Theme park attendance crosses half-billion mark for 1st time

Attendance growth through the addition of new attractions is expected to continue this year.

By Mike Schneider / Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — Worldwide attendance at the 10 biggest operators of amusement parks increased 4% last year and crossed the half-billion-visitors mark for the first time, according to an industry report released this week.

The report by the Themed Entertainment Association and the Economics Practice at AECOM said global attendance at waterparks increased by 2.5%, and the top museums had relatively flat attendance last year.

The report said growth in North American parks was driven by the adaptation of strong intellectual properties into new attractions, such as a land based on the “Toy Story” franchise at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

“Overall, it’s been an outstanding year,” the report said.

Attendance growth through the addition of new attractions based on movies or books is expected to continue this year with the opening of the “Star Wars: Galaxy Edge” lands at Disney parks in California and Florida and the debut of a new Harry Potter ride at Universal Orlando Resort, the report said.

Attendance at Walt Disney parks across the globe grew by almost 5% with more than 157 million visitors in 2018. That was more than double the next-closest theme park company, Merlin Entertainment Group, which owns the Legoland parks and other attractions. Merlin parks and attractions had 67 million visitors in 2018, an increase of 1.5%.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment parks made comebacks after attendance struggles in recent years stemming in part from backlash created by the documentary “Blackfish,” which implied killer whales are harmed by captivity. SeaWorld parks, which include the SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place brands, increased their attendance by 8.6 percent in 2018, going from 20.9 million to 22.5 million visitors.

Magic Kingdom in Florida was the best-attended park in the world with 20.8 million visitors in 2018, followed by Disneyland in California with 18.6 million visitors, Tokyo Disneyland with 17.9 million visitors, Tokyo Disney Sea with 14.6 million visitors and Universal Studios Japan with 14.3 million visitors, according to the report.

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