The End of an Era?
As I'm sure many of you have heard by now, it was announced last week that the Cedar Fair company purchased Schlitterbahn Waterparks. This announcement comes with many questions and uncertainty for the future of this unique brand of waterparks. We wanted to take some time to share a bit of info on the sale and weigh in with our thoughts on the possible pros and cons of this new acquisition.
How it All Began
Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels, TX began with the purchase of a campground by the Henry family in 1966. By 1979 the park opened with 4 waterslides and the iconic 60-ft tower that still stands there today.
Over the next 35 years, the park slowly added slide by slide, opened additional parks around Texas and Kansas, and rightfully won the title of Best Waterpark in the World. Schlitterbahn won numerous awards, had Travel Channel highlights and TV specials, and continued to delight families for years, until tragedy struck.
The Fall of the Brand
In 2016, tragedy struck at the Schlitterbahn Kansas park when a young boy was killed on one of the park's slides. The idea for Verrückt, the world's tallest waterslide, came from Jeff Henry, co-owner of the Schlitterbahn Waterparks. Much backlash, as well as a multi-million dollar lawsuit fell upon Jeff and the Schlitterbahn brand when it was revealed that he had no formal engineering training while designing this record-breaking ride. After some digging, it would also be revealed in the months to come that Jeff Henry had a dark past and multiple charges were filed against him for various crimes. This was ultimately the beginning of the end for Schlitterbahn.
In Swoops Cedar Fair
3 years after the Kansas park incident, as well as the announcement that that park would not be re-opening, it was announced that Cedar Fair, one of America's largest amusement park chains, purchased the New Braunfels and Galveston waterparks for $261 million. The company also secured the rights to the now closed Kansas park for an additional $6 million. Cedar Fair currently operates twelve amusement parks, eleven water parks, and five hotels in the US and Canada.
The Bad That May Happen...
Cedar Fair is a large corporation which could mean more rules and less personality. Park guests loved the "family business" vibe of Schlitterbahn waterparks which included perks like free parking, the ability to bring in ice chests with food and drinks, free open-air shuttles, and free tubes! There is, of course, concern with a large company like Cedar Fair coming in and making changes to some of these things that guests have been used to doing their entire lives. If some of these changes were implemented, we wouldn't be surprised if many park-goers rethink a visit to the park.
Cedar Fair doesn't have the greatest track record for keeping things original when it comes to their waterparks. Innovative and record-breaking roller coasters? Sure. Amazing and unique water rides? Not so much. They tend to build the same slide complexes made by the same manufacturers again and again. And while they're not bad slides, they are common. And a park with the title of "World's Best" should be anything but common.
One of the biggest fears here would be that Cedar Fair, despite having the money to do so, would not plan to invest much into these parks. While Schlitterbahn has great rides already, building has been at a stand-still for the last few years. It's time for something new! If Cedar Fair plans to take the money made from this park and funnel it to some of their more successful parks (cough Cedar Point cough) that could be an issue. We could be faced with Dorney Park syndrome here and not see any real new additions for quite some time.
While Schlitterbahn-goers are long overdue for some new thrills, we also aren't ready to give up some of our iconic retro slides. The New Braunfels park is absolutely oozing with charm and personality, and these rides are completely original. One of our greatest fears with this new sale is that Cedar Fair will opt to remove most of these slides to be replaced with something by ProSlide or WhiteWaterWest. While both of these companies make AWESOME rides, they also make up 90% of the waterpark world which means you can get that just about anywhere.
The Good That May Happen...
In a perfect world, Cedar Fair would be able to blend the charm that the parks already have, with some newer, more modern slides. The park as it stands can be a bit confusing and hard to navigate, since so many of the slides are very long (up to 45 minutes) and can intertwine. Cedar Fair may be able to come in and alleviate this issue without jeoporadizing any of the originality.
It should be no surprise to anyone that Cedar Fair has money. Much more money than Schlitterbahn Parks did. This, obviously, can be a great thing for the parks. The company will be able to make changes quickly as well as get started on some new developments. Unlike with the previous owners, we hope to see some progress made to the parks pretty soon.
As mentioned above, Cedar Fair currently owns eleven water parks. There is always a possibility that rather than those parks rubbing off on Schlitterbahn, we will see Schlitterbahn rub off on them. Having a park full of original and unique rides could mean great things for the other waterparks in Cedar Fair's lineup. Will the exposure of these original river attractions spark something amazing in other parts of the country?
In a press release following the announcement of the sale, Cedar Fair made a statement about the "attractiveness of the demographics in the growing Central Texas region." Traditionally, Cedar Fair is known less for their waterparks and more for their amusement parks. With the attractive growing market here in Texas, does Cedar Fair have plans for a new park sometime in the future? That would be the dream.
Time Will Tell
Ultimately, we will have to wait and see what the future holds for our beloved Schlitterbahn.
For us, this a yearly tradition with friends and family and we would hate to see this sale affect what we love most about these parks. We are staying positive and hoping for the best!
Only time will tell.
Parker and Brittany Ruhmel- Lovers of all things food and theme park related!