Friday, June 5, 2009

Sabrina Gets Schlitterbahned: Part 3

Editor's Note: This post is the third in a three-part series covering my recent visit to Schlitterbahn New Braunfels. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 as well!

I see London! I see France! I see America's favorite water ride! (I also see a Skycoaster, but who's counting.)

Are you Schlittered out yet? You better not be, because we still have a whole 'notha section of the park to cover! In 1996, the Blastenhoff area was added to Schlitterbahn East, just a hop, skip and a jump (or a brief walk--your choice) away from neighboring Surfenburg. Like the other two areas of the park, Blastenhoff has something for every member of the family. But where it really shines is in its collection of adult rides, which take the usual water park staples and kick them up a notch.

Exhibit A: Take one lazy river, add some waves, and what do you get? The world's first tidal wave river! Jeff's eyes lit up at the very mention of this attraction. "The Torrent River is awesome!" he told us. (In case you got lost in all that fancy PR jargon, that's Schlitterspeak for "The Torrent River is awesome!")

"We have folks that do nothing but float the Torrent with their families," he added. "It sounds so simple to take a continuous river and then just have a wave every so many seconds, but it is absolutely so much fun." After taking a few laps on it (which were followed by a few more laps), I wholeheartedly agree.

This is where it all begins. Many folks camp out here in the hopes of catching a lift on one of the swells which emanate from the magical wave-making machine.

These waves are no joke. Peep those whitecaps!

By now you've probably lost count of how many times the word "first" has appeared in this series of posts. Let's count 'em down:
  • First water park resort

  • First man-made bodyboarding ride

  • First uphill water coaster

  • First tidal wave river

  • First (and only) Transportainment river system (This state-of-the-art interconnecting river system was built into the other two--soon to be three--Schlitterbahn properties from day one, and has been incrementally worked into the original New Braunfels park where possible.)
The list goes on and on and on! The folks at Schlitterbahn are perennial innovators, and that trait has played a big role in making this family of parks what it is today. So how important is it to have that ever impressive "first" qualifier attached to a new attraction?

"It's about more than just the innovations," Jeff said. "It all goes back to what do our guests want, and what do they want to see, and what continues to enhance the guest experience. And really, that's the criteria. If it turns out to be a first then great, but if it turns out just to be very cool and compelling, then that's fantastic as well."

When the Torrent River inevitably washes you ashore, you will likely find yourself on Blastenhoff Beach, face-to-face with the mother of all water slide towers. This tower's swagger comes not from its sheer height (six stories!), but from a certain signature attraction which calls Blastenhoff home. Yep, I'm talking about the Master Blaster!

Its de facto Golden Ticket Award proudly emblazoned on its sign, Master Blaster challenges all you thrill-hungry landlubbers out there to leave the rails behind and take to the waters. I definitely fell into this category [note: fell, past tense], so I was anxious to see what all this "water coaster" buzz was about. I'm not gonna lie to you: This was the first thing we rode after we parted ways with Jeff. I was a woman on a mission.

Six stories of splashin', blastin' goodness.

I expected to enjoy this ride, and I was not disappointed. What I was not expecting was the way it attacks you from the back! All that water rocketing you uphill has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is over your shoulders and into your lap, just when you're least expecting it. Sneaky, sneaky, Mr. Master Blaster!

Okay, so we know that Master Blaster is the bomb. But how about some love for its siblings who share that tower? Wolfpack kicks it family style, with its round, family-sized rafts. I'd say this is probably the tamest of the three tower rides, but it's still a boatload--or shall I say, raftload--of fun.

That curvaceous black tubing belongs to Black Knight (appropriate name, I know!), a fast and furious two-person rafting experience. Enclosed water slides are a lot like enclosed coasters: dark, disorienting, and deceptively speedy. Because you never have a chance to reorient yourself with the outside world, you never know what's coming up around the next bend. I'm a fan. Black Knight rounds out the current Blastenhoff collection nicely.

All that blasting and tubing sure works up an appetite, and there is no shortage of tasty food available in any of Schlitterbahn New Braunfels' three sections. But if you're like most folks, trying to save a few bucks in this challenging economic climate, you may wish to pack a lunch instead.

WHOA, wait a minute here. "Pack a lunch"? As in, keep it in my car and exit the park to eat it? Not at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels, my friends! In fact, not at any of the Schlitterbahn locations. In keeping with those family traditions of 1979, each and every Schlitterbahn park invites you to bring your own food and shamelessly consume it right in front of their staff!

And by the way, if you happen to pack up that picnic basket and leave it sitting on the kitchen table, fear not for there is hope. All Schlitterbahn parks also offer free parking! Yes, you read that correctly: FREE PARKING. So go ahead and run home for that grub, because you won't have to pay a dime to get back into the lot.

"It's a real savings for families," Jeff said. "That's going to save you $15 to $20 to $25 just in parking your car. With economic conditions the way that they are, those are things that really have resonated very well for Schlitterbahn." When you combine these increasingly rare perks with the innovations and the theming and all the new rides and attractions that continue to pop up across the Schlitterbahn chain, a day at the water park becomes a very attractive proposition to the average, hard-working American family.

Schlitterbahn Waterparks is obviously doing its part to help keep family vacations affordable during these tough economic times. But how is the company itself weathering the storm? Are families returning the favor?

"Last year was the perfect 'staycation' time," Jeff told us. "This year the economy's gone a little too far south. Traditionally our model has been that if the destination parks are up, like Universal Studios and Disney, the regional theme parks are down. Last year the regional theme parks were up and Disney and Universal were down. This year, the early indicators coming out of first quarter are that everyone is down across the board. And if everyone's down, that means [families are] truly at the next level, which is the 'staycation' where you're staying in your house."

Yet despite this trend, he remains positive. "Luckily for us, our busiest time of the year is toward the end of the summer. The hotter it gets, the more top of mind Schlitterbahn becomes." So if the economy and consumer confidence manage to improve a bit over the next couple months, parks like Schlitterbahn should still be able to eke out a decent season. Texas parks in particular should fare better than most, considering that the state as a whole has not taken as big of an economic hit as many other parts of the country. "We're cautiously optimistic," Jeff said.

"Remember to always bring a towel."

We did our best to stimulate the economy by investing in some Schlitterstuff during our visit!

Han's Hideout. I totally wanted to play on this, but *somebody* would have been embarrassed.


For the younger members of the family who are either too small or too intimidated to tackle the big rides, Blastenhoff also features two children's areas. Say, I wonder if Schatze ever makes his way over to this side of the park! (No? Just wishful thinking on my part? Sigh...Well I still maintain my previously noted position regarding wiener dogs and fun.)

There was no good angle to be had on this shot, so allow me to translate the text which appears on this whimsical mural: "On a clear day, if you could see forever, you could see the other 2 great Schlitterbahn Waterparks." It's referring, of course, to the South Padre Island and Galveston Island locations. But you and I both know that a certain little town named Kansas City is about to take the honor of playing host to the first Schlitterbahn water park resort outside the state of Texas.

Is the sky the limit in terms of where we might see other Schlitterbahns pop up? I posed this question to Jeff, and it garnered the shortest response I received from him all day: "Yes." I like that answer! "You just never know!" he added.

But if you're looking for a New Braunfels clone to pop up around every corner, you're out of luck because that's not how Schlitterbahn operates. "There's not a cookie cutter Schlitterbahn, and that was done on purpose," Jeff explained. "This way, if you travel and visit the other parks, they all have their own unique themes, their own personalities. It's not like they're all a duplicate of one another." How refreshing is that!

Well folks, that about wraps up our exclusive tour of the world's best water park. So what were my top 10 takeaways from this experience?

#10 - Leave the trip planning to the enthusiast in the family.

#9 - Leave the trip planning to the enthusiast in the family. (This one bears repeating. In fact, it merits its own top 10 list.)

#8 - If I have any hope of excelling in the sport of boogie boarding, I'm gonna have to move to San Antonio and get a Schlitterbahn season pass. Sometimes in life, you have to make sacrifices.

#7 - When Schlitterbahn says "footlong" sausages and corndogs, they really mean it. In the spirit of innovation, perhaps they should construct a Calorie Blaster right next to Master Blaster.

#6 - Never underestimate the therapeutic powers of a lazy river.

#5 - No bathing suit, no matter how modest, is safe from wardrobe malfunctions at a water park.

#4 - Theming and special effects on water rides are wicked cool. Props to Schlitterbahn for thinking outside the box (as usual) and putting a new twist on some old favorites. I hope to see this trend continue! (I also hope to return someday to experience Congo River Expedition for myself. Refer to #s 9 and 10.)

"You're my boy, Blue!" *single tear*
#3 - If you visit Schlitterbahn East, do indulge yourself by saddling up a croc in Kristal River. You will not be disappointed. Just don't blame me if your trusty reptilian companion steals your heart, as did mine...Consider yourselves warned!

#2 - When it comes to being Director of Corporate Communications, Jeffrey Siebert is the right man for the job. This guy loves Schlitterbahn and it shows. His excitement is contagious! (And I was excitable already...a lethal combination.) I imagine I would enjoy holding that position as well, although if my job required me to say Schlitter-anything on a daily basis I would inevitably be fired for too many inadvertent slips of the tongue.

#1 - Believe the hype. I may not be a water park connoisseur, but it doesn't take a rocket scientiest to figure out why Schlitterbahn New Braunfels is ranked the world's #1 water park again and again and again. This place truly does have it all, from cutting edge thrill rides and themed attractions to deluxe children's areas and 45-minute tubing adventures. Yet despite all that, Schlitterbahn manages to achieve two things that elude so many other parks of our day: It's affordable, and its rich history is still very much alive. And in the off chance that you're still not convinced...their mascot is a dachshund. Case closed!

I'd like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Jeffrey Siebert for being such a gracious and entertaining tour guide. I wish I could fully convey his Schlitterenthusiasm through writing, but take my word for it: It's there. I'd also like to extend my thanks to all the Schlitterbahn New Braunfels employees who made our visit to the park so enjoyable. Consider this former landlubber officially converted into an amphibious enthusiast!