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Theme Park Attendance Up in 2000

December 22, 2000 GMT

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Attendance at the 50 most-visited theme parks in North America grew 3 percent to a record 175.1 million visitors this year, a trade magazine estimates. The growth rate matched last year’s increase.

Florida and California destination parks, which cater to out-of-town tourists, dominated the top 10 spots with Disney parks occupying the first five, according to estimates released Friday and appearing in the Dec. 25 issue of Amusement Business.

For the fourth year in a row, the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando was the most visited park in North America, with approximately 15.4 million visitors, up 1.3 percent from last year. Worldwide, the park was only outdistanced by Tokyo Disneyland, the world’s best attended park, which had an estimated 16.5 million visitors, down more than 5 percent from last year.

The larger theme parks don’t release attendance figures, but the Nashville, Tenn.-based trade publication calculates them each year based on sources within the theme parks and information provided by visitors and convention bureaus.

The figures showed no signs of an economic slowdown, said Tim O’Brien, an Amusement Business editor who assembles the annual attendance survey.

Regional parks in the Midwest and Northeast, which cater to visitors living within 150 miles, were hurt by cool and wet weather in the spring, despite new multimillion-dollar rides at several parks.

Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, for example, expected to get a large attendance boost from the debut of its $25 million Millennium Force roller coaster, the first coaster more than 300-feet tall. But a summer in which the temperature exceeded 80 degrees on only 10 days kept attendance gains to a more modest 4 percent at 3.43 million visitors.

``The cold and rain kept our guests away,″ said Robin Innes, Cedar Point’s director of public relations

Two Anheuser-Busch parks in Florida, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, saw double-digit attendance gains this year due largely to a discount program targeting local residents. A Florida resident purchasing a full-price admission ticket also got a Florida Fun Card, which gave the person free admission for the rest of the year. Any lost admission revenue was recovered by increased merchandise sales, food sales and parking fees.

``It was the most successful program we’ve ever done,″ said Thom Stork, SeaWorld Orlando’s vice president for marketing. ``It’s a matter of volume ... and they’re eating and they’re buying merchandise.″

With its new name, Six Flags Ohio had the largest attendance gain, a 42 percent increase over last year, to 1.7 million visitors. The jump was attributed to the Aurora, Ohio, park being renamed from Geagua Lake and $40 million in capital improvements by its owner, Premier Parks.

In North America, Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., was No. 2 with an estimated 13.9 million visitors; Epcot at Walt Disney World was No. 3 with an estimated 10.6 million visitors; and Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World was No. 4 with an estimated 8.9 million visitors. Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World was No. 5 with an estimated 8.3 million visitors.

Rounding out the top 10 were Universal Studios at Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.