Today’s guest post is by Wisconsin resident Julie Henning:
Chatting with a family at a Pizza Hut somewhere in Tennessee, our Wisconsin accents gave us away. Confirming the universal appeal of cheese, the next thing we all had in common was a recent trip to The Wisconsin Dells. Twenty-two indoor water parks and four outdoor water parks qualify the cities of Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin for the title: “Water Park Capital of the World.”
Known by the locals as “The Dells,” the area is located about an hour north and slightly west of Madison, our state capital; the Wisconsin Dells draws tourists from all over the country (3.1 million, to be exact). As proof, fourteen of the fifty state license plates were recorded on our last day trip. In fact, I do remember seeing Tennessee plate in the mix.
New residents of Madison, we ventured out into our backyard and explored The Wisconsin Dells on three different day trips this summer. Because we live close enough to drive home and pack a picnic lunch, we’ve yet to experience “The Dells uninterrupted.” A combination research and personal recommendations, these classic Dells venues will whet your whistle and planning your next visit to the Dairy State.
In the water park capital of the world, someone has to be the largest. Noah’s Ark has been around long enough for people my age to say “this was here when I was a kid.” In fact, if you miss all the traffic signs on the highway, use Noah’s Ark billboards instead. With two kids finally over the magic 42-inch height requirement, no tears were shed in any of the three toddler areas. Instead, we started with Time Warp, a completely enclosed ride gushing you past a dinosaur skeleton at mach speed. What’s wrong with the two “lazy” rivers, anyway? Labeled a fuddyduddy, the ride was a hit.
Alternating between water rides, the miniature Go Gator roller coaster and the totally wicked flash flood, we finished the day with our friend Sponge Bob in a 4-D theater. A friend of mine suggested parking near one of the shady picnic spots. Venturing in and out with our wristbands, we gobbled down peanut butter sandwiches and re-applied sun screen. Reasonably-priced lockers are available for rent and some people carry car keys on water proof containers around their necks. Outdoor only, Noah’s Ark drained for the season on Labor Day.
Unusual as much in name as in person, the “Ducks,” amphibious land/water vehicles re-purposed from D-Day and the days of World War II, continue their legacy in American history. On an hour-long, 8.5 mile Ducks journey through both deciduous and coniferous forest are almost as beautiful as views of the famous sandstone formations along the Wisconsin River, formed 500 million years before bratwurst ousted the state hot dog.
On the subject of food, eating is encouraged on the Ducks (you pass by a concession stand right before boarding the boat) and we happily complied. Appreciating the historical significance as much as the natural beauty, we loved our respite from the rides and slides. Corny jokes from our tour guide were mixed with a light geography and area history lesson. The “splashdowns” into both the Wisconsin River and Lake Delton were “totally wicked” by the standards of a three-year-old boy. Ladies, pick your purses off the floor at these times.
Main attractions aside, even mini-golf and souvenirs at the Dells can add to the thriftiest of budgets. Packing lunches and season passes aside, coupons and discounts to the area are plentiful. On opposite ends of town are the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Wisconsin Dells Chamber of Commerce. Regional experts, pamphlets and coupons (book and multi-pass) are available at the CVB and the Chamber, as well as magazine racks in the lobby of many local hotels and restaurants. Visiting individual venue Facebook pages and subscribing to electronic newsletters weeks in advance of your visit may unearth insider deals. Blogs, websites, and other area coupon sites all tout regional savings.
With over 80 attractions, 90 restaurants, 100 retail businesses, and 3,200 camp sites, The Wisconsin Dells can accommodate up to 55,000 visitors every night. Prepare to be overwhelmed, to wait for a left-turn, but to leave with unexpected memories, Midwestern hospitality, natural beauty, and maybe a cheese curd or two for the road.
Julie Henning is the Feed Me Editor for the online travel website Road Trips for Families. She lives in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin with her husband, three kids, and extroverted cat. A resident of Milwaukee for five years and Madison for almost one year, she is the author of the Milwaukee Loves Kids and Madison Loves Kids iPhone apps.