Some vacation spots are defined by a single activity. You go to Mt. Rushmore to see the presidents. You go to Vegas to gamble. You go to Niagara Falls to honeymoon. Some might say you go to Wisconsin Dells to play in the waterparks and, to a very large degree and to the delight of visitors and local business owners alike, that would be true. But that’s not the only activity this community that was ranked in 2010 by TripAdvisor as #1 U.S. family destination is known for.
Planning a group outing or family reunion has its own set of distinct challenges but none that keeps the organizer awake at night more than wondering whether there will be enough activities to keep everyone in the group occupied, from tots to octogenarians. That’s why this information for holding a group outing or family reunion in Wisconsin Dells is so perfect. There are activities galore, so sleep easy.
The family reunion trend in the Dells has really picked up in the last several years. Certainly the waterparks have something to do with that. There are waterpark resorts of every size and style in this community and they are vacationland for anyone traveling to a reunion with kids ages toddler through teen. The most well-known resorts include Kalahari Waterpark Resort Convention Center, Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort, Chula Vista Resort, Hotel Rome and Great Wolf Lodge. Water roller coasters, wild funnel rides, racing slides, even a surf machine at Kalahari rank high on the list of favorite waterpark activities.
But let’s not stop with the waterparks because lots of other places are set up very nicely to accommodate big groups. In fact, some of the most popular family reunion spots are the resorts that rim Lake Delton. Baker’s Sunset Bay Resort is a prime example, as are the vacation rentals through Sand County Service Company. Away from the lake, and more secluded in the woods, Meadowbrook Resort has its own indoor water playland and several outdoor pools, and they have lots of packages with admission to some of the larger outdoor waterparks in the area. Their evening bonfire provides a chance to catch up with family and friends. Also on the list is the Spring Brook Vacation Rentals community. They offer fully furnished homes for rent and the amenities include pools, playground, fishing lake, golf course, restaurant and gathering rooms.
Honestly, groups of any size can be as busy as they like all within the 20-mile radius of Wisconsin Dells. Let’s get right to the must-do and that’s ride and slide your way through a favorite waterpark or two. Outdoors, it would be impossible to choose between Noah’s Ark Waterpark and Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Parks, so make time for both. At Noah’s Ark, their new looping waterslide called Scorpion’s Tail is the largest in the world. At Mt. O (that’s what the locals call it), crash through the nine-foot waves of their Poseidon’s Rage surf pool.
Amusement parks come in the outdoor and indoor varieties too. Let’s start with outdoors. Timber Falls Adventure Park has two attractions that are noteworthy – their 70-degree banked and crazy-fast Hellcat roller coaster and their end-over-end Skyscraper ride that pulls four G’s at 60 mph 160 feet off the ground. At Mt. Olympus, all their roller coasters are a scream, but top prize goes to Hades, a wooden coaster made diabolically fun with a 65-degree drop, the world’s longest underground tunnel and speeds up to 70 mph.
Moving to indoor amusement parks, the Kalahari Indoor Theme Park is a great spot. Check out their elevated go-kart track, rock climbing wall, ropes course and laser tag. If you’re traveling with little ones, there’s Knuckleheads Bowling & Indoor Amusement Park. Another great group outing idea is ziplining. The Wilderness Canyon Zip Line Canopy Tours’ takes you over Lost Canyon and an expansive tree canopy. Another area zip line, BigFoot ZipLine Tours, has four water crossings.
And, at some point during your trip, a tour of the Wisconsin River is a must. You can head out on a Duck, an amphibious WWII vehicle that gives you a little land travel with your water tour. Choose from the Original Wisconsin Ducks® or Dells Army Duck Tours. Or, you can relax aboard a double-decker tour boat. Some offer you shore landings to explore the gorges and see a trained dog make the famous Stand Rock jump from one bluff outcropping to another. Other aqua tour options include jet boats, a paddle wheeler, tours without shore landings and dinner cruises.
There’s also mini-golf, go-karting, bowling and horseback riding. If anyone in the group likes magic, they should take a seat at the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater or Jeremy Allen’s Grand Illusions show. Train buffs will be fascinated with the Riverside & Great Northern Railway living museum with its 15-inch-gauge steam trains that take riders on a three-mile trip through canyons, woods and rock cuts beside the Wisconsin River. The locomotive is turned on a hand-operated turntable for the ride back. For hands-on exploration, it’s none other than the Wisconsin Dells staple, the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory – Interactive Science Center.
One evening has to be set aside to see the Tommy Bartlett Show. Even this popular ski show, going strong after close to 60 years, is harkening back to its classic high-energy roots with the costumes and choreography for its 2011 “Livin’ the Dream” show. Or, head to Ho-Chunk Gaming where you can try your hand at the slots or table games such as craps, blackjack and bingo. Their newest table game is Baccarat.
While lots of photos are bound to be snapped over the course of the reunion, add to the album with a family photo at one of the two old-time portrait studios downtown – Old Abe’s Old Time Portraits or Prof. Porter’s Old Time Portraits – where you’ll even find costumes for infants and sets large enough to fit 30 or so of your favorite friends or relatives.
Of course, while there may be a potluck dinner or two, you’ll need some restaurant recommendations for your stay. Big groups will like Pizza Pub for its buffet, Famous Dave’s BBQ for its ribs, Monk’s Bar & Grill for its famous burgers, Buffalo Phil’s Pizza & Grille for its great southwestern flair and Carvelli’s Pizza & Pasta House for its homemade pasta creations.
Planning is a breeze when you use the community’s official website, wisdells.com. First browse “The Experience” section for suggestions. Then click on the tab at the top conveniently labeled “Plan Your Vacation.” Don’t forget to check out the “Deals & Offers” section or call (800) 223-3557 for more information and planning help.
Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau