Sunday, August 18, 2013

Neptune, Shake Not Thy Gory Locks at Us

In the parking lot of a Texas H.E.B. supermarket. The kids don't believe the B stands for "Butt." But it does.
Cashing in Marriott points and United miles, the Clarks of New Jersey ventured to San Antonio for an historic weekend in Texas.

River walk? Check. Alamo? Check. Haunted Menger Hotel with cool-but-ridiculously-expensive-toy-soldier store? Check. Mexican restaurant? Check.

Schlitterbahn water park? 

Well, that last one brings our blog to one of the greatest decisions in the history of Clark family vacations. The Schlitterbahn is, of course, the fourteen-time honoree of Water Fun Magazine's "Best Water park in the World" award. Miles of slides, acres of pools, river rides, surfing simulators, fountains and sprinklers, all built by German engineers to maximize slippery pleasure. 

At Denny's, Dad told the staff that we were heading to Schlitterbahn. All the waitresses were excited, and a little jealous. Everyone assured us we would have a wonderful day. "Your kids will be tired after all that fun," was the common refrain. I cannot remember for sure, but I think the staff of Denny's and some customers waved to us as we pulled out of the restaurant parking lot. I can't be sure, but I seem to remember them shouting: "You'll have a great time at Schlitterbahn, for sure!"

Along the highway, the billboards advertised "Schlitterbahn: It's more than a water park."

"This is the going to be great," Dad said. "I've always wanted to go to Schlitterbahn, ever since I saw that water-park documentary on TV."

Anticipation swelled like an artificial, German-engineered wave in a 20-acre pool. And then, finally, we saw the first skyscraper of a water slide in the distance. We had arrived. After a 35-minute drive from our hotel, we had arrived.

And this is where all four of us -- Mom, Dad and two kids -- began to gather and analyze visual cues that led to our fateful decision. The first sign that something was amiss was the sighting of two women, walking in bathing suits, about a half-mile from the park entrance. Where are they going? Then we saw a few people walking on the side of the road. And then more, and then a long line of people. 

They were all carrying huge inner tubes. Why are they not in the water?

We drove close to the park where a four-story slide had about 8 stories worth of people jammed on ladders waiting for their turn. The line appeared not to move. We drove past the "LOT FULL" sign. We saw a huge open-air bus full of swimmers.

Where are they going? Why are they not inside the park, enjoying the cool water under the hot Texas sun. It's 100 degrees outside? This is no day to be riding a bus too and fro.

We pass another "LOT FULL" sign. We pass another water slide, this one taller and more crowded than the first.

We drive farther. More busses from all kinds of directions. People walking around like ants in the steamy jungle, carrying inner tubes. We see a line of people waiting to get on a bus. The line was like a Newark "Liberty" International Airport TSA line that snakes back and forth through a maze. Why do they want to get on a bus? 

We received directions to additional parking. "Kids," Dad coached the witnesses. "What do you think of this place? This doesn't look fun to me." 

No answer. Outside, more families were walking slowly in the heat. Perhaps they have traveled great distances to be here. But why are they not in the water? It's 2 p.m. I've seen a thousand park visitors, gypsies and refugees, and I haven't seen anyone having fun in the water. 

We followed a line of minivans and SUVs packed with hopeful families to a satellite parking area down a winding road, farther and farther from Schlittenbahn. Where are we? Amid all these unanswered questions, the two kids share their thoughts. 

LIttle Natalie: "Can we go back to the hotel?" 
Little Theo: "Yeah. Let's go swimming in the hotel pool."

"Mom," says Dad, "chart a course for the Fairfield Inn. We're going home."

Best. Decision. Ever. We stopped at the H.E.B. on the way home, and we all agreed that we like Wegman's better.