With more than 200 waterslides and 20 indoor waterparks, it’s no wonder that Wisconsin Dells is called the "Waterpark Capital of the World." If your kids are itching to get on their swimsuits and try out a splash-filled thrill ride or two, this is the place!
A little waterpark history
Wisconsin Dells is located about an hour north of Madison, and just over an eight-hour drive from Detroit by way of Chicago. The city’s name comes from the picturesque gorges surrounding that part of the Wisconsin River.
In the late 1800s, the area drew tourists looking for tranquility. Beginning in the 1970s, Wisconsin Dells started remaking itself into the waterpark mecca it is today. Think of it as the Las Vegas of waterparks. Even the main drag, Wisconsin Dells Parkway, which runs from the city south to Lake Delton, is nicknamed "the Strip."
And like Vegas, bigger and better prevails as each new waterpark goes up and older ones undergo renovations. Take Noah’s Ark Waterpark, which opened in 1979. After various additions, it’s now the largest outdoor waterpark in the country at 70 acres. It also offers the world’s largest – and America’s only – loop-de-loop waterslide. Similar record-breaking water rides dot the area, like Chula Vista’s indoor Flyan Mayan zip coaster, which is the fastest and longest of its kind in the world. You get the idea.
A size for everyone
With such a large concentration of waterparks, there are plenty of choices when it comes to deciding where to stay and play. First, the big players along the strip are Kalahari Resort, Great Wolf Lodge, Wilderness Territory, Hotel Rome at Mt. Olympus Park and, a little off the main drag, Chula Vista Resort.
These resorts are designed to be an all-in-one package, where your indoor waterpark pass is included in the cost of your stay. And, along with the indoor waterpark, you’ll find plenty of other activities, like miniature golf, laser tag – even outdoor water rides. While these waterparks tend to have the most thrill-inducing rides, they can also draw the biggest crowds (especially on weekends). So, if you want to avoid long lines, plan a weekday stay.
You might also consider lodging in a medium-sized place, like Atlantis Waterpark Hotel & Suites, Grand Marquis Waterpark Hotel & Suites or even a smaller indoor resort, and pair your stay with a ticket to one of the outdoor parks. A one-day pass at most waterparks averages around $30 per person.
But hotels aren’t the only option. Why not camp out? Like everything else in the Dells, you can find just about everything – whether you’re taking your RV, tent or both.
Wisconsin Dells favorites
Beyond the waterparks, the Dells are known for several other attractions you won’t want to miss. Meander through forests, the Wisconsin River and even take a splash in Lake Delton aboard one of 90 "ducks" on the Wisconsin Duck Tours. These land-water vehicles manufactured by General Motors to aid in World War II have been refurbished to carry families on an 8 1/2-mile tour that takes about an hour ($24.50 for adults, $12.25 for kids ages 6-11 and free for those ages 5 and under).
Started in 1952, The Tommy Bartlett Show combines "extreme water skiing" with other stunts. Shows race past spectators daily at 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (general admission is $20 for adults, $10 for kids ages 6-11 and free for those ages 5 and under).
Take your kids for a night under the stars at the Big Sky Drive-In theaters, one of the last of its kind in Wisconsin. Each night you can see two movies for the price of one starting just after dark, around 9 p.m. (tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for kids under 11 – cash only).
The outdoor parks start opening at the very end of May, so from the beginning of June until the middle, you can find rates cut as much as 50 percent over their peak season prices. With 8,000 rooms to fill in the Dells, if you spend some time online, you’re likely to cut your hotel rate.
You also can cut costs on your visit by considering eating in for some of your meals. Most rooms include both a mini-fridge and a microwave.