I don’t know about you, but we spend as much of the summer as possible in one body of water or another. When you live in the inferno that is South Texas, pools, lakes, beaches, and swimming holes are essential for keeping cool and sane. Luckily, we live near one of the best water parks in the U.S.
I’ve been taking my five-year-old twins to Schlitterbahn for the last three summers. While man-on-man coverage is preferable, I can count on one hand the number of times my husband was able to accompany us. I know Schlitterbahn with little ones sounds intimidating, but it is doable with pre-planning and some information about the friendly spots for the beginner swimmer crowd. Obviously any water activity with children requires heightened vigilance, but the presence of lifeguards everywhere and other hyper-vigilant mama bears provides an added layer of safety.
First, the essentials:
- Bring your own Coast Guard-approved flotation devices for your kids. Schlitterbahn has life jackets available, but my kids prefer their own Puddle Jumpers. Not only do the life jackets provided throughout the park seem to be scarce at times, but my kids’ Puddle Jumpers also serve as another way for me to distinguish my kids from other little ones. Blue alligator Jumper—that’s Wyatt. Check. Red Crab? Quinn. Check. If your kids have sensitive feet, I recommend water shoes. Our feet are immune to scorching pavement after so many visits.
- Prepare for personal wardrobe malfunctions. After birthing twins, I think half of the world has seen my hoo-ha, so I’m not very modest. However, even I have my limits. Wedgie-inducing rides are more appropriate for the bigger kids, thankfully. Next to their Puddle Jumpers, though, my swimsuit top is my kids’ favorite way to try and stay buoyant. I can’t count the number of times they have pulled on my straps or cups and exposed me. You’ve been warned.
- Pack an ice chest. One of my favorite things about Schlitterbahn, in comparison to other venues, is that you’re allowed to bring in your own food and drinks. Water activities turn my littles into ravenous beasts. I over-pack food and drinks and often come home with only scraps left. Schlitterbahn fare is your standard amusement park food—chicken tenders, burgers, pizza, BBQ, turkey legs, soft pretzels, etc. I do occasionally buy lunch or dinner at the park, but I’ve found that the kids are so eager to get back to swimming that they never finish their meals. I hate to waste money or food, so heavy snacks all day work better for us. I’m not without heart, though—I always succumb to their plaintive cries for Dippin’ Dots. I’m a sucker for ice cream in the summer.
Schlitterbahn has two sections, East and West, connected by a quick bus ride between parks. When my twins were two and three years old I preferred the Original Schlitterbahn, the West section. We would head straight to the Tadpool and set up shop for the day in a shady area. The Tadpool is a shallow swimming area with a frog slide, shell slide, and turtle and elephant sprinklers. Two sets of side-by-side slides also feed into the area. Kids are far less intimidated when you can ride down next to them the first couple of times. The area is also fenced with only two exits, which I find helpful.
The Tadpool is connected by two sets of stairs to the Polywog Pond. The Pond has a small, padded slide into what is essentially a splash pool even shallower than the larger Tadpool pool. Giant spraying mushrooms are connected by rope suspension bridges. My kids have gotten stuck a time or two in the rope areas, so be prepared to climb. Once again, I remind you to dress knowing that arse-over-teakettle moments happen. The slides coming down from the ‘shrooms are padded and extra slow. There is one exit out of this area in addition to the two sets of stairs going back down to the Tadpool. The less exits, the better!
Schatze’s Central Park is also near both the Tadpool and Polywog Pond. Schatze is Schlitterbahn’s official dachshund pup mascot. He’s not around much but is always happy to take a photo and share a hug. (God bless the teenager wearing that dog costume in the Texas heat!) Central Park is perfect for the littlest guests. There is a tame splash pad at the front of the area (no buckets dumping massive amounts of water) and plenty of opportunity for kids to use their imaginations. There is a pretend ice cream parlor, car wash, root beer stand, and castle for kids to explore. The slides are padded and tiny, and the area is rarely crowded. If your kid doesn’t like to swim but loves to get wet, this is the spot for you. It’s a good for a change of pace from the swimming activities because there are zero pools of any depth.
Back by the Tadpool is the Biergarten Heated Pool. It’s a heated pool with a swim-up bar that’s only about three feet deep. You’d think a heated pool is the last thing you’d want on a 100-degree day, but it feels surprisingly good. It feels even better with a frozen drink in hand, but drinking and water and kid-watching isn’t a great combo. My kids always enjoy alternating between the colder kids’ pool and the heated pools. A pizza restaurant and a Dippin’ Dot station are close by. Across the bridge by the Biergarten pool are a couple of other eating options and a gentle wave pool with a couple of small padded slides as well.
There is a ton more to do at the Original Schlitterbahn, but I found a lot of it exhausting when the boys were young. It’s a long walk to some of the tube rides (guess who carries all the tubes?); and many of the rides have stairs to climb and require patiently waiting your turn. I could write a whole post on the calisthenics of carrying three tubes up staircases while tracking two little boys. I recommend keeping things super simple with young kids.
When the boys were little and beginner swimmers, we really could spend all day at the Tadpool, Polywog Pool, Schatze’s Central Park, and the Biergarten pool. While spending the day at a water park with little kids is fun, it’s not very relaxing. These four areas provided the most activities with the least amount of stress: no long waits, limited exits, shallow water, and plenty of lifeguards.
Schlitterbahn East, comprised of three main sections: Blastenhoff, Tubenbach, and Surfenburg, is as entertaining as Schlitterbahn West, but parts of it require a little more caution. I’m never completely relaxed when I’m there with the kids, but you can still have a ton of fun.
Blastenhoff Beach’s Kinderhaven is a small, fenced kiddie pool with a miniature pirate ship, soft slides, and a super shallow shaded area. This area is compact enough that you can sit on the side of the pool and see your kid at all times, which is not true of many of the other pools. While it’s relaxing for Mama, my kids tire of Kinderhaven fairly quickly.
The other kid-friendly area at Blastenhoff is Han’s Hideout. Han’s Hideout is a five-story fun house/pirate ship with four slides, a giant water bucket that dumps every few minutes, and a lot of hands-on water activities. You can certainly play on the structure with your child and enjoy water fights and squealing kids, but the slides are the real stars of the show, at just the right thrill level for young ones. To participate, however, you will have to make a choice of who goes down the slide first, which can be a little nerve-wracking. You can’t ride with your child. I used to prefer to go down first and wait for my child at the bottom, but you know your kid best. If you think yours will chicken out at the top, have him/her go down first with strict instructions to wait for you at the bottom. If you think he/she will be too excited to wait for you to come down and wander off, go first. Either way, deliberate, clear instructions for either scenario need to be explained. By the time the boys turned four, I was comfortable with just waiting at the bottom of the slides as they rode them again and again. From the shallow pool at the bottom of the slides, I can watch them walk back to the play structure but can’t see them climbing the stairs or tell which slide they will chose. The four slides all dump out to the same area, and they know not to wander off and are generally having too much fun to want to.
The Torrent Wave River, a circular wave pool, is the twins’ favorite, but it’s a little scary for the inexperienced mama. You can swim or float in a tube while you enjoy waves cresting and breaking every 15 or 20 seconds. At two and three years old, the twins loved to ride the waves in the yellow kiddie tubes while I held onto the handles and swam along. It’s a little rough on the body as you are pulled and pushed different directions while bumping into fellow tubers and swimmers, but it’s a lot of fun. Mine are old enough now to enjoy the ride without the tube, but it does require one adult per kid, in my opinion. It’s too easy for a wave to bring one kid forward and another wave to carry a kid backward. I promise you don’t want to be the mom in the middle who looks like an air traffic controller trying to land two planes. There is a also a very tumultuous section at the beginning of the ride where the waves originate. Older kids love to push their way into the super fast and strong current. Steer clear of the current until you are sure of your limits!
The Falls, billed as the world’s longest water park ride, is the only attraction I’d recommend at Tubenbach. It’s essentially a lazy river with a few rapids and small drops. Tubes are required for adults and kids. The Kiddie tubes have handles you can hold onto to keep your kids close by, but there is no guarantee a rapid or another rider won’t affect your grip. Save this one for when the kids are older and you’ve got lots of adult coverage.
Surfenburg is currently our favorite section in all of Schlitterbahn. Kiddie Coast, a giant pool anchored by a pirate ship, a yellow submarine, and an octopus provides hours of fun. The ship and octopus both have multiple slides, and the pool itself is fairly shallow around the edges, getting deeper in the middle. Climbing the octopus requires a little more coordination as the steps are contained in rope tunnels. There is a mushroom that rains water, giant ducks to play on, and other themed slides to explore. If you position yourself in the middle of the pool, it’s fairly easy to keep track of your kids. The submarine presents some blind spots, but kids are pretty quick to go down its single slide.
Still in Surfenburg, we spend hours and hours floating in the Kristal River. Like The Falls, it’s a lazy river but without the rapids. A gentle current carries riders and swimmers as they circle around the Kiddie Coast play area. It’s calm enough to feel comfortable with little ones out of their tubes and floating and swimming beside you. Only one section of the river has a current, and it’s easily avoidable by staying to the right side of the pool. Ten-foot-long alligators are hot commodities for river explorers. Painted bright pinks and greens, my kids love to catch, ride, and fall off these unusual floats. They are solid enough to hold several children but can be a little hard to balance on, but of course, that is half the fun.
Each year my kids get braver and braver and enjoy Schlitterbahn in completely different ways. We’ve added and subtracted favorites from our list countless times as they’ve grown more comfortable and responsible. It’s been amazing to watch both their joy increase and their confidence bloom. With the appropriate flotation devices, firm instruction, and a bit of carpe diem, Schlitterbahn is a wonderful experience for even the youngest kids.