- Go on a week day. Hans took Friday off and we were so glad we went that day - a few lifeguards mentioned that the next day was historically the busiest day of the year. It was also a little cloudy, which was awesome. It wasn't too hot and white-boy Hans didn't get horribly sun burned, as usual. Between the weekday and the cloud cover, we didn't really feel like it was very crowded and Josh reported only having to wait 30 minutes for one of the most popular rides. I remember waiting two hours for that one once!
- Buy discount tickets. Fortunately, under 3 is free! In the past, we have gotten a great deal by buying the summer fun pack from Simon Malls. It has two adult tickets for $85, plus includes some goodies and a $25 visa gift card. Alas, since it's such a good deal, it tends to sell out fast and we weren't able to do that this year. We bought our tickets from HEB instead. I think that only saved us about $10 total, but hey, it's something.
- Bring a cooler. Schlitterbahn encourages picnics - thank goodness! We packed a ton of frozen water bottles, some fresh berries and pineapple, cheddar bunnies (Em's current favorite), several Plum baby food pouches, a bunch of Clif bars, and a few other random snacks. We didn't end up buying any food in the park, which was a major money saver for us. For reference, I noted that a burger with fries and a drink was about $12-13.
- Bring all your supplies. They have anything you might need in the park, but you'll pay for it. Definitely bring sunscreen, hats, towels, sunglasses, etc. We also found that Em's water shoes were very helpful to prevent slipping on the wet ground and to keep her feet cool on the parts of the ground that were baking hot in the sun. We also borrow a little Puddle Jumper vest/arm floatie thing from our baby friend Hinckley and it was a huge win. I thought Em would hate wearing it, but she seemed to really like it and it meant that I could get more than arms length away from her. It helped keep her face out of the water if she fell over (and it also helped keep her from drinking the water, a "fun" new trick of hers). Schlitterbahn does offer free life vests all over the place, we just didn't end up using any.
- Pick a baby transport. We opted not to bring either of our strollers. I didn't want to risk it being stolen and I also remembered a lot of stairs and the tram from park to park. I really didn't want to have to cart a stroller around all day. We saw several people with cheap umbrella strollers - that would definitely have been a good alternative. Baby friend Hinckley went a few weeks ago and her mom said they took her stroller just because it reclines and they were able to lay her down in it and get her to take a nap. While that would have rocked, we know our Em and that's just not something she'll do. So we decided to ditch the stroller and just take the Ergo. I was very glad we did, it made it very easy to navigate the crowds, stairs, and shuttles. She did almost fall asleep in it at one point (as we switched parks), but alas, no luck. She didn't end up taking a nap that day, but we didn't expect one and she did far better than we expected missing her nap. Too much fun to be had!
Old Park (Schlitterbahn West)
- Lagoon Activity Pool - This was the only section we didn't love. You have to go down a bunch of stairs to get to it and it was sooooo crowded. The only time we felt like there were too many people. And there wasn't a whole lot for Em to do. There was one tiny little area with 4-5 slides, but she couldn't even really leave that area. We couldn't find chairs or tables to set our stuff down. We didn't stay long and it really wasn't worth the effort of going down all those stairs.
- Polywog Pond - The pond is fairly shallow - Em could touch through most of it, except the very middle. It had a few slides that were hard to go down. I don't know if they needed more water but she was sticking to them. But there were four larger slides that went pretty fast. We were a little nervous about letting her go down them, but one of us stayed at the bottom to catch her (a little deep on landing) and the other helped her at the top and she LOVED it. Every time she got out she'd run for the top to go again.
- Tadpool Kiddie Pool - This was kind of a neat little play area. There are these big, soft mushrooms and trees that bubble water out. You can climb through and under them and splash around in little streams of water. It's more of a splash pad type activity than a pool, though there were a couple slides going into slightly deeper water. We started here and it was a good way to get her used to the cold water temperatures and venture into playing without anything too intense.
- Schatze's Central Park - What a cute section! There were tons of fun splash pads, water slides, trees with hanging bridges to climb through, a "car wash," and a castle where a large dog makes an appearance every (other?) hour. We loved the slides and splash pads, but the car wash and dog scared her. This area was very shaded and the slides were very small, so it's a good section for very little ones.
- Congo River Expedition - We didn't ever make it over to this one, but Baby Friend Hinckley and her family said that she LOVED it.
Newer section (Blastenhoff, Surfenburg, Tubenbach)
- Hang Ten Harbor/Kristal Cove - This is a perfect place to camp out. Eat your snacks here. If your little one will nap, this is the perfect place for it. It's quiet. Shaded. Plenty of tables and chairs. There's a nice, large cove with a beach entry that doesn't get too deep. Hang Ten Harbor has those lily pads with the ropes that you try and pull yourself across on - Emma loved to watch her Uncle Josh and his friend go across those. We will probably come straight back here and make that our home base for all trips from here on out.
- Kristal River - This was my favorite part of our visit. They have yellow kiddie tubes that have bottoms on them. The first time we tried to put Em in one (over in the old section, in the Lagoon), she freaked out. So we waited awhile and tried again. We brought the tube up on the ground and just let her play around it. Eventually she got in it. And touched it. And saw it wasn't scary. We drug it over to the beach entry at Kristal Cove so it was in the water, but not even floating. And let her play around in it. Eventually we eased it out on to the water so it was floating, and she was a little nervous, but ok with it. And then we went out into the lazy river. We floated the first lap with Mama and Daddy just walking along side the tube, close to her. On the second lap she was comfortable enough that we both got in tubes and held on to her handles to link the three tubes together. She was so happy just chillin' on the river, watching the other kids play on floating crocodiles and tubes and we went around and around until we lost count. It was so fun.
- Kinderhaven/Kiddie Coast - I think this was Emma's favorite place. I guess it's technically two attractions, one geared more for pre-schoolers and one for young children. But she liked both equally. There is a big ship that spurts water and has six slides coming off it. They aren't little baby slides, but our little baby loved them all the same. You can't ride down with your child, but one parent can take baby to the top and the other can help at the bottom. We had to tear her off those slides at the end of the day. There were also some smaller slides, like a clam that went pretty fast, a shell that didn't, and another ship-type thing that curved. She liked the speed of the clam and did that one quite a bit, too. You could probably spend your whole day on this one section alone.
- The Falls - This was our one misstep of the trip. We could see a good portion of this tube chute and it looked pretty tame. We talked to a lifeguard and a mom/tiny daughter duo we saw getting off the ride. Both assured us it was fine for Emma. It was not fine for Emma. The first part WAS tame and she liked it. But then it turned the corner and turned into rapids. It was fast. It was bumpy. She was terrified. She started crying and giving me this look like "Mom, make it stop!" and there was nothing I could do. I felt so bad. I was truly worried she was going to get pitched right out of her tube. She just didn't weight enough to keep the tube down as it went over all the rapids and she was getting bounced around like she was in a washing machine. It was terrible. We bailed out at a lifeguard stand and walked the rest of the way back. She cried for a good while and was pretty clingy after that and it took us a while to convince her to get back in the water. Folks, this ride is not for the under two set. Don't let the lifeguards tell you otherwise.
- Blastenhoff - We went over to this section toward the end of the day, after we'd already explored what the rest of the park had to offer. It has a wave pool which was kind of neat, but Emma seemed kind of scared of it. Could be she was still traumatized from The Falls. I sat with her near the water's edge and let her see how the tide came up and went away again and that it wasn't scary. She eventually warmed up enough to sit down and play at the edge, but never got brave enough to venture in. There was a kiddie play section, but it wasn't as big as some of the other's we had seen, and there was a whale there that scared her for some reason, so we didn't stay long. There's a Hans' Hideout that has a bunch of water guns and giant buckets that tip over and spill water on you, but she was definitely too small for that. We didn't go near it, but she liked to watch the big kids playing in it. We ended up not staying in Blastenhoff for very long because it didn't seem like there was much for her to do and we ended up going back to Surfenberg.
Are you still reading? Good on you. Hopefully my superfluous explanations may come in handy for someone out there trying to plan their trip. Maybe it convinced you that your little under-two can handle it. Trust me, she can. And she will love it. And so will you! I think if we do it again with her under two, we will pretty much just go to Surfenburg and hang out on the lazy river and the kinderhaven coast all day. That was definitely our favorite part.
It was a really wonderful day. I don't know if she will remember it when she's older, but I know that we will and I will never forget this smile.