New attractions in Orlando sparks a jump in theme parks’ attendance

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In this April 29, 2017, file photo, a Na’vi in a science lab is shown and is viewed while guests are in the queue for the Avatar Flight of Passage ride at the Pandora-World of Avatar land attraction in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. | John Raoux, AP/file

ORLANDO, Fla. — The arms race to build new theme park attractions in Orlando is paying dividends.

A new report released this week shows theme park attendance at the largest parks in North America last year was up 2.3 percent, powered by new attractions in Orlando. The Orlando market represents about a third of theme park attendance in North America, according to the report by the Themed Entertainment Association.

Last year, Walt Disney World in Orlando opened a new land in its Animal Kingdom parked modeled after the movie, “Avatar.” Animal Kingdom saw an attendance increase of more than 15 percent, the highest of any major park in North America in 2017.

Next year, Disney World is set to open a “Star Wars”-themed land, Universal Orlando Resort is planning another Harry Potter ride and SeaWorld Orlando is slated to open a land based on Sesame Street. In all, an estimated $10 billion is expected to be spent on attractions, hotels and retail and dining areas in Orlando, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.

But the spending and building is not just limited to Orlando.

“We are seeing the largest capital expenditures that we have ever seen in our years of theme park development,” said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, Inc., a Cincinnati-based consulting firm. “It’s nationwide and international. We are seeing the same kind of success overseas. It’s a true global phenomenon. Everyone is hitting on all cylinders.”

Growth was even bigger around the globe than in North America. The top 10 biggest theme parks worldwide saw an 8.6 percent attendance increase.

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China and Disneyland Park at Disneyland Paris both saw attendance increases of 15 percent.

The Orlando theme park companies typically don’t release attendance figures.

But the Themed Entertainment Association estimates that Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando had 20.5 million visitors, the most of any park in the world.

Disneyland in California had the next highest with an estimated 18.3 million visitors, followed by Tokyo Disneyland with an estimated 16.6 million visitors and Universal Studios Japan with 14.9 million visitors.

MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press

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