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Theme park attendance rose in 2021, with Universal surpassing Disney parks, Busch Gardens climbing

Last year was a roller coaster for the theme park industry, which was bouncing back from pandemic closures.
Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse wave to the crowd during the Hollywood Studios 30th anniversary parade in 2019 at Disney World. The Magic Kingdom kept its status as the most-visited park in the world with an estimated 12.7 million visitors, an increase of 83%. That still lags 2019, when it had an estimated 21 million visitors.
Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse wave to the crowd during the Hollywood Studios 30th anniversary parade in 2019 at Disney World. The Magic Kingdom kept its status as the most-visited park in the world with an estimated 12.7 million visitors, an increase of 83%. That still lags 2019, when it had an estimated 21 million visitors. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Oct. 18

Florida’s theme parks saw a big bump in attendance in 2021, with Universal surpassing three of Disney World’s theme parks for the first time and Busch Gardens seeing a triple-digit bump. But they still haven’t regained their pre-pandemic place as a travel destination.

The Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM released their annual themed index attendance report, which is an estimate that is widely acknowledged as the most accurate in the industry.

Disney World’s Magic Kingdom kept its status as the most-visited park in the world with an estimated 12.7 million visitors, an increase of 83% over 2020′s estimated 6.9 million visitors, according to the report. In 2019, TEA/AECOM estimated that Magic Kingdom had 21 million visitors.

Universal made significant gains, with two of its parks surpassing three of Disney World’s parks in attendance. Universal’s Islands of Adventure had 9.1 million visitors last year, followed closely behind by Universal Studios Florida with an estimated 9 million visitors.

In 2019, this was not the case. All four Disney World parks ranked above the two Universal parks in attendance.

Attendees are seen inside the park at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure in June of 2021. Universal made significant gains, with two of its parks surpassing three of Disney World’s parks in attendance in 2021.
Attendees are seen inside the park at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure in June of 2021. Universal made significant gains, with two of its parks surpassing three of Disney World’s parks in attendance in 2021. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

SeaWorld Orlando’s attendance was 3.1 million, while Busch Gardens Tampa Bay had 3.21 million, an increase of 149% from the previous year. But the Tampa park had 4.2 million in 2019.

Busch Gardens held off on opening its new coaster Iron Gwazi, which was poised to debut in 2020. Instead, the park opened the wild coaster in March of this year to glowing reviews from thrill junkies. It won a Golden Ticket Award in September for Best New Roller Coaster from Amusement Today, a prestigious industry award.

The parks all had low attendance after months-long closures in 2020, followed by strict operational limits because of the pandemic.

While attractions attendance was up 72% globally, the U.S. figures went up 146% over 2020, according to the report. U.S. attendance is at 67% of the industry’s peak numbers of 2019.

People ride Iron Gwazi, a 206 foot-tall peak and 91 degree drop hybrid coaster, in February of 2022  Busch Gardens had 3.21 million visitors in 2021, an increase of 149% from the previous year.
People ride Iron Gwazi, a 206 foot-tall peak and 91 degree drop hybrid coaster, in February of 2022 Busch Gardens had 3.21 million visitors in 2021, an increase of 149% from the previous year. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The TEA/AECOM index is created through multiple sources, including statistics furnished by parks and attractions, historical numbers, financial reports, the investment banking community, tourism organizations and “professional estimates where necessary,” the report says.

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“With perhaps the notable exception of China, the marketplace has continued to bounce back this year,” John Robinett, senior vice president at AECOM, wrote. “Although challenges like labor, supply chain, and inflation continue, the industry is poised to continue its comeback in 2022 and 2023.”

To view the full report, click here.

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