13 North American amusement parks growing the most in popularity

Stacker used Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM data to list the 13 North American theme parks with the most visitor growth from 2021 to 2022.


The Cinderella Castle at Disney World.

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Heart-pounding thrill rides, tasty treats, unique attractions—who doesn't love a trip to an amusement park? In fact, our universal (pun intended) love for amusement parks stretches back much further than you might expect: all the way to 1583. That's when the world's oldest amusement park, Bakken, opened in Denmark.

People around the world still flock to amusement parks in the millions today. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, many of the most popular parks in North America temporarily closed their gates or, at the very least, saw significant drops in attendance. Some parks started to recuperate in 2021 as social distancing restrictions eased, but most stayed relatively empty until 2022.

When 2022 did roll around, though, certain parks saw 40-50% spikes in attendance compared to the year prior, while one park's attendance soared by more than 500%. The industry is now firmly back in business, and many amusement parks have implemented new rides, shows, and other exciting experiences to entice visitors to return.

To showcase the parks that saw the biggest increases in annual visitorship between 2021 and 2022, Stacker looked at data from the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM. Read on to find out which 13 North American amusement parks have grown the most in popularity in recent years.

#13. Universal Studios Florida

The Velocicoaster.

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- Location: Orlando, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 20%
- 2022 attendance: 10.8 million

Though COVID-19 restrictions in Florida were among the most relaxed in the country, Universal Studios Florida still underwent a major dip in visitorship during the pandemic. The park welcomed slightly less than 4.1 million attendees in 2020, compared to the 10.9 million visitors who entered Universal in 2019. But attendance jumped back up in 2022, further bolstered by the 2021 opening of the Jurassic World VelociCoaster elsewhere in the park and a stunt show called the Bourne Stuntacular, which started in 2020.

#12. Universal's Islands of Adventure

A water rollercoaster.

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- Location: Orlando, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 21%
- 2022 attendance: 11.0 million

According to the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM, Universal's Islands of Adventure accounted for the lion's share of attendance at Universal Orlando Resort in 2022. In fact, visitor numbers at this park alone outstripped three separate Disney World parks: Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. You can find the aforementioned Jurassic World VelociCoaster here, as well as Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a popular ride that opened in 2019.

#11. SeaWorld San Diego

The Emperor Dive Coaster.

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- Location: San Diego
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 25%
- 2022 attendance: 3.5 million

Attendance at SeaWorld San Diego in 2022 neared pre-pandemic numbers, which reached 3.7 million in 2019. That could be thanks to the opening of a buzzy new ride, the Emperor Dive Coaster. The tallest and fastest dive coaster in California, the Emperor boasts a breathtaking, 14-story vertical drop. A Mardi Gras event also kicked off for the first time in 2022.

#10. Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World

A lion sleeping.

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- Location: Lake Buena Vista, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 25%
- 2022 attendance: 9.0 million

Disney's Animal Kingdom still has a ways to go to reach pre-pandemic attendance (nearly 14 million visitors came to the park in 2019), but the return of several popular tours, like the Up Close with Rhinos experience and the Wild Africa Trek, helped boost visitorship in 2022. Several key, holiday-themed shows also reappeared, including the Merry Menagerie, a wildlife-themed puppet show, and the park's annual Earth Day celebration.

#9. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

People riding a rollercoaster.

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- Location: Tampa, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 26%
- 2022 attendance: 4.1 million

2022 brought both new events and returning favorites to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Celebrations like Cinco de Mayo and Viva La Música took place for the first time, while Mardi Gras, the Food & Wine Festival, and the Real Music concert series returned to the park that year. Busch Gardens also drew crowds to a new ride in March 2022: Iron Gwazi, the tallest hybrid roller coaster in North America.

Notably, Busch Gardens' parent company, SeaWorld, reported increased revenue in 2022 compared to 2019, indicating that while there might be fewer visitors, those visitors are happy to spend more money on their experiences.

#8. Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World

Star Wars Park at Hollywood Studios.

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- Location: Lake Buena Vista, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 27%
- 2022 attendance: 10.9 million

Between 2021 and 2022, Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World didn't have many new attractions to offer visitors. But that didn't stop over a million more attendees from streaming into the park in 2022, as pandemic restrictions continued to lift and Disney celebrated its 50th anniversary. Disney theme parks did roll out the Genie+ line-skipping service starting in 2021, which could have helped increase attendance at Hollywood Studios and other Walt Disney World attractions.

#7. Epcot at Walt Disney World

Epcot Center entrance.

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- Location: Lake Buena Vista, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 29%
- 2022 attendance: 10.0 million

Several hugely popular events made their regularly scheduled returns to Epcot at Walt Disney World in 2022, including the Festival of the Arts, which features the Disney on Broadway Concert series. In the summer, Epcot also launched The Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, a ride that ranks as one of the world's longest enclosed coasters. Last but not least, the fast-casual restaurant Connections Café and Eatery serving up Starbucks favorites opened its doors for the first time in 2022, a major plus for visitors needing a caffeine boost.

#6. Magic Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World

Fireworks over the Cinderella Castle at Disney.

Gary Hershorn // Getty Images

- Location: Lake Buena Vista, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 35%
- 2022 attendance: 17.1 million

There's good news and bad news for Magic Kingdom fans. This was the most-visited theme park in the world in 2022, but these visitor stats don't even come close to pre-pandemic numbers, which reached 21 million in 2019. The park also experienced significant construction delays on one of its most anticipated rides, Tron Lightcycle/Run, which was originally slated to open in 2022 but was pushed to 2023.

#5. SeaWorld Orlando

Mado and Kraken rollercoasters at night.

VIAVAL TOURS // Shutterstock

- Location: Orlando, Florida
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 46%
- 2022 attendance: 4.5 million

Just like its West Coast location, SeaWorld Orlando welcomed visitors to a brand-new roller coaster in 2022. The Ice Breaker features four different launches (forward and reverse, in case you were wondering) and the steepest beyond vertical drop in Florida, clocking in at 93 feet tall.

Aside from the Ice Breaker, several key attractions, like the Kraken, were updated and given facelifts. The Electric Ocean summertime event also returned to dazzle audiences with two new shows: stunt show Adrenaline and luminescent percussion concert Electroblast.

#4. Universal Studios Hollywood

People walking through Jupiter


- Location: Universal City, California
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 53%
- 2022 attendance: 8.4 million

Universal Studios Hollywood made some major moves in 2022, namely opening a new film set, Jupiter's Claim, the Western-themed attraction at the center of the horror film "Nope." Guests can explore Jupiter's Claim and other sets aboard the studio tour, which takes visitors behind the scenes of famous Universal releases.

The park's ultrapopular Christmas event, The Awesomest Celebration of the Season, also made a triumphant comeback that year. Festivities took place throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and over in Whoville, where Universal's trademark Grinchmas came to town.

#3. Disney California Adventure Park at Disneyland Resort

Raya greeting visitors at Disney.

Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register // Getty Images

- Location: Anaheim, California
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 81%
- 2022 attendance: 9.0 million

Considering all Disneyland Resort parks were closed for nearly four months in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions, and Disneyland offered discounted tickets for Southern California residents in 2022, it's no surprise visitor numbers spiked in the latter year. Several long-missed celebrations, including the Lunar New Year and the Food & Wine Festival, also returned to Disney California Adventure Park. Plus, the character of Raya from the 2021 animated film "Raya and the Last Dragon" made her debut here in 2022.

#2. Disneyland Park at Disneyland Resort

Guests line up to enter Disneyland Park.

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- Location: Anaheim, California
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 97%
- 2022 attendance: 16.9 million

Attendance at Disneyland Park at Disneyland Resort nearly doubled between 2021 and 2022, likely due to the resort's post-pandemic reopening and those aforementioned discounted tickets. But also in 2022, the park's beloved nighttime shows (known as "spectaculars") finally kicked off again after the long hiatus. Displays like the Main Street Electrical Parade and Disneyland Forever illuminated the park after dark once more, heralding an eagerly anticipated return to normalcy for visitors.

#1. Canada's Wonderland

Beautiful floral gardens at Canada

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- Location: Maple, Ontario
- Attendance growth, 2021-2022: 524%
- 2022 attendance: 3.8 million

The largest theme park in Canada, Canada's Wonderland had a bumpy year in 2022, with one attraction catching fire and others trapping riders during a storm, but millions still entered the park in 2022, a dramatic increase from the prior year. Canada's Wonderland was especially busy in 2022—new events like the Taste of the Caribbean took place, and the water park attraction Mountain Bay Cliffs opened this year, as did the Lazy Bear Lodge restaurant.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Lacy Kerrick.