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New attractions, Disney anniversary push theme park attendance up 4.2%

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Attendance at North America's 50 most popular amusement parks rose 4.2 percent in 2005, powered by strong investment in new rides, the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, and a hurricane season that bypassed the theme park capital of Orlando.

An estimated 176 million people visited the most popular parks, according to an annual survey by the trade publication Amusement Business and the research firm Economics Research Associates.

Attendance was off at two Ohio facilities: Paramount's Kings Island in southwest Ohio had 3.3 million visitors in 2005 to place 16th, but was down 5.1 percent overall. Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, had 3.1 million, good enough for 18th but off 2 percent from last year.

Worldwide, amusement park attendance increased 2.2 percent, to 253 million visitors.

Most major parks don't release attendance figures, but the Amusement Business numbers are considered the most reliable estimates.

Neither a rainy spring in California nor a parade of destructive hurricanes in the Southeast slowed growth in the $10 billion industry, which had strong momentum from last year, the first year attendance had increased since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Parks that acquired new rides in 2005 saw their investments pay off; parks that had an off year in their capital investment cycle, for the most part, experienced attendance dips, said James Zoltak, editor of Amusement Business.

Universal's two parks in Orlando, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures, each saw declines of 8.5 percent, while attendance at Universal Studios Hollywood dipped 6 percent.

All three parks came off strong attendance increases in 2004, and the parks in 2005 didn't introduce an excitement-generating thrill ride comparable to 2004's Revenge of the Mummy ride.

The Walt Disney Co.'s four parks in Florida and two parks in California benefited with new rides, stage shows, and parades. The Florida parks had attendance increases of between 5 and 6.5 percent, while Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., respectively, saw growth of 8.5 percent and 3.6 percent.

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, with 16.1 million visitors, and Disneyland in California, with 14.5 million visitors, were not only the two most visited parks in North America in 2005, but they were the best-attended parks in the world.

In North America, the remaining top five spots were filled out with Disney's other Florida parks: Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Six Flags Inc., which invested $135 million in new rides around the nation for the 2005 season, was rewarded with a 5.7 percent increase across the chain, according to Amusement Business.

Anheuser Busch-owned parks saw sharp increases at locations with new thrill rides.

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