Florida residents, as well as those who flock to Florida’s theme park scene for vacations and weekend getaways, are faced with the same question year after year: Which Resort do we choose–Disney World in Lake Buena Vista or Universal in Orlando? Perhaps it’s the age-old debate between diehard Disney fans and Harry Potter fans who simply want no part of a park where Diagon Alley and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter aren’t the mainstays.
The majority of visitors, however, will at least entertain the idea of both offerings, make a mental pros and cons list, choose, purchase theme park tickets, and then build their vacation around the resort they’ve chosen. It’s a daunting decision for many, but a new report from the State of Florida could make the decision slightly less complicated for some.
Florida’s position in the tourism industry didn’t begin with the opening of the Walt Disney World Resort in 1971. Instead, it began in the 1930s with a tiny, unassuming theme park of sorts located in the town of Winter Haven. It was called Cypress Gardens. The tourist spot attracted loads of visitors and held its own for decades. Then, in 2009, the Gardens closed forever, and the property was purchased by Merlin Entertainment. Today, Legoland Florida is located where Cypress Gardens once was.
So Many Theme Parks
Today, more than 50 years after Magic Kingdom Park opened at the Walt Disney World Resort–and more than 80 years after the opening of Cypress Gardens, Central Florida is home to more theme parks, theme park resorts, amusement parks, thrilling attractions, and heart-pounding rides than visitors can shake a wand at. In addition to the Walt Disney World Resort (four theme parks and two water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) and Universal Orlando Resort (two theme parks and one water park), the Central Florida region near Orlando is also home to SeaWorld Orlando, Legoland Florida Resort, Peppa Pig Theme Park, Fun Spot America, ICON Park, Discovery Cove, Busch Gardens (that one’s actually in Tampa Bay), and others.
As expected, Disney World and Universal Studios boast the highest annual attendance numbers of all the Central Florida theme parks by far, and they also boast the biggest rivalry among the theme parks that call the Sunshine State home.
For visitors planning an upcoming visit to Central Florida, however, a report from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) could prove invaluable when it comes time to choose between visiting Mickey or Harry Potter. Florida state laws are interesting when it comes to theme parks that operate within the state.
Florida’s Weird Theme Park Reporting Protocol
Theme parks and theme park resorts with fewer than 1,000 employees are required to submit their rides and attractions to state inspections via FDACS. This includes smaller outfits like ICON Park in Orlando, Peppa Pig Park, and the like.
But theme parks and theme park resorts that operate in Florida and have more than 1,000 employees are not subject to such inspections. (Yikes!) Instead, they are required to submit data about illnesses and injuries experienced by visitors while on theme park property–but only those illnesses and injuries that result in a hospital stay of 24 hours or longer. Many have criticized this approach, as data on the so-called Theme Park Injury Report published by FDACS every quarter is nothing more than a compilation of data provided by Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens, etc. FDACS calls these the “exempt” theme parks, as they are exempt from state ride inspections.
Because of privacy legislation, very little is disclosed about those illnesses and injuries, and it’s never made clear whether those injuries resulted in only a 24-hour stay or a 24-day stay. Further, the outcomes of those incidences are never disclosed, meaning it isn’t clear whether an injury was severe enough to lead to the death of a visitor (which has happened) or if the 24-hour hospital stay was merely a precautionary method. It’s also never clear whether the stay was directly related to the injury or illness in the parks.
Disney World Wins for Most Reported Injuries & Illnesses in 2023 So Far
So far this year, Walt Disney World has reported twice as many incidents across its theme parks as Universal has. Per FDACS, “the following report is a compilation of data collected from the exempt facilities and reflects only the information reported at the time of the incident. Due to privacy-related concerns, the Department does not receive updates to initial assessments of a patron’s condition.”
Busch Gardens reported zero incidences, and SeaWorld Orlando reported only one incident in January, during which a 70-year-old female guest felt dizzy after riding the Cookie Drop attraction. Universal Studios Orlando reported two separate incidences–one in February, during which a 64-year-old female guest had a headache following a ride at the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit attraction, and one in March, during which a 47-year-old male experienced abdominal pain after enjoying the Jurassic World VelociCoaster ride.
Disney World exceeded them all, reporting four separate incidences, one in each theme park–one in January, two in February, and one in March. The associated attractions listed were Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris, Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and EPCOT’s The Seas with Nemo and Friends. Incidences included cardiac symptoms, stroke-like symptoms, disorientation, and a fall and resulting leg fracture.
That’s not to say that Disney World isn’t a safe place to visit, but if you’re comparing Mickey apples to Mickey apples, Disney World doubled the number of incidents Universal reported–and quadrupled the number of incidences reported by SeaWorld Orlando.