Universal Overtakes Three Disney Parks in 2021 Attendance

Universal Studios Florida weathered the COVID-19 storm better than most Walt Disney World theme parks throughout 2021, according to the Themed Entertainment Association

Magic Kingdom

Each year the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) publishes attendance estimates for theme parks, water parks, museums and other related venues around the world. The Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios and most other entertainment proprietors do not publish exact attendance numbers, leaving us to rely on educated calculations from industry sources like TEA. 

2021 saw attendance numbers again reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine in late 2020, many amusement venues began charting their own unique recovery plans under guidelines permitted by local and national health officials. 

Once again, TEA elected to not update its numeric ranking of theme parks  due to the effects of the pandemic, staing that "2021 attendance trends were largely due to agency restrictions limiting operating days and capacities in the COVID-19 pandemic." Throughout much of the year, Disney enforced social distancing guidelines and facial covering requirements, while using its Park Pass system to limit the number of guests permitted to enter each day. 

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom remained the most visited theme park in the U.S. and worldwide in 2021 with 12.69 million visitors. This total represents an 83% increase over the 2020 attendance of 6.94 million. Disney's Hollywood Studios was next among Walt Disney World parks with 8.59 million, up 134% from the prior year. EPCOT logged approximately 7.75 million visits, up 92% and Disney's Animal Kingdom rose 73% year-over-year with 7.19 admissions. 

Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure surpassed all but Magic Kingdom in the U.S. with attendance of 8.99 and 9.08 million, respectively.  Perhaps benefitting from reduced safety measures and no Park Pass-type attendance restrictions, both parks approached their 2019 pre-pandemic attendance numbers of 10.92 and 10.37 million guests. 

In California, Disneyland finished the year with an estimated 8.57 million visits, up 133% over the 3.67 million total in 2020. Disney California Adventure drew 4.97 million, an increase of 159% over 2020's estimated 1.92 million visitors. 

Internationally, Shanghai Disneyland rose to 8.48 million visitors, up 54% over 2020. Disney's two Japan parks showed signs of recovery but not to the degree of their U.S. counterparts.  Tokyo Disneyland drew an estimated 6.30 million guests, up 51% over 2020. Tokyo Disneysea rose to 5.80 million, up 71%.

Universal's Volcano Bay was again tops among water parks with 1.69 million visitors. Aquatica dropped into third place with 1.15 million visits as Disney's Blizzard Beach narrowly edged into second with 1.20 million guests. Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, the domestic leader in waterpark attencance back in 2019 with 2.25 million visitors, remained closed throughout 2021. 

Moving forward, TEA expects a continued rise in guests seeking high-end, immersive experiences:

"Premium experiences in attractions has always been a component of the industry; many parks have long offered up-charged VIP experiences for high end guests. But the larger industry is now looking for ways to provide for this market. In fact, part of the increase in per capita spending last year was due to capturing additional revenue streams from customers seeking more exclusive experiences."

The Walt Disney Company has demonstrated an increasing desire to present a better quality guest experience at the possible expense of higher attendance numbers. Disney continues to use its Park Pass system to restrict attendance at individual parks while competitors like Universal Studios resisted such systems throughout the pandemic. It will be interesting to follow how these strategies evolve relative to total attendance and profitability in the coming years. 

The complete 2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index is available at teaconnect.org.

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