clear that Universal Parks and Resorts are making the right choices for every destination. Very exciting to see this company grow and really challenge the industry.
June 2, 2017 at 7:29 PM · So WDW welcomed 52 million people and Universal welcomed 19 million people.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnd scene!

June 2, 2017 at 8:15 PM · Walmart welcomed more customers than Target as well.

I don't think Walmart is better or considered higher quality.

June 2, 2017 at 8:52 PM · I wonder what Disney Springs and CityWalk pull in yearly. Those are the real money printers.
June 3, 2017 at 5:25 AM · That graphic on the TPI twitter account says it all:

10 years ago: Universal was on the same tier as SW in terms of park attendance for UOF/IoA, now those parks are clearly approaching the AK/DHS tier of parks.

That's a good thing for all theme park fans because it means everybody has to build newer and better attractions to compete.

Disney before 2010 always felt like a slumbering giant; yeah they had the biggest and most attended parks, but they didn't need to do much to keep everyone's attention on them. Now, they're doing more to improve the experience than I've ever seen out of them. That's a huge win for me.

June 3, 2017 at 6:00 AM · There should be two stats/graphs to get a truer picture - attendance and average spend per guest. This would tell a different picture as the attendance stat would be completely secondary to average guest spend and with increased resort accommodation, dining and retail most/all of visitors actually spend a lot more per visit. Factor in the huge increases in gate prices and continual hiking of prices to park the real stat for me is not an attendance graph over the last 10 years but an average spend per guest graph. This is the real business investment driver. A 2% attendance drop may be a 10% increase in actual turnover.
June 3, 2017 at 6:08 AM · JT is correct about Disney Springs (free parking) and CityWalk. The only reason these are not considered theme parks is because they don't charge admission to enter.

Well ... Except for Universal that charges $20 to park if you want to visit CityWalk. But ... Whatever.

Anyway, using Universal Orlando's standard (wherein water parks are also to be regarded as theme parks) that means (if someone actually believes the TEA/AECOM crap shoot analysis) in 2016 Walt Disney World's six parks welcomed a total of 58,200,000 guests -- or more than three times the number of guests Universal Orlando brought in.

Also CityWalk charges $20 to park your car.


June 3, 2017 at 6:54 AM · James, I have visited DL a few years ago and about three weeks ago, and I agree. I am driving distance to Orlando (a long drive, to be sure). You are absoluately correct. DL was packed, but with a plan, I never waited more than 30 minutes, and some lines were two hours long. I was there on business, and I got to the park at two. With a touring plan and fast pass, it is totally manageable. That is not the case in Orlando. I rode my favorite ride in the entire world several times which is the Haunted Mansion, and it stopped in front of the Hatbox Ghost temporarily. People on my side of the US forget about DL, and I think that is a mistake. With planning, you could get an awful lot out of a SoCal vacation. Just prepare for that amazingly, mind boggling, terrible traffic.
June 3, 2017 at 7:23 AM · The point that I was trying to make is that Disney has a formula for success and nobody can touch them - not now or for a very long time.

Here's why.

Back in the 60's and 70's guys like me and Robert Niles and TH Creative sat in darkened movie theaters a couple of times a year on Saturday afternoons with our siblings and watched Disney cartoons and hopefully the latest Disney release or re-release. We watched the Wonderful World of Disney on tv on Sunday nights and dreamed of being Davey Crockett. If we lived on the West Coast we begged our parents to take us to Disneyland, and when Walt announced Disney World those of us on the East Coast were beside ourselves with joy and couldn't wait to ride the monorail right through the middle of the Contemporary Resort as we approached the main entrance.

In the 80's and 90's some of the first videotapes we purchased or rented were Disney Classics or compilations of Disney cartoon. We subscribed to the Disney channel (Yes, back then you had to pay extra for it.) so our kids could watch good wholesome entertainment on at least one channel. We sat down with our kids and watched the New Mickey Mouse Club and thought how cute and talented the new Mouseketeers were. (Little did we know then.)

Now our kids are starting families, and where's the first amusement park that they take the grandkids to? That's easy to figure out. Count the strollers in Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom and then count the strollers in the Universal parks. As many of us have complained over the years, the Disney parks are turning into stroller parking lots. To corporate Disney, nothing could be a better indicator of future success than all those strollers because the "Mousewashing" starts early and it never stops.

So that why a mediocre park like Disney Hollywood Studios or a half day park like Animal Kingdom (pre-Pandora) or a Frankenstein park like Epcot pulls as much attendance as the recently renovated and Potterized Universal parks. Disney has paid it forward and they aren't going to stop.

June 3, 2017 at 7:55 AM · As a Disney fan, I will argue a counter point, at least in Orlando. Universal is playing to its strengths. It is perfect for the 10-45 year old range. My teenage boys would much rather go there than Disney, and, at least to that demographic, they are entertaining well. To quote the Horror Movie Makeup Show, "We don't have to be nice to kids." The Hulk is awesome, and Unlimited Express Pass deserves the Nobel Prize. They have some stinkers. The Sinbad show can't get taken out fast enough, and I am not sure what the shops in Toon land are for, but UO is perfect for what it is setting out to do. But I have no desire at all to go to the water park.
June 3, 2017 at 3:32 PM · Tim Hillman said: Back in the 60's and 70's guys like me and Robert Niles and TH Creative sat in darkened movie theaters a couple of times a year on Saturday afternoons with our siblings and watched Disney cartoons

I respond: Interesting. I'm a generation or two newer than you. I grew up on E.T., Dr. Seuss, Transformers, The Simpsons, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Men In Black and various comic books. If I did watch cartoons, they were rarely Disney -- usually they were Warner Brothers. Kids now are growing up on Harry Potter, and many of those other properties above have been rejuvenated. So, where will my family and other families go as their kids are tall enough? I think the answer is clear.

Tim Hillman said: As many of us have complained over the years, the Disney parks are turning into stroller parking lots.

I respond: I have always said that Disney is perfect for little kids and old people. No argument there.

Tim Hillman said: The point that I was trying to make is that Disney has a formula for success and nobody can touch them - not now or for a very long time.

I respond: Based on the above, I think your timeframe is skewed. Universal is gathering properties such as Nintendo, Fast and Furious, etc, that appeal to my generation and kids now.

In summary: The mouse is irrelevant to kids today, as are many Disney properties. I think it's slightly disturbing that what you describe as a love for Disney is essentially large corporate brain washing and other forms of suggestive advertising. At least you acknowledge it, I suppose. Personally, the "When You Wish Upon a Star" theme makes me nauseous.

I like Universal's approach of actually gathering interesting properties -- and rolling them out at a pace that allows them to be enjoyed at a time in which they are relevant.

June 3, 2017 at 3:33 PM · Unfortunately, DB, I think the party may be coming to an end for Universal.

Let's say that over the next 10-15 years they build another 2 parks and Citiwalk type of complex on the Universal Drive property and several thousand more hotel rooms on the nearby land at a cost of $12-15 billion. That's what the enthusiasts like most of us TPI members want. But is it truly feasible? Can the beancounters at NBC Universal justify those kind of expenditures when the top end of the attendance curve for Universal is only as good as the secondary Disney parks?

Right now, IOA and USF with several recent major updates and slightly more total rides than the Magic Kingdom barely draw as much attendance combined as the somewhat dated Magic Kingdom. As I write this, a commercial is playing on the tv for Universal Orlando yet every day at Disney World, castmembers are asked where the Harry Potter and Marvel rides are. How long will it take for that dynamic to change?

I'd bet that the folks at Universal are closely watching the attendance numbers for AK and eventually DHS over the next few years. If those two parks with their multibillion dollar expansions don't break through and stay above 65% of the attendance at the Magic Kingdom, I think it will severely impact the investment decisions for Universal Orlando Phase II. Universal may decide that their parks only have to be as good as the secondary Disney parks since the majority of the public will consider no other park to be as good as a Disneyland/Magic Kingdom type park and will plan their visits accordingly.

It may not matter. Universal may go ahead and do whatever they want to do without any regard for what Disney does or how their attendance figures compare to Disney, but I don't think so. Nobody but Avis seems to enjoy being #2.

June 3, 2017 at 3:58 PM · It's not as simple as looking at the numbers. Wal Mart gets more visitors than Target, but guess which has a better customer experience?

That's funny about Disney guests being asked where HP and Marvel rides are located -- but doesn't that also tell you something?

If Universal numbers hold steady and expand linearly with park additions, that's fine with me. A more manageable amount of guests makes the park experience more enjoyable. Disney can keep being the Wal Mart of theme parks -- catering to the people who think that you haven't made it until you've taken your kids to The "Magic" Kingdom.

June 3, 2017 at 4:05 PM · @Tim Hillman

Yes they can because the Universal parks are far more profitable than Disney's at lower attendance numbers (i.e. they run much smaller cost structures).

Having dived through the data, Disney's parks have higher costs (they run around a 15-20% profit rate on their revenue whereas Universal runs around a 30% profit rate). I'm not exactly sure why Disney's theme park costs are much higher (probably much higher average staffing levels due to being larger on average as well as having more hotels per theme park), but they are.

If you go back to pre-Harry Potter, Universal Orlando+Hollywood were pulling in around $1.3-1.5bn in revenue with profitability around $600m.

In 2015 (last year before Universal Japan added), Universal Orlando+Hollywood pulled in $3.2bn in revenue with profitability around $1.4bn.

That was before Hollywood got Harry Potter.

In the latest statement, Universal Orlando+Hollywood+Japan pulled in $5bn in revenue with profitability around $2.2bn.

So that's a very profitable operation when the parks are running at 9-10M in Orlando, 8M in Hollywood, and 13M in Japan.

Those Orlando/Hollywood numbers should improve in the near future, while Japan looks nearly capped out; either way, the parks are very profitable at these attendance levels.

Of course, I can't guess what would happen with new parks, but if Universal builds a new full theme park for around $5-6bn, I think it'd be profitable as soon as it gets over 5M guests annually. That's not hard to do if they get the right IP (might need to cut a deal with Warner for a DC Land or Middle Earth if Tolkien estate is willing to go there, but they also have Nintendo/Illumination/DreamWorks stuff).

For comparison, Disney's 2016 numbers were $17bn revenue and $3.3bn profit.

It's important to remember that these parks don't need 10M+ visitors to be profitable, but at that level they're putting off huge profitability.

June 3, 2017 at 7:37 PM · If anybody made a Middle-earth theme park, I would flip, but I don't think that will ever happen. The Tolkien Estate is not happy with things as they are now. A mass market theme park would never happen with the current leadership. And Universal can be more profitable as the food services are not anywhere close to Disney, and quality food has a very low profit margin. The upkeep on the grounds is much higher as well. Neither Disney nor Universal are going anywhere in Orlando. They are both firmly here to stay. Harry Potter was a brilliant investment that changed the game forever. Let's hope Star Wars can be as good.
June 4, 2017 at 12:41 PM · ^DBCooper: "I have always said that Disney is perfect for little kids and old people. No argument there."

And Universal is perfect for 10 - 13 year olds and adults who hate crowds and love reading kids books.

Honestly, this notion that Disney is for kids and that Universal is for adults is really kind of silly. There is nothing adult about prancing around in designer robes, swishing $50 wands, giggling over singing frogs, or dancing with little yellow phallic symbols. Both Disney and Universal appeal to the young and young at heart - as they should!

Incidentally, the most adult park in the region is Epcot, and last time I checked it was still a Disney property.

June 4, 2017 at 6:24 AM · @ - Thanks for the numbers and the analysis. I had no idea that the Universal parks were that profitable. I always thought that Disney was the best at prying every dollar possible out of our pockets.

Perhaps the cost of keeping up the infrastructure at Disney World and building all those free parking garages at Disney Springs is cutting into their bottom line?

BTW - You really need to get a handle on the site. You've had several good posts on this thread. Plus TH Creative is running out of people he can feud with and he gets a trolling bonus from the Disney PR Department for every I RESPOND he posts. You gotta help with the cause!

June 4, 2017 at 9:15 AM · And I make quite a good living doing exactly that! :o).

And for the record the only people I feud with are those who make the silly assertions that Disney's new projects are "responses" to Universal's and that Universal is "catching" Disney -- a contention that typically comes without a definition of what constitutes "catching".

I take no issue with anything Mr. has posted. I only wonder where, when (especially WHEN) or even if this new "$5-6bn" Universal Orlando park will be built. I mean, if it is going to land off of Universal Blvd on the Martin Marrietta property the public roads feeding into that area are going to need MAJOR civil expansions.

So ... see you in 2040?

June 4, 2017 at 11:39 AM · @Tim Hillman - I'll take that under advisement; I've lurked this site for many years because the information here is of such high value to anyone who likes to be informed about the major parks, but I don't participate in the commentary that much.

As far as an actual Universal 3rd gate (and beyond) goes, there are 3 very important issues that really have to be resolved in some fashion before Universal can commit to any sort of "full 2nd resort" plan:

1) Land: simply put, that 450 acre parcel that Comcast recently purchased is a nice down payment, but it's only about a half of the land that they'd really want for a project of the size and scope that we're talking about to add a full 2nd resort; and that gets to the point about needing improvements to various transportation infrastructure as well. There's a lot of moving parts, but I think they need a lot more land.

Of course, we all know the original story of that land as part of the massive 1800 acre parcel that then Universal owner Vivendi sold due to debt issues; but this repurchase by Comcast is only for about a quarter of that land; I'm not sure who else would be willing to sell in that area, but that's something to keep track of because I don't think they're anywhere near done in terms of land purchases.

2) IP: the most valuable potential park IP is all held by Warner Bros. (as well as Tolkien estate), and while Universal has some nice IP of its own through Illumination/DreamWorks and its recent agreement with Nintendo, I do think they want to try to negotiate a "DC Land" or Middle Earth into a 3rd theme park. And what of Harry Potter? Would the 3rd theme park have a Fantastic Beasts ride/area to try to drag that experience into the 2nd resort area?

Note: I think AT&T buying TimeWarner makes them more likely to be willing to license their IP to Universal for theme parks because that's "free licensing money" worth a huge $ figure in the context of merged AT&T-TimeWarner having roughly $200bn in debt (the most heavily indebted major corporation in the US by far), so they would probably be more willing to sign an agreement worth billions (value of future payments for licensed IP) to put their IP into new theme parks. Of course, the Tolkien estate is an entirely different matter, but in the future they might be more willing to monetize that.

3) Steven Spielberg's contract for roughly 2% of all Universal park receipts (excluding Hollywood) forever: that contract is worth at least $1bn and probably is paying him at least $50m a year now (just my guess, but there's no real way to tell). He has an option as of this month that allows him to call in the future value of that contract in a lump sum payment, and that will probably be very expensive if the contract includes future theme parks in Orlando and Beijing (and where-ever else).

Universal could be looking at having to make a $1.5-2bn payment to Spielberg to end that contract, so it's something to keep an eye out for; that kind of thing could force Comcast to not really be as willing to charge ahead on a 3rd gate in Orlando if it isn't resolved.

As far as timing goes, I don't think a 3rd theme park would be ready anywhere before 2025 at the very earliest because of all those reasons.

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