Top 10 Theme Parks: Disney Dominates and Is About to Get Even Better


Disney's Florida theme park. Photo: Disney

What's the best theme park in the world? If you are taking your family on a vacation, many sites will offer a list of the most popular theme parks in the world, rated by user reviews, personal experiences, and best attractions. Based on number of visitors, Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) is the clear winner, with nine of the top 10 parks in the world under the Disney name, according to 2013 information from Themed Entertainment Association based on research by AECOM. Compared to competitors like Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal Studios parks, Seaworld's (NYSE: SEAS  ) marine mammal parks, and Six Flags' (NYSE: SIX  ) theme parks, Disney is by far the dominant player.

Family fun is not the only reason to like Disney's theme parks. The profits these parks bring in has helped create a fun ride for Disney shareholders. Look at the list of the most popular parks in the world below, and then keep reading for why Disney is also the best investment in the industry, especially with Disney's newest attraction in China, which will put Disney even further ahead of competition.

Analyzing the segments
Media, what most people recognize the Disney brand for, with its classic animated movie titles, accounted for just under half of Disney's total revenue in 2013. This also comes in part from the company owning other media properties including sports network ESPN and Star Wars maker Lucasfilm. While media is the biggest segment for Disney, parks and resorts is the next-largest segment for Disney, and one that has shown to be a great profit booster for the company with a higher revenue growth rate than the company as a whole.

The company reported a 7% overall revenue increase for 2013 year over year for total operations, but the parks and resorts segment did even better than the company as a whole, with a reported 9% gain year over year. This parks and resorts growth is continuing in 2014 as visitor numbers continue to rise. With the coming Shanghai Disney opening in 2015, this segment will likely grow even larger in 2015 and beyond.

Top 10 theme parks in the world
2013 was such a good year for Disney's theme park segment thanks to a growing visitor base at its most popular locations around the world. At the most-visited park in the world, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida, 18 million visitors visited Disney's castles and characters there. That's 6% more than in 2012, according to the Themed Entertainment Association report.

Of course, 18 million is only a small portion of the 215 million people who visited a theme park in 2013, according to Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM. However, that's just one of Disney's parks. For the 10 most-visited parks in the world, Disney holds nine of the spots, with some 116 million visitors last year at those nine. Here are thee top 10 spots, including 2013 attendance (in millions), according to the report:

  • Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (18.6)
  • Tokyo Disneyland (17.2)
  • Disneyland (16.2)
  • Tokyo DisneySea (14.1)
  • Epcot Center (Disney) (11.2)
  • Disneyland Paris (10.4)
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom (10.2)
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios (10.1)
  • Universal Studios Japan (10.1)
  • Disney California Adventure (8.5)

Universal had one park in the top 10, and four spots in the top 25. In terms of visitors overall, Disney topped the list with roughly 133 million, while Universal Parks and Resorts notched 36 million, Six Flags had 26 million, and Seaworld logged 23 million. Company theme park revenues correlate well with attendance.

There are a few key trends to consider here as well, and not all of Disney's parks are growing as strong as the company overall. Disney's main Florida park saw 6% growth in attendance between 2012 and 201. However, Tokyo Disney was the real winner last year with nearly 16% growth year over year. However, Disneyland Paris did not do so well, with a 7% decline in attendance over 2012.


Advertisement for Shanghai Disney. Photo: Disney

The coming Shanghai Disney resort
Disneyland Shanghai, the first Disney resort to open on the China mainland, will be the next big thing to open in the theme park industry. The park is currently under development, and is on track for its expected 2015 opening.

Photo: Disney

Disney, its fans, and its shareholders are all excited about this coming park. Bob Iger, Disney's CEO, was quoted in a recent company press release as saying, "Since we first broke ground in Shanghai we've been very impressed with the growth of China's economy, especially the rapid expansion of the middle class and the significant increase in travel and tourism. Our accelerated expansion, including additional attractions and entertainment, will allow us to welcome more guests for a spectacular Disney experience on opening day." With this kind of growth and expected audience members, this park will surely be a huge boost to Disney's revenues.

Shanghai Disney Resort will cover 963 acres and is planned to feature Shanghai Disneyland, a Magic Kingdom-style theme park; two themed hotels; a large retail, dining and entertainment venue; a Broadway-style theater; and outdoor recreation areas. Construction started in 2011 and it is targeted to open at the end of 2015. 

Disneyland Hong Kong, while not in China's mainland but on the island of Hong Kong that is part of China, has been operating since 2005, and the company clearly knows the value of its Chinese audience there. As for Asia in total, Hong Kong and Tokyo combined represent a huge amount of Disney's theme park revenue. Now, with Shanghai added to that, Disney will be even more of the dominant player in Asia's theme park industry with little chance for any competitor to catch up.

Final Foolish thought
With nine of the top 10 most popular theme parks around the world, Disney is already the dominating player in the theme park industry. For theme park goers and investors alike, Disney is light-years ahead of competitors. But much more exciting than the huge number of visitors to Disney parks already, is Disney's next theme park that is set to put the company into the highest theme park growth it's seen yet. Disney Shanghai is going to be the biggest thing to hit the theme park industry in 2015-2016 and Foolish theme park goers and investors alike will be paying close attention to this new park.

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