Orlando still most visited U.S. city but Philly, Phoenix now more popular than Vegas

Trump Hotel in Chicago declines to fourth tallest building in U.S., down from second. Will you-know-who be tweeting about this?

This story was updated on March 4, 2019.

In updating a book on a crazy road trip I took with the kids a few years ago, I discovered some trends that seemed interesting. That is, if you’re a trivia buff like me, who has little else to do than consume facts that might otherwise seem to hold little value until they do.

For one, you’d think that more people would be interested in going to Las Vegas, with its gambling mecca, lavish food buffets, and neon attractions, than say, Phoenix. The latter city has Southwestern charm and its share of museums and sports teams, but can be quite hot and not always in a good way.

But visitor bureau figures show than the Valley of the Sun attracted 43.9 million people in 2017, some 16 percent more than in 2012. Sin City welcomed 42.2 million folks who sought wealth but usually left poorer, about 6 percent more than five years previous.

Meanwhile, the City of Brotherly Love, where it’s always sunny, attracted 43.3 million visitors in 2017, some 11 percent more. Those figures include conventions, so it could be a lot of people from say, Jersey are traveling over the river to Philly for Comic Con or the latest Amway meeting. Bryce Harper signed with the local baseball team, so Philly must have something going for it.

Orlando, New York, and Chicago remain the top three most visited cities. In American culture, theme parks rule over tall buildings, neon signs, and museums.

The figures for national parks are more even-handed, tabulated by the same federal agency through the decades. Last year, some 4.5 million people entered Zion National Park in Utah, a 61 percent increase over 2013. That was a faster growth rate than any other major park. Top dog Great Smoky Mountains only rose by 20 percent and second-place Grand Canyon by 37 percent.

So either more people are into steep red cliffs than wider canyons, or they don’t want to mess with the crowds of the nearby Grand Canyon. Been there, done that.

Another trend is that the Trump International Hotel in Chicago is now only the fourth tallest building in the U.S., down from second in 2014. One World Trade Center in New York at 1,776 feet overtook Chicago’s Willis Tower for the top spot, and another new one in the Big Apple stretches higher than Trump’s. Other taller buildings are being constructed in New York and elsewhere, so expect a tweet — complete with a vow to build the tallest structure ever — any day on this….

The Grand Canyon remains the country’s second most popular national park, but Zion has eclipsed four others to move up to third. [Shay photo]

Some other differences unearthed between when my book was published in 2014 and now include:


* Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida jumped to third place among the most popular theme parks in 2017 from fourth in 2012, ahead of Epcot. Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in California remained the top two with 20.5 million and 18.3 million visitors, respectively.

* The Chicago Cubs finally won a championship after 108 years in 2016. The Houston Astros and Washington Capitals are among the franchises that have won their first titles since then. The longest title drought among MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL franchises in 2019 is by the Arizona Cardinals, which last won an NFL championship in 1947 as the Chicago Cardinals.

* The New York Yankees fell to sixth in payroll in 2018 with a mere $178 million, from first in 2013 with $230 million. The Boston Red Sox led in 2018 with $228 million.

* Noah’s Ark, a 70-acre water park in Wisconsin Dells, stopped reporting attendance figures after 666,000 visitors packed the aqua slides and other rides in 2012. The park doesn’t have a real outward Christian theme, but could some religious-minded execs have decided the “666” figure was a sign to change their ways? Anyhow, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach at Disney World remained the most popular North American water parks in 2017 with 2.2 million and 1.9 million visitors, respectively.

Chicago continues to be the third most-visited city, thanks to attractions like The Ledge in the Willis Tower. But Phoenix and Philadelphia are attracting visitors faster than Vegas. [Shay photo]
  • Madonna, the highest-paid celebrity on the 2013 Forbes list at $125 million, didn’t even make the rankings in 2018. Boxer Floyd Mayweather topped the recent list with a whopping $285 million, followed by actor George Clooney [$239M] and reality TV personality Kylie Jenner [$166.5M].
  • The percentage of the 100 most popular feature-length movies that were filmed in California further declined in 2017 to 10 percent from 16 percent in 2013, according to FilmL.A. Some 20 percent were made in Canada, up from 16 percent in 2013. Georgia and the United Kingdom also hosted more popular films than the Golden State.
  • California is still king for television. Some 467 live-action television scripted series were produced by U.S. studios in 2017–18, the most productive two years on record. Almost 40 percent of those were produced in California, with British Columbia and New York well behind.

Shay’s updated book, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Trip: On the Road of the Longest Two-Week Family Road Trip in History, will be on sale for 99 cents through the Amazon Kindle from March 7, 2019, to March 14.

Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J.-Shay/e/B004BCQRTG. Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

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