By now you've probably seen that Six Flags (NYSE:PKS) ad where a creepy dancing bus driver takes a neighborhood of families caught up in the humdrum of their home maintenance routine out for a day of amusement park loving.

The spot's tagline, "It's Playtime," can also be said of Six Flags. There's a swagger to the new campaign that seems odd considering what the operator has suffered through in recent years.

The last time Six Flags broke out a national ad campaign was just before the 1997 season. Two years later the stock peaked at $40. Back then it seemed as if the company had the perfect plan. It would acquire regional amusement parks, throw in a few thrill rides, slap on the Six Flags banner, and attendance would shoot up by 30%.

But the buying spree left the company as bloated as a thrill-seeker downing his fourth funnel cake. Forced to budget, Six Flags started neglecting its smaller parks while scaling back chain-wide on the little things that create a pleasurable visitor experience.

Annual attendance has fallen every year since 2001 (a year earlier, the figures were padded when Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online gave away a million free admissions). The company's gargantuan debt and chunky depreciation and amortization expenses make a profit unlikely. Interest payments swallowed up the company's earnings -- and then some -- in each of the last five years.

So why be hopeful? For starters, Six Flags has been generating positive cash flow. But this time, rather than erecting new monster coasters, the company is budgeting to help clean up its parks and improve its customer service. That's important. The chain realizes that it needs to back up its ambitiously twisted marketing campaign, and you can't do that when bathrooms are dirty or when popular coasters are running just one slow-loading train.

Certainly, that Six Flags has been selling assets instead of acquiring them and is committed to catering to the money-making core of local families is inspiring. No, the company is nowhere near the operating efficiency of Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) and it will never be Disney (NYSE:DIS). But it doesn't have to be to justify a higher share price. I know why the creepy guy dances. He can see the future.

Summer's coming, have you checked out our Travel Center yet? Will you be hitting an amusement park this season or are state parks more your style? Where are the best coasters in the country? All this and more -- in the Roller Coaster Loving Fools discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves his amusement parks. He owns shares of Disney as well as units in Cedar Fair.