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Surviving Schlitterbahn South Padre With 3 Little Kids!
altCan a family of 5, including 3 novice swimmers under the age of 6, survive a day at the waterpark and live to tell the tale? Schlitterbahn South Padre offered me a chance to find out, and to that I say, "Challenge accepted!"

This is the first summer my kids have taken proper swim lessons. I have a 5 year old son who can newly swim fairly independently and 3 year old twins who are comfortable in the water but not confident or independent swimmers. Were we crazy thinking we could tackle a day at the waterpark? We were pleasantly surprised and I'm ready to share my tips for having a memorable experience for the entire family!

Upon entering the park you're immediately greeted with the massive Sand Castle Cove, a five-story spray structure full of nooks, crannies, slides, sprays and a giant dumping sand pail. Hopefully it's not too obvious to say, but if this is the first experience you dive right into at the park, you and your kids will get WET. Not just a little wet - soaked, sprayed and abruptly wet. Two of my kids had fun dodging the spray and the third immediately started crying with panic. Fortunately it is easy to redirect at a waterpark! The giant sand castle is surrounded by a huge shallow pool with small slides and spraying characters to climb. The park's only body slides, Wizard's Waterways, are adjacent to Sand Castle Cove and were age/size appropriate for all of my kids. There are 3 body slides at this attraction which was perfect as all 3 kids were able to race down at once. I felt confident enough after multiple times that they were allowed to venture up the stairs on their own with me at the bottom. I was super impressed with the lifeguards who communicated regularly from the top to bottom of the ride when small riders (possibly in need of extra help) would be coming down. My youngest also enjoyed the adjacent Squid Row -  a shaded, padded spray area with climbable sea characters. Of everything we saw in the park, this is the most appropriate attraction for babies.
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The entire family then tackled the Rio Aventura, a lazy river that also serves as the entry point for all of the tube rides. We immediately realized that we were in trouble - two adults, three little kids. The double tubes have an empty hole in the back tube for the adult and a solid bottom for the front tube for a kid under 30 lbs. to ride. Both of my 3 year olds are over 30 lbs. but we went ahead and put them in the front. Our 5 year old went solo in his own tube and struggled greatly to stay atop it - for once he was just too small! We struggled to keep our tubes together so that we didn't lose our 5 year old. We also struggled when we realized that Rio Aventura is not just a lazy river - it also has a section of whitewater rapids that were exhilarating but also nerve-wracking! We were quickly aware that this attraction was not a safe scenario for our family, so my husband and I took turns taking my older son on tube rides while the littles played at Sand Castle Cove. Our favorite feature of Rio Aventura is that it functions as Schlitterbahn's Transportainment system. You don't have to get out of the water to stand with a tube in an endless line on a staircase - simply stay in your tube, divert to a ride queue and float through the line process.

We took a mid-day break to picnic at one of the many available picnic table areas around the park. Afterwards we headed to the indoor park which is a brief walk from the outdoor park. The indoor park is partially covered and features two tube slides (you'll have to climb up stairs for these), a pirate-themed spray pool for younger kids with nets, small slides and structures to climb around and a torrent river. My littles did not meet the height requirement for the tube slides and after a rough trip on the torrent river I felt entirely unsafe with the float configuration - you definitely need a 1:1 adult to child ratio. For a break from the water, put on your shoes for the Grand Carousel and Mega Blast, a multi-level game involving shooting foam balls.
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We spent the remainder of our afternoon at the outdoor park. There are great separate spaces for novice swimmers like the Lily Pad pool which featured small slides and characters to climb. My entire family camped out at the Wizard's Waterways body slides again while my husband spent nearly 2 hours taking one kid at a time on a tube slide. This isn't a quick feat as you have to enter the Rio Aventura lazy river to queue into a ride, then exit back into Rio Aventura to make your way back to the Sand Castle Cove. I think our kids loved the 1:1 time with Daddy and hopefully this isn't much of an issue when kids can comfortably and safely fit on their own in a tube.

Before you hit the park, take my advice on what to pack and what to leave at home. Our day pack, which we paid to keep in a locker, included lots of sunscreen and a cooler with drinks, picnic lunch and snacks (yes, it's ok and encouraged to bring a picnic in!). We brought our own Puddle Jumpers to the park which was not entirely necessary as youth and adult life jackets are plentiful and located at multiple points in the park. We packed towels and a change of clothes and found that they weren't needed as we just drip-dried on the walk back to the car and the short ride to our vacation rental. We wore long sleeve rash guards over our swimsuits to keep our torso and arms sun-free, also reducing the amount of skin to put sunscreen on (which you'll need to be doing every 90 min. or so). I'd suggest considering your footwear. We walked in with flip flops and planned on walking around barefoot. We stored our flops in the locker and pulled them out to wear when we walked from the outdoor park to the indoor park to avoid the scalding hot pavement. You could consider aqua socks, but those tend to blister my kids' feet with extended use.
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We've recently visited Walt Disney World, where tickets cost nearly $500 for a single day for family of 5. By comparison, a day at Schlitterbahn South Padre is less than half that cost. Did we get more enjoyment from our Disney trip? After our amazing day at Schlitterbahn I'm not so sure anymore! My kids had an absolute blast and we spent ALL DAY at the park (really, from 10am to 6pm). No complaints from the kids - not a one! To anyone in a similar boat with 3 young kids, I cannot encourage you enough to bring an extra adult to fully enjoy the park. A 1:1 adult to child ratio is crucial for anything involving a tube. That said, we still had a wonderful time with the little ones with what they could safely play on.
 
Schlitterbahn South Padre has entered its indoor-only season (with reduced rates) and is operating weekends and select weeks throughout the remainder of 2017. Visit their website for more details.
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