Walt Disney World loses attendance to Universal Orlando according to the 2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index

Oct 17, 2022 in "The Walt Disney Company"

Posted: Monday October 17, 2022 8:38am ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

According to the latest 2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index, which estimates global theme park attendance, Disney's Florida theme parks have lost significant attendance to Universal Orlando.

2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index attendance report

  • Magic Kingdom 12.7 million
  • Islands of Adventure 9 million
  • Universal Studios Florida 8.9 million
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios 8.6 million
  • EPCOT 7.7 million
  • Animal Kingdom 7.2 million

Universal's two Orlando theme parks, led by Islands of Adventure, are both ranked above Disney's Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

It should be noted that Disney does not release attendance numbers, so the numbers reported by the TEA/AECOM Theme Index are very much an estimate.

The lower attendance numbers for Disney's parks should not come as a surprise, as attendance was still significantly capped due to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2021.

Comparisons to previous years are complex due to the pandemic, but in 2019, Magic Kingdom saw estimated attendance of almost 21 million, compared to 12.6 million in 2021.

As shown in Disney's quarterly earnings reports and through comments by top Disney executives, the current DPEP strategy is based on having fewer guests in the parks and having those there spend more on hotels, tickets, dining, merchandise, and extras.

With Universals' new Epic Universe set for a summer 2025 opening, Disney will soon face more competition for Florida's theme park attendance and revenue. With three theme parks, a water park, and hotels, Universal Orlando will become very much its own destination and could present itself as a real alternative to the Disney-based Orlando vacation.

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HauntedPirateOct 21, 2022

I'd wager that my next vacation dollars go outside of WDW. Right, because there'd be 5 hours waits for a C-ticket attraction, or a theater, or a whole host of other capacity improvements that aren't headliners? People buying Genie- and ILL with the expectation that they are skipping the line are either ill-informed or delusional. Anyone saying those are "skip the line" schemes are lying. Use the Lightning Lane entrances offered through Disney Genie+ service and save time waiting in line. I say, go ahead and double the price on everything. The subsequent dumpster fire will be quite enjoyable to observe. Those who believe that revenue wouldn't be affected one bit can use the dumpster fire to roast the crow they'll be eating.

UNCgolfOct 21, 2022

Disney also built very little (and actually closed some things without replacement) during part of that period while ramping up attendance -- that is their fault. They then went on a building spree when they realized their mistake, but they'd already a deficit to appear and have essentially been fighting upstream ever since.

lazyboy97oOct 21, 2022

What people perceive and what people actually experience are not the same thing. There is an amount of waiting that is not perceived as waiting. How people wait also impacts their perception of waiting. All of which is built into the standard design day model.

el_superOct 21, 2022

I don't entirely disagree, but I think fault is not the right word. It's just something they have to try to manage now. They had their reasons for advertising fastpass and prioritizing attendance-at-all-costs in the ten years after 2008. Looking back at the attendance run up and realizing it was unsustainable isn't the same thing as thinking the last ten years was a complete mistake.

Casper GutmanOct 21, 2022

This is exactly right. The idea that you shouldn’t expect to wait in lines at theme parks is very, very much a creation of WDW, one they have spent a great deal to perpetuate, via endless ad and PR rhetoric as well as a very expensive and lengthy process of fundamentally reconfiguring the parks themselves. The expectation of lineless parks has never, ever been close to reality, but Disney became convinced the expectation benefitted them.

UNCgolfOct 21, 2022

That ties in with it being their own fault -- they set an expectation that you wouldn't have to wait in line for at least a few attractions every day when they started the whole program, and then made it worse by expanding it to basically everything in the parks. If they'd kept it to a small number of attractions and left the rest standby only, things wouldn't be as bad, but now there are numerous guests who are used to not waiting in line ever for anything. It's compounding bad decisions that have left things in the current state.

el_superOct 21, 2022

Yeah... so go back to waiting 5 hours for a single attraction just because it's new. Terrible plan. People are buying into those services because they expect to skip the lines.

el_superOct 21, 2022

If anything there are more choices now than there were before. Before, if a new ride had a 5+ hour wait, that was your only option. I'd much rather pay the $20 to skip a 5 hour wait, than have to deal with the lottery. They're not always right, but they know a far bit more about their park operations than you do.

HauntedPirateOct 21, 2022

Get rid of AP's? I mean, that's what some people think needs to happen, right? Get rid of the "unfavorables" because of the myth that "they don't spend as much". You know what that is? It's a win-win for me and thousands of others, because we then have no reason to spend money at Disney theme parks anymore. And guess what? It won't make one damn bit of difference in wait times. They're letting Bob's BS (all-IP-all-the-time-everywhere) overtake DCL. My vacation dollars seem to be getting pulled towards other companies who actually want to earn my business by providing a better product at a competitive price. My kids, who grew up going to the parks on at least an annual basis, have little desire to return because even they see what Disney has become - a money-grubbing operation that values charging a premium price more than providing a premium experience. But, there's a sucker born every minute, and Bob believes the supply of suckers is infinite. Consumers will never expect to not wait in line if they add real, meaningful ride capacity. Where do you dream this nonsense up? And Bob has already been quite successful in changing consumer behavior. Just look at how many people buy Genie- and ILL's.

lazyboy97oOct 21, 2022

Just more bunk. The psychology and perception of waiting is known but that doesn’t fit your narrative that Disney is always right.

Tha RealestOct 21, 2022

Line waiting is one thing. It's that that choice is deprived from us. For some of the newer attractions, it's a contest between a lottery or paying $20 for the "privilege" of experiencing it at all.

el_superOct 21, 2022

Building more capacity doesn't solve the issue, because the guest expectation will always be to not wait in line. The fervent anger displayed at the removal of free Fastpass and the continuing price increases in Genie+ show that, above other changes at the parks, not waiting in line is a crucial part of the experience now. Changing the expectation in guest behavior is going to be rough, but it's probably necessary. Their biggest issue right now seems to be that skipping the line is so crucial to the experience, that people are willing to pay gobs of money to keep skipping the lines, even as Disney is raising the prices and trying to discourage it. If the percentage of visitors buying into Genie+ remains high, the prices will have to keep going up. Line skipping not being free though, may be better for the long term success of the park, but it will put a tremendous pressure on the "value" of existing attractions that may need to be replaced.

bhg469Oct 21, 2022

Living down here I have been to Universal property a handful of times. Every time has been a great experience and I have never gotten express yet, unless you could HHN with express. The wait times are not ever terrible for attractions so IMO express isn't always needed but during HHN, on the weekends especially, last Saturday was terrible. Studios closes early to set up the park for the event, then Islands becomes god-awful. Hogsmeade was just a sea of people and there was no escaping it. I am 100% getting an annual pass for Universal once Epic Universe opens. IMO it will be the tipping point for a lot of people. Many believe they will just steal their own guests from the other parks but I think that is silly. They are poised to be consistently above the three lesser Disney parks without question.

TouchdownOct 21, 2022

You definitely feel magic in Diagon Alley and Hogesmeade though, it’s just British magic. Couple that with unlimited express at deluxe resorts and it makes for a very relaxed vibe, plus you can get in loads of laps on your favorite rides and go for the 999,999 score on MIB.