Following our earlier article on the 2021 theme park attendance report, we wanted to take a step outside of the Disney World bubble for a moment and take a look at Universal Orlando theme parks just up the road from Walt Disney World. The report, which contains estimated attendance figures, is regarded as the industry standard on attendance when many theme park operators don’t release such figures. In the report, we can see some interesting movement not only at Walt Disney World, as previously reported, but also at Universal Orlando where attendance actually outpaced 3 out of the 4 Disney World theme parks. Here’s a look!
As you can see, estimated attendance figures at Universal Studios Florida (8.99 million) and Universal’s Islands of Adventure (9.1 million) outpaced attendance at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (7.2 million), EPCOT (7.7 million), and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (8.6 million). This marks a significant shift in Central Florida tourism and perhaps signals that Universal is gaining on Disney World in terms of pure visitation. Only Magic Kingdom (12.7 million) had more visitors than Universal’s theme parks. We’ll talk about why that might not matter in a bit.
The estimated attendance figures back up a statement by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts where he said that Universal Orlando is gaining market share on Disney. The fact that either of the Universal Orlando theme parks would have been the second place Walt Disney World park in terms of attendance is significant. In 2019, all four Walt Disney World theme parks had higher attendance than Universal Orlando theme parks.
Furthermore, Universal Orlando is moving into the future with a very strong play by building a brand new theme park called Epic Universe. In a March 2021 article, we opined that Universal was betting on the future of theme parks while Disney was balking. Disney has since announced Blue Sky concepts for a retheme of DinoLand USA at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and an expansion of Frontierland at Magic Kingdom, but those projects do not add up to a brand new theme park.
Now, the question is: does attendance matter? Disney World likely was passed by Universal Orlando because of the Disney Park Pass reservation system. Simply put, Disney doesn’t want a lot of people in their theme parks. Revenue is impressive, per-guest spending is through the roof, and Disney is able to make more money from fewer guests. Disney has not been shy, more money from fewer guests is their strategy and we’re seeing that play out in these attendance estimations.
So, does it matter? We think it does. Even if Disney is able to make more money from fewer guests, that still means that fewer guests are making memories at Disney World, and the guests that are attending Disney theme parks might be left with a large bill instead of a memory. Universal Orlando is poised to become more than a thorn in Disney’s side, and with no actual answer to Epic Universe on the horizon, these attendance figures might become the new normal as Disney forfeits market share to Universal.
As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news, photos, and info from around the Disney Parks!