08/13/2012 07:13 am ET Updated Oct 13, 2012

The World's Most Popular Theme Parks (PHOTOS)

Four decades after opening, and transforming, Orlando, the Magic Kingdom is still the world's most popular theme park, sprinkling its pixie-dust on more than 17 million annual visitors.

But Mickey Mouse has competition: The rising star of the theme-park industry is an English boy with round spectacles and a scar on his forehead.

The $265 million Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in the summer of 2010, single-handedly carried Islands of Adventure into the world's top 10 most-visited theme parks, delivering a 29 percent jump in attendance. "That's just huge growth when you're talking about the top of the rankings," says Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider.

The takeaway? If you build it, they will come--especially if you spend a boatload of money and create an experience that's, to use the industry's favorite buzzword, immersive. The latest and greatest new theme-park attractions are designed to pull us right into the story, whether we're engaging in an epic robot battle, soaking up the retro cars culture along Route 66, or downing pints of butterbeer with Hogwarts students.

Get the scoop on which other attractions and events are drawing crowds to the world's most-visited theme parks, based on Themed Entertainment Association's latest attendance report (2011). --Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

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