The Most Popular Amusement Parks in North America

The breakdown of which parks 375 million people will choose this year!

Written by Carly Hallman

We’ve pulled together the data on the most visited theme parks in North America, and some of the statistics may surprise you. From Orlando, to Ontario, to Pennsylvania, summer travelers sure do love family-friendly adventure.  Roughly 375 million people will visit an amusement park this year. Hop on, tighten your seat belt, keep your hands inside the vehicle, and dive into our list of the most popular theme parks in the U.S. and Canada! (And don’t forget to wink at the camera!)

Most Popular Amusement Parks in America

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How Orlando Came to Be the Epicenter of the American Amusement Park

Seven of the ten most popular theme parks in the U.S. are located in the Orlando/Lake Buena Vista region of Florida. According to Visit Orlando, the city gets roughly 68 million visitors per year. That isn’t bad for what’s essentially a swamp. So, why did adventurous Walt Disney decide that this bog was worth something? Answer, he wanted the roads. Also, he wanted cheap land and a lot of it. His first park opened with many missteps, from wet asphalt to ticket forgeries. Rumor has it that he also didn’t like the businesses that had popped up around his Anaheim park, so he swore that this time he’d try to control more of the land around his project. As a result, he snagged a piece of land five times the size of his original park. Purchasing millions of dollars of swampland under multiple dummy corporations (which would later be the names of stores on Main Street, U.S.A.), he led a two-year construction effort that involved creating walkways a level above the actual ground. His ambitious goals weren’t without risk; his Florida project cost him $400 million before its opening day in 1971. However, it quickly became a hit, drawing 20 million visitors within two years. Sea World quickly followed and opened in 1973 and Universal Orlando opened to compete against Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 1990.

The Most Magical Place on Earth

With such an intense amount of planning devoted to the project and spanning several decades, it’s no wonder why creating Walt Disney World paid off. Although Walt Disney himself died long before his biggest dream, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) – his utopian city, became a reality, at least a few of his dreams came true. So how many people visit Disney World each day? It’s estimated that more than 50,000 guests visit the parks per day, which is more than the population of Bonita Springs, another city in Florida. How many people visit Disney World each year? In 2016, 20 million people visited the Magic Kingdom alone, making it by far the most popular Disney park. Rough estimates show that the number of annual visitors reach as high as 50 million for the four main parks of Walt Disney World.

The Top Non-Disney Amusement Parks

The most visited amusement parks in America that aren’t related to Disney are Universal Studios and SeaWorld Orlando. Universal Studios Florida gets less than half the number of visitors of the Magic Kingdom, but with the addition of important attractions like Harry Potter, Universal Studios has kept up with its competition. Outside of the top ten most visited parks, you also have Busch Gardens, Knott’s Berry Farm, Canada’s Wonderland, Cedar Point, Kings Island, Hersheypark (originally created for chocolate factory workers), and a handful of other Six Flags locations. What about more classic amusement parks? The oldest of the top 20 most popular amusement parks is Cedar Point, which opened in 1870. It’s the second-oldest operating amusement park in the U.S. Though there were many different North American amusement parks before and since that opening, these are brands that Americans recognize and trust year after year.

Planning on a Trip to a Theme Park This Summer?

How do you choose which amusement park to visit? You could ask a search engine to look for, “amusement parks near me,” but the closest theme park won’t necessarily always be your best bet. You’ll also want to look at the price of the amusement parks, rides that your family can enjoy, and most importantly, how long the waits will be. For example, given the time of year and how popular a park is at a given time you could get unlucky and be waiting in line for hours at Cedar Point or you could get lucky and breeze through lines at Walt Disney World parks. It’s all about your preferences and what works best for you and your group. It may be worth the risk of going to a park during a traditionally busy season (such as the summertime) if you really enjoy the rides. Whether you have your heart set on Disneyland or are dreaming of Hersheypark, be sure to do your research before hopping in the car or booking that flight!

Alternatively, if you’re looking to save money on a vacation, consider visiting one of the most visited national parks instead. No matter where you go, be sure to enjoy your summer!

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