Tourism continued its statewide surge in 2012, nowhere more strongly than at theme parks in the Orlando area, which added thousands of jobs and pumped millions of dollars into the local economy with ongoing expansions.
Walt Disney World, by far the region’s leading jobs producer and the largest single-site employer in the nation, boosted its payroll to 66,700 full and part time, up 2,700 for the year. Since 2009, Disney has added about 8,000 local jobs and is still hiring partly as a result of its ongoing $425-million Fantasyland expansion, which won’t be completed until 2014.
Disney also is competing for hospitality talent with Universal Orlando, which boosted its workforce during the year to about 16,500 employees, up 500, and SeaWorld, which has more than 6,000 local employees, up about 600 for the year. SeaWorld is adding employees in preparation for the opening of “Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin” early this year, the largest expansion in the Orlando park’s history. Universal is adding a second Harry Potter-themed land, expected to open in 2014 or 2015, as well as a thrill ride based on the Transformers robot action figures.
Universal’s wildly successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010 at a cost of $265 million just as the recession bottomed out —at least from an Orlando-area tourism standpoint.
Theme park expansion and new rides are not the only economic booster shots provided by the central Florida tourism giants. Universal and Loews Hotels & Resorts, for example, are building an 1,800-room hotel called Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which will open in 2014 and nearly double the number of rooms on Universal’s Orlando property. Disney opened the final phases of its Art of Animation Resort in 2012, a $350-million project featuring nearly 2,000 rooms, and launched its $900-million Fantasy cruise ship from Port Canaveral.