Thursday, July 01, 2004
Riding the waves, and ducks, for fun Wisconsin Dells, Wis. By Cindy Richards :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::photo courtesy of Original Wisconsin Ducks This duck is as much fun on water as it is on land. A duck ride is campy and fun-so perfect for the Wisconsin Dells.
There's something irresistible about a duck. Not one of those waddling, quacking kinds of ducks, but the rolling, floating kind you find at the Wisconsin Dells. Somehow, they seem campy and fun, so perfect for the kitschy Dells.
We couldn't wait to get our turn on one of the World War II-era military transports now refurbished into a major tourist business. But wait we did-for more than a half-hour, winding our way through the line, grateful that it kept moving, at least until we hit the mandatory pose-for-a-family-photo stop. But the minute we scurried aboard one of the 45 ducks that run the one-hour round-trip regularly from early spring until late fall, we knew it was worth the wait.
Summer at the Dells just isn't complete without some time on the water. Perched along the Wisconsin River, the town's tourist business is built around water. We took a duck ride, a jet boat ride and a scenic cruise, splashed at two outdoor water parks and watched the classic Tommy Bartlett water ski show. At the end of the day, we relaxed on the balcony of our room at the ChulaVista Resort, our host for the weekend, as we watched the river flow by. Those moments on the balcony were the only bit of relaxation on a whirlwind weekend at the Dells. But, if you're going to be in a town made for playing, why sit around anyway?
Driving into the town three hours northwest of Chicago is like driving down a mile-long monument to American ingenuity and entrepreneurialism. There are few national chains here; independent businesses cater to the tourists. There are miniature golf courses (did it), bungee chairs that sling you skyward and bounce you mercilessly before stopping (wouldn't ever do it and hope the kids never do, either), go-cart tracks (did it) and the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, the attraction formerly known as Robot World (we thought it would be hokey but did it anyway and loved it).
The bulk of our weekend was spent on or near the water. First stop: Noah's Ark. This granddaddy of water parks claims to offer the largest variety of water rides anywhere in the country. Our favorites: getting soaked on the Flash Flood, riding the Jungle Rapids and braving the wave pool.
But the man-made water attractions were overshadowed by Mother Nature. The sandstone rock formations that flank the Upper and Lower Dells carry their own lore and tour guides relish telling the stories of the Hawk's Bill, the Baby Grand Piano and Stand Rock. We saw them by duck, by tour boat and by jet boat. We learned the most on the tour, were entertained the most on the duck and got the wettest on the jet.
For evoking memories of long-ago family vacations in the Dells, you need a night at the Tommy Bartlett Thrill Show. A staple since 1953, the show hasn't changed much from the spectacle I remember as a kid. It's still filled with amazing skiers, incredible boat tricks and dumb jokes. We had a great time-for the first hour. Once night fell and the skiers packed up, the stage show took over, filled with silly skits and mediocre performers. It ended with a patriotic tribute that drew cheers from this mostly Midwestern audience.
There's a lot to do but the fun isn't cheap. My husband and I joked that everything we did cost $100 for a family of four. That was only a slight exaggeration. Tickets for a ride on the Original Wisconsin Duck are $17.75 per adult, $9 per child 6-11; reserved seats to the Tommy Bartlett ski show are $20.24 for anyone over 5; an all-day pass to Noah's Ark is $28.99. And while the Chula Vista is lovely, rooms cost as much as $359 a night.
There are ways to save money. Wisconsin Dells Parkway is lined with nice, low-priced, independently operated motels. Virtually every attraction offers coupons to another. The Web offers a variety of discounted fees. Friends of ours saved money by bringing cereal, lunch meat and bread (most rooms offer small refrigerators). And they opted to stay in one of the well-maintained motels-the same one the dad had stayed in 35 years ago when he visited with his parents.
Just the facts Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau (800) 223-3557 www.wisdells.com
Chula Vista Resort (800) 388-4782 www.chulavistaresort.com
Noah's Ark (608) 254-6351 www.noahsarkwaterpark.com
Original Wisconsin Ducks (608) 254-8751 www.wisconsinducktours.com