Theme Parks Cash In On the Holidays

<b class="credit"></b>

As long as you don't happen to be SeaWorld (SEAS), it's been a good year to be a theme park operator. Disney (DIS) and Universal Studios parent Comcast (CMCSK) are posting record attendance levels, and even regional amusement park operators Six Flags (SIX) and Cedar Fair (FUN) have come through with healthy upticks in revenue this year.

Folks have been trekking out to theme parks in record numbers, and the industry's hoping to close out the year with a seasonal bang on the heels of magnetic holiday offerings.

  • Disney is naturally leading the way with its holiday decorations and shows, but the real incremental moneymaker is Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: Guests pay at least $67 for the nighttime event featuring treats and exclusive shows and parade performances. Disney World's Magic Kingdom closes early on the event nights in preparation for the hard-ticket event, allowing it to cash in on two sets of guests in the same day.

  • Disney World's neighboring Universal Orlando is running daily re-creations of the Macy's Holiday Parade through early January at Universal Studios Florida, while the adjacent Islands of Adventure theme park is hosting the Dr. Seuss-inspired Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular.

  • Like Universal, SeaWorld isn't charging extra for the holiday festivities at its Busch Gardens and SeaWorld parks. Busch Gardens is going with a Christmas Town theme full of lights and holiday performances. SeaWorld is hosting Christmas Celebration, with a wide array of seasonal offerings.

Even the traditional amusement parks are getting in on the fun. Most of the Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks are already closed for the season after October's Halloween events, but the warmer parks are opening at least on weekends for holiday-themed festivities.

Bah Humbug, Shamu

SeaWorld, as you can imagine, is in a bit more of a giving mood than its counterparts. One child gets in free for each paying adult at SeaWorld Orlando. SeaWorld San Diego is offering a second year free for those buying annual passes this year. SeaWorld San Antonio is offering access to its water parks next year for those buying a Fun Card pass now.

It's not the only way that SeaWorld is trying to use the holidays to shake its way out of its funk. Some of the parks are offering annual pass holders complimentary tree ornaments.

Then again, it's hard to blame SeaWorld for trying harder. Revenue has declined 6 percent through the first nine months of the year, and its guidance suggests a similar showing for the holiday quarter. Stirring up turnstile clicks hasn't been easy since the "Blackfish" documentary took the operator to task for keeping killer whales in captivity.

Gifts That Keep on Giving

It's a much brighter scene at the other parks. Analysts see revenue at Six Flags and Cedar Fair posting year-over-year gains of 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively. That's actually higher than the gains posted through the first three quarters, once again suggesting that October's Halloween haunts and this month's holiday tweaks are succeeding in getting more people to head out to amusement parks that typically thrive in the summertime.

With the economy improving and gasoline prices conducive to driving out to a nearby theme park, it's easy to see why these parks are cornering the market this holiday season. It's a time of giving, but it's also a time for taking.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Want to make 2015an investment year you'll celebrate? Check out The Motley Fool'sone great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.