Amazing Theme Park Attendance Stats for 2018
Theme parks recorded more than 500 million visits in calendar 2018. It was a record-breaking year for many parks. As usual, Disney had it better than everyone else. They dominated like never before. The fact that this happened the year before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge tells you everything that you need to know about what’s about to happen at Disneyland next week. Let’s take a look at theme park attendance during 2018.
Business Is Up Everywhere
We’ll focus on Disney for the most part, but the theme park industry is in better shape than ever before. Just five years ago, total attendance reflected five percent of the total population. Today, it’s up to seven percent. You may think that this increase is no big deal, but it’s really 40 percent over five years! You’re not the only one who wants to spend all your free time at Disney!
The data bears this out. A total of 157.3 million people visited Disney theme parks during 2018. The next closest business was Merlin Entertainments Group; they claimed park attendance of 67 million. Yes, Disney receives more than twice as many visits as their next-closest competitor.
In terms of market share, Disney is at 4.9 percent. Merlin is only at 1.5 percent (although I question their math here). According to the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), the finder of this data, Disney is responsible for roughly 1 out of every 20 theme park visits. In the entire world!
A Factual Examination of Disney’s Dominance
I’m a Disney fan, and so everything that I say about them should be evaluated with that bias in mind. Having said that, the statistics about Disney park attendance are mind-boggling. Literally all Disney theme parks enjoyed attendance increases during 2018. Here’s the list of the top 10 theme parks in the world:
- Magic Kingdom
- Tokyo Disneyland
- Tokyo DisneySEA
- Universal Studios Japan
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Shanghai Disneyland
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Chimelong Ocean Kingdom
Yes, Disney either operates or licenses eight of the top ten theme parks in the world. Walt Disney World alone holds down four of the top nine spots. Disney’s other parks are:
- Disney California Adventure (12th place)
- Disneyland Park at Disneyland Paris (13th place)
- Hong Kong Disneyland (16th place)
- Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris (23rd place)
In other words, more than half of the top 23 theme parks on the planet are Disney properties. All of them but one are in the top 16, giving Disney 11 of those spots. You may have heard that Universal has closed the gap with Disney. These statistics tell the story about how that belief is a load of bunk. Universal’s doing fantastically well compared to 10 years ago. They’re a far cry from Disney, though.
Now, let’s take a look at a few individual parks, starting with the biggies.
Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Are Dominant
The Most Magical and Happiest Places on Earth are also the most heavily attended ones. Magic Kingdom maintains its position at the top of the heap again in 2018. The park received 20.859 million guests, up two percent from 2017. In terms of traffic, that’s more than 400,000 additional guests for the year or 1,120 more per day.
Disneyland claimed 366,000 more visits for the year. Their total attendance of 18.67 million is the best in the long and storied history of the park. And that is BEFORE the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. Disneyland has a chance to cross 20 million in 2019. At a minimum, it should do so during 2020, the first year that Batuu is open all 365 days.
Overall, Disneyland and Magic Kingdom are both up two percent. You may feel that this growth is sluggish, but it’s really not. Here’s what the TEA report says about year-over-year improvements for parks of this scale: “For the biggest operators, even a modest year-over-year increase represents a lot of visitation.”
Putting this in different terms, a 400,000-visit increase at most parks would be a massive improvement. It seems smaller since attendance at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland is already so crazy-high. These are the alpha theme parks on the planet.
Animal Kingdom Continues to Shine
From 2008 through 2016, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom were the least trafficked parks at Walt Disney World. Their attendance was eerily similar. For nine straight years, they were less than 100,000 apart in terms of annual park visits. That’s less than 3,000 visits per day.
Something changed in 2017. Disney introduced Pandora – The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom. The results were staggering. The park’s attendance increased by 15 percent for the year, although that tells only part of the story. Pandora didn’t open until May 27th, nearly five full months into the year. From the time that it opened, Pandora increased park traffic by 25 percent.
During 2018, that trend continued unabated. Animal Kingdom gained 10 percent more traffic for the year, giving it a total of 13.75 million visitors. Only two years ago, it was 10.8 million. Animal Kingdom is now the sixth most popular theme park in the world and has surpassed Epcot as the second-most popular park at Walt Disney World.
Other Walt Disney World Theme Parks
Two-percent increases were the order of day at the most famous Disney theme parks. Epcot also increased that amount, rising from 12.2 million visits in 2017 to 12.44 million during 2018. That’s a record-setting total for Epcot as well, but it gets lost in the shuffle a bit by excellent performances at other Disney parks.
Speaking of which, Toy Story Land quietly aided park attendance a great deal. Disney’s Hollywood Studios finished 2017 with 10.72 million visits. During 2018, it increased a solid five percent to 11.26 million. It’s the first time that the park has ever had more than 11 million visits. It’ll also simply like a quaint number after Star Wars Land opens.
The one caveat to this is the late-August debut for Galaxy’s Edge. It will have barely four months to impact traffic, and some of those are already-crowded holidays. For this reason, don’t be surprised if the 2019 attendance report for Hollywood Studios represents only a modest improvement from 2018. The real spike will happen when the park is open the entire year, just as with Disneyland.
Some International Notes
Due to a fascinating licensing agreement, Disney licenses Tokyo Disneyland, while the Oriental Land Company owns and operates it. The two parks here are perceived as among the best in the world. Japanese audiences are intensely loyal to them, but a sluggish economy had negatively impacted attendance for a couple of years.
Tokyo Disneyland is definitely back to normal again. Its attendance improved 7.9 percent or more 1.3 million last year. This park is now at 17.9 million, the best in the 36-year history of Tokyo Disneyland. The previous record was set in 2001, indicating the staying power of the park as well as the renewed interest in calendar 2018.
Tokyo DisneySEA enjoyed a higher-percentage increase of 8.5. It didn’t have as large of a traffic increase at 1.1 million more visits, though. I say this to show percentage growth can be somewhat misleading, especially at the top-selling theme parks. The 2018 total of 14.6 million is the best ever at Tokyo DisneySEA as well. You’re getting the point, right? Business at Disney is goooooood right now.
In China, both parks enjoyed hefty growth. Shanghai Disneyland saw 800,000 more visits in 2018, giving 11.8 million and a 7.3-percent increase. Hong Kong Disneyland, the park that Disney’s working hardest to improve right now, added 500,000 guests. That’s an 8.1-percent improvement year-over-year.
Disneyland Paris continues to have the same odd split as Disneyland, a subject we’ll summarize in the final paragraph. Disneyland Park had a two-percent increase to 9.84 million. That’s the park’s best year since 2015 and an indication that Disneyland is turning things around now that they’re the owners and operators. Walt Disney Studios Park had record-setting attendance of just under 5.3 million. That sounds fantastic until you compare the total visits with the other Disney parks on this list.
Finally, since I couldn’t sneak this in anywhere else, Disney California Adventure (DCA) improved during 2018, too. The less popular Disneyland Resort gate added less than 300,000 guests last year, giving it 9.86 million. DCA has somehow never had 10+ million in attendance, but that should finally change this year. Yes, Disneyland has always doubled DCA in attendance, which is so strange since the parks are side-by-side. Disneyland Paris has the same phenomenon.
Folks, Disney is where it’s at right now in the theme park industry. And Star Wars Land doesn’t even open until next week! If you’re interested in specific details, the TEA report is available online at this link.