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Attendance soars at Southern California's most popular theme parks despite high prices

Attendance soars at Southern California's most popular theme parks despite high prices
Visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood watch as riders of Jurassic Park -- The Ride splash down the final descent. A study found that the most expensive theme park to visit in the country is Universal Studios Hollywood. (Richard Derk / Los Angeles Times)

If you're a theme park fan in Southern California, you already know that visiting one almost requires you to take out a cash advance on your paycheck.

Now a study of theme-park prices nationwide has confirmed that the highest prices in the nation are, in fact, in Southern California.

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Despite those high prices, theme park attendance at both the Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood was up last year, according to a separate annual attendance estimate by Los Angeles-based consulting firm Aecom released Thursday. The theme parks do not publicly disclose attendance numbers.

To visit Disneyland or the adjacent California Adventure in Anaheim, parkgoers must pay $135 per day per park during high-demand days. Those are the highest daily admission prices for any theme park in the country, according to a study of the nation's 45 most popular theme parks released this week by the vacation rental site Hometogo.com.

But when the study added in the cost of parking, food and a night in a hotel, Universal Studios Hollywood came out as the nation's most expensive theme park to visit. The costs added up to $266.

A representative for Universal Studios Hollywood pointed out that the total costs are pushed up by hotel rates in Los Angeles, which are out of the theme park's control and among the country's highest.

Universal Studios Hollywood had an attendance increase of 12% in 2017 over the previous year, bringing the total to 9 million visitors, according to the Aecom report. The rise was most likely because of the continued popularity of the park's Wizarding World of Harry Potter addition that opened in 2016.

The park has also invested in several other attractions in the last few years, including those based on the TV series "The Walking Dead" and the "Fast & Furious" movie franchise.

Disneyland attendance increased 2% to 18.3 million visitors last year, while attendance to California Adventure Park grew by 3% to 9.6 million visitors in 2017, the Aecom report estimated.

Both parks are expecting a spike in visitors when Disneyland opens a new land next year dubbed Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. California Adventure Park has announced plans to build its own expansion in 2020 based on the Marvel superheroes.

In response to the study on costs, a Disney representative said the company's parks are "the only place where favorite stories are brought to life through new and classic attractions."

The second-most expensive theme park as measured by total costs was Walt Disney Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla. ($219), followed by California Adventure Park ($217) and Disneyland ($216), according to the study.

The nation's least expensive theme park to visit is Cliff's Amusement Park in Albuquerque, N.M., which costs a visitor $60 for admission, parking, a meal and a hotel stay. Cliff's is one of only five other parks in the study that offers free parking.

The study also calculated the cost of riding each attraction by dividing the admission price by the total number of rides offered at each park.

Disney's Hollywood Studio in Florida ranked the highest, with a cost of about $9 per ride. The park offers 13 rides with an admission price of $122. That is assuming visitors get to try every ride during one visit.

Darien Lake, an amusement park east of Buffalo, N.Y., is the least expensive, with a cost of about 60 cents per ride, according to the study. The park has 59 rides and charges $35 for admission.

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UPDATES:

10:25 a.m.: This article was updated to include attendance estimates from a study by the Los Angeles-based consulting firm Aecom.

This article was originally published at 8 a.m.

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