So how can American theme parks keep up, especially considering the high energy costs plaguing summer travelers this year?
Some companies, like entertainment juggernaut The Walt Disney Co.
, are staying ahead of the game by opening new parks in the undersaturated regions. Disney has parks in Tokyo and Marne-La-Vallιe, France, and last September it opened a $1.8 billion theme park in Hong Kong, in conjunction with the Chinese government. The company is also reportedly investigating the possibility of opening another park on the mainland.
For smaller U.S. amusement parks, opening a new ride or attraction, instead of a whole new park, may be the most realistic way to keep visitors funneling in through the long, hot summer. "Although there aren't new parks, we're seeing great new rides and attractions announced this year," Robertson says. One of the spring season highlights was the April 1 opening of Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia
, a 70-mph roller coaster that covers 8.5 acres in a 3.5 minute ride.
In addition to wild new rides, pricing discounts and other incentives are helping to pull in summer crowds: Cedar Point Amusement Park
in Sandusky, Ohio, is offering 25-cent cotton candy, and the Web site for Kennywood Amusement Park
in West Mifflin, Pa., links to a ZIP code database that lets visitors search for the cheapest places to buy gas.
Still other parks are offering as much as $15 off admission tickets in exchange for a gas receipt. But according to Robertson, the price of gas isn't high enough to affect most Americans' vacation plans. "It takes a gas shortage before plans are canceled, and we aren't seeing that," she says.
With Memorial Day behind us but a long summer ahead, Forbes.com has compiled a list of the world's most popular amusement parks. We worked with numbers from trade publication Amusement Business
and consulting firm Economic Research Associates, which ranked the top international amusement parks by 2005 attendance. We picked the best-attended park in each of ten countries. And although Disney dominated the list up front, some smaller, independent parks--like Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Everland in South Korea--also made the cut.