Unless you were General Electric (NYSE:GE), 2005 was a good year for the amusement park industry. In its annual survey, Amusement Business reports that the 50 largest parks saw their attendance rise by 4.2% in 2005. The trade periodical tracks turnstile clicks at the country's national and regional park operators, and that information comes in handy because many chains tend to be cryptic about their park performances.

The largely respectable results may seem odd after a year that saw a corporate shakeup at Six Flags (NYSE:PKS), a public announcement from Viacom (NYSE:VIA) that it may consider selling its Paramount Parks chain, and a lack of significant movement in shares of Disney (NYSE:DIS) despite a change at the helm.

Yes, things went far better for most of the operators than the industrial whirlwind would lead one to believe. According to the survey, Six Flags saw attendance spike by 5.2%, and each of Disney's four parks in Florida weathered another lively hurricane season with crowd upticks of 5% or better. Inside Value recommendation Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) experienced dramatic attendance gains at its Busch Gardens theme parks, and Paramount Parks managed a 2.2% spurt despite a small dip at its Kings Island attraction in Ohio.

Income Investor pick Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) produced mixed results, with overall attendance growth inching up slightly despite declines at its two biggest parks.

As mentioned, the only operator that really stumbled in 2005 was GE.

GE inherited the Universal theme park chains, and it's becoming pretty apparent that the conglomerate doesn't understand the need to add major attractions to draw in more guests to its three movie-themed attractions. Universal Studios Hollywood suffered a 6% slide, while its two gated attractions at Universal Orlando in Florida were hit with an 8.5% decline in patrons.

GE tried to put on a brave face, faulting the weather in Florida and tough comps against a spectacular 2004, but those complaints ring hollow. Disney is just a few miles southwest of Universal Orlando, and Disney thrived in 2005. The fact that there has been no material addition to Islands of Adventure since shortly after it opened in 1999 would be a fairer explanation. Universal Studios Florida next door has upgraded several of its attractions but still not since the 2004 addition of its Mummy-themed indoor coaster.

Sooner or later, GE is going to have to decide whether it has the backbone to own a chain of year-round theme parks. The parks have never really been optimized to promote GE's NBC network or even the obvious Universal franchises. Case in point -- the King Kong ride was shuttered two years ago despite the eventual big-budget remake of the namesake movie.

If GE plans to let its theme park chain slide on name recognition alone, it will soon reap the fickle harvest of patron indifference. However, if it is willing to invest in erecting the magnets that will attract tourists by the carload, maybe then Universal will be the belle of the 2006 ball.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. Yes, he already has his sights set on conquering The Voyage and El Toro come June. He owns shares in Six Flags, Disney, and Cedar Fair. T he Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.