- Dave Thomas American-Statesman staff
I’m watching the giant bucket overhead as it fills with water. Ghostman is watching me. I’ve got a grip on his little hand.
Slowly, it begins to tip toward us. I count down from 10, guessing at the timing, adjusting on the fly. Ghostman counts down, too — at least as much as the shivers of anticipation will let him. The boy is a miniature earthquake.
The water comes crashing down, breaking its fall on a metal roof and gushing in all directions, including right on top of us. Ghostman still hasn’t learned to look away fast enough. He coughs and sputters and wipes his eyes. As soon as he can speak, he looks right at me.
“Do it again, daddy!”
That was us last weekend at Inspiration Island, the water park addition to Morgan’s Wonderland — a San Antonio amusement park created for children with special needs.
Ghostman is my 7-year-old autistic son — his nickname pays homage to both his pale complexion and his ninja-like abilities to vanish in a blink.
We didn’t spend much time exploring the dry side of the park, which opened in 2010. A recon showed that the carousel wasn’t in operation and it would have been difficult to explain to my boy why he couldn’t get on his favorite ride.
But there was no need to leave the water park. It was Ghostman Valhalla. My 10-year-old boy and 5-year-old daughter also had a great time, though the older boy may soon age out of it.
To say it is awesome invites unfair comparisons. Inspiration Island is no Schlitterbahn — and it hardly aims to be. To take Ghostman to Schlitterbahn would be to spend a day in terror he would end up lost or drowned.
Inspiration Island centers around five splash pads, each with clear sight lines, none with standing water. The one we enjoyed the most — Harvey’s Hideaway Bay and its large overhead bucket — was mostly enclosed, so I could stand at the entrance and let Ghostman run wild.
And run he did. For six hours, he didn’t stay still longer than it took to eat a slice of cheese pizza or to wait for the water to splash down on him.
The park was never crowded — there were no lines — and there was a staff member everywhere you turned, keeping a close eye on the children and their safety.
That’s not to say that it was perfect. The River Boat Adventure ride? Achingly slow. That cheese pizza? It was terrible (Ghostman loved it, though). And some of the teenage staff were more sullen than was called for.
We rented a cabana and though it provided a much-needed home base for french fry breaks and repeated sunscreen applications, it doubled the day’s cost for our family of five and two grandparents.
Still, seeing the sheer joy on the face of my boy was worth every cent.
And seeing him sacked out for the night at 7:30 p.m. while I had a beer in my hand and college football on TV … that was just a bonus.