Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sabrina Gets Schlitterbahned: Part 2

Editor's Note: This post is the second in a three-part series covering my recent visit to Schlitterbahn New Braunfels. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 3 as well!

After unlocking the mysteries of Schlitterbahn West, we made our way over to Schlitterbahn East. (Note that this requires either a car or a shuttle. This is a big park, people!) No "closed" signs to be seen here. The place was bustling with laughter and activity on this otherwise quiet Tuesday.

First stop: Surfenburg. It didn't take long for me to figure out how this area of the park got its name. Front and center and ready to challenge you as you make your way toward the entrance plaza is Boogie Bahn, the world's first man-made bodyboarding ride. This groundbreaking attraction opened with the rest of the 25-acre Surfenburg area in 1991.

My hero...I am not worthy.

"It lasts about 3 seconds," Jeff told us with a chuckle as we walked past. I can validate that claim. While I have no doubt that I possess the potential to achieve worldwide fame in the sport of boogie boarding someday, that day was not last Tuesday. There is no way to describe my experience other than to say that I unceremoniously bit it. Luckily for the spectators who had taken a break from the slides to watch this drama unfold, there were some legit boogie boarders in our midst that day. (Like the dude pictured above.)

What have you got, punk? Wanna race??

My pride forever scarred, I later took out my frustrations at Hang Ten Harbor, an activity pool featuring a water obstacle course. (Which I dominated, thank you very much.) I opted for the more difficult "log" side in an effort to erase any doubts about my mad strength and balance skills.

Hark! There's an angry dragon on the loose! (Perhaps he had an unfavorable experience on Boogie Bahn too.) When most people think of Schlitterbahn, they think of the Master Blaster. While one of the best, Master Blaster was not the world's first uphill water coaster. That honor falls on Dragon Blaster, which opened in 1994 and has since been rethemed into Dragon's Revenge.

I don't know what this ride was like pre-facelift, but the props, fog, lighting, and other effects were enough to make this one of my favorite rides at Schlitterbahn East. I especially enjoyed the dragon effect toward the end, which I will not spoil for those who have not ridden it!

I'm starting to see a trend here. Two years in a row, Schlitterbahn New Braunfels has tricked out an existing attraction and transformed it into an immersive, even more exciting themed experience. I'm a fan. Theming + water slides = double my pleasure!

I asked Jeff if he saw theming as the future of the water park industry. "It's definitely one of those things that has entertained our guests and helped us stay new and fresh and bring existing attractions that were being underutilized or underappreciated to a whole different level," he told us. "So it's definitely something that we’re continuing to look at and consider, not only for us but for all of our properties. Like how can we take a great conveyance device that is really, really cool to begin with, and take it to the next level and create a story around it. It worked really well for us last year with the Dragon's Revenge and we look forward to continuing to see what our guests think [of Congo River Expedition]."

Tucked away behind Dragon's Revenge is the markedly less spooky Family Blaster, which truly personifies the term "uphill water coaster". After a leisurely slide down the hillside, this baby really does blast those ginormous, family-sized rafts all the way back up to the loading area. It's like the little blaster that could!

Family Blaster made its debut in 1994 as part of a major expansion which ushered in Schlitterbahn's 15th anniversary season. This park is continually expanding and upgrading, and that's a good thing given their market. "We have three world-class destinations that are right around us," Jeff noted. "Many cities have a single park that everyone focuses on. In San Antonio, there are three big parks. There's us, there's Six Flags, and there's SeaWorld. So we view new rides and attractions as something that will help move us to the top of the list when families are looking at what they want to do. We have direct competitors in our marketplace and indirect competitors, so offering something new helps us to stay elevated."

But competition is only one of the factors which dictate Schlitterbahn's decisions regarding new attractions. Unlike many other parks of our time, Jeff made it clear that Schlitterbahn is firmly committed to preserving its history, and that means preserving its historical rides and attractions as well.

"[Adding new rides] is still extremely important, but we also feel very proud of maintaining and keeping those family traditions from 1979. So many parks seem to get rid of their history to replace it with the 'what's new'. We are very cognizant of keeping both. We want to keep that history and those things that you may have ridden with your grandparents and that now you're riding with your kids, and have it be the same quality experience."

At one point during the day, my husband suggested that the aforementioned water obstacle course at Hang Ten Harbor (which, if you'll recall, bowed to my athletic prowess) was meant for children. I took offense to this and countered by reminding him of all amazing children's areas that Jeff pointed out to us during our tour. Fun fact: The one pictured above (Squirt 'n Sliden) is shaped like a whale, although most folks are too focused on the individual water play structures to appreciate this special touch.

Over at Schlitterbahn West, there's even an area called Schatze's Central Park where the young'uns can pal around with their favorite dachshund (and official Schlitterbahn mascot) Schatze. Folks, anything involving wiener dogs = fun. I want to play with Schatze too! Do you think I could pass for a 5-year-old? (Other than mentally?)

The "big kids" areas in Schlitterbahn are not shaped like sea creatures, although I bet you could convince yourself that they are if you spend enough time at one of these swim-up bars! (And no, I did not put that theory to the test. I was on the job, remember? ...Alright, I had one drink. ONE, people! For research purposes!!) These areas afford elder members of the family the opportunity to relax and crack open a cold one while the kids frolic nearby.

As Jeff explained, a good mix of rides and attractions is always available, regardless of where you are in the park. "We have seven different kids areas that are scattered throughout the park. As you move with your family, there's always something more thrilling for family members to do, there's always a hot tub for folks that want to kick back with their favorite adult beverage, and there's always something for kids to do."

Here's one ride in Surfenburg that requires neither theming nor refreshments to be enjoyable. Kristal River is a lazy river in the truest sense of the term. As Jeff described it, "With other rides, there are always waterfalls that you have to avoid, or something squirting you that you have to go around. This was designed purposely so that there's nothing. Zero, nada, zilch!"

Hey! Hands off my croc!

The moment we settled into our comfortable float, my husband proclaimed, "This is like the bench ride, only way awesomer!" The enthusiast in me will not allow me to comment on the merits of the "bench ride", however I did find this attraction to be way awesome. I stretched out from head to toe, flat on my back atop my trusty blue crocodile (pictured above) and easily could have fallen asleep there.

I'm sure you'd all like some time to meditate on the therapeutic benefits of Kristal River, so I'll leave you with that for now. We still have the Blastenhoff area to explore, so get some rest and be ready!