More than half a billion people went to theme parks worldwide last year, report shows

Walt Disney World holding No. 1 spot, according to annual TEA ranking

Most theme parks are secretive about attendance, including Disney and Universal parks, but every year the Themed Entertainment Association releases estimates based on the previous year's attendance.

The TEA released its annual report Wednesday, which is used throughout the industry as a standard, according to News 6 theme park expert Ken Pilcher.

If you're wondering how park hopper guests are counted, Pilcher explains that a guest's attendance counts only at the park where they start the day. For example: If I go to Animal Kingdom, and then Epcot, Animal Kingdom is the one that counts my attendance for that trip.

Below, Pilcher breaks down some big takeaways from the report for Orlando-area theme parks and attendance worldwide: 

Most notable: For the first time ever, half a billion people visited major theme and amusement parks worldwide. With more than 7.5 billion people in the world, that's one in 20 people who went to an entertainment park last year.

Disney comes in No.1

More than 157 million went to Disney parks worldwide last year, according to the TEA report. Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida was the No. 1 attended park in the U.S. and worldwide.

Merlin, the company that owns of LEGOLAND Florida, Madame Tussauds and SeaLife, is No. 2 in the world with 67 million visitors. Something to note: Disney is more than twice as big as the No. 2 player.

Universal came in third with 50 million guests and SeaWorld was ranked ninth with 22.5 million visitors.

It was a big year for SeaWorld, though, which saw attendance growth after years of Blackfish blow back.

By the numbers

Magic Kingdom remains No. 1 in the world and nation in attendance with 20.8 million guests in 2018. It's been No. 1 pretty much forever, although occasionally Tokyo Disneyland has moved to the top spot.

To put it in perspective: Magic Kingdom drew 7 million more people than Disney's No. 2 park in Florida, and Magic Kingdom doubles the attendance of Universal Studios Florida.

Pandora continues to be a huge draw for Animal Kingdom, up 10% last year, which is much more of a draw than Toy Story Land when you consider that Hollywood Studios is up 5%.

For the second year in a row, Disney's 4th Florida gate, Animal Kingdom, is No. 2 among all Florida parks. Traditionally, that was Epcot, which is one reason Disney is now throwing so much money into new attractions there.

2018 was a milestone year for theme parks

Attendance at themed attractions at the major operators has exceeded half a billion visits for
the first time in history. This is equivalent to almost 7% of the world population. And not only that,
but this number keeps growing. Just five years ago, the market capture of the industry was only
5% of the global population.

SeaWorld parks had been moving down TEA charts for several years but 2018 attendance numbers show a nice comeback with room for more regrowth. 

The 2018 SeaWorld Parks attendance figures recoup the previous year’s decline and surpass it, helped by significant increases at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego as well as a modest increase at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Other parks saw attendance growth due to new attractions

  • PANDORA: The World of Avatar continued to be a strong attendance driver in 2018 and grew more than 10.5% from 2017.
  • Toy Story Land opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in June 2018 and was another traffic driver. Attendance was up by 5%.
  • Universal Studios parks in North America earned modest attendance increases in 2018, with the biggest growth at Volcano Bay, Universal’s new water theme park, open since May 2017 and recipient of a TEA Thea Award in 2019. Attendance at the water park was up by 15.5%.

By the numbers: Top theme park groups/companies worldwide for 2018

  • Walt Disney attractions up 4.9% to 157,311,000 guests from 150,014,000 in 2017
  • Merlin entertainments group up 1.5%  to 67,000,000 guests from 66,000,000 in 2017
  • Universal Parks and Resorts up 1.2% to 50,068,000 guests from 49,458,000 in 201​​​​​​7 Coming in at No. 9 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment attendance was up 8.6%  to 22,582,000 guests 20,798,000 in 2017.
  • Top 10 amusement/theme parks worldwide

  • Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
  • Disneyland Park at Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, California 
  • Tokyo Disneyland at Tokyo Disney resort
  • Tokyo DisneySea at Tokyo Disney resort
  • Universal studios japan, Osaka, Japan
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
  • Epcot
  • Shanghai Disneyland
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Hengqin, China
  • Top 20 amusement / theme parks in North America

  • Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
  • Disneyland park at Disneyland resort, Anaheim, California
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Epcot
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Universal Studios Florida
  • Disney California adventure
  • Universal’s Islands of Adventure
  • Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, California
  • SeaWorld Orlando
  • Busch gardens Tampa Bay
  • Knott's berry Farm, Buena park, California
  • Canada's wonderland, Maple, Ontario, Canada
  • SeaWorld San Diego
  • Cedar Point Shores Waterpark, Sandusky, Ohio 
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, California
  • Kings Island, Kings Island, Ohio
  •  Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, New Jersey
  • Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinois
  • Top 10 water parks nationwide

  • Typhoon Lagoon
  • Disney’s Blizzard Beach
  • Volcano Bay Water at Universal Orlando
  • Aquatica Orlando
  • Schlitterbahn Water Park and Resort, New Braunfels,Texas
  • Water Country USA, Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Adventure Island, Tampa
  • Aquatica San Antonio
  • Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston
  • Splish Splash, Calverton, New York 

  • About the Author:

    Ken Pilcher is a lifelong Floridian with more than 30 years in journalism experience. He joined News 6 in 2003 and has covered Central Florida attractions and theme parks since 1988. He currently produces News 6 at 7 p.m.