Schlitterbahn Waterparks: Leading the Industry with Expansion and Innovation

Since Bob and Billye Henry first began creating what would eventually become the world’s first water resort, the Henry family has exemplified a commitment to developing new and innovative parks, rides, and technologies while keeping the focus on family friendly amenities and values. “Not only have we created industry-firsts such as the Boogie Bahn surf rides, Master Blaster uphill water slides, tidal wave rivers, Transportainment-based and convertible waterparks, but we’ve also continued to offer our world-class guest amenities including free parking, free use of tubes and the option to bring in picnic meals for free into all of our parks,” explained Gary Henry, Schlitterbahn’s president and CEO.
Schlitterbahn’s flagship waterpark opened in 1979 in New Braunfels, Texas with four water slides built around a 60-foot-tall replica of the Bergfried Tower, the guard tower of the Solms Castle in Braunfels, Germany. Each year following, the Henry’s reinvested in the resort, adding accommodations, attractions and unique experiences. The 65-acre park now features more than 40 family attractions, miles of tubing adventures and 238 overnight accommodations.
Schlitterbahn introduced the world’s first surfing ride, the world’s first uphill water coaster, the world’s first tidal wave river, plus inner tubing on a scale never seen before or since. It has been ranked as the number one kid-friendly destination in the state of Texas and has been rated America’s number one waterpark by the Travel Channel. Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort New Braunfels has been recognized as the World’s Best Waterpark. The resort has been featured in several Hollywood movies, dozens of national TV programs and many international publications.  
In 2001, Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark opened at South Padre Island, Texas with the world’s first Transportainment® river system and home to the nation’s first Sea Trek® underwater exploration experience where guests using specially designed helmets come face-to-face with tropical sea creatures. Schlitterbahn Beach is a multi-faceted destination, containing not only a waterpark, but also restaurants, clubs and nightly entertainment all in a tropical beachfront setting.
The centerpiece of the park is a highly themed, five-story Sand Castle with six turrets connected by ramps, stairs and net climbs. Parents and children can explore the Sand Castle’s dozens of hands-on water features and then exit on one of four water slides. The Sand Castle was named the Best New Kid’s Ride/Attraction by the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA.)
Transportainment® is part transportation, part sport and part entertainment, combining various river experiences from slow floats to whitewater rapids.  Guests can float from attraction to attraction without ever having to get out of the water. The technology has earned the industry’s highest innovation awards including: International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions [IAAPA] Best New Waterpark Product; IAAPA Impact Award; World Waterpark Association Industry Leadership & Innovation Award; and the THEA Outstanding Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association.
In 2006, Galveston Island, Texas became home of the third waterpark in the Schlitterbahn family of waterparks. Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark is a 26-acre oasis featuring the world’s first indoor/outdoor 70,000-square-foot heated-convertible waterpark area and more than 30 attractions designed in the Schlitterbahn tradition of ride innovation. The park also features the next generation of the award-winning Transportainment® river system that combines three unique rivers into one endless floating adventure.
Winning the Golden Ticket Award for the World’s Best Indoor Waterpark two years in a row, WasserfestTM, the climate-controlled, convertible indoor waterpark section of Schlitterbahn Galveston, operates throughout the year and offers more than a dozen heated attractions including four tube slides, three speed slides, two kids’ activity areas containing a variety of children’s play elements and pint-sized slides, a secluded beach, the Boogie BahnTM surfing ride and the TorrentTM tidal wave river. Being the only waterpark of its kind, the convertible indoor waterpark’s walls rise completely and the roof system opens up so you are “outside” within 8 minutes. It can be sealed up just as quickly during bad weather. A shade structure can be used on hotter days to help keep guests cooler and filter out UV rays. “Recently featured on the Travel Channel, our indoor waterpark has gained notoriety not only for its state-of-the-art ingenious convertible roof and wall system, but also for the variety of family attractions all under one roof,” said Ron Sutula, general manager for the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark.
Just three years after opening the park in Galveston, Schlitterbahn took its waterpark outside of Texas and created Schlitterbahn Vacation Village Waterpark Kansas City. The first phase of the new Transportainment-based resort includes more than a dozen rides, slides and attractions including the world’s longest tidal wave river and a Master BlasterTM water slide. Additional phases will complete the Schlitterbahn Vacation Village, a $750 million trend-setting retail entertainment destination comprised of multiple shopping, dining, lodging and entertainment venues connected by a Transportainment river system.  In the Vacation Village, manmade rivers carry guests between lodging units and a large summertime Water Resort, Marine Park and a Riverwalk with shops and restaurants.
The success of the first full operating season in 2010, has paved the way for a multi-million dollar expansion for 2011. Schlitterbahn Kansas City received visitors from all 50 states this year as well as the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico. The expansion will include the region’s only Boogie Bahn surf ride, three slides, record-breaking rapids river, whitewater tube chute, ride-up Aqua Veyer, additional attractions and guest amenities. The expansion would double the amount of adult rides and attractions going into the 2011 season.
But why stop there? Jeffrey Siebert, corporate director of communications and sales for Schlitterbahn Waterparks, announced during our interview that the flagship park in New Braunfels, Texas would be going through the largest renovations of all for 2011. Although very excited about the expansion, more information will not be available until early next year.
In addition to the renovations taking place throughout the Schlitterbahn family of waterparks, two more parks are currently in the planning stages. Cedar Park, Texas is considering a waterpark resort to be built in four phases and includes a 16-acre Schlitterbahn indoor/outdoor convertible waterpark; over 200,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space; a hotel; and conference center. A fourth and final phase would be a final development and expansion to fully integrate the first three phases. The project developers estimate $360 million in total project capital investment for all four phases.
Fort Lauderdale’s city commissioners have already endorsed a plan for a $110 million waterpark to be located around Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium. The existing stadium, previously used by the Baltimore Orioles for spring training, would be incorporated into the park to create a sports village. The commission’s vote will now allow Fort Lauderdale to negotiate a deal with Schlitterbahn and a proposal has been provided by the Schlitterbahn Development Group (SDG) that integrates Schlitterbahn’s patented and innovative aquatic attractions and designs, as well as operational and safety protocols developed at existing Schlitterbahn Waterparks.
SDG was instrumental in the design of Atlantis Paradise Island Phase II waterpark expansion in the Bahamas and the waterpark “The Palm” located in Dubai. SDG’s innovation and vision has brought about technologies that they own like Boogie BahnTM, which allows you to surf an endless wave that provides the exhilaration and challenge of ocean body surfing; Master Blaster the uphill water coasters, which utilize high velocity water propulsion to rocket riders up hills before plunging thrill-seekers down roller coaster-style drops; and Torrent River- another Schlitterbahn original that takes you along a “tidal wave river” that generates continuous waves that carries inner tube riders along a meandering waterway that curves in and around other waterpark attractions.
It is easy to see why the Schlitterbahn family of waterparks continues to grow. “Combined with the latest technologies and innovative attractions, Schlitterbahn is long known for its family friendly policies,” said Siebert. “There are no charges for parking, inner tubes and life jackets are complimentary, and families are welcome to bring their own picnic baskets into the park. We are finding that families are staying at the park longer and we are able to keep our parks at the top of their minds in a cost-conscious economy.” In allowing guests to bring their own food and beverages into the park, efforts are focused on providing those food items that would complement their stay and cannot be easily stored such as ice cream, funnel cake, etc.
It is not surprising that Schlitterbahn has taken marketing to the next level when considering their innovative approach to their parks. Traditional methods of paid advertising are still utilized statewide in Texas and regionally in Kansas. This is supplemented by national exposure through the Travel Channel, by recognition of being the recipients of the Golden Ticket and other awards, and their work on other high-profile waterpark projects. It is their expanded use of social media channels that keeps them in the forefront of communication and utilizes the entire media spectrum to drive the business. Families and guests learn about insider events and specials through Facebook, Twitter and various fan pages.  SchlitterBlog is the official blog of Schlitterbahn Waterparks and keeps fans informed about what is happening at the parks and allows them to post their comments and questions. The blog has over 250,000,000 users since launching over a year ago. Google Adwords is used to drive different ways to become top of mind for Internet searchers and Schlitterbahn was the first waterpark in the world to have an iPhone application and Mobile Web site. The free app features a Family and Friend Finder, a Showtime Scheduler, Interactive Park Maps, Schlitterbahn Twitter and Social Media to send your friends and followers instant updates through Facebook and Twitter.
The Henry family’s vision of combining water fun and resort accommodations into a family destination has come a long way since Bob and Billye Henry started the journey along the stretch of a tree-lined, spring-fed river on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. It will be exciting to see where the Schlitterbahn tradition continues and what new and exciting waterpark attractions are added along the way.
I would like to thank Siebert for providing his assistance and information to complete this article.
(Contributing Editor Frank Seninsky can be reached at

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