One of this summer's biggest buzzwords is staycation -- the head-on collision between staying at home and going on vacation. With high gas prices keeping drivers on shorter leashes and a tough economy drying up discretionary income, it makes perfect sense for summer travelers to treat themselves to more economical alternatives closer to home.

This isn't just a random theory that rolls nicely off the tongue. The market keeps pushing evidence in our direction, letting us know that staycations are all too real.

  • Exhibit A: Fueled by the runaway success of Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) The Dark Knight, movie theater chains posted their biggest weekend ever last month.
  • Exhibit B: DVD rental specialist Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) posted better-than-expected results two weeks ago, closing out the second quarter with an additional 168,000 subscribers to its mail-delivered flick service.
  • Exhibit C: We're driving less, billions of miles less a month, according to Department of Transportation studies.
  • Exhibit D: Regional amusement park operators Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) and Six Flags (NYSE:SIX) have earned far more than Wall Street was targeting this week.

The top thrill is no dragster on earnings
This morning's report out of Cedar Fair -- the company behind popular amusement parks like Cedar Point in Ohio and Knott's Berry Farm in California -- is a good one. Revenue inched 8% higher to $296.2 million. Earnings clocked in at $0.26 per unit, well ahead of the $0.10 a unit that it earned a year earlier. Analysts were looking for the chain's performance to come in flat with last year's showing.

Cedar Fair's fiscal calendar did include a few extra operating days, but the company's performance at the park level is still commendable. Park revenue inched higher, as attendance gains were only partly offset by a dip in per-capita spending of in-park guests. Cedar Fair's showing is actually the opposite of what Six Flags posted yesterday, with per-capita spending gains more than making up for a slight dip in turnstile clicks. The end result, though, is that both chains are doing better than they were a season ago.

Both companies also blew Wall Street's bottom-line guesstimates out of the water, generating better-than-expected profitability. Clearly the economy is in sorrier shape today than it was last summer. If the regional amusement operators are faring much better this time around, do staycation disbelievers need more proof?

Really? OK, bring in the wolf as Exhibit E.

Hungry like Great Wolf
Shares of Great Wolf Resorts (NASDAQ:WOLF) traded as much as 10% higher this morning, as the company behind family-friendly lodges with massive enclosed waterparks also delivered better-than-expected results.

The most impressive metric in Great Wolf's numbers is that same-store RevPAR -- the telltale metric in the lodging industry that translates into how much money a hotelier is generating on each available room on an average day -- rose during the quarter. Higher occupancy rates helped offset a small dip in the average revenue in occupied rooms.

I believe it. I spent a weekday at the Great Wolf in Williamsburg, Va., last month and the place was packed. For those who figured that indoor waterparks were a phenomenon limited to the Wisconsin Dells, tell that to companies like Great Wolf and InterContinental's (NYSE:IHG) Holiday Inn chain, which are aggressively expanding their offerings.

Great Wolf is certainly having no problem drawing a crowd, even as the second quarter came to a close. The RevPAR trend improved in June, up a whopping 8.1% over last June's showing. This is great momentum heading into the telltale third quarter.

It's all about the third quarter for companies like Great Wolf, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags. Most schools let out throughout June, but July and August are the key travel months.

Did I say travel? What I meant to say is staycation. It's real. Disney (NYSE:DIS) posted a solid quarterly report last week, but it also indicated that attendance fell at its stateside theme parks. Disney's parks are not regional. They draw from all over the planet, unlike the regional parks and attractions that lure mostly the locals. Did you ever think that Disney's attendance would take a hit, yet Cedar Fair and Six Flags would come through with higher guest traffic?

It's Exhibit F, I guess, but don't let the F kid you into thinking that the industry isn't getting a passing grade. Even if you're not grading the leisure companies on a curve, the regional players are doing just fine.

I rest my case.

InterContinental Hotels is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Cedar Fair is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Netflix and Walt Disney are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of these Fool services free for 30 days for information and advice on how to enjoy and even profit from the roller-coaster market.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. He does own shares in Disney, Netflix, and Six Flags, as well as units in Cedar Fair. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.