Visitors at Walt Disney World and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay dipped slightly in 2017, Universal Orlando saw a respectable increase, and SeaWorld Orlando took a substantial hit, according to a new report released Thursday by two industry groups.
Disney World had a half-percent drop in visitation last year but Disney’s parks division did better worldwide, bolstered by its parks in Asia. And Magic Kingdom in Orlando, which had 20.4 million visitors last year, remains the most popular theme park in the world, based on attendance.
From 2015 to 2016, Universal’s two Orlando parks experienced a 5.4 percent increase, adding to the big jumps in attendance that the two parks have had since they opened their Harry Potter attractions — at Islands of Adventure in 2010 and Universal Studios in 2014. Since 2006, attendance at Islands of Adventure in Orlando has grown 77 percent and at Universal Studios 67 percent.
20.4 million Number of visitors in 2016 at Magic Kingdom, world’s most popular theme park
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During the same period, Magic Kingdom had a 23 percent increase in visits, with growth at the other three Disney World parks ranging from 11 percent to 21 percent. Last week’s opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom won’t figure into attendance numbers until next year’s report.
But there was no good news for SeaWorld, which has suffered diminishing attendance since 2010, when an orca whale killed its trainer and complaints about the company’s use of captive whales escalated. Since 2006, visits to SeaWorld have dropped 23 percent. And even though its parent company announced last year that it was ending its orca breeding program and phasing out its theatrical whale shows, attendance dropped a hefty 8 percent in 2016.
Busch Gardens, which is owned by SeaWorld Entertainment, dropped 2.3 percent last year and 5.6 percent since 2006.
Since 2009, the year before its Harry Potter attractions opened, the number of visitors to Universal’s Islands of Adventure has more than doubled.
Theme parks don’t release their attendance numbers. The figures are from a report by the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM, an engineering firm that has worked on many major attractions.
Legoland isn’t big enough to make the report’s top 20 list of theme parks in North America, so its attendance is not in the report.
Members of the industry blamed last year’s lower numbers on the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Hurricane Matthew, the Zika virus and other factors.
The report also shows attendance at the top 20 water parks worldwide grew by 3.6 percent, and attendance at the world’s top 20 museums increased by 1.2 percent.