According to WaterParks.org, The United States has more water parks than the rest of the world combined, with an estimated 1,000 compared to the rest of the world’s 600. I suppose you could say that makes Americans extremely wasteful with their water, although the water in these parks is typically recycled, but that also means that Americans obviously love their water based entertainment.
A couple of weeks ago, I received free admission to Schlitterbahn’s New Braunfels Texas water park location, wich also according to WaterParks.org, was the Travel Channel’s 2005 choice as the #1 best water park in the United States. It also made the #4 spot in Amusement Business magazine for the highest attendence
The reason for these selections is pretty clear. There is tons to do and the rides are great. However, the staff could be a lot better. First I’ll cover the one negative aspect, the staff, then I’ll share some of my ride experiences.
The staff at Schlitterbahn were not very informative. As we entered and needed to find guest services, the man at the information desk of all places could not tell us where it was. There was a lady a little further over helping out another patron, so we waited our turn and asked her, but even if staff members are new, they should know where commonly requested places like that are, or at least be equipped with a map and know well how to read it. She ended up sending us to guest relations, which was a little inside the park, not guest services, which is still outside the park. I think employees should know the difference, and if in doubt, ask.
On a few occasions, staff members couldn’t even tell us where the bathrooms were. Once we even were walking by a ride we wanted to get on, but we were on a bridge passing over it and asked the woman operating it how we get to the entrance. She told us very vague directions to go one way, then a second person said to go another way, and it wasn’t until the third person, a supervisor, that we finally got the help we needed.
The supervisor was great. He guided us toward the ride, and even told us about another one on the way that would actually dump us out right at the entrance to the one we wanted. He said taking that ride would be easier, and of course more fun, than walking all the way through. He didn’t work the section we needed though, so he called the supervisor for that section to show us the rest of the way to where we wanted to go. She was wonderful as well, and both of the supervisors went out of the way to see to our happiness. Unfortunately though, the rest of the employees did not seem to have that kind of attitude, and didn’t seem to know what they were doing at all.
That said, we did have a blast, although my mom and I weren’t feeling that well so we didn’t stay as long as we could otherwise have and didn’t get to do everything we wanted, but we definitely want to return another day.
It was myself, my mom, and my 4-year-old son who visited the park that day. My son at 43.5 inches is tall enough for almost all of the rides, except of course the really big ones, because most have a height minimum of 42 inches. However, he can’t swim yet and some don’t allow you to go with a life jacket, but there were still many that did. There were also some that were just too big and scary for him.
One of those was the Downhill Racer, a pair of tall slides that you go down on your stomach riding on a raft. These slides do have a couple of steep dips though, so I’m actually glad he didn’t ride them, but my mom and I took turns riding and watching him and it was great. My son is scared to learn how to swim, but also says that he wants to, and he loves slides, so I think once he gets the hang of it, rides like this are going to be awesome for him.
We rode another ride he wanted to go on called the Whitewater Rapids. He pointed at it rather enthusiastically and said he wanted to go on it, so we grabbed some tubes and had a blast. We ended up on this ride twice, as it was the one on the way out that lead to the Cliff Hanger, the last ride we wanted to ride. The first time we rode this ride, one of the really big steep drops scared him, but after he shook it off, he was happy and having a blast. He enjoyed it the second time too, even though my mom lost her hat, which she managed to retrieve, and her glasses, which needed replacing, but she was more concerned about making sure he was good and happy which he was. Fair warning. This ride has a few spots where the current alone will not push you forward, and you can actually get stuck. You may find yourself needing to push off the walls, get bumped by other tubes, or use your hands to propel yourself forward. I had several people apologize for hitting me as they came down a drop, but on several occasions, they had given me just the push I needed to get to the next part.
Shortly after that, we made our way to the Congo River and got in. From the spot we got in on, we thought it was nothing more than a lazy river ride, and for the most part, that is precisely what it was. However, there’s a mine section that warns you not to enter, but of course you do, and it’s pretty dark, and at the very end, there’s a small waterfall you go down. That was kind of a fun and unexpected end to an otherwise very laid back and relaxing ride. My son also liked to look at the snakes that were above him on this one. I think there were two of them and he pointed them out as we passed.
After the Congo River, we grabbed lunch and then went over to the kid area. My son found some nice slides there that he went down, ones that were good and long but not too steep. That was about the time my mom and I started not feeling well though and needed to make it back.
We saw the Cliff Hanger on the way out and wanted to ride it before we left, which is when we had the ordeal with the incorrect and confusing directions until we found the supervisors. We rode the Whitewater Rapids again, this time with my son a lot less scared than the first time, and then got off right at the entrance of Cliff Hanger, just as the supervisor had told us.
We kind of had to coax my son onto the cliff Hanger, which was actually the case with everything but more so on that one. With all the previous rides, it took some encouraging, but he’d eventually get in his tube and go for it. Cliff Hanger seemed a little more daunting to him though. We told him it was on the way out and we were going to go home, and he finally got into the tube.
The Cliff Hanger was for the most part pretty laid back, with a few drops but nothing too crazy, at least until the end. There was a spot at the end my son was scared of, because they wouldn’t let us stay together. It was an area with a long drop that only one person at a time could go on, and for adults, it went pretty fast. Since my mom couldn’t stay with him, he was nervous, but I stayed with him while she went down, and then he went in between us. Being so small, he actually didn’t build up a lot of speed and momentum, so it wasn’t as scary as he anticipated. My mom and I, being much larger as adults, had very fast trips down this drop, but it was a lot of fun.
If I had to give Schlitterbahn New Braunfels a star rating, It’d probably be somewhere between 3.5 and 4, mostly due to the staff not being very helpful or well informed. They should train staff better to give clear and concise directions and know where things are, especially in their area and especially those things that visitors typically need. More large and obvious maps like mall maps scattered around the park would be awesome too.
The slopes going up to some of the rides were rather steep, so if you have a hard time with this, it may be particularly difficult, but most of the rides still don’t have this problem, so those that do can easily enough be skipped. It’s kind of a bummer though that something which makes access more difficult like this would prevent some visitors from riding though.
I definitely want to go back to Schlitterbahn, and when my son learns how to swim, it will be even better. I love water parks, even more than amusement parks. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good roller coaster, but lines more than an hour long for a one minute ride are kind of ridiculous, not to mention standing in them in the Texas heat!
Water parks, on the other hand, typically have shorter lines as more people can go on the rides at once so there are shorter wait times, even on the more popular rides, they help you beat the heat by staying cool and soaked, and they are just all around a lot of fun.
I would highly recommend water parks, especially Schlitterbahn, for the entire family, and they have something to do even for the little ones that can’t swim yet. I do hope that they strive for constant improvement, and work hard to make sure that on future visits, their staff performs far better than they did this time. Schlitterbahn is an enormous water park, and it’d be easy for anyone to get lost or confused, so the employees need to be well equipped to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Have you been to one of the thousand water parks in the United States? What about readers from other countries? Are water parks popular where you live? I’d love to read your experiences in the comments.
All images courtesy of Schlitterbahn.