Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Waterpark Capitol of the World

Water, Water Everywhere and Fun at Every Turn

When you think of Wisconsin, you might automatically think 'Cheesehead' or beer.  If you're more refined, perhaps you picture the winged Milwaukee Art Museum.  If you're a little less refined than that, it's that place where they did American Idol a couple of seasons ago.  But, Wisconsin has so much more to offer than cheese, beer, cow and art.  Although, to be fair, they do those things to the ultimate degree. 

Another well-known tourist destination is Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.  Just short drive away from the Windy City, Wisconsin is a 3 and 1/2 hour drive (a little over 190 miles from Chicago).  Many people, when asked, might fondly remember a Wisconsin Dells of their youth, with outdoor water parks and a picturesque downtown.  You don't have to squint too hard to see that 1950's version but the 'new' Wisconsin Dells will surely blow you away.

The Dells has something for every age and every season, from the high to the low brow, from those who like quiet country drives to those who zip through the trees hanging by a thread.  Summer weather finds amusement and water parks, literally the largest in the United States.  Fall and spring are astounding for the foliage and boat trips to see the majestic and unique 'Dells'.  (Fun Fact:  The 'Dells' is actually a striated rock formation that is only found in three other places on earth, one of which is underwater and another in a foreign country)  Winter won't leave you bored since many of the water parks are indoors and it is also home to many indoor amusement parks, one of which has a three-story ropes course which was amazing even for someone deathly afraid of heights!  It's full of fun, eats, water and culture from one end of the county to the next.

To Do:

  • You may have heard of the 'Ducks' before--the partly amphibious, partly terrain open-air vehicles that are major tourist attractions all over the US.  Well, that tradition started right here in Wisconsin Dells.  The Original Wisconsin Ducks are actually WWII-era vehicles that still patrol the quiet woods and deep waters of the Wisconsin River, Dell Creek and Lake Delton.  This trip will take you over eight miles of both land and water that have to be seen to be believed.  Quiet woods and out of the way lake spots led us to view our very first sighting of a bald eagle, once endangered, calmly drinking water by the lake, standing nearly as tall as a human!  Wildlife abounds and the foliage during the fall was breathtaking.  The tour guide was full of history and was so funny that both teenage daughters laughed out loud in spite of themselves!  For more information, visit The Original Wisconsin Duck Tours.
  • If thrill and adventure are your thing, you must visit Kalahari Indoor Theme Park.  To me, this seemed as if it must be the largest in the world, although they didn't advertise that.  They have over 100,000 feet of space devoted to fun both in the water and out, all for families and the young at heart.  The water park is amazing with a lazy river that feels as long as the Congo.  The water slides are breathtaking (literally) with spots for babies and toddlers, a wave pool, various water slides and a toilet-flush bowl that had me laughing out loud, spurting up water and holding on to my top.  Of course, the next day, my body rudely reminded me I wasn't quite as young as I thought!  Still, wow!  What fun.  When you get dried off, there's another world awaiting you with an indoor Ferris wheel, a race track, a three-story ropes course, climbing walls and laser tag--all under one roof!  Not to mention the 24 lanes of bowling, movie theater and gourmet food spots.  You could literally spend an entire day here with the family and not be able to do everything.  Amazing fun for any age!  For more information, visit Kalahari Resorts and Conventions.
  • I do not consider myself an amateur at ziplining.  I have been before and to pretty extreme places--Fremont Street on Halloween Night at Las Vegas; Branson Missouri and the tallest zipline in America at Christmas with twinkling lights guiding me on the way down. But, I must say, this zipline was.....simply the best I've ever done!  The Wilderness Canyon Zip Line Tour is not so much a zipline as a zipline adventure.  The course winds through the trees and over a gully or two (canyon seems extreme when you've seen the Grand Canyon from the air).  In reality, the trip is 5 ziplines to 6 platform towers that meander through a forest way, way, way up high.  I hate heights but hurtling through space and the colorful leaves during Autumn was an experience I will never forget.  And, I will also never forget having to be rescued by the guide because I couldn't quite make it to the platform.  The guides were amazing and funny and so very competent that they made us all feel like the professionals.  For more information, visit Wilderness Territory.
  • After all that adventure, mom and and dad needed a little time to themselves to relax and unwind.  Fall Creek Winery provided just the rest and fun we needed.  We always try to visit a local winery on our trips and so we have seen and tasted dozens.  But, this one was truly unique!  Their winery is located a few miles out of town and the drive, in the fall, was gorgeous.  They were just getting ready for the fall and putting up scads of pumpkins and gourds.  I suspect they go out for every holiday and the grounds were just gorgeous.  The inside was also a delight with a full tasting bar, tables to enjoy some artisan cheese, an outside deck that features bands and even a shopping area.  What made the winery so unique was their wine blends.  I've never seen this before but I am a fan now.  They take dry wines and mix them with different flavors to create a brand new seasonal or fruit wine that is truly unlike anything I've tasted.  I avoid most fruit wines because they are too tart but these were heady and full of aroma and tasted so wonderful.  A full case made the long trip back home and will be enjoyed in short order!  For more information, visit Fawn Creek Winery.
To Eat:
  • New Orleans seems a world away from the cold, frozen North. And, yet.......Taste of New Orleans brought all those memories from the deep South back!  This charming restaurant is located on a quaint downtown street that has probably looked the same for decades--and I mean that in the most flattering way.  Inside, the decor is so cheesy, so quaint, so absolutely adorable that my girls and I had great fun taking pictures everywhere we could--A Bourbon Street sign with beads in Wisconsin!  Who woulda thought?  And, the food!  Oh, my!  We had Gator Bites and Cajun Swamp Balls and they just tasted New Orleans though and through.  And, the Shrimp Po Boy was so very, very Po (that's a compliment!) Everything was so delicious. The only, slightest disappointment was the beignets, but, really, what were we thinking?  That kind of pleasure can only be found in the French Quarter.  For more information, visit A Taste of New Orleans.
  • Any restaurant that has a moose straddling a VW bug is a friend of mine--what a mascot!  The inside of this restaurant, Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co., is true North, true Wisconsin, true Canadian!  At least, that's what calls to mind when you step inside and see wooden beams and tables and soaring wooden balustrades and a roaring fireplace easily two stories tall.  If the cozy atmosphere doesn't get you, the food will.  The Mozzarella Sticks are literally true sticks--as thick as a branch you would find on a tree. Deep-fried and served with warm Bruschetta, it is more mouthwatering than any words can describe.  And, the pizza!  Ahh, the pizza.  It isn't one of those cardboard chain stores.  This pizza is made to order with any variety of toppings you desire and so thin (if you want), it snaps when you bite into it.  My favorite kind.  They also have an onsite microbrewery and for a very reasonable fee, you can indulge in your brews.  Tastings and dozens of beers and a generous growler made for one very happy poppa. For more information, visit Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co.
  • What is beer without brats?  Okay, so I'm not big into beer but brats is a whole 'nother thing and Brat House Grill had those in abundance.  This place is more like a bar and probably not something you want to bring small kids to, but the brats and dogs are so good.  The Chicago Style Dog was dripping with toppings--onions, peppers, relish and tomatoes and the Parmesan Fries were so good.  Watching a wall-size TV made for a very laid-back, fun night.  For more information, visit Brat House Grill.
  • All the pizza and hot dogs and beer had to be balanced with a nice, fancy meal and we weren't disappointed by Sarento's.  A true Italian feel met you at the door and followed you all the way to your table.  This was no poser!  An authentic Italian meal awaited us and we waddled to the car on our way home rather than walked.  The insalate was so delicious--finger licking good, although I refrained because this was a fancy place but I wanted to!  A unique and truly amazing dish, dare I say award-winning if there were such awards for this, was the Chicken Sarento, a dish of grilled chicken, arugula, basil, tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  It is almost worth my 8+ hour drive just to go back and get this dish.  For more information, visit Sarento's Restaurant and Pizzeria.
  • What week would be complete without Mexican and Margaritas?  Not mine, certainly!  The Mexicali Rose is located just on the Lower Dells and has a most awesome view.  The entire back wall is glass and almost every table sits in front of the windows.  In addition to the scenery, the food was quite good and while the margaritas didn't match the local ones from home, they did the the trick.  The food was absolutely authentic and the Carnitas and Salsa and Guacamole hit the spot.  For more information, visit Mexicali Rose.
  • For a conclusion to our tour of the world in Wisconsin Dells, we decided to do Carribbean at Marley's.  I am so glad we did.  What a fun time!  When we entered, a Zumba class was just warming up on the dance floor and we were able to enjoy some great music and a some laughs at locals being silly (I hope!).  Everyone in the place seemed intent on having a great time.  Even the table wait was fun--the table covering was a big piece of butcher paper with crayons and we played tic-tac-toe and had drawing competitions until our food arrived.  That, also, did not disappoint.  Our appetizer was so good, a nibbles sampler that was served in a bucket.  So cute. The fish tacos were wonderful and any Caribbean would be proud to know their food was being represented well.  For more information, visit Marley's:  A Taste of the Caribbean.