Visitors at most water parks know what to expect: some water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, perhaps a couple of marquee attractions such as a water coaster, and the other usual suspects. Schlitterbahn, however, defies expectations.
There is a good reason for that. It dates back to 1979 at the dawn of the water park industry when there were no conventions to follow. Through the years, it has pioneered many innovations (including the advent of the water coaster), grown organically, and has amassed an incredible collection of rides to become the most popular seasonal water park in North America and a family destination in its own right.
- Location: New Braunfels, Texas
- See pictures of Schlitterbahn.
- There are other Schlitterbahn water parks.
- Special note: I visited the park in May 2013 near the beginning of the season during limited operation. Neither the original section of the park nor the Tubenbach areas were open. (Although I did get to tour the entire resort.)
One of the Most Unique and Innovative Water Parks
One of Schlitterbahn's most distinctive qualities is its enormous size and sprawling layout. And by sprawling, I mean that it occupies a huge swath of New Braunfels, and that it is bisected into two areas. We're not talking about two sections separated, perhaps, by a path or a road. We're talking about two sections separated by a public park, a residential neighborhood, a hospital, and more. Complimentary shuttle buses transport guests between the two areas.
The original park, which still contains vestiges of its early days, offers a fascinating peek into the industry's formative years.
Today, developers can contact ride manufacturers and order a variety of slides and attractions; however, the Henry family, the folks who built Schlitterbahn and remain at the helm today, had to make it up as they went along.
For example, instead of rising into the air with support towers, many of the meandering slides use the hills and natural topography of the land and are built into the ground.
Some of them are fashioned out of concrete instead of the Fiberglas that is typically used today. Water from the Comal River that runs alongside the park feeds some of the slides, and passengers actually float into the river as part of the fun.
There are eight tubing attractions in the original area alone along with a gaggle of body slides, pools, and children's activity areas. Unlike the sparse, open layouts of most water parks, this area is heavily wooded, beautifully landscaped, and incorporates lovely pavers in most of its walkways. It has the look and feel of an exceptionally well-groomed campground.
They Invented the Water Coaster
Apparently, the original area (which is vast in itself) couldn't contain the ideas and plans of the Henrys. Starting in 1991, they began expanding into the new property across town. The first of the areas to be developed, Surfenburg, includes Boogie Bahn, the world's original wave-making bodyboarding ride.
I've never been able to quite get the hang of riding artificial waves while laying prone on a board (read my review of the Kalahari Surfari FlowRider), and watching guest after guest wipe out after a few seconds of surfing attempts, I am certainly not alone.
But many riders are able to catch a wave and show off their skills with aplomb. Boogie Bahn is a wildly inventive attraction that has been emulated at parks all over the world.
Another innovation, the Dragon Blaster water coaster, made its debut at Surfenburg in 1994. It uses strong jets of water to propel passenger-filled rafts uphill and through a series of coaster-like drops and curves. Like other first-of-its-kind attractions, the Henrys have patented the concept and made it available to other water parks. You can find Master Blaster water coasters at many locations, such as the Crush 'n' Gusher at Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon.
In 2008, the park revamped its original water coaster. Calling it Dragon's Revenge, it incorporates dark ride elements and features lots of themeing. Riders walk through ankle-deep water in the queue to make their way to the "dragon's lair" loading station.
I found the ride to be a hoot. After blasting off uphill into the fog, I soared through a twisting coil of enclosed and open tubes. At one point, I rushed past a glowing orange dragon and later encountered a fire-breathing dragon projected onto a water screen. There is an unexpected, steep drop at the end of the ride that includes ridges to slow the rafts down.
The Falls is an Award-Winning Ride
A lovely walk along the Comal River connects Surfenburg to Tubenbach and Blastenhoff, the other sections in the expanded area. (The distinctive names pay homage to New Braunfels' German heritage. Schlitterbahn translates into "slippery road" in German.) While they have attractive landscaping, the newer areas, with their tighter cluster of attractions and lack of dense forest, look more like a conventional waterpark than the original part of the resort.
Tubenbach features The Falls, which the park cites as the world's longest water park ride. The 3600-foot-long lazy (and not-so-lazy) river includes an AquaVeyer, another Henry creation that delivers the ride's inner tubes back to the loading station in an endless loop. In Schlitterbahn-speak, the AquaVeyer is part of the park's "transpotainment" system to allow guests to float around the river and enter The Falls without having to leave their tubes. The Falls won About.com's Readers' Choice Awards as the best new water park ride of 2011.
The Blastenhoff section includes the Master Blaster, another uphill water coaster. This one rises 60 feet in the air, and includes about a half dozen water jet blasts throughout its long, snaking course. It's the longest water coaster I've ever ridden. I didn't experience any airtime on the ride, nor did it offer any especially steep drops, but it was zippy and quite fun. Even on the relatively quiet day that I visited, there was a long line for Master Blaster, perhaps the most popular ride in the park. Wait times can swell to three hours or longer on a busy day. Consider getting to the park as early as possible and making a beeline for the water coaster to avoid midday slogs in a long queue.
Blastenhoff also offers The Torrent, a river ride that is decidedly not lazy. It includes swells of water that create waves and swift currents for passengers aboard its tubes.
A True Family Destination
Spread among the multiple sections of the park are more than 250 hotel units. These include cabins, cottages, bungalows, old-school motel-style rooms, and suites. The water attractions in the original park were built into what used to be known as the Landa Resort, a quaint riverside vacation area. Many of the vintage cabins and rooms remain and now overlook the slides and rides. They help give Schlitterbahn its unique and charming personality. The Henrys originally built the slides to give resort guests something to do. Now the accommodations allow guests to spend two or more days exploring and enjoying the vast park.
I stayed in one of the newer Treehaus cabins in the Tubenbach area. The lovely and spacious studio suite included a kitchenette with a full-size range, refrigerator, and dishwasher as well as a balcony that overlooked the water park. The rustic, high-ceilinged cabin reminded me of a ski chalet. The headboards on the queen-sized beds were made from repurposed antique doors -- a nice touch. The room also included a pair of bunk beds and a sleeper sofa and could comfortably sleep five (or more if guests double up on the queen beds). The bathroom was quite cozy, however.
One thing that I found quite annoying had nothing to do with the resort. A nearby factory, which apparently is a flour mill, made an awful racket and operated around the clock -- at least when I visited. Every few seconds a piercing noise filled the air. I would have liked to have left the sliding glass door open at night, but the din made sleeping difficult. Shutting the door along with turning on the cooling system's fan and the overhead fan drowned out most of the offending sound.
Resort guests are allowed to use some of the pools as well as an arcade within the park during off-hours. Because of that, and because, I guess, the resort is so rambling, there isn't much of a gate surrounding the property, and little attempt is made to funnel visitors through secure points of entry. That surprised me (and added to the park's unique and charming nature). Staff members are highly alert, however, and are on the lookout for wristbands indicating that guests have paid for admission.
Other fairly unique and welcome features include free parking and free inner tubes. Also, guests are free to bring in their own food and beverages and use the park's picnic facilities. The Schlitterbahn brand has been growing beyond its New Braunfels origins and now includes resorts in Galveston and South Padre Island, Texas as well as Kansas City, Kansas.
If you are planning a visit and are looking for general info, read more in my overview of Schlitterbahn New Braunfels.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.