Disney World Is Still The Theme Park Attendance Champion, But Universal Orlando Made Big Moves Last Year

Universal Orlando Resort Globe
(Image credit: Dirk Libbey)

Theme parks around the world are still struggling following the global pandemic closure of parks, but to be sure, things are steadily progressing forward. New attendance numbers for theme parks in 2021 were recently released and while they are good news for everybody, things are looking especially good for Universal Orlando Resort, as its two theme parks apparently out-drew three of the four parks at Walt Disney World, though Magic Kingdom was still the champ.

According to the 2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index report, Magic Kingdom was the most popular theme park in the world, as it has been for decades. In 2021 the park drew more than 12 million guests, well more than the number two park. But that's where things get interesting, because the number two park based on straight attendance wasn’t another Disney World park, or Disneyland which, to be fair, was still closed for the first four months of 2021, it was Universal’s Islands of Adventure, with more than 9 million visitors. 

The two parks of Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, both drew about 9 million visitors, with Islands of Adventure pulling slightly more, likely due to last year’s opening of the Jurassic World Velocicoaster. This puts both of the parks on top of the other three Disney World parks. Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom both did around 7 million guests, while Disney’s Hollywood Studios, likely thanks to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, did a bit better at 8.5 million.

This is actually pretty huge for Universal Orlando as the two parks only did about 10 million visitors each in 2019, so both of them are much closer to pre-pandemic numbers than Disney World. But back when those parks were doing 10 million guests, the non-Magic Kingdom parks were doing 11-13 million so Universal is making huge strides not simply on its owned, but compared to the competition. With Universal getting ready to open Epic Universe in the summer of 2025, things may only go up from here.

2021 was still very much a “pandemic year,” so it’s impossible to draw too many conclusions based on these numbers, but they are certainly worth keeping an eye on to see if this pattern continues. It could simply be that due to the opening of the Velocicoaster, people returned faster to the Universal Orlando parks than they did to Walt Disney World, which only saw it’s first big new attraction post-pandemic, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, open earlier this year

With Guardians opening this year and Tron: Lightcycle Run at Magic Kingdom confirmed to be opening next spring, we might see Disney World’s attendance make a bigger jump this year and next year, and Universal might plateau. But it’s also possible that Universal could continue to grow. That doesn’t mean that Universal will necessarily take guests away from Disney World, many vacationers are going to likely visit all the area parks. In the end this could be an indication that the entire industry is moving toward a boom period.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.