If you live in Milwaukee, Minnesota, or Illinois, Wisconsin Dells is a household term. Ifyou're not familiar with this part of the country, now may be the perfect time to visitAmerica's Dairyland. Wisconsin Dells, both a region and the name of the town, is said tobe the waterpark capital of the nationâ€”and with good reason.
HOME OF THE WATERPARK
Like other family resorts, theDells' modern history began withrecreation seekers enjoying nature.The word "Dells" is derived from aNative American word meaning,"where the dark rushing watersmeet," and the French word for"slab-like rock." Instead of mountainsor beaches, visitors were attractedto Wisconsin Dells' windingWisconsin River and its dramaticrock formations.
Nowadays, most visitors head toWisconsin Dells to enjoy its impressivearray of waterparks. WisconsinDells is home to 20 indoor and outdoorwaterparks. One of the many isthe outdoor, 70-acre Noah's ArkWaterpark (608-254-6351; www.noahsarkwaterpark.com), which ispresently the biggest outdoor waterparkin the nation.
Another impressive WisconsinDell attraction is the flashy KalahariResort (877-253-5466; www.kalahariresort.com), which has bothindoor and outdoor waterparks, andsignificantly shorter lines. The Kalahari,which opened in 2000, expandedthis past December, and at125,000 square feet is currentlyAmerica's largest indoor waterpark.Close behind is Wild West Waterpark,at 70,000 square feet, which islocated on the grounds of anotherlodging complex, the WildernessHotel and Golf Resort (800-867-9453; www.wildernessresort.com).
If you're interested in water, butprefer to sightsee instead of splash,take a relaxing river tour. Climbaboard the 55-foot (608-254-6080; www.dellsducks.com) fora refreshing, if low-key, outing.Cruising past sandstone formations,with names like Giant's Shield andInk Stand, while listening to yourguide's jokes is a placid respite fromthe cacophony of downtown.
The biggest show in the Dells,now in its sixth decade, is TommyBartlett's Thrill Show (608-254-2525; www.tommybartlett.com).Thefirst half of the live extravaganzafocuses on the water, with plenty ofthrilling water-skiing. The secondhalf bulges with Vegas-style, G-ratedacts, such as comic jugglers and gauchodancers. The talent here dazzlesas much as any I've seen on a 4-starcasino hotel stage.
Go-cart tracks, miniature golfcourses, museums devoted to robotsand UFOs, and similar enterprisesline the main drags of WisconsinDells, but some of the more singularsights can be found a dozen milessouth in Baraboo.
In a daily flight show at the InternationalCrane Foundation (608-356-9462; www.savingcranes.org),you'll get the rare opportunity to seethe hooded crane, a creature normallyas alien here as a Bengal tiger, soaringthrough the air and alighting onthe ground as gently as a little Cessnaon a small-town runway. This craneconservatory is home to roughly 100cranes, which represent the world'srange of 15 species.
Another must-see Baraboo attractionis the World Museum (608-356-0800;www.circusworldmuseum.com),which is located on the formergrounds of the winter quarters of theRingling Brothers Circus. One willbe hard-pressed to see anything similarwithout stepping into a timemachine. The rowdy, rollickingsounds of band organs, circus streetparades replete with gilded wagonsand lumbering elephants, andclowns, jugglers, and acrobats performingunder the big top, will takeyou back to the circus's heraldedgolden days of yesteryear.
For more information, contactthe Wisconsin Dells Visitor andConvention Bureau at 800-223-3557or visit www.wisdells.com.