The year of 2021 for Orlando area theme parks brought a rebirth but also a continued challenge of the virus conditions. All Orlando area theme parks faced the struggle of increasing park attendance capacity during 2021. Walt Disney World started their park reservation system the year before. Universal Orlando faced the challenge of no reservations but sometimes having to turn guests away due to lower capacity in 2021. Eventually both major Orlando area theme park resorts raised capacity.
Well, the attendance reports and analysis from 2021 came out recently. The “Global Attractions Attendance Report” covers things like museums, waterparks and theme park attendance all over the world. This report stands as the definitive annual attendance study for the themed entertainment and museum industries. This is published by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the Economics practice at AECOM. You can find this information on their website.
Though the data sits clouded in hidden percentage of actual capacity limits at Orlando area theme parks, an interesting trend appears to be developing. On the surface it looks like Universal Orlando took a major chunk of the vacation tourism industry away from Walt Disney World. However, the data remains inconclusive.
This is what we know for sure. Attendance at the two Universal Orlando theme parks increased in 2021. For clarity, these numbers look inconclusive to a conclusion based on capacity issues. However, Magic Kingdom continued to reign as king of theme park attendance in 2021. In fairness, Magic Kingdom has enjoyed the highest throne in theme park attendance worldwide for a very long time. The attendance report says that Magic Kingdom had 12,691,000 visitors in 2021. As mentioned, no big surprise there.
Yet, the silver and bronze medalist in Orlando area theme park attendance do not go to Disney parks for 2021. That serves as a surprise in and of itself. Once again, Disney parks took a more cautious path in 2021 with lower % of reported capacity compared to Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. Still, Islands of Adventure finished second in attendance in Orlando with 9,077,000 in 2021. Universal Studios Florida finished third in Orlando with just under 9 million visitors in 2021.
Considering the Universal Orlando theme parks achieved lower attendance than all four Walt Disney World theme parks in 2019, this data demands a little attention. With both Universal Orlando parks passing three Walt Disney World parks in attendance, one needs to consider that Disney is losing some hold on Orlando tourism.
Based on this report, no ultimate conclusions can be reached. We know that tourism in Orlando has been increasing steadily. Initial reports indicate that in 2022, all Orlando area theme parks are seeing another increase in attendance. However, we have no way of knowing what percentage of the attendance share each major theme park resort will earn in 2022 and beyond. Sure, we have lots of anecdotal evidence that more people are going to Universal Orlando now. Yes, travel advisors continually report more clients asking about Universal Orlando now. Still, both major Orlando area theme park resorts made larger profits in 2022 so far. The 2022 report will be interesting to see if the attendance trend continues to lean toward Universal Orlando.
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Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.