Home » Report: Universal Recovering Faster Than Disney from COVID-19 Attendance Woes

Report: Universal Recovering Faster Than Disney from COVID-19 Attendance Woes

Cast Member mask wearing, Disney

Though theme parks in Florida are open and welcoming guests, visitor levels in the state are down sharply in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by Visit Florida, 12.8 million total visitors traveled to Florida during the second quarter of 2020, a decrease of 60.5% compared to the second quarter of 2019. And while this is understandable, Disney and Universal are making a big push for guests to return to their theme parks. And interestingly, it looks like things are going a little bit better for one resort than the other. 

Disney theme parks take a big hit, while things at Universal are….less bad. 

According to a report by Deutsche Bank discussed on Yahoo Finance, Disney theme parks are operating at 80% less than last year, a measurement that was determined using proprietary geolocation data. And while some might look at that figure and chalk those massive losses up to lower traffic due to the pandemic, interestingly the same report found that Universal Orlando Resort’s theme parks are seeing an “uplift in admissions” especially on Saturdays when attendance is down 64% from 2019 crowds, according to the Orlando Sentinel.  

Obviously the park attendance being down so far is not “good” news for either park, but the fact that Universal is at least making up some of the difference is interesting. Disney has been employing a strategy that seems to prioritize travelers coming from out of state and staying on property, with local annual passholders having a hard time recently making park pass reservations. And while Disney has rolled out a few deals for Florida residents, Universal has been basically giving away park admissions, offering free months on annual passes and a buy-a-day-get-the-rest-of-2020 free deal in recent weeks that have probably helped drive admission to the park and have made its losses less than that of neighbor Walt Disney World. 

And though this all seems like very bad news, Deutsche Bank’s report did seem to imply that things would improve at Walt Disney World, saying, “Given this ongoing improvement in Universal’s attendance and declining new daily COVID cases in Florida, we believe that Disney World will also soon see some benefit.”

Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom outpacing Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in attendance

One of the more interesting tidbits tucked away in the report was the finding that “Epcot and Animal Kingdom are [currently] outperforming Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios” in terms of attendance. This seems a little strange considering the Magic Kingdom is of course the resort’s flagship park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been very popular since reopening due to demand for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. The latter is also the hardest theme park to get a parks pass reservation for, as it is frequently blocked out for annual passholders. 

However, though these observations may seem a little strange, we’d guess that this lower attendance at this parks (particularly Disney’s Hollywood Studios) is a function of lower capacity at these parks with Disney strictly limiting guest levels so social distancing can be practiced as effectively as possible. 

Right now, there’s no way to know what attendance will do in the fall, but it looks like right now both Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World are not expecting any growth at all, with both resorts cutting park hours, and two Universal hotels shutting down indefinitely due to lack of demand. However, if by some miracle things rebound, it would definitely be amazing to see some good news for the central Florida theme parks, as questions are beginning to form about what the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be. 

As always, while this situation is evolving, all travelers should check out the CDC’s official site here, which has information on the virus and how to prevent its spread. 

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