Our assistant editor heads to the New Braunfels, Texas, waterpark.
By Courtney Runn, Photos by Courtney Runn and courtesy of Schlitterbahn
My first memory of Schlitterbahn involves slipping through my tube into the lazy river. My 5-year-old body was forced underwater. I was lost in a sea of yellow and blue tubes and surprisingly quick currents. While I frantically tried to swim to the surface, I saw my dad float farther away. As I like to often remind him, it was another man, not my dad, who pulled me up, plopping me right back into my tube. Crisis averted.
While not an auspicious start to my relationship with Schlitterbahn, I have otherwise happy memories of the New Braunfels, Texas, waterpark. With our family friends, we would wake up so early, before it was even hot outside, and pile in a minivan, barely talking as we woke up with the sun. By the time we pulled into the Schlitterbahn parking lot, the sun was high and our moms had duly applied our sunscreen. The entire waterpark was ours for the taking.
We would spend hours looping around the lazy river, each rapid adding to the thrill. We would lug tubes up flights of stairs to wait in line and splash down the slides only to race back up the stairs to do it all again.
We would always end the day back in the lazy river, pleading for one more loop until the sun started to dip. We would be some of the last to leave the park, munching on leftover snacks from lunch as we watched Schlitterbahn disappear from view. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the sunscreen and taste the sunbaked Doritos crunching in my mouth.
This summer, I visited Schlitterbahn for the first time in years. Though the park has continued to modernize with technology (You can now rent a Blast Pass, a digital watch that lets you reserve your place in line while you play on the rides.), the magic remains unchanged.
The sudden gravity drops on rides still made my stomach flip, Dippin’ Dots were just as alluring and the lazy river was as exciting as ever. And this time, I made sure to stay in my tube.
Not one to say no to new experiences, I even tried the Skycoaster for the first time. I had always watched in a mixture of horror and intrigue as strangers were slowly lifted 183 feet into the air by what amounts to a giant slingshot then dropped to free fall over the park. My heart was pounding as the ropes pulled me into the air. Yet I wanted to freeze time once I got to the top. In that moment before the drop, it was peaceful and perfect, a tableau of childhood memories, lazy summer days and pure joy. I could see the entire park and the city of New Braunfels. Then I pulled the cord on my belt to release the ropes and I tumbled through the air, a smile plastered on my face.
During my visit this summer, I went on a tour of the property and heard all kinds of historical tidbits and fun facts about the park’s founding family. But one line stuck with me: Schlitterbahn was started by people who fell in love with the river.
Their love for the city, for the land and for the river is evident in every aspect of the park. As you lazily float throughout the park, you can look over your shoulder and see the Comal River flowing next to you, shaded by willows that have faithfully kept watch over generations of Texans.
At the park, they refer to multigenerational families who return every summer as “early birds.” My tour guide grew up coming to the park and now brings her own daughter along for the family reunion. Unlike many other amusement parks that outgrow their initial charm, Schlitterbahn retains a strong sense of commitment to its founding values.
As I left the park, I was reminded of all the other times in my life I’ve slowly made my way through the crowds to go home. My body was weary, my skin was pink, my hair was bleached and my heart was full. It felt so nice to have one part of the world forever stay the same. That is the magic of Schlitterbahn. No matter how old you are or how many times you’ve been, a love for the river is enduring.