Go north for a post-holiday refresher
By Tom Bradley
You need to get away. If just for few moments, you need to get away from the disaster that is the post-holiday season. You need to feel warm waters on your aching skin or crackling adventure, romantic venues and soft candlelight. You need to do it now or you'll lose your mind, on a budget or you'll lose your credit card, and with your children in tow or you'll lose the insane person who babysits for you.
Hawaii? Is that what you were thinking? California? The Caribbean?
For less than half the cost of the airfare to one of these places you and your family can have a great post-holiday getaway with rushing warm water, romance, adventure, great food, lots of mesmerizing kid stuff and be home in time for work and school on Monday.
Interested? Head to Lake Geneva, Wis.
You know Lake Geneva is a great summer getaway for boating, golfing and general goofing off. You also know it is a favorite winter destination for local skiers. But you may not know Lake Geneva has re-tooled itself into a year-round destination for parents and children.
Imagine this: You leave work early on Friday, pick up the spouse and kids, drive north on I-94 and west on Hwy. 50. Ninety minutes later (60 minutes if you speed or live in the northern suburbs), you're there. Stop at the Grand Geneva Resort on Hwy. 50--with reservations please--where you'll spend the weekend.
If you have noisy, needy (therefore, normal) children, you'll want to stay at the TimberRidge Lodge at Grand Geneva. The Lodge features 225 one-and two-bedroom suites, nicely decorated with a fireplace, many of which include kitchenettes perfect for juice boxes, microwave popcorn or toasted bagels on demand. We were guests of the lodge and didn't pay full fare but a one-bedroom which sleeps four with the pullout couch is about $159 during the week and $239 on the weekend.
Staying at the Lodge gains you access to Moose Mountain Falls, a 30,000 square-foot indoor water park, the chief feature of which is two three-story water slides. The enclosed slides wind their way 300 feet down, then outside the Lodge (don't worry, it stays warm) before finishing back indoors in a rush of warm water at the bottom.
One slide transports you via a yellow inner tube, which, upon reaching the bottom, floats you down a lazy river around the park. This was the favorite of my 7-year old, Olivia. The other slide, known as a "flume," propels you body-only through twists and turns in utter darkness before expelling you into the frothy current below. To ride the "flume" (a favorite of my 10-year-old, Amanda) alone, you must be at least 48 inches tall. The tube slide can accommodate a parent and child riding together, allowing the smaller set to enjoy the thrill.
The Falls are designed as a shallow water entertainment complex with numerous play areas for all ages. Some of the best fun is watching infants dressed up in silly swimsuits having their first encounter with spraying water.
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. to guests of Timber Ridge Lodge and the Grand Geneva Resort. If you stay at the Grand Geneva, exquisitely romantic but not as kid friendly, you are required to purchase daily admission for about $20 a person.
Your kids are not going to want to leave the park, so plan on allowing them to eat there. The Hungry Moose is inside the park and serves hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza in cafeteria style. It's filling for the kids, who are going to burn a lot of energy going up those three flights of stairs all day. The adults should save their calories for the resort's restaurants.
Bring something you've been wanting to read. Tell the kids you won't be able to join them on the 34th trip up the three flights to the flume. Then, you can kick back under a warm towel in the slightly humid air with your favorite drink. Yes, the Hungry Moose sells bottled beer and slushy mixed drinks, so enjoy the moment.
For dinner, decide whether you want adult fare or whether the children will continue to drive the food train. Because the Grand Geneva has a several fine restaurants, including Ristorante Brissago, which does a great job with Northern Italian Cuisine and The Newport Grill, a high-end steak and chops place featuring an exhibit kitchen for viewing by all guests.
Like wine? Brissago and the Newport Grill have won Wine Spectator Magazine's Award of Excellence three years running. Dinner for four at Brissago with wine and tip ran about $140.
On the first floor of the Grand Geneva is the Grand Café, a more moderately priced family restaurant which, on Fridays, features an old-fashioned Wisconsin fish fry. The Grand Geneva also features a piano bar, a dance bar and a gelato shop that sells Starbucks coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Yum.
On Saturday, we injected a little adventure into our schedule. After stuffing ourselves at the Grand Café's breakfast buffet, we headed to the Lake County Riding Stables. Yes, there's snow on the ground and a nip in the air. But imagine riding or trotting your horse through a beautiful winter landscape with snow glistening off the treetops. You're like John Wayne at the end of True Grit. Call a few minutes in advance and the staff is ready. Go west through the town of Lake Geneva past Hwy. 67 and the stables are on the south side of Hwy. 50. A 45-minute ride is $25 per person. Carriage and pony rides are also available.
The Lake County Riding Stables also offers an animal menagerie, including chickens, cats, dogs, a llama, pigs, goats and even a turkey. Olivia, who has had a lifelong love affair with pigs, spent much of her time chasing around a pot-bellied porker named Links.
After the ride you're going to want a hot cup of cocoa (or something stronger) to warm you up. Travel back east on Hwy. 50 into Lake Geneva. You may be tempted to go to the huge Main Street Starbucks. But avoid it and, instead, visit Copper Mountain Toys on the south side of the street. You won't be disappointed.
Copper Mountain Toys is perhaps one of the largest model train stores anywhere. Model trains of all gauges run on tracks on two levels. Transformers are setup in glass cases for all to see. There is even a special elevated viewing area to allow little people a better view. The lower level features an expresso bar for the parents and a snack bar for the kids, where you can order hot dogs, ice cream and other snacks. A game room is attached where the kids can play the usual variety of arcade games. Order a cup of Joe and let the kids do their thing.
Next, walk a few doors down the street to the Global Gourmet, 738 W. Main St. This bakery has lots of yummy preserves and sauces set out for you to taste test with the freshly-baked bread. Mmmmmmmm. Even our kids loved it. We left with a pentagonal container of Asian Sesame Oven and Grill Sauce, a jar of Caramel Apple Jam and big jugs of apple butter.
Saturdays the Global Gourmet also offers free wine testing in the rear of the store. Wines from all over the world are there for your consideration. Cheese and crackers are also supplied. After a couple tastes of a snappy little merlot, I was in a fine mood.
Don't lose focus, however. You came on this trip to get some much-needed attention for your family (but mostly yourself). That means it's time to go to the spa. Facials, manicures, pedicures, massages, masks and herbal wraps are all available at varying prices.
The spa at the Grand Geneva is the Lexus of area spas, offering everything from acupuncture to something called "laminara seaweed thalassotherapy." The sport and fitness center includes indoor tennis, a climbing wall and basketball. Services for both spa and sport center can be purchased a la carte or as part of a package.
For the kids, there is a babysitting service in the spa named "Kids Are Grand." Rates are $8 an hour for one child and $6 an hour for each additional child up to a 5-hour maximum per day. Or you can save the cash and take turns with your spouse, one staying with the kids at the water park while the other hits the spa.
Also, check out the spa action at The Interlaken Resort and Country Spa just down the road from the Grand Geneva, and Lake Lawn Resort in nearby Delavan. Compare prices, availability and services before choosing which spa is best for you.
Lake Geneva also offers many other activities that you or the children enjoy, such as movies, bowling and arcades. Virtually all of the Lake Geneva resorts offer recent movies through HBO, pay-per-view, or video rental. First-run movies are available at the Showboat Theatre complex, located on Hwy. 120 in Lake Geneva. The six-screen complex offers stadium seating with seats that recline. The complex also includes a large family gaming arcade.
Bowling is available at Geneva Lanes, located on 50, just as you enter Lake Geneva. They'll set up the lanes with bumpers for the kids so there are no gutter balls to ruin any feel good family vibe. Amanda scored a personal best 99 (I notched a 119--live the fantasy).
Oh, yes, did I mention it's winter? You can ski, snowboard, or just stand around the fireplace looking cool in the turtleneck sweater you got for the holidays. Feb. 1-2 is "Winter Carnival Weekend," featuring skiers in a torchlight parade. Your children will ask if they can go hurtling down the side of a mountain in the dark holding a huge flame. Don't you love winter sports?
On Saturday night we took the kids to a comedy club. At 7 and 9 p.m., Lake Lawn Resort runs Kooky'z, a comedy club specially geared to entertain the little ones. It's just like on the Comedy Channel, with a stand-up comedian working away at a microphone in front of a wall of exposed brick--but instead of Jerry Seinfeld think Mel Blanc. There's a small cover charge and refreshments (for parents and children) can be purchased. We were entertained by the comedic stylings of Brian Milanowski, a magician who also did impressions of movie stars when they were children. The kids roared.
On Sunday, after that last watery trip down Moose Mountain, it was time for the piece de resistance.
Remember, you've not only had a great getaway, you saved by staying close to home, right? So, leverage some of those savings by making your last stop the Pleasant Prairie Prime Outlet mall just south of Hwy. 50 on I-94. While Dad is bargain hunting at outlet locations for Brooks Brothers, Polo, Nike and Bass, the kids can replenish their wardrobes at Oshkosh B'Gosh, Gap, Columbia Sportswear and Big Dog Sportswear. For Mom there's DKNY, Jones of New York and Versace.
Load up the van. Head south. Let the kids fall asleep. ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Tom Bradley is a dad, lawyer and writer who lives in Chicago.