Cool Ways on Hot Days
“Given the state’s climate and population, it’s easy to understand the appeal and demand for water parks,”
— Arthur Levine, travel writer,
About.com’s Guide to
If it’s summer in Texas, there’s a decent chance that it’s hot outside — very hot. And the cool waters of a wave pool or the rush of a waterslide might never seem more inviting.
Texas water parks have evolved from a 1980s curiosity into an integral part of the state’s entertainment package, providing fun for millions and thousands of jobs for local communities.
Water parks and theme parks such as Six Flags and SeaWorld accounted for almost $400 million in gross sales through the first three quarters of 2009. More than $336 million of that came during quarters two and three (April to June and July through September), the seasonal peak. More than 10,000 Texans staff these attractions during high season, earning about $41 million in wages during 2009’s third quarter.
“Given the state’s climate and population, it’s easy to understand the appeal and demand for water parks,” says Arthur Levine, a travel writer and self-proclaimed “parkaholic” who maintains About.com’s Guide to Theme Parks.
For more than 25 years, San Antonio’s Splashtown has played it cool, growing into a 20-acre park with slides and rides for all ages.
“I’ve been here from the ground up and been able to see this place grow,” says Keith Kinney, Splashtown’s owner and co-founder. “In acreage, it’s probably doubled in size. We started with seven slides in ’85 and now have more than 40.”
To keep the fun moving, Kinney says he tries to add a new attraction every couple of years or so. Splashtown sees about 250,000 visitors annually and employs about 300 during the season. About 25 percent of that crowd comes from outside the San Antonio area, and despite Splashtown’s close proximity to larger parks such as Schlitterbahn and White Water Bay at San Antonio’s Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Kinney says their presence is good for business.
“The truth is, the other parks have enabled the market to grow,” he says.
“We often catch folks who are here on their second, third or fourth day in town.”
Wet ‘n Wild, which first opened in Arlington in the 1980s, really started the trend of water parks with long and tall slides and rides. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor now occupies Wet ‘n Wild’s old grounds and is one of the premier names on the Texas water-park roster, which offers plenty of choices.
A park’s marquee attractions, along with a diverse selection of rides, helps pull in guests, Levine says, as do amenities that appeal to families with small children. And one Texas park has led the way.
“Schlitterbahn is regarded as one of the best and most innovative water parks in the industry,” he says. “Through the years, it has gained a reputation for developing ground-breaking attractions.”
Beat the Heat at the ‘Bahn
New Braunfels’ Schlitterbahn Waterpark opened to water revelers in 1979. The park’s signature castle and four slides were all that greeted visitors that first summer. They remain today, but now are part of a 75-acre, three-park complex. And the company has extended its brand with additional Schlitterbahn parks in Galveston, South Padre Island and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as another planned for Cedar Park near Austin.
Texas water parks provide fun for millions and jobs for thousands.
“I travel throughout Texas and I’m always amazed at the number of people who know the name and know what it’s about,” says Jeffrey Siebert, Schlitterbahn’s communications director.
According to the Themed Entertainment Association, Schlitterbahn’s New Braunfels and Galveston parks recently ranked among the nation’s top 10 water parks based on attendance. Siebert says the association estimates more than a million visitors beat the the heat in New Braunfels in 2009, and more than 600,000 visited the Galveston park.
Part of Schlitterbahn’s success is certainly the fun factor, with innovative attractions such as uphill water coasters and river floats where riders are pulled from the water directly into their ride of choice. But another factor is longevity, which gives families an opportunity to share similar experiences.
“Parents can remember when they were kids here because we’ve been around for 30 years,” Siebert says. “There’s some history and nostalgia where they can ride with their kids the same rides they rode when they were kids.”
When Six Flags began operations at Wet n’ Wild in 1995 — the Hurricane Harbor name came along in 1997 — it joined an Arlington entertainment roster already buoyed by professional sports, museums and the main Six Flags Over Texas park.
With about 47 acres and more than 20 rides and attractions, Hurricane Harbor is North Texas’ largest water park, says Sharon Parker, the park’s director of communications. It employs about 500 during peak season and, coupled with Six Flags’ 45-year history in the area, gives the company a nice one-two punch that fits nicely into Arlington’s mix.
“We pride ourselves on being able to provide our guests not only a venue where they can make long-lasting memories, but do so at an affordable price,” Parker says. “One thing we’ve noticed is that, despite the economic climate, people are still going to find a way to treat themselves to fun. We feel like we’ve positioned ourselves to offer guests a great deal.”
Park entry costs less than $30 for adults, with lower rates for children, and the park offers customers the added convenience of ordering tickets or even snack and meal vouchers online and then printing their tickets at home. Those amenities have not gone unnoticed.
“The Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau [CVB] and both Six Flags parks work together continuously to provide a great family getaway,” says CVB President Jay Burress. “Hurricane Harbor is a great addition to that and keeps those families here an extra day.” FN
Texans and out-of-state visitors alike continue flocking to our theme and amusement parks, and their spending has risen steadily since 2005.
Note: * First three quarters of the year.
Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
To read about the nation’s best water parks, check out Arthur Levine’s website.