Mention the Wisconsin Dells to the 40-something crowd and the
name is likely to conjure up an image of sunny summer days, Tommy
Bartlett's Water Show and cheap turquoise jewelry. Mention the name
to the younger generation, and they are more likely to see huge
slides, lazy rivers and long days of fun at indoor water parks.
Winter these days is prime time in the one-time summer-only
resort area three hours northwest of Chicago. It's a place to
relieve high-pitched winter cabin fever.
But which water park is right for your family?
The Chicago Parent staff did the research so you don't have to.
What follows is our view of the six largest and seven smaller
indoor water play areas, along with the reactions of our kids, who
range in age from 5 to 13. This is strictly the indoor venues; we
didn't consider the outdoor conterparts.
Before you go, here are a few things the tourism brochures won't
Room rates quoted here are for the smallest room available in
4031 River Rd. (800) 388-4782, www.chulavistaresort.com. Cost: Double queen,
$89-$150. Best ages: All ages. Kids say: "There weren't enough
water slides, but I could really swim." Parents say: "It was a
manageable size-we could sit in one place and keep an eye on the
kids in both the shallow pool with the slides and the deeper
swimming pool." General comments: This resort is located off the
Dells "strip" in an idyllic setting along the Wisconsin River. The
indoor water park kept the kids entertained for hours, despite
their complaints the water slides weren't big enough. The best part
of the indoor park was having a real pool big enough for swimming,
not just a lazy river or a torrent of water slides. We all had a
great time splashing around and then relaxing in the oversized hot
1400 Great Wolf Dr. (800) 559-9653, www.greatwolflodge.com.
Cost: Double queen, $269. Best ages: All ages. Kids say: "It was
great. We could stay here forever." Parents say: "Where did they
go? We'll be here forever." General comments: The water park is
overwhelming and the kids loved exploring every inch of it. There
are bells, whistles, slides, tubes, inner tubes and enough water
doohickies that it's entertaining for big and little people. With
children under 5, you have to watch them carefully but there are
enough places to keep a close eye on them. This is built for both
big and little people to have fun. On the other hand, the two rooms
are so filled with mazes and tubes, I spent two hours trying to
find the three boys one afternoon. But I was able to calm down at
1305 Kalahari Dr. (877) 253-LION, www.kalahariresort.com. Cost:
Double queen with sleeper, $149-$179. Daily rates to the water park
only are available. Best ages: All ages. Kids say: "I want to live
here and never go back to school." Parents say: "Absolutely
fabulous." General comments: The water park is huge. It would be
most relaxing to be there with older kids who don't need constant
watching, but there is plenty for small kids to do, too. The park
includes many really great slides, a lazy river, a play area, a
wave pool and enough chairs for everyone. One of the slides even
wends its way outside and back in again. You can easily spend days
here and never hear the words "I'm bored." The hotel boasts
everything you could need under one roof. An ice cream shop, a
coffee shop, gift shops, a large game room, a spa, many restaurants
and beautiful artwork are all part of this hotel experience. We
even had a pizza delivered to our room.
1701 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. (800) 800-4997,
www.WisDellsTreasureIsland.com. Cost: Double queen, $69-$89. Daily
rates to the water park only are available. Best ages: 7 and up.
Kids say: "Those slides are so tall." Parents say: "Those stairs
are so tall." General comments: The first thing we noticed is that
the chair area is on a different level than the water. You can't
sit and watch while the kids play because you can't be close enough
to them. The very tall slides are fun, (shorter kids can't ride
alone), a play area for tots, a lazy river and a wave pool (in a
separate room) are all part of this park. This resort is best known
for its huge outdoor water park.
Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort
511 E. Adams St. (800) 867-9453, www.wildernessresort.com. Cost:
Double queen sofa, $89-$189. Best ages: All ages (see below). Kids
say: "I liked the water slides. They were really big. You could
scream and you got wet." Parents say: "Our kids (ages 7 and 9) were
a great age for this. If they were any younger, I would be
nervous." General comments: The resort offers age-specific water
parks-unfortunately, they are on opposite ends of the resort.
Families with kids of similar ages were fine-they could stay in one
park or another. But those with kids across a broad range of ages
spent their days dripping wet and shivering as they traipsed from
one end of the hotel to the other. The parents were worried about
their little kids at the big parks and the big kids were bored at
the baby water park. A new third indoor water park has something
for every age but it would be impossible to keep an eye on everyone
all the time. The new park has very large slides where up to four
people can ride together. A big plus: the dry play area had
something for every age group and gave the kids an afternoon break
from the chlorine.
857 N. Frontage Rd. (800) 272-5642, www.dellspolynesian.com.
Cost: Double queen, $89-$155. Best ages: Up to 11. Kids say: "Not
bad. Blackbeard's Tunnel was OK the first six times." Parents say:
"Nothing spectacular here." General comments: The whole place felt
very utilitarian. Water park in one place, food in another once you
go up the stairs and through the hallway and the towels in another
place. There was nothing here that made you feel it was family
friendly. This place looks like it has a heavy emphasis on the
outdoor stuff. There are more contained places for smaller
1570 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. (800) 800-6179,
www.theatlantishotel.com. Cost: Double queen, $69-$115. Best ages:
11 and under. Kids say: "The pool is great, but the water slides
are too small." Parents say: "It's so much less chaotic and
relatively peaceful." General comments: The hotel, with its kitschy
themed suites (tropical volcanic suite and Neptune's palace suite)
has only 72 rooms, so it's unlikely the indoor water park ever
would get overly crowded. The water slides are right next to the
big pool, so it's easy to keep an eye on everyone. The hotel is
next door to Noah's Ark, the huge outdoor water park that is the
Wisconsin Dells original.
1033 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. S. (888) 946-3000,
www.dellshotel.com. Cost: Double queen, $55-$85. Best ages: 10 and
under. Kids say: "This is perfect for Marco Polo." Parents say:
"You can actually swim here and keep everyone in sight." General
comments: There are no bells and whistles here. Just a nice hotel
at a good price with a pool, a slide and a water castle for little
people. When we walked in my three boys had already been to one of
the larger water parks and they were not impressed. Half-hour tops,
they told me. Three hours later, I had to drag them away. They had
fun just playing games. It was also lovely to actually be able to
swim in a pool, something impossible to do in the big water parks.
You are close to all the other hotels and can always get a day pass
to the Kalahari if you need more excitement.
655 Frontage Rd. (800) 54-DELLS, www.antiquabay.com. Cost:
Double queen, $69-$109. Best ages: 6 and under. Kids say: "The big
slide is fun." Parents say: "Definitely for families with small
kids only, but large enough that hovering is required." General
comments: Younger kids need to be followed around. The adult pool
is a walk from the kid's pool and offers nothing for the kids. The
Web site is full of deals and packages, including meal vouchers and
tickets to other attractions.
1435 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. (888) 253-4386,
www.dellsraintree.com. Cost: Double queen w/sofa, $85-$180. Best
ages: 10 and under. Kids say: "The slide into the deep water is the
best part." Parents say: "Nice, safe, clean, relaxing, fun."
General comments: This would be a good choice if you have kids of
various ages. There is enough here for both the under-5 group and
the 6-10 age group, and it is the right size to keep track of
Wintergreen Resort & Conference Center
60 Gaffer Rd. (800) 648-4765, www.dellswintergreen.com. Cost:
Double queen, $95. Best ages: 6 and under. Kids say: "It looks like
it should be freezing in here." Parents say: "Comfortable fun."
General comments: As a winter getaway choice, this hotel is better
for families with little kids only. The indoor park does not offer
enough to keep older kids happy for long, but the little ones were
very content. The polar bear theme is cute.
840 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. (800) 447-2636,
www.grandmarquis-dells.com. Cost: Double queen, $58-$88. Best ages:
10 and under. Kids say: "Hey, you can play water basketball here."
Parents say: "The hot tub has a great view of the entire pool."
General comments: There are two pool areas here. A zero-depth play
area in one room and a deeper pool with small slides in another.
Walking a short distance between the two helped to hold the kids'
interest. "I'm tired of this pool let's go to the other one now,"
was part of the entertainment.
411 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. (800) 348-2019,
www.dellsnewconcord.com. Cost: Double queen, $55-$75. Best ages: 10
and under. Kids say: "Hey Mom, catch me!" Parents say: "We love it
here. This is a very relaxing place to spend time, no hovering
required." General comments: There is a deep pool for big people to
hang in (with one large slide) and a separate small play area for
the kids, all in the same room. You don't have to drip walk
anywhere to keep everyone happy.
Cindy Richards is associate editor, Sandi Pedersen is online and
calendar editor, and Susy Schultz is editor of Chicago Parent.
Between them, they took 11 kids to the water parks.
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