Wisconsin Dells for adult beginners
May 4, 2013 2:06 PM   Subscribe

My mom and I both really like water parks, and are from the East Coast. Therefore we've never been to Wisconsin Dells, we'd like to go, and know nothing about it except that there's water parks. We'd like to go there for a few days this June - driving up from Chicago on a Wednesday and driving back home on Friday. Any advice you can give is welcomed.

Since we have no kids to bring, are there parks that are less "kiddie pool" oriented than others? We'd like to avoid ones that are specifically aimed towards little ones as opposed to "general audience".

Which one would you recommend?

Where should we stay and eat?

What do we do if the weather will be bad those two days? My mom is concerned that we might not feel like driving all the way up there if we know it's going to rain or be cold, and will we be able to cancel our hotel rooms, etc.

We're planning on the first week of June, with the idea that most of the kids will still be in school and the middle of the week won't be too busy anyway.

Basically any kind of information that you have that you think we might need would be appreciated!
posted by bleep to Travel & Transportation around Wisconsin Dells, WI (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It can be a complete madhouse, but Noah's Ark is really the way to go. Biggest water park in America and all. I can't think of any water park in the Dells that isn't geared specifically toward children/families, but I went to Noah's Ark as a wan and surly teenager and had the best time ever (omg, Big Kahuna/Lazy River), so I figure if hate-filled adolescent goths can have a great time there, anyone can! There are also some "thrill"-type rides there that won't have many, if any, kids on them.

If you're worried about possible cold, would you feel OK booking a room at a hotel/resort with an indoor water park and only shelling out for a day ticket to an outdoor park once you know what the weather's like? Kalahari and Great Wolf are the two big players I can think of off the top of my head.
Fortunately, there's a really good chance that it will be beautiful outside the first week of June, but it might not be outdoor water park weather all the way -- highs will probably be in the mid- to upper 70s but the lows might still be getting into the upper 40s.

While I can't be of too much assistance on the local food offerings [vegan], I have made special trips to the Dells specifically to eat at the Cheese Factory, the world's most oddly-located vegetarian restaurant. The servers are... different, but the food's pretty great! Rattlesnake tofu all the way.

There's also Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, Big Sky Drive-In, and Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, if you like funny tourist stuff, and House on the Rock for general awesomeness.

Have fun! The Dells is... a lot!
posted by divined by radio at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding the House on the Rock, even if it doesn't rain. It is truly amazing.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:45 PM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I stayed at the Kalahari a few years ago. They have a large indoor section, so you can still have fun even if it rains. I did feel a little weird standing in line with a bunch of kids, but I still had a great time.
posted by parakeetdog at 3:14 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you like circus history, Circus World Museum is located in Baraboo (less than 20 miles away).

If you've never eaten at Culver's, you should give it a try. Fast food, but definitely not McBurgerWendy's (their first restaurant was in nearby Sauk City).

And previously on MF, a bit of recent history (ca 2008) regarding Lake Delton.

House on the Rock is amazing, but it is over an hour away from the Dells (and not on your route to/from Chicago), and while it can be done in one day, there is an awful lot to see. If you do venture this way, note that Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin is in nearby Spring Green.
posted by 1367 at 5:14 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oops... didn't notice until after posting that the MF post about Lake Delton has a dead link.

Here is a summary of the 2008 event.
posted by 1367 at 5:18 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Downtown Wisconsin Dells has a variety of little "boardwalk-ish" shops that sell touristy things, which is what a lot of people expect to do when travelling, so go have at it.

On the southeast end of town is the Dells Antique Mall, which is huge and the prices are pretty good. There are a zillion of roundabouts to get there, so follow the signs.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:45 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As I recall, both Chula Vista and Great Wolf have a fairly wide selection of pools spread out throughout their facilities, both indoors and outdoors, Kalahari somewhat less so. The slides and rides have varying age/height restrictions and some areas are more kid-friendly (the attribute we look for) and some areas end up being relatively kid-free. Kalahari and Great Wolf are both technically not in the Dells (Lake Delton, WI) but are two of the best all-in-one waterpark-hotel destinations. They all tend to have that feel of high-end, new, modern, and polished planning and design by large corporations with lots of money. I know Great Wolf doesn't do day passes, and I don't think Kalahari does either. Don't know about CV.

They all tend to be a little expensive compared to Mt Olympus or whatever they're called this year. Olympus has fewer indoor options but there is a wider variety of things to do outside, including non-waterpark stuff like go-karts and rollercoasters, and also being smack in the middle of all the other Dells attractions. This is kind of the opposite end of the waterpark-hotel spectrum, it is more oriented towards middle-class families, I'd say. As a result, it will tend to be flooded with kids, but has a more honest Dells flavor to it.

Sadly, this is probably where your options end, at least if you want reliable (read: indoor option) waterparks. If you're willing to risk weather, though, and you want the real Dells experience, you will want to find any one of the ~hundred locally owned hotels to stay at (which may require some phone calls), and then plan for a day at Noah's Ark, which is awesome if the weather allows, but isn't so great if the weather is bad. In the event the weather is not kind, though, then you get to do all of the other wonderful Dells stuff. Take a Dells Duck or Upper Dells boat tour. If the weather's merely cold, there are horse ranches with guided tours, zip line adventures, mini golf, the Tommy Bartlett show, and dozens of other unusual and often excessively touristy-trappy things to entertain yourself with. We've found rooms at places like the River Road Motel were relatively inexpensive, and very close to most of the interesting stuff in the Dells (walk to most downtown attractions, very short drive to anything else except Lake Delton which is a bit of a drive). That's not a specific recommendation, just something for you to Google Maps to get an idea about it all.

As far as food goes, for pizza, there's the Pizza Pub, which is just good pizza/pasta/salad bar. Paul Bunyan is fun for "family style" dining. Marley's for Caribbean, though I think they might have folded. I strongly recommend against Culver's while in the Dells because you'd be better off finding one on the drive to/from Chicago (they're all over the place). But do try to hit a Culver's if you've never been to one.

Lots of other good info in this thread so I'll leave it at that.
posted by jgreco at 3:14 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You've gotten some solid advice in here so I'll just mention High Rock Cafe is very good. Also, if the weather's bad you could always spend the day at the world class Sundara spa without any disappointment at all.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 11:06 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm totally biased because I have family ties to it, but Pirate's Cove is an excellent mini golf place.

Also, BOATS! The boats have covered seating, so even in the rain it's not bad. They only get canceled in bad storms.

The boat tours (Upper and Lower) are pretty neat. Duck Boats can be fun, too, and I always liked The Original Wisconsin Ducks best out of all the various duck tours.

Boat tour info

The tour guides might be a bit hokey, but really, the Wisconsin River is the original reason Wisconsin Dells became a tourist destination. The scenery is gorgeous. Check out some of H.H. Bennett's photography for an idea of what you're in for.
posted by SugarAndSass at 2:04 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, plans booked! Thanks for your help everybody!
posted by bleep at 10:08 AM on May 14, 2013

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