The city pool where I hung out as a youngster had a blue plastic slide, the kind that adorned most swimming pools in the 1960s. This one turned a complete 360 degrees before spitting me out like a watermelon seed to land with a satisfying—and refreshing—splash. I couldn’t get enough of it. Well, water slides have come a long way since then. For proof, just visit a Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels, South Padre Island, or Galveston. The original location in New Braunfels has been voted “The World’s Best Waterpark” for 10 consecutive years by Amusement Today magazine, which surveys amusement park fans around the world.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort, New Braunfels
It all started in 1966, when a couple named Bob and Billye Henry bought a small motel on the ComalRiver. Inspired by watching their three children and assorted motel guests swimming and tubing, Bob envisioned a 60-foot-tall German castle replica—a nod to the area’s heritage—with water pumped from the river to flow down four slides. When he built those slides in 1979 and dubbed his new park Schlitterbahn, some 5,000 people showed up. The next summer, the Henrys added a pool and a miniature “river” for tubing. Ever since, the family has continued to expand and innovate, filling the original 40 acres with chutes, slides, pools, rivers, and picnic areas. The Henrys added entire new sections to the park in 1991 and 1996.
Today, bright-red mushroom fountains and oversize fiberglass alligators combine with green trees, blue sky, and lots of water to create a summer fantasyland, like a vision induced by too many popsicles or too much hot sun. Except it’s all real: From toddler-friendly activity pools to heart-stopping rides, more than 40 attractions beckon. And splashy innovation is everywhere, from the water coasters that blast riders uphill on high-velocity jets of water to the park’s swim-up refreshment bar, wave pool, and children’s water playground.
The Schlitterbahn parks are open only on weekends in April, May, and mid-August through mid-September, and they’re open daily during the summer season (Memorial Day through mid-August). Parts of the Galveston Island park are open year-round. Check current season dates and hours at www.schlitterbahn.com.
Beat the peak summer-season crowds by visiting the parks in April, May, late August, or early September (Wednesdays are the least busy days). Catch the ever-popular water coasters and surfing rides first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, or in the evening, when crowds typically thin.
Changing rooms are located in each park, and you can rent a locker for valuables. Parking and inner tubes are free, and the park allows ice chests (no alcohol or glass) for picnicking. You can also buy waterproof wristbands that can be used for food, beverages, and gift-shop purchases. Wear water shoes to avoid doing the hot-pavement high-step. A limited number of life jackets for small children are available at each park.