Need Some Fudge? Visit The Wisconsin Dells, The Midwest’s Most Delightfully Tacky Resort Town

You don’t have to leave the Midwest to catch a glimpse of the Roman Coliseum, the White House, the Kalahari Desert and the fabled windmills of Mykonos. Nope, all you have to do is take a road trip to the Wisconsin Dells, one of America’s delightfully tacky resort towns, where you can travel the world without venturing very far off the Wisconsin Dells Parkway.

I’ve lived in Chicago for years but have somehow managed to avoid visiting the Dells, the region’s quintessential summer weekend getaway place for families, until I finally experienced the place in all its tawdry glory while on a camping trip at nearby Mirror Lake State Park. Sophisticated city types mock places like the Dells, which is chock-a-block with mini-golf, wax museums, water parks and every conceivable type of tourist trap imaginable. But I have a soft spot for tourist traps. You could even call it a morbid fascination.

So I found myself cruising the Dells honkytonk strip on Memorial Day, notebook out, jotting away like a visitor from another planet. I wanted to take in a lumberjack show, while eating a “lumberjack meal” (whatever the hell that is) at a place called Paul Bunyan, but alas, I was told the lumberjacks don’t report for duty until the weather gets warmer. (Aren’t lumberjacks supposed to be tough?) How about a BigFoot zipline tour? Not for $89, I thought. The Polynesian Water Park, the Timbavati Wildlife Park, a 50-foot-tall Trojan Horse roller coaster and the “Top Secret” Upside Down White House all peaked my interest but I was too cheap to pay to bring my family of four into these places. (And why are there directions on the White House website for a place that is supposed to be “top secret?”)

I read in the local newspaper that tourists spend more than $1 billion dollars a year on these and other Dells attractions. But based upon my informal calculations, made while walking down Broadway, arguably the tackiest street in the Midwest’s tackiest town, I’d estimate that tourists spend at least two or three billion on fudge in the Dells each year, maybe more. Perhaps a local person can confirm this for me, and dear readers, please feel free to weigh in on this phenomenon in the comments section, but are there really five – count ’em five – fudge shops on one side of this street? I don’t know if I was hallucinating, but in between lengthy, illegible missives on Captain Brady’s Showboat Saloon and a Feed-And-Pet-the Deer- joint, there is this comment in my notebook: “Four – no five fudge shops! On one block!”

I don’t know if any academics have ever delved into the phenomenon in a dissertation or published paper, but I’d like to know what came first – the fudge or the tourists? Do people want fudge while they’re on vacation or do they simply indulge in the stuff because it’s there? No clue, but if you want fudge, by all means, consider the Wisconsin Dells for your next holiday. You’ll be spoiled for choice.

Aside from the fudge, I’ve noticed that tourists also like torture museums, and the Dells has a sorry example of one of these places as well. I’ve seen torture museums in all kinds of touristy places all around the world. Most of them are obvious tourist traps, but when found in places where torture was once widely practiced, they at least make some sense. Now I’m not an expert on the criminal justice system of Wisconsin, but as far as I know, torture has never been a regular part of the Wisconsin Dells experience. That is, unless you consider sitting through hokey magic shows, “duck tours” or the Wisconsin Opry Dinner Show torture, which some might.

I took my kids to Circus World in nearby Baraboo, more of an old-school indulgence than the contrived, new fangled attractions of the Dells, but didn’t spend a dime on any of the tourist traps in the town. Next time, I plan to visit the Lost Mayan Temple, ride the Trojan Horse roller coaster, take in the lumberjack show and have some fudge, preferably while dressed like a gladiator inside the Roman Coliseum. If anyone knows which of the Broadway fudge shops is the best, please drop me a line.

8 new thrill rides opening in 2010

Whether you’re an avid thrill seeker or just looking to have a little fun, thrill rides and roller coasters offer riders endless good times and plenty of excitement. With the economy on the forefront of most American’s minds, many amusement parks have scaled back or delayed production of new rides. Luckily, not every park is afraid of the economic downturn, and these eight new rides opening this year offer entertainment that refuses to disappoint. Time to strap in and enjoy the ride!


The longest water coaster in the world, the Wildebeest, is opening May 14, 2010 at Holiday World in Santa Claus, IN. Riders splash through the 1,710 feet of yellow tubing at 36 feet per second in just 2 minutes, and 30 seconds on a four-person raft. The Wildebeest has a total of 7 drops, the tallest of which is 38 feet, and features 2 underground tunnels. With no access stairs, this family friendly ride is easily accessible to riders.

Shoot the Rapids
Cedar Point Theme Park in Sandusky, OH will show off this new log flume ride in 2010. Shoot the Rapids features an 85-foot first drop, and a 49-foot second drop. Unexpected special effects advance the playful backwoods, moonshine theme. With enough thrills to get the heart racing, but without the speeds that eliminate certain riders, Shoot the Rapids is a family thrill ride.

The Intimidator
Opening in the Spring of 2010 at Carowinds Theme Park in Charlotte, NC, the Intimidator boasts speeds in excess of 75 mph. The red track and checkerboard patterned landing are in honor of legendary Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt, who was the inspiration for the coaster. The tallest coaster in the Southeast, the Intimidator is 232 feet tall with a staggering first drop of 211 feet at a 74 degree angle. Open-air seating, modeled after Earnhardt’s famous Monte Carlo, allows the rider a clear view of the ride’s eight dips along its 5,316 feet of track for the duration of the 3 minute 33 second thrill ride.

Sky Rocket

Accelerating to 50 mph in only 3 seconds, the Sky Rocket is expected to open in May of 2010. The Sky Rocket is the seventh coaster to be erected at Kennywood Theme Park in West Mifflin, PA. The 2100-foot blue track features a 90 degree drop, two separate G-force pullouts, a traditional corkscrew, an inverted top hat, and a barrel roll. The orange flame accented cars reach the end of the track in 65 seconds.

Scorpion’s Tail
Noah Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells, WI will set a new standard in water slides in 2010. The Scorpion’s Tail is 10 stories high, and 400 feet long. Shooting a single rider through a blue tube at more than 50 feet per second, this thrill ride “might sting a little.”

— The above was written by Chastity Goddard, Seed contributor.

Intimidator 305:
Kings Dominion
in Doswell Virginia will introduce the new giant coaster uses Nascar legend Dale Earnhardt’s nickname Intimidator. The name suits the coaster that towers at the intimidating height of 305 feet at its tallest. The first drop is 300 feet down at a terrifying 85 degree angle (nearly straight down!). The roaring ride hits amazing speeds of 90+ mph and will leaving the rider gripping their seat for the entire three minute journey in the fast lane.

The Dragon Challenge:
New roller coaster ride in Universal Studio’s Island’s of Adventure in Orlando Florida. The ride is a part of the parks newest themed section, Wizarding World of Harry Potter and actually two separate coasters. Riders must choose a ‘Dragon’, the red ‘Chinese Fireball’ or the blue ‘Hungarian Horntail’, each ‘Dragon’ offers a unique riding experience. The coasters seem to battle each other with tracks laid closely to one another simulating near hits to thrill passengers along for the battle ride. The mean ‘Hungarian Horntail’ hits top speed at 55 mph while the wicked ‘Chinese Fireball’ reaches 60 mph.

Revolution 360:
Seabreeze theme park
located in Rochester New York will open the revolutionary ride in the summer of 2010. Riders board a giant disk and sit on pedestal seats facing outward. The track is 123 feet long and u-shaped, the disk is shot up to a height of 5 stories and rotates the entire time it coasts up and down the half pipe track.

— The above was written by Rikki Dahl, Seed contributor.

Weird Travel: Odd Wisconsin exhibit’s odd items

Wisconsin has enough odd history that the “Odd Wisconsin” exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison has swapped in 40% of what is on display. The result is a fresh look at Wisconsin’s oddball undertakings.

What makes many of the objects odd are not the objects themselves, but the stories behind them. Many–from the serious to the nostalgic, illuminate aspects of American history that have a Wisconsin connection.

One of the items in particular has me humming a tune that’s probably going to be with me for the rest of the day.

Do you remember a certain hot dog commercial with a certain song? The instrument that played the tune offers a trip down memory lane for anyone whose childhood goes back that far.

Although Aaron’s the Tuesday Trivia aficionado, here are two more pieces of trivia to add to this week’s questions. What instrument is on display and what’s the song? You don’t have to wait until next Tuesday to find out the answers to these two. They are after the jump.

And here’s a bonus: What’s in the jar?

The instrument: banjo-ukulele.

The song: Oh I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener.”

The song title is written on the instrument. Banjo-ukulele’s were made in the 1920s and 1930s in response to the popularity of Hawaiian music at the time.

The museum’s Web pages that highlight the Odd Wisconsin exhibit describes some of the items on display. They include:

  • Wonder Spot “Book” Sign. The Wonder Spot was a cabin built on the side of a hill that was angled in such a way to give tourists to Wisconsin Dells a discombobulated feeling. The cabin was taken down in 2006 to make room for Highway 12.
  • Glass Teddy Roosevelt drank out of after he was shot while delivering a speech.
  • Giant Punt Gun. Used in the 19th century to hunt ducks, this gun weighs 26 pounds.
  • Skunk Grease Medicine. Made in 1920 as a home remedy for pleurisy. (That’s what’s in the jar.) The description of this concoction centers on the self-reliance of Wisconsin’s farmers.

In case you missed out on the Oscar Meyer Wiener commericals, here’s one of the classics.

Budget Summer vacation from Chicago – the Wisconsin Dells

You can’t really talk about budget destinations from Chicago, without mentioning the Wisconsin Dells. The Dells are a 3 hour drive from Chicagoland. The area itself is best described as “middle of nowhere”, about 40 miles north of Madison.

The Dells call themselves “the waterpark capital of the world”, and rightfully so – most of their hotels have built themselves around their own massive waterparks, and even the smallest motel will have at least one indoor pool.

There are two times of year in the Dells – Summer and “the rest”. Sure, you can visit the Dells in the period from November-April, but most attractions will be closed. That said, the downtime is when you’ll find the best deals at resorts in the Dells, and since the weather will suck anyway, it’s a great time to stay indoors and enjoy the amenities offered on-site. You’ll pretty much have to, because almost everything else will be closed.

Memorial day is when the Dells really comes to life – all the major attractions will be open, and most resorts will have their outdoor water attractions ready for the nice weather.Where to stay

Finding somewhere to stay in the Dells is probably the easiest part of your trip – the Dells are home to loads of different types of motels, hotels, resorts and megaresorts. Your choice will probably come down to budget and availability.

The large waterparks have 100’s of rooms, but even they fill up quickly in the Summer. A great resort to consider if you have younger kids, is the Great Wolf Lodge. The lodge has all the amenities of the larger resorts, but in a smaller and more friendly environment. That said, older kids will probably need some more excitement, so be sure to check out the Kalahari resort or the Wilderness resort. A great place to find hotels in the Dells is the website of the Wisconsin Dells visitor bureau.

If the upcoming weather forecast shows bad stuff on the way, you’ll appreciate being able to stay indoors in the larger waterparks. Just remember that some of the resorts do not allow non-residents to use their waterparks, so if you find yourself stuck at a hotel with a single pool and a small slide, you’ll need to go elsewhere for your fun.

Not everything in the Dells is targeted towards family fun – the Sundara Spa and Resort is an adults only spa with very upscale rooms and secluded villas. Of course, the resort offers full spa services, and the entire facility is located far away from the noise and distractions from the rest of the Dells. A perfect place for couples to relax.

Things to do in the Dells

If there is one thing the Dells does not have a shortage of, it’s things to do. In fact, during the Summer, there are so many attractions, that you can easily plan a 5 day trip and never be bored. Here are a couple of hightlights:

The Original Dells Ducks / Dells Army Ducks

The Dells is home to 2 different Ducks companies – The Original Wisconsin Ducks and the Dells Army Ducks. Both offer land/water rides in retired Army DUKW vehicles.

Rides on the Dells Army Ducks are not cheap – $23 for adults and $13 for kids, but if you order online, you’ll save $2 per ticket. Rides on the Original Wisconsin Ducks are $23 for adults, and $11.50 for kids.

The Ducks tour itself is fantastic – you’ll spend about half of the one hour ride in the forest, and the rest going up the river. The forest ride is pretty bumpy. The highlight of one of my rides was getting stuck on a sandbank, thankfully the companies have dedicated ducks to relieve a “stuck duck”.

Before spending money on the ducks – be sure to check out the other water rides offered in the Dells, for the same amount of money, you can take a jet boat ride or a slower river boat ride. The river boat tour is perfect for those with younger kids, or people who just want to relax.

Pirates Cove adventure golf and family fun center

Mini golf doesn’t get any bigger than the original Pirates Cove – this attraction has the largest mini golf park in North America, offering 5 different 18 hole courses on the side of a hill. At just $7.75 per round, it is very nicely priced. Mini golf fanatics can even buy a ticket for all 5 courses for $23. Kids under 5 play for free.

The family fun center offers good clean fun for families with kids – a bouncing pillow, pedal carts, jumping basketball and a sand/sun play area can all be enjoyed for just $6, or just $12.55 as a combination ticket with a round of mini golf.

Downtown Dells

The Downtown Dells area is your typical tourist village main street. It’s where you’ll find numerous t-shirt stores, chain restaurants and of course candy stores.

Sadly, many of the stores have recently closed, most likely more victims of the poor economy. That said, there is still plenty to do, as long as you resist the urge to buy tacky t-shirts or other stuff you’ll regret once you get back home.

Noah’s Ark waterpark

Noah’s Ark is one of several stand alone water parks in the Dells. The park offer over 40 different wet and dry attractions, including the longest water slide in the country. The park has been rated one of the best waterparks in the country by the Travel Channel for the past 8 years.

Admission to Noah’s Ark is $34.99 for adults and kids are 20% off. Children under 2 are free. If you need a second day, you can add that for $17.50.

Mount Olympus water & theme park

With almost 50 attractions, Mount Olympus is another “must visit” in the Dells. The park is split between a massive outdoor pool area and a large indoor pool/theme park. The park is hard to miss, thanks to its massive wooden coaster.

Admission to Mount Olympus is $39.99 for an indoor/outdoor combo ticket.

Circus World

Circus World is just up the road from the Dells, in Baraboo. This attrac
tion is part museum and part fully operational circus. During the Summer months, you’ll find circus performances all day long. Younger kids can create their own performance in the original Ringling Bros. Elephant House. Of course, no visit to the Circus would be complete without popcorn, cotton candy and hot dogs from the Cookhouse Grill.

Admission to Circus World is $14.95 for adults, and $7.95 for kids 5-11.

Other things to see and do

Here are some of the other things to do when in the Dells – Just up the road from the Dells is the massive Ho-Chunk Casino, a 24 hour casino with over 2400 slot machines and tables. The casino even features daycare for parents who want to drop the little ones off for a couple of hours, while they lose their cash.

The Tommy Bartlett show has been entertaining Dells visitors since the early 70’s, and it was Tommy Bartlett himself who helped make the Wisconsin Dells the tourist destination it is today. Shows are held twice daily in the summer. Admission is $16 for adults and $9 for kids.

Tommy Bartlett also operates the “Exploratory“, which is part science museum, part kids museum. Sadly, the museum is quite outdated, and older kids will most likely not be too impressed with it. That said – the Exploratory is the only place in the world where you’ll find a real full size MIR space station, purchased by the facility from the Russians. Admission to the Exploratory is $12 for adults and $9 for kids.

Shopaholics will love the Tanger Outlet center located in the same area as most of the big resorts. The outlet is home to a Disney store, a Coach Factory Outlet, and even a Build-a-bear.

And finally, if the weather does not cooperate, check out the massive indoor amusement park at Knuckleheads or the recently opened theme park at the Kalahari resort.

If you really want to turn your trip into a road trip, then take advantage of some of the attractions on the way to the Wisconsin Dells – I recommend heading West when you reach Madison for a trip to the Cave of the Mounds and the House on the Rock. That same area is also home to Taliesen, the Frank Lloyd Wright landmark.

Here is a quick link to a map of the area:

Romantic in the Midwest – 4 fantastic Valentines destinations

Valentines day is approaching, and you have a little over 2 weeks to get your preparations in order. If you live in the Midwest and you really want to surprise someone, then check out these four romantic destinations which are guaranteed to be more original than roses and chocolates.

Sundara Inn and Spa – Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Anyone who has lived in the Midwest for any length of time has probably spent at least one weekend in the Wisconsin Dells. The Dells are a bit of a mix between kitschy 70’s entertainment and oversized waterparks.

But don’t let that scare you away, because hidden away far from all the hustle and bussel is the Sundara Inn and Spa. This spa is voted one of the top 10 in the country, but its location means it isn’t the easiest place to visit.

Getting to the spa involves taking a small road through the hills, and once you arrive you’ll notice that you hear absolutely nothing. No traffic, no planes, no busy water parks. In fact, with several miles of forest around the facility, chances are you may even find things a little too quiet.

The facility itself is quite simply stunning. With just 26 suites, the whole place has a very private atmosphere, and since no children are allowed on premises, you can enjoy a really romantic getaway.
If you need even more privacy, you can rent one of the 4 private villa suites, situated across from the main building in the forest.

Rooms are available in 3 different levels of luxury, from a “basic” room with a Kohler 8 jet waterspa, to a split level suite with a 75″ Riverbath spa and Watertower shower. All rooms come with a Bose wave radio and a selection of music CD’s.

Rates start at $139, plus any spa services you order. A 30 minute massage will cost you $65.

Romantic packages with one night in a suite, 2 couples massages and an in-room picnic costs just over $500, so plan wisely. Men may prefer to spend some time in the pool while their significant other gets pampered in the spa.

At night, complimentary towncar service will take you anywhere you want to go within the Dells, but I highly suggest a meal at Fields at the Wilderness – this Frank Lloyd Wright inspired restaurant is one of the best steak restaurants in Wisconsin, and a fantastic place to have a romantic dinner.

The Sundara Inn and Spa is located at 920 Canyon Road in the Dells. The drive will take about 3 hours from Chicago (195 miles), and about 2 hours from Milwaukee (123 miles).

Web site: Sundara Inn and Spa

The America
n Club, Kohler, Wisconsin

Chances are that you recently showered or used the bathroom with a Kohler product. The brand does have a bit more to offer than just bathroom accessories, and The Kohler American Club is another of those great Midwest gems.

The American Club is a AAA five diamond rated hotel, and all rooms feature Kohler products, including rooms with their whirlpools and showers. Next to the hotel is the Kohler Waters Spa, where guests can be pampered with such treats as a white chocolate Macadamia nut sugar scrub.

Rooms for Valentines day start at $238 a night, and a romantic getaway package with Champagne, roses and a “bath butler” costs $398, which includes a $100 dining credit for one of their 5 award winning restaurants.

The American Club is located on 419 Highland Drive, Kohler, Wisconsin. The drive from Chicago will take about 2 and a half hours (145 miles), but folks living in Milwaukee can get there in a little over an hour.

Web site: The American Club

The Champagne Lodge, Willowbrook, Illinois

If you prefer something with a shorter drive from Chicago, then the Champagne Lodge may be just what you need. A standard room at the lodge costs $169/night, and comes with a queen bed, whirlpool tub, steam room, Plasma TV and wet bar. For about $40 more, you can upgrade to an executive suite, which comes with a larger room and tub.

The Champagne Lodge also has an on site spa, and services start at just $45 for a 30 minute massage. Of course, as the name implies, Champagne is available for any room, and starts at just $15 per bottle. The rooms look a little cheesy, with large mirrors and wood panels, but the secluded location will probably be much better for a romantic weekend than your run of the mill Westin or Hilton downtown.

The Champagne Lodge is located on 16W621 S. Frontage Road, Willowbrook, IL. The drive from Chicago is just under half an hour.

Web site: The CL

The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, Acme, Michigan

Condé Nast Traveler named this resort one of the top 50 in the world, so it is obvious that this is not your ordinary resort. The Grand Traverse resort and spa is located in Michigan’s lower peninsula, which obviously means it’ll be a little harder to get to for many people.

The resort has it all – a spa, health club, tennis, golf, a waterpark and 5 restaurants (including one on the 16th floor of the tower).

Rooms start around $120 for a low level accomodation, and about $140 for a tower room. A one night couples package costs about $250, which includes the room, dinner and breakfast. The hotel reservation system allows you to add Champagne and roses to your room for a reasonable charge.

The Grand Traverse resort is a 328 mile drive from Chicago (just under 6 hours), and about 250 miles from Detroit. The resort is located just several miles away from Traverse airport, which is a one hour flight from Chicago.

The Grand Traverse resort is located at 100 Grand Traverse Village Boulevard, Acme, Michigan.

Web site: The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa