Saturday, September 3, 2011

Destination: Wisconsin Dells for one last summer getaway

With just a few days to spare before the whole gang was back in school, we took a short trip to Wisconsin Dells. We had been there in 2008 just after the massive flooding that caused Lake Delton to drain. This time, it had been fully restored and things were bustling. We stayed at a place we hadn't been to before - the Chula Vista Resort. It was a lovely resort, surrounded by a lush golf course at the north end of the Dells. It featured an indoor water park and an outdoor water park that were side by side. Right in front of the main lobby were a miniature lazy river and a pool with basketball hoops. In back was a wave pool and a large hot tub area, which was so relaxing in the evening with a nearby fireplace. Our condo was a two bedroom, two bath condo with a full kitchen and a hot tub. The CVB was kind enough to comp one night and we added a second at our expense since we wanted to spend a little more time there.

Our first day was spent chilling out in the water, which was just what we needed after the nearly four hour ride. On day two, I set off with my oldest to hit some of the attractions while my hubby and the other boys explored the water parks some more.

We first went for a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks. If you're ever in the Dells, be sure to take a Duck ride. The amphibious vehicles were made during World War II for military use and today there's a large fleet of them for tours that introduce riders to both the land and the water with some history thrown in by entertaining guides. On our last visit, we went on the Dells Army Ducks...same premise, but painted in camo coloring.

We also spent a little time downtown, shopping and stopping in the H.H. Bennett Gallery and the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. We then went on a two-hour Upper Dells Tour, which was way more involved and informative than I expected. It included a stop at Witch's Gulch and Stand Rock. We were able to see some incredible rock formations of a rare limestone found only four places in the world.

We finished off the day with dinner at Paul Bunyon's, a local eatery that I was drawn to due to my fascination with muffler men (those big fiberglass statues that were common along road stops in the 1960's and 70's.) It was a fun experience with a good, hearty meal.

The next day we did a little more swimming and checked out of the Chula Vista Resort, followed by a trip to the Tommy Bartlett Science Exploratory. What fun! It has tons of hands-on exhibits that kids will love. We had the cool opportunity to ride a bike on a wire (see below.) What was most fascinating was being able to check out the MIR Space Station!!!! It's the only one of its kind in the U.S. (one other exists in Russia.) How cool is that? I had fun chatting with a French exchange student who was manning the space simulator ride. The Dells seems to have exchange students from many places to help staff attractions and resorts during the peak travel season.

We had so much fun on the water the day before that I decided to take a family boat ride - this time on a jet boat. We enjoyed an ice cream cone as we waited to board. It was quite a ride. The pilot did all kinds of dips and twists and turns that left us soaked. 

We decided to have dinner on the way out of town and we picked a good place - Buffalo Phil's. I admit that I'm a Chicago pizza snob and usually don't find pizza I like when I get too far away from Chicago, but I was pleasantly surprised by the pizza there. We got a 1/2 sausage and 1/2 pepperoni and also a barbecue pizza that went fast between all the boys. It also had tables where your food could be delivered by train, but it necessitated a 20 minute wait, so we decided a regular booth would do. There's also a big arcade/indoor amusement park attached that we skipped since we didn't want to get home too late, but would have definitely checked out otherwise.

We love the area and, of course, the kids are always up for a trip to a water park. I'm hoping to visit Mt. Olympus on a future trip. It looks like so much fun. I've also heard great things about the Kalahari Resort. Our previous visit was spend at the Wilderness Resort, which had ideal lodging for family. We stayed in a condo and went back and forth between several indoor and outdoor water parks and the kids loved making their own animals in the bear-building workshop.

Just an FYI...on our last trip, we also visited Wisconsin Deer Park, Riverview Amusement and Water Park, Wizard Quest and the B & H Trout Farm where the kids did some fishing. All are great family attractions to see when you're in town. As the warm weather subsides and the crowds die down, it's a great time to hit the area to do some fishing. The larger resorts also have indoor water parks and other activities, so it makes a great spot for a family getaway all year round.

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