Attendance at Disney's Animal Kingdom surges in 2017

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Pandora -- The World of Avatar opened in late May 2017 at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Pandora -- The World of Avatar opened in late May 2017 at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Even though Pandora -- The World of Avatar was only open for seven months in 2017, the attraction boosted attendance at Disney's Animal Kingdom by a whopping 15% last year, according to the Theme Index, an annual study by AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association.

Animal Kingdom's attendance was 12.5 million, up from 10.84 million in 2016.

At Disney's other Orlando parks, Epcot attendance was up 4.2% to 12.2 million, while attendance was flat at the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Magic Kingdom is the most popular theme park in the world, drawing 20.45 million guests in 2017.

All Disney parks worldwide welcomed just over 150 million guests in 2017, a 6.8% increase attributable to the Pandora opening at Animal Kingdom and the first full year of operations at Shanghai Disneyland.

Attendance at Universal's North America parks grew 4.9% in 2017. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter completed its first full year of being open at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2017 (the land opened in early 2016), which sparked an attendance increase of nearly 1 million people.

Another big driver for Universal was the opening of the Volcano Bay water park in Orlando, which welcomed 1.5 million visitors in its first year. The park was only open for seven months in its first year.

Almost all the top water parks in North America had attendance declines in 2017, including the top two -- Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon (5% decrease) and Blizzard Beach (7% decrease). Attendance at SeaWorld's Aquatica in Orlando was down 10%.

"Countering the overall trend, Universal's new Volcano Bay is a major new addition to the Universal Orlando Resort and the Orlando leisure landscape ... Volcano Bay also has stimulated some new thinking within the industry about the definition of a water park, strategies for combining wet and dry rides within a property, and innovations in virtual queuing," the report stated.

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