It isn’t called “The Water Park Capital of the World” for no reason. If you are looking for a place to go with your family that will appease the thrill seekers, lazy river lovers, and water fountain fans, the Wisconsin Dells is the vacation spot for you.
As mentioned in my post about indoor water parks in Chicagoland, my boys and I love to go to indoor waterparks, no matter the weather. Since they love splashing around in the water and I love that they expend their vast amounts of energy, it is a win-win situation.
My recommendation is to make sure your kiddos are happy with what local water parks have to offer before you make the drive from Chicago to the Big Kahuna—The Dells. Although it is only about a three hour trip, you want to make sure it is worth your time before you commit to the trip since the rest of the Dells non-water attractions are shut down during the winter.
My husband and I have made the winter drive to the Dells for the past five years, and we have learned quite a bit on where to stay and what to do in order to have an awesome experience.
So before you cross the line into the “Cheesehead” State, be sure to follow this checklist:
- Pack a TON of snacks. For the car, the hotel room, and even (ssh!) for the water park. I always like to pack lots of dry goods like pretzels and trail mix, juice and milk boxes, squeezable pouches, and lots of cut up fruits and veggies.
- Bring more bathing suits than you think you need as well as your own large beach towels. Because putting on a wet suit during winter is just plain awful. And pack bath robes, since the walk from the pool to the water park might be long and sometimes the hallways can be drafty in the winter.
- Stay hydrated. Most of the pools we visit are extremely clean, and it is probably because they have so many potent chemicals in the water. To combat skin dryness, especially in the winter, be sure to drink a ton of water and bring your own lotion (that hotel room stuff just isn’t going to cut it).
- Wear safe sandals. I’m not going to lie, the Dells are NOT the fashion capital of the world. Leave your slippery and tall wedge sandals at home and opt for something comfortable that you can wear at all times throughout the water park. I also recommend water shoes for the kiddos, since the bottom of some of the pools can be a bit scratchy on soft little feet.
- Pack a DVD player. Trying to pry my kids away from the wave pool to go back to the hotel room and take a nap is one of the most challenging feats I have ever encountered. I can’t lie, there were some days when we skipped the nap and instead had an earlier bed time. On nights like this, we took out our portable DVD player and let the boys relax with a short movie or show to get them to wind down much earlier at night than they are used to at home. Once they were asleep, Mommy and Daddy were then able to watch their own movies without disturbing the sleeping kiddos.
Now onto the water parks…
We have stayed at quite a few nice and not so nice places. Based on our experiences, there are four hotels to choose from if you are looking for an indoor water park: Chula Vista, The Great Wolf Lodge, the Wilderness, or The Kalahari.
Located a little bit off of the strip, Chula Vista is a very clean (yet very loud) water park that will engage and excite kids of all ages. The rooms are spacious, there are a few different restaurants to choose from (avoid the fine dining one with kids—trust me on this one), and it is relatively affordable. The water park has a good amount of slides for the thrill seekers, as well as toddlers.
I like how they have kids’ activities scheduled throughout the day, as well as some adult activities. There is also a section of arcade games for some fun that you don’t have to get wet for. Moms, be sure to take advantage of a spa treatment (or two) when you are there! Also, stretch your dollar by searching for deals that they advertise often through Groupon, Living Social, and their social media pages.
The Great Wolf Lodge
The Great Wolf Lodge is popular among groups and you will see lots of sports signs and accolades on different hotel room doors as you roam the hallways. The rooms have great themes and my boys loved the “wilderness” aspect of their toddler beds. This is a great venue to use if meeting up for a family reunion or if meeting up with other families for a getaway since there are so many different types of room options at good price points. You can get great rates here using Living Social or Groupon deals.
There are a few different restaurants to choose from, which are all family friendly, and there is a special story time (with cookies) every evening in the lobby. As for the water park, there are two different main rooms, with many slides and different types of pools (wave pool, lazy river, zero entry pools, hot tubs) for anyone and everyone. The rooms are somewhat separated though, so it is best to divide and conquer and only stay in one section at a time as a family so no one gets lost.
We have found that the Wilderness is the best option when visiting the Dells with a big group, since there are so many different play options for everyone in your party. There is a completely separate pool just a short trolley away that caters specifically to toddlers and the younger set, in addition to other pools with slides, waves, and much more. We have found that the lodging options are also the best at the Wilderness if you want to skip dining out as much as possible and instead prep breakfast and host happy hour for your family and friends in your room.
The Kalahari is definitely the most enormous and expensive of all of the water parks—but oh so worth it. There are tons of different attractions (there are two arcades, a miniature golf course, laser tag, and bowling just to name a few) in addition to their vast water park. What I loved about the Kalahari is that the water was extremely warm, life jackets were required for little ones (and they were provided), and there were so many different options for kids of all ages. My boys, ages 2 and 3, had at least five different pools to splash around in so they (and Mommy and Daddy, too) were never bored.
The hotel rooms, just like the hotel itself, were extremely spacious, and shockingly—quiet! This is always a concern for me when having the boys sleep in hotels, but we didn’t have any problems with noise whatsoever. There were a few different restaurants to choose from, and I loved the fact that there were more healthy food options than the typical hot dogs and fries that are offered at most water parks. And be sure to utilize the huge breakfast buffet—it really seemed like a Las Vegas buffet—just make sure you wear a cover up instead of a bikini afterwards.
Thinking about taking an overnight trip to a water park but want to avoid the Dells? Another great Wisconsin option (not a far drive for us Chicagoans) is the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan. Check out the comprehensive post from Bambini travel to see if this water park is the right one for you.
Hope this water themed post tides you over until it is outdoor pool time…can’t wait for summer! And once it does warm up, head to these water parks!
Looking for other great places to visit now that it is cold out? Here are our top picks for indoor play.