It was an interesting year for the amusement park operators. Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) built a record-breaking roller coaster at its flagship Cedar Point park. Disney (NYSE:DIS) spent nine figures on a space simulator so intense that complimentary motion sickness bags are now de rigueur. All this at a time when many figured that the economy would still be smarting and disposable income hard to come by.

So how did the year turn out? For industry watcher Amusement Business, tallying the turnstile clicks has become an annual undertaking. With our fellow Fools discussing the weekend's publication of the trade periodical's 25 most popular parks in the country for 2003, a few things stand out.

For starters, the high-ticket gambles of Cedar Fair and Disney paid off as Cedar Point and Epcot both grew their attendance this year. You will also find that all 10 of the most popular amusement park destinations are in Florida and California. That makes sense as the rest of the parks tend to be seasonal operators with operating calendars running heavy on the crucial summer months. Six Flags (NYSE:PKS), despite having the most regional parks in its portfolio, doesn't dent the chart until the 18th entry on the ranked list.

It also bears noting that the park showing the most improvement was Disney's California Adventure. Its 13% attendance gain still has it drawing less than half of its Disneyland sister park, but this is obviously a step in the right direction and may go a long way towards wiping clean the past few years of critical ribbing.

What does this all mean? While the development slate for 2004 appears relatively barren in terms of capital expenditures for major attractions, the industry is well-positioned to be a major beneficiary if the economy continues to improve going into next summer's peak travel season. That would translate into meaty bottom lines for a sector that has given investors a smooth ride if you go by yield-happy Cedar Fair's steady trading. The New Year looks like it will be an even better ride than 2003.

What do you think of Disney's latest additions to its theme parks? What about its global expansion plans? Are they feasible? All this and more -- in the Disney discussion board. Only on