By Emily Harrington
This is no ordinary city. As soon as you turn off I-90 you realize this place is special. Giant fiberglass dinosaurs, cowboys, spaceships and other animals entice you to enter their habitats at every turn. Outdoor/indoor waterparks, entertainment centers, kitschy museums and indoor theme parks line the streets of Wisconsin Dells.
It’s essentially a family-friendly Las Vegas—just four hours from Champaign-Urbana. You should visit the Dells official website first. It advertises the designation, “The Waterpark Capital of the World!”
There are many overnight accommodations available. It just depends on your budget. Your choices can range from old ’70s motel relics to opulent resorts like Great Wolf Lodge or Kalahari Resorts & Conventions.
A friend recently stayed at The Great Wolf Lodge and had nothing but good things to say about it. She highlighted the organized crafts, bedtime stories and character greetings in the lodge’s lobby. This particular family stayed in a condo room that had a kitchen for easy meal prep and separate bedrooms for the kids.
We chose a moderate hotel we were familiar with—Hilton Garden Inn. The stay cost us a little more than $100 a night. We bought day passes to the Kalahari indoor waterpark for $39 per person. Our son was free at 2 years and younger.
There are so many options in this town, in all seasons, just find what fits your family’s needs. The Kalahari, though, gets our high recommendation. The resort holds an indoor and outdoor waterpark, game room, restaurants—everything. Everything at a price, though. It would have cost us more than double what we paid to stay Friday and Saturday night there. It was a quick drive back and forth—completely worth the savings.
We arrived late Friday night. After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to be at the waterpark for the 10 a.m. opening. I’ve never been to an indoor waterpark. This one did not disappoint. Our almost three-year-old had a blast. Which was an understatement. There were some very intense waterslides for your independent school-age kids, and there were more subdued slides for your toddler/preschool-age-kids. Within the 125,000 square feet of park, there were pockets of different features for various ages. A wave pool, surf wall and water swings provided activities for every age.
I have no complaints. It was a great day. Lifeguards roamed but were not annoyingly whistle happy. It was crowded, but I expected that. Towels and life vests were provided. OK, maybe one complaint—it’s understandably hot and humid. Plan on getting wet to stay comfortable. Make sure to bring swim shoes, swim diapers, floaties (if you don’t want to use their vests) dry clothes AND underwear (oops, forgot these). Oh, and plastic bags to put your wet things in!
After a few hours, our toddler was ready for a nap. We had lunch at a quick cafeteria-style spot outside the park entrance, before going back to our hotel for naps. My husband and toddler slept soundly that afternoon.
We tried to go to the popular Knuckleheads Trampoline Park before going to the attached Buffalo Phil’s Pizza & Grille for dinner (they deliver your drinks/food on a train track!) But it turned out not to be the quick stop we had hoped for. There was a long wait for dinner (no reservations allowed), and we still wanted to have a nightcap (there’s a bar inside) at the waterpark. If we weren’t planning on going back to the waterpark, this would have been an awesome night spot. Think Dave & Buster’s meets Jupiter’s meets Chuck E. Cheese—on steroids.
We opted to eat at a restaurant inside the Kalahari that fit the bill perfectly before going back into the waterpark. The day pass allows you to go in and out as you wish. After more waterpark fun, we took our super happy, super tired toddler back to the hotel for another sound sleep.
I should mention we went with another couple, and after the wives and kids were tucked in the men headed to the local Ho-Chunk Gaming casino in an attempt to win some money. So there’s that, too.
It was a great weekend. We will be back, Dells. You created lasting memories and a new annual trip for these two families.
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Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie that left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life, because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son—a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.