“Remind me, what are the Wisconsin Dells?” a friend recently asked me when I told her we were stopping there on our way back from family Christmas outside of Madison. I snickered a bit, but then I remembered that she lived in the Washington, D.C., area and grew up in New Jersey, and not everyone knows about the Dells. I was guilty of reverse coastal snobbery.
I explained that Wisconsin Dells is a magical land filled with waterparks, amphibious boats, waterskiing shows and magicians—but mostly waterparks. And it’s really only magical if you’re a child. Or possibly indulging in a day of treatments at Sundara Inn and Spa.
We were headed there with my husband’s sister’s family for the indoor water fun while the temperatures outside hovered in the single digits. We pass the Dells on Interstate 94 every time we drive to my in-laws, and it’s hard to miss the brightly colored tubes that snake out from the expansive resorts, twist around in the air and then dive back inside where they empty into lazy rivers and wave pools. You can almost see the silhouettes of children in inner tubes coasting along the currents of water.
In my mind, one of the benefits of having children is that it gives you an excuse to do childish things under the cover of parenthood. And we did indeed have fun with our daughter and her two cousins at the Great Wolf Lodge, which has multiple locations around the country. The lodge has a woodsy feel, along with a fairly large waterpark and an arcade for the teens (and Starbucks for their parents). Once my husband convinced me that there was enough chlorine to make it unlikely that my feet would get some kind of fungal thing, I was able to relax and enjoy myself—especially as I watched my daughter squeal as the wolf howl sounded and the wave pool tossed her inner tube around.
A few things to keep in mind if you decide to partake in this brand of family fun: The resort provides towels, but they’re small and pilly, so you might want to bring your own. Don’t forget the flip-flops, just in case. And while there are lifeguards, obviously keep a close eye on your little ones. All those screaming, playing, happy kids can make things pretty chaotic. Another friend who has gone there for the last few years describes it as “Vegas for kids.”
For me, the only real moment of regret came as I hurtled down the Howlin' Tornado on a two-person inner tube with my husband. I really don’t know why I opted to ride it other than the fact that I have a hard time resisting a challenge. The Tornado starts out with a six-story drop that empties into a kind of plastic funnel, your tube spinning up one side of the funnel and then the next, until it eventually slows and empties into the “drain.” I’m not a fan of vertical drops, so as soon as we started down the chute I sort of shrieked through clenched teeth: “I didn’t know what this was. I. Do. Not. Like. This.” But I survived. As we age, it’s good to get a sudden rush of adrenaline every once in a while. A wee shock to the system, for those of us with healthy hearts. Because when it comes right down to it, childishness is underrated. And meanwhile, your kids will sleep really, really well.