By the Numbers

While attendance levels continue to remain relatively steady at Disney, and attendance at Universal Orlando, which is expanding at a fast clip, has increased dramatically. SeaWorld hasn't been so lucky.

Here are the attendance estimates (and their national rankings) for all of the major Orlando parks according to the Themed Entertainment Association, which performs the leading annual industry calculation. The figures are for 2019, the last year before Covid-19 disrupted the usual attendance patterns. 

  • No. 1: Magic Kingdom, 20.96 million 
  • No. 6: Disney's Animal Kingdom, 13.69 million 
  • No. 7: Epcot, 12.44 million 
  • No. 9: Disney's Hollywood Studios, 11.48 million 
  • No. 11: Universal Studios Florida, 10.92 million 
  • No. 12: Islands of Adventure, 10.38 million 

SeaWorld Orlando, which ranked #9 nationwide in 2010, didn't even crack the top 25 theme parks by 2020.

Fitting into the Disney Culture

Disney breeds a doggedly positive culture that visitors must learn to understand. Working at Disney World isn’t like getting a job at the bank. Many “cast members” live and breathe the brand despite the long hours and less-than-princely pay. They’re mostly on hand to play their part in crowd control and cash collection, not for white-glove concierge service, but be alert to the fact that many of them identify personally with the Disney Way (it exists—new hires attend a course called Traditions at a thing called Disney University). Cast members may be uncomfortable with comments that carry a hint of negativity. They won’t be frank with you if they don’t know an answer; instead, they’ll probably send you to someone else. Don’t ask how long a ride will be broken—they won’t tell you, so as not to disappoint. When they point at something, they use two fingers or the whole hand because they think it’s more polite than using a single finger. And they are never profane or nasty, although they’re more likely to gossip about co-workers and breaks in front of you than they would have been a decade ago.

The flip side of this is that if something goes wrong with your visit, the staff takes immense pride in making it right so your vacation will be a warm memory. These unexpected favors even have a name: Magical Moments. This relentlessly perky mode isn’t restricted to cast members. The company’s personality extends to media coverage, too. By granting perks and access to bloggers, for example, it cultivates a large force of Disney-promoting influencers—a veritable praise army for the brand. From “mommy bloggers” hand-selected by the company to websites that breathlessly describe every minor promotion or renovation as a “celebration” or a “reimagining,” you will certainly run across unquestioning coverage as your plan your trip. It’s all part of understanding Disney’s peculiar (but often copied) corporate subculture.

You'll never catch a glimpse of, say, Mickey relaxing with his head off, or Pluto taking a candy-bar break— that would ruin the entire illusion (and this is a world built on fantasy). They're not even allowed to say which characters they play when they're not at work. Instead, they'll say whether they're "friends with" a character.

Did you know?

Walt Disney was unquestionably a visionary. When he started out, he was mostly interested in animation as an art form. But as his fame and resources grew, his dreams became infinite, and by the end of his life, he was obsessed with building a city of his own. Because the Magic Kingdom was built by his most-trusted designers, it incorporated several idealistic innovations.
  • One is the utilidor system. The bulk of the Magic Kingdom that you see appears to be at ground level. But in fact, you’ll be walking about 14 feet above the land. The attractions constitute the second and third stories of a 9-acre network of warehouses and corridors—utilidors—built in part to guard against flooding but mostly so cast members could remove trash, make deliveries, take breaks, change costumes, and count money out of sight, in catacombs accessed through secret entrances and unmarked wormholes scattered around the themed lands. Clean-burning electric vehicles zip through the hallways, some of which are wide enough to accommodate trucks, and all of which are color-coded to indicate which land is upstairs.
  • Among the other engineering feats and innovations of the Kingdom:
  • Trash is transported at 60mph through 24-inch Swedish AVAC pneumatic tubes to a compactor behind Splash Mountain.
  • Fire, power, and water systems are all monitored by a common computer, and the robotics, doors, lighting, sounds, and vehicles on the most complicated attractions are handled by a central server called the Digital Animation Control System (DACS), located roughly underneath Cinderella Castle.
  • Bay Lake, beside Fort Wilderness, was dredged, and the dirt used to raise the Magic Kingdom. Underneath the lakebed, white sand was discovered, cleaned, and deposited to create beaches on the Seven Seas Lagoon, which was created from dry land.
  • Energy is reused whenever possible. The generators’ waste heat is used to heat water, and hot water runoff is used for heating, cooking, and absorption chilling for air-conditioning. Wastewater is reclaimed for plants and lawns (80% of the resort is watered this way), and sludge is dried for fertilizer. Food scraps are composted on-site. The resort produces enough power to keep things running in case of a temporary outage on the municipal grid. This will keep you up tonight: Disney even has the legal right to build its own nuclear power plant, should it care to.
  • The company worked to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half between 2012 and 2020. A half million solar panels were installed on 270 acres of the resort, generating enough energy to power two theme parks.
  • The resort was the first place to install an all-electronic phone system using underground cable—so guests don’t see ugly wires. It was the first telephone company in America to use a 911 emergency system. In 1978, the first commercial fiber optic system in the U.S. was installed.
  • The rubber-tired monorail system, designed by Disney engineers, now contains nearly 15 miles of track. Walt had intended monorails, plus vehicles akin to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority ride, to be the main forms of transportation to and through his Epcot. In 1986, the monorail was named a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
The Walt Disney Co. now shows little interest in advancing these innovations. Epcot has only a small network of utilidors, partly located under Spaceship Earth, and the two youngers Disney parks were built without any. The monorail has not been expanded since 1982 and is often subject to breakdowns.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.