It's been an... interesting year in the theme park business. A year ago, 2019 looked like it was going to be the year of Disney's Star Wars land. Well, that did end up being the big story of the year, but not for the reasons that Disney had hoped.
Disappointing attendance left the door open for Disney's competitors in 2019. So who took advantage? Which of America's top theme park companies has the best momentum going in the theme park industry right now?
Universal never cedes anything to Disney, and this year delivered no exception. The Universal theme parks brought two of their biggest franchises to compete against Disney's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land, with Jurassic World in Hollywood and Hagrid's Magical Creative Motorbike Adventure in Orlando's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While both opened to rave reviews, Hagrid's suffered from operational problems that continue to see the "story coaster" running at less than full capacity. But Super Nintendo World opens in Japan in 2020, and there's an entire new park coming to Orlando in 2023.
SeaWorld seemed to be bouncing back with strong attendance gains in 2018, but the company reported another slip this year. Its CEO carousel kept spinning in 2019, too, with the departure of yet another corporate chief. But SeaWorld is going all in on coasters next year with an ambitious line-up of new thrill rides in Orlando, Tampa, Williamsburg, San Antonio, and San Diego, including a record-setting RMC conversion at Busch Gardens Tampa.
While attendance fell at Disneyland, neighbor Knott's Berry Farm picked off many of the defectors, reporting record attendance this year to lead the Cedar Fair chain. Knott's is hoping to ride that momentum in 2020, when it celebrates its 100th anniversary with the return of Knott's Bear-y Tales to the park. Will the rest of the chain keep up?
Six Flags has been killing it financially for several years now with its emphasis on selling memberships over day tickets. With a new CEO and another fresh crop of thrill rides at its parks across the country - not to mention licensing cash from Asian expansion - can Six Flags keep its momentum building?
Legoland's owner Merlin got a new owner this year when the owners of the Lego company took control of the entertainment chain. Legoland Florida opened The Lego Movie World last spring and that land is coming to California next year. But the big news is the opening of Legoland New York on July 4, 2020. Merlin already ranks second behind Disney in overall global attraction attendance, according to the TEA/AECOM Theme Index report. With new parks and rides in the queue for the year ahead, can Legoland and Merlin step up?
Oh, and then there's Disney. Forget the dips in attendance in Anaheim, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. (Okay, it was more than a dip in Hong Kong, but that wasn't Disney's fault.) Mickey and friends remain the far-and-away leader in the theme park business and even its "down" year would be the envy of any other company in this business. With new Marvel lands coming to Anaheim, Paris, and Hong Kong, there's much to look forward to from Disney in 2020 and the years ahead, too.
So let's put this to a vote. Then tell us in the comments which company's current and upcoming work has you most excited for the future.Tweet
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