Monday, June 06, 2005

The Wisconsin Dells

I spent the weekend in The Wisconsin Dells with my family, just like I did with my own parents once or twice a year when I was a kid. Yes, it's a total tourist deathtrap, but I love it! I just can't get enough of world's-largest-this, interactive-that, water parks, and fudge shops.

Things I recommend you do in the Dells (especially if you have kids):

  • Ride the Ducks -- The Wisconsin Dells are beautiful and the only way to see them is by riding the Ducks or the boats. I love both, but assuming you've never ridden on a vintage WWII amphibious landing craft, you have to try the Ducks. The boats cover more terrain, so ride both if you can.
  • Wizard Quest -- This is basically a giant interactive playland/scavenger hunt game with a fantasy theme that my kids love. I think it's pretty cool, and if you really run around and do all the activities, even adults will get a little workout. You get points for answering questions for which the clues are hidden throughout the play area. When you get enough points, you can free the 4 trapped wizards. If you free them all within an hour, you win a discount at the attached gift shop. (Ok, sort of a scam, but still fun.)
  • Noah's Ark -- Billed as America's Largest Waterpark. I'm not sure how true that is, but trust me, it's huge. It's an all day affair, and well worth it, even if the lines are long.
  • Wiley's Woods -- This is a playland designed for little kids, and it's part of the Great Wolf Lodge. The Lodge is a very good place to stay with a (nice) large indoor water park right in the hotel, but there are probably a dozen places like that in the Dells, so it's really not the main thing. You can go to Wiley's Woods (for a fee) even if you're not staying at the Great Wolf Lodge. You get a wristband with a chip in it and you go around playing "games" (on 4 floors) that mostly involve collecting different colors of "berries" (foam balls) and depositing them in the right machines. The machines read your wristband and grant you points for doing the right things. You can also get "quests" that require you to find certain combinations of creatures "hidden" around the playland for big points. Sounds stupid, you say? Well, I challenge you to go into that place and not get sucked into the fun. You *have* to get 10,000 points to become "Master Creature Keeper"! I said to my friend, "I can't believe I'm 40 years old and I've happily spent my afternoon running around collecting foam balls. This is why I never got laid in high school...."
  • Fort Dells -- Ok, you'll have to build a time machine and travel back to '70s or so, but Fort Dells is still my top childhood memory of the Dells. By today's standards, probably pretty lame, but it had train rides and other amusements, lots of cowboy theme, and actors robbing the train and having shootouts in the streets.

Things that I recommend you avoid at all costs. Don't fall for their glossy ads that make it sound like they might actually be *fun*....

  • Alien Planet -- Top on my list for expensive yet embarrassingly horrible non-entertainment. You will literally kick yourself if you pay money to see this travesty. Basically the smallest, lamest haunted house style thing you've ever seen. Basically looks like somebody threw it together out of miscellaneous sci-fi TV/movie surplus props in their garage.
  • Top Secret -- Basically a MUCH bigger budget (and subsequently more costly) version of Alien Planet. There are actually a couple of decent scares in this one, but it's nowhere near as cool as you might think it would be from the upside-down White House outside. It might be worth it for about 1/5 the price... (Notice how even the website doesn't actually say anything about what it is -- If they told you, no one would pay to go in!) There's a brand-new place in the Dells called Looney Bin that I'm betting is basically the same junk in a different package. You won't catch me going in there...
  • Wonder Spot -- When I was a kid, I would beg my parents to take me to this place every year. One year they finally did. I guess it's sort of interesting to see, but I don't recommend paying for the privilege. If you've never seen a place like this before, it's basically a walk-through optical illusion. And last year I actually took my own kids to a place like this out in South Dakota that turned out to be absolutely *identical*. Can you send away for a kit to build one of these things, or what?
  • Storybook Gardens -- Ok, it's historic, but I really don't think families with even the tiniest toddlers need to waste their time seeing mostly unanimated life-size dioramas depicting Mother Goose rhymes. Really. It just doesn't get any more boring than this. Interestingly, I notice they now advertise Storybook Gardens as nothing more than a sidelight to Timbavati Wildlife Park.

Other than those things, most of the other stuff in the Dells is good fun. Of course, being a tourist trap, you just have to be prepared to spend tons of cash for even the simplest things, but I'm ok with that once in a while. The Dells are guaranteed to create and/or return fond childhood memories.


Blogger Simon Peter said...

Hey, I was in the Dells for the weekend too. Cool. :-)

Anyway. The only place we took the kids was Storybook Gardens and Timbavati Wildlife Park. My daughters (aged 5 and 3 years) both loved it. I even enjoyed the pig racing! Sorry to hear that you didn't like it. Perhaps it makes a difference that my girls are big time into fairy tales?

The rest of the time, we relaxed at a cabin about 12 miles north of the Dells.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Mighty Quinn said...

Visited Wisc. Dells once as an early teen. Went to Tommy Bartlet's Robot World. It was appalingly bad even to my young sensibilities. It was followed by an unimpressive water show and a Tommy Bartlet bumber sticker placed involuntariy on our car. Ack!

I've never been back, and I believe Wisconsin Dells is proof positive that the U.S. MUST maintain a national park service. Can you imagine the Grand Canyon left to the fiendishly profitable machinations of Darth Bartlet! -Shudder-

8:21 AM  
Blogger Amiga 3000 said...

The Wisconsin Dells has become an evil place. It was not always so... Once it was about water, sky, deer, and the natural world in general. The night sky at one time was so full of stars that you had a tough time even mapping out the constellations. The Milky Way shown wide and bright across the blackness. Then as the Dells expanded, light pollution crept in...

Now the Dells are about shrunken heads, wax Elvis, monster coasters, wacky robots, and other "attractions." The Ducks are about the only part that still holds to the original, naturalistic values of the Dells.

I weep for the future.

10:27 AM  
Blogger tempus42 said...

Ok, now you guys are just lapsing into gratuitous nostalgia for no good reason. ;) Seriously, to me the Dells was *always* about the crazy touristy junk, and I've been going there for 35-some years. Yes, it's completely over the top, but that's why I like it. (I think Robot World is gone, merged into the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, which I thought was fairly cool when we went a couple years ago. And the water ski/acrobatics show ain't bad either!) Just relax and go with it!

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a 'old timer' weekend visitor to the Dells from about 1957 thry 1990. My family owned a former cabin of the OLD Pines Hotel for many years. The cabin was located on a narrow road, leading from Coldwater Canyon GC, along the north side of the golf course, and weaved downhill to the river. Our nearest neighbors were the Clausens, who spent summers at the house just south of our cabin, and overwintered as watchmen at Storybook Gardens. He was very poor of seeing, and I thought it a shame that he could not see the beauty of the river just out their door. I have one of Harry's paintings hanging on my "Dells" wall.

Back to the cabin - where I grew up. I lived all year to spend weekends at the cabin. It was rather quant, with a small kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms and a wraparound porch. The swimming hole was the "gulch" that was the boat landing for the Pines Hotel before the dam raised the water level - it looked like a beach to us, and the tour boats were great for waves.

The cabin was the family gathering spot - we had a small family with a aunt in Cleveland and now retired in Madison, and my family and grandparents from the Chidcago area. My dad made carvings from pine trees in the shape of a bear and eagle that I still have today, 45 years later. The outhouse was the 'original' and rather smelly. To enhance the experience, my grandmother painted the INSIDE of the door with tree trunks and needles scene. She did that so the outhouse door could be propped open all weekend without the tour boat knowing the door was open (like they could see the far anyway!). I wanted to save the door when the cabin was sold, but it closed before I could rescue the artifact. BTW, food never tasted so good as cooked in the cabin, named the "Happy Hovel"

On to Fort Dells, the Disneyland of the midwest - such memories, of the paddle boat, the diesel I think train; the motor cars. My brother and I had fun trying to get the family to go each visit. I have many picture and post cards of Fort Dells - the last time I saw the Fort was in 1976 on my way out west when I overnighted in the cabin for the last time before it was sold in 1995 to the University - I remember the Fort looking rather shabby then, maybe it was even closed. Much more to come - I think this is my first blog!

2:21 AM  
Anonymous Generic Viagra said...

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11:09 AM  

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