Every year the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) releases a report on the most visited theme parks in the world. Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney World’s 4 Parks usually top that list. 2020 brought many changes to the Parks, though, and the list for 2021 shows a startling shift. Universal Orlando now outpaces three of Disney World’s four theme parks.
Magic Kingdom easily tops the list as the most visited theme park in the world, but Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure take the number 2 and 3 spots. Take a look at the chart below:
The chart has each Park listed in the order they fell in 2019. Then it lists the percentage of change between 2019 and 2021. The next column shows the attendance for 2021, followed by attendance for 2020, and finally, attendance for 2019.
Magic Kingdom welcomed 12,691,000 guests, while Universal’s Islands of Adventure had a respectable 9,077,000 visitors. Universal Studios was not far behind, with 8,987,000 visitors. The closest another Disney Park got to those numbers was Hollywood Studios, with 8,589,000 guests. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park was 2021’s least visited Disney World theme park, which is a drastic shift from 2019 when it was Disney World’s second most popular park.
There are too many factors at play to try and figure out precisely what the driving force behind the change is, but one thing is certain: Universal has undoubtedly stepped up its game. They have led the charge in pandemic recovery, being the first in almost all instances to loosen restrictions. With recent new attractions and a new theme park in the works, it has made a bold statement that it intends to be a serious contender in the Theme Park Wars. This recent revelation is proof positive that its efforts are paying off.
Disney, on the other hand, has had several controversial issues that could very well have affected attendance. Unpopular CEO Bob Chapek took the helm in 2020 and ushered in a series of changes that have not sat well with fans. While Disney has loosened many of the restrictions put in place due to Covid, it still has not completely let them all go. Construction on new projects has also been extremely slow. It could be that guests are waiting to visit until there are more new offerings. Whatever the reason, it is surprising to see 3 of Disney World’s theme parks fall from their former top spots.
Time will tell if the change results from lingering pandemic effects or if the shift in attendance is here to stay. However, we are loath to blame the pandemic entirely. The Covid closures affected 2020 attendance drastically across the board, and Universal had an edge that year by reopening months before Disney. 2021 however, saw every Orlando park operating for the same number of days. It will be interesting to see the results for 2022. If you want a more detailed look at the results of the report, you can view it in its entirety here.