Schlitterbahn: Waterparks Are For Grown-ups, Too
Waterparks are for kids, right? I mean, all those slides and chutes and tubes and stuff. All that splish-splashing around and loud shrieking noises. All that wetness.
Such was my thinking before I was invited to spend a couple of days at Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort in New Braunfels, Texas. I hadn’t been to a waterpark in, well, ever, and I wasn’t so sure about this one. I didn’t have children or grandchildren to oversee, so I failed to see the point. But I agreed and focused my diva tendencies on what to wear (more about that to come).
Any doubts evaporated like dewdrops soon after my arrival. Our first activity was a Boogie Bahn lesson. Boogie Bahn is the world’s first surfing ride, and it was developed by the creative minds at Schlitterbahn. You lie stomach-down on a bodyboard and slide headlong into a humongous wave rushing toward you.
The idea, of course, is to not fall off, but also to ride the wave’s rhythm and force as long as you can. When you get good, you can spin round and round, hands-free, kneeling, maybe even standing, without wiping out. I didn’t get good, but I laughed myself silly trying.
At whatever age, “your inner 7-year-old comes out with the first splash,” says Winter Prosapio, Schlitterbahn’s corporate director of communications and government relations, who guided me around the park one afternoon.
The Schlitterbahn motto is: “Live. Laugh. Splash,” she says.
Schlitterbahn New Braunfels is a family-owned waterpark in South-Central Texas with 51 attractions and rides on 70-plus wooded acres flanking the spring-fed Comal River. It is the first and flagship operation in the Schlitterbahn portfolio of waterparks. (“Schlitterbahn” is an amalgam of the German words for “slippery” and “road.)
For 20 years running, the New Braunfels site has been named the World’s Best Waterpark by “Amusement Today,” the industry publication that sponsors the annual Golden Ticket Awards.
“We see college kids and grown-ups without kids all the time,” Winter says. “People don’t really outgrow us, mostly because there really is something for every age: rivers, floats, wild and mild.”
She continues: Schlitterbahn is a choice destination for girlfriend getaways, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and honeymoons. Recently, 16 novelists gathered for a writers’ retreat. Bavarian Halle, an onsite venue that offers catering and a bridal consultant, welcomes weddings, reunions and other gatherings.
The property has been a leisure destination for more than 50 years. In 1966, the Bob and Billye Henry family moved to New Braunfels to take over a small riverside resort. Initially, they added waterslides as a guest amenity. One thing led to another, and by the 1990s, the re-named Schlitterbahn had grown to hundreds of guest rooms and miles of inner-tube chutes. The family continues to invest not only in frolic but also in environmental sustainability and innovative water-conservation features. They also developed Schlitterbahn waterparks in South Padre Island, Galveston and Corpus Christi in Texas and Kansas City, Kansas.
But enough talking. After our turns on the Boogie Bahn, we headed to Dragon’s Revenge–the first uphill water roller-coaster. Two-person inflatable rafts shoot along an undulating course, through pitch-black tubes, fiery holograms and dragon-ish roars before gliding to a soft finish.
Then on to the Master Blaster, another uphill water-coaster, which takes off from the top of a 60-foot wooden tower. Sorry, no elevator. No gentle initiation, either. Your raft immediately plunges three stories, followed by a twisting tunnel and a freaky pretzel-shaped downward spiral.
After those two breath-stopping rides, I was ready to experience water closer to ground level. The Falls is a 3,600-foot-long manmade river and a no-wait attraction. Slip into an inner tube, and let the current take you through a circuit of alternating fast- and slow-moving water for an endless float. Sweet!
During the remainder of the visit, I experienced more adventurous thrills. I also found plenty of ways to relax: sandy beaches, heated pools, swim-up bars, and cabanas equipped with cushioned furniture, refrigerators, televisions and ceiling fans. Some have barbecue grills.
So here’s my final take: I splished and splashed, and got really, really wet. I let out a few shrieking noises. And the experience was pure joy. Maybe it was a good thing not to have children along. I have my own little kid inside of me, and she happily got to do everything she wanted.
WHERE TO STAY
You don’t have to overnight at Schlitterbahn, but there are great deals if you do. Room rates include waterpark admission and extended hours for registered guests. A variety of room types are available, ranging from value-driven hotel rooms to luxury suites and from romantic cabins to crowd-pleasing vacation homes. Parking is free.
My stay was at the upscale SchlitterStein Lofts, a short complimentary tram jaunt from the park. The lofts feature two bedrooms, a full kitchen with laundry, greatroom for dining and lounging, and a balcony overlooking tubers float down the Comal River. In the gorgeously tiled master bath are a glass-enclosed shower and a corner whirlpool tub, both sized for two. Both baths were amply stocked with Spa Therapy-branded toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames.
The Riverbend Cabins are located footsteps from Blastenhoff Beach and the Master Blaster water ride. The Treehaus Luxury Suites, lavished in rustic woods and modern conveniences, sell out every year, so reserve early.
DINING AND IMBIBING
Tasty and affordable food and beverage options, including beer and wine, are offered at more than 25 locations throughout the waterpark. Park chefs smoke the barbecue and hand-stretch the pizza dough. Menus list burgers, chicken and turkey, wraps, tacos, salads, funnel cakes and ice cream treats. You can bring your own picnic fare, but no glass or alcohol.
The flavors continue in the town of New Braunfels, where you’ll find steakhouses, ethnic eateries, barbecue joints, pizzarias, sandwich shops and taverns.
WHAT TO WEAR
Consideration of a waterpark adventure is sure to raise questions of apparel, especially for women of a certain age. Like me. Here’s a bit of advice:
“If you have body issues, come to Schlitterbahn,” Winter says. “Honestly, after a few minutes, you just don’t notice what anyone is wearing, and they don’t notice you, either.”
A Boomer who happily dives into the water with her guests, Winter prefers a one-piece bathing suit with a skirt. That would have been a better choice than my board shorts and tankini top. Rushing water on the roller coasters pulled my shorts downward, necessitating an awkward yank before I stood up after each ride.
“The most important thing is to wear some sort of water shoe,” Winter says.
You’ll also want a hat and a waterproof protector for your cell phone. Get one that loops over your head, so you don’t drop it in the water.
(Many thanks to Schlitterbahn New Braunfels for hosting my visit. It was a blast!)