Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Miscellany: Schlitterbahn

The first time I ever heard of Schlitterbahn was from a Travel Channel special featuring the "10 Best Waterparks." Being a waterpark afficionado, I had visited most of the top 10, including Disney's Blizzard Beach in Orlando, FL and Raging Waters in California. Number one, however, was Schlitterbahn, an oddly named park in central Texas that had an incredible uphill water coaster ride. Since it was three hours from Houston, though, I gave up on ever going. Here's a slideshow of someone else's family having fun there:

All that changed yesterday. After my Grandma's funeral was over, the kids needed a break. My aunts and uncles had me take their kids over to New Braunfels, Texas for a once-in-a-blue-moon trip to Schlitterbahn (which actually means "slippery road" in German). All my cousins piled into two cars and at 7 AM we set off on the blistering three hour trip to the park.

The journey was not uneventful, but suffice it to say we made it with all hands intact at Schlitterbahn. We immediately headed for the "Master Blaster," named the best water ride in America time and time again. Unfortunately, even an hour after the park opened, the wait for the ride was 2-1/2 hours, an obscene amount of time to stand in line. We aborted that venture and went to other, lesser slides and rides, hoping against hope we might find our way onto the Master Blaster eventually.

Schlitterbahn is a hard waterpark to review. I'm used to Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, two very-polished Disney waterparks that will give most visitors a great amount of fun for the money. In comparison, the relative hamhandedness displayed in ride design, attraction queuing, and park layout in Schlitterbahn is disappointing.

For example, during the "Raging River," billed as the world's longest tube chute, there were frequent hangups in certain areas as too many inner tubes clogged the ride. On other tube chutes, currents actually sucked riders backwards instead of forwards, making actually completing the ride a sometimes arduous task. The difficulty or intensity of rides was also frequently suspect, as supposedly moderate "triangle"-level slides were often harder and faster than "diamond"-level rides.

The park itself is split into two halves - East and West. Schlitterbahn West is the original park, fed mostly by untreated spring water. The East half is newer, and it features most of the thrill rides including the "Master Blaster." Finding your way to a particular ride then, can often be a matter of hiking to a tram stop, taking a ride to the other half, and then hoofing it from the tram stop to the ride - not the most convenient thing in the world.

All sins were mostly forgiven, however - late in the day, close to closing time, we finally managed to wait in a reasonable line for the Master Blaster (only an hour long). It is, indeed, the best water ride I've ever been on, perfectly aping a traditional roller coaster, with enough speed and height to excite but not terrify. Check it out:

Would I go again? Probably not. The two Disney waterparks in Orlando are so easy to get to and are about as good as Schlitterbahn. Still, though, it was a lot of fun.


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