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Despite Irma, attendance up at Disney, Universal in 2017

17 May 2018

Visitors at Central Florida's major theme parks increased last year, according to the 2017 Theme Index and Museum Index, an industry report released Thursday.

Attendance at Disney World surged more than 15 percent last year, driven by the opening of Pandora-The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. (Courtesy of Disney)

Disney World remained the theme park leader with almost 56 million guests last year. Much of the attendance gains were due to the opening of Pandora-The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom, which had 20.5 million visitors, remained the most-visited theme park in the world. Disney's Animal Kingdom jumped 15.3 percent with 12.5 million visitors. Epcot wasn't far behind with 12.2 million visitors, a 4.2 percent increase. Disney's Hollywood Studios was the only Disney World park to see a decline; attendance dipped 0.5 percent to 10.7 million.

The decline at Hollywood Studios is likely due the closure of multiple attractions and ongoing construction for Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

According to the report, 2017 also proved to be a good year for Universal Orlando. The resort saw a 4 percent attendance bump, driven mostly by new attractions such as Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and the opening of Volcano Bay.

Universal Studios Florida welcomed more than 10.1 million visitors, up 2 percent. Islands of Adventure saw more than 9.5 million visitors, also a 2 percent increase. 

However, there was no good news for SeaWorld Orlando, which had the steepest decline, dropping 10 percent to 3.9 million visitors. The park has struggled with declining attendance since the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish." Its parent company has since announced several new attractions, including a revamped Kraken roller coaster, which reopened last year with a virtual reality component. 

Meanwhile, attendance at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, SeaWorld's sister park, dropped 5 percent in 2017.

Attendance was down at Florida's water parks. Disney's Typhoon Lagoon fell 5 percent to 2.2 million visitors. Not far behind was Disney's Blizzard Beach at 1.9 million visitors, a 7 percent decline.

SeaWorld's Aquatica saw a 10 percent drop to 1.4 million visitors. Tampa's Adventure Island had a 3 percent dip with 631,000 visitors.

Universal's Volcano Bay, which was new to the list, had 1.5 million visitors last year.

The declines were likely driven by bad weather such as Hurricane Irma, which caused park closures. Despite that, the Orlando area welcomed a record 72 million visitors, according to tourism board Visit Orlando.


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