Things are looking up at Six Flags (NYSE: SIX). The regional amusement park operator posted improved second-quarter results this morning, refreshingly countering weakness at Disney's (NYSE: DIS) theme park business during the same three months.

The Six Flags chain of parks attracted 8.2 million guests during the quarter, 7% ahead of the 7.7 million visitors that clicked through its turnstiles a year ago. Revenue of $321.3 million roughly matched the attendance gains, so it's not as if the company had to give away the gate to draw a crowd.

Regional attractions appear to be the winner in this staycation summer. Six Flags clocked in with per capita guest spending of $36.86 during the period, in line with the $38.56 reported by rival Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN). Compare that to this month's gutsy move by Disney to bump up ticket prices to its themed getaways on both coasts. It now costs $82 for a one-day ticket to any of Disney's four Florida parks, and that's before tacking on the snacks and merchandise that make up the significantly lower guest spending metric at the regional thrill parks.

Disney's move seems out of touch with cost-sensitive reality, but the $82 price point was actually matched by neighboring rival Universal Orlando -- jointly owned by Blackstone (NYSE: BX) and General Electric's (NYSE: GE) NBC Universal -- a couple of days later.

Escapism doesn't take a holiday during a recession. The fact that IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX) and 3-D giant RealD (NYSE: RLD) have been getting multiplex patrons to pay a premium for cinematic experiences during the economic downturn bears that out. However, you can go too far as Disney is finding out. Six Flags and Cedar Fair are well-positioned as affordable entertainment alternatives.

Six Flags now has new management in place, and it's actually profitable so far this year.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization may have done the trick. Former CEO Mark Shapiro had his heart in the right place. His commitment to cleaning up the parks, adding more family friendly attractions, and beefing up sponsorship licensing revenue is why the chain is on firmer footing today. Unfortunately, it was hard to make his vision stick when the company was saddled with more than $2 billion in debt. Last summer's bankruptcy has helped shave long-term debt in half, with lower interest rates to boot.

If Six Flags is able to sustain its profitability on an annual basis, the company will be able to make the most of the $1 billion in federal net operating losses that can be used to offset Uncles Sam's bit on future earnings.

Investors don't seem to get the healthy position that Six Flags is in today, with only a third of interest expense payments exposure to overcome. Cash operating expenses have also diminished over the past year -- and while this can be a contentious line item if it comes at the expense of the guest experience -- the turnstile clicks tell an entirely different story.

So why are shares of Six Flags still below the $36 price that it commanded when it began trading again two months ago? It makes no sense, so you may as well line up for the ride while the queue is still short.

Why would you invest in amusement park operators? Why would you not? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves hitting amusement parks this time of year, and hit more than a few this summer. He does own shares in Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.