Herald Journal Columns
March 24, 2003

Have I got the place for your family to visit ­ The Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells

By DENISE ROSENAU

We decided a few weeks back that it was about time that our family took some sort of vacation, so we made plans to head out of town to Wisconsin Dells with kids in tow. This was our very first family vacation.

The kids knew that we were going out of state, but we refused to tell them where. What we realized, though, was how persistent kids can be when they want to know something.

Day one

I woke up from a good night's rest at home with the strong realization of all that I had to do. Most of our packing was already done, but we still had to figure out how we were going to fit it all into our vehicle along with five people - my husband, oldest son Mitch, nephew, youngest son Cam, and myself.

So much for a stress-free week. Our first day of freedom and we were already feeling tension.

We got it all in there, which was nothing short of a miracle, and without an inch to spare except for a spot for my nephew to sit. We took off to meet my brother and sister-in-law to assure them that they could feel comfortable leaving their first-born in our hands.

In thinking it was a vacation, we didn't - really set a firm time to leave, which was scoffed at by a certain family member (who couldn't fly by the seat of his pants if he had a pulley attached to his belt loop). In my opinion, though, vacations are supposed to be less about scheduling and more about relaxing, and starting off late on a trip seemed counter-productive.

Off we went, east, and warned the kids that it would be a long drive.

Our youngest son was asleep by the time we hit Howard Lake (which was a huge plus!). The older boys were too excited to even consider sleeping, but they had Gameboys and a portable CD player to keep them busy.

We had made them a special CD to listen to that had some favorite songs and a couple little boy comedy songs on it that included running over the Taco Bell Dog and Yoda with digestive problems. Both were a big hit.

. . . On a quick side not, traveling has sure changed since I was a kid. We had to endure Dad's country music - which was so embarrassing - or play a rousing game of alphabet memory to keep us busy.

As we were getting close to Wisconsin Dells, we saw a road sign that said "Wis. Dells 10 miles," which they noticed, but didn't get very excited about. We were disappointed by that, but found out later that neither of the two older boys had ever heard of Wisconsin Dells before.

So much for the surprise. Sure wish I would have known that beforehand, because it would have saved me a couple weeks of nagging.

As we pulled into the first hotel parking lot, they saw a sign that said "waterpark," which gave us some of the excitement that we wanted to see.

After checking in, we went right to the plain old pool, since the big waterpark at the hotel was already closed for the night, and went "wimming" in the pool, as Cam would say (to be more accurate, though, I should say the older boys were swimming . . . my husband and I were trying to persuade our almost three-year-old into the water).

The older boys thought this was a great vacation so far, and they hadn't even gotten to the fun part.

Day two and on

We woke up in the hotel with Cam jumping on us. For a minute I thought I was at home, because this is an unfortunate daily routine in our house, and not always a pleasant one.

This time it had a twist, though, because the older boys had taught him the art of jumping from one bed to the other. Gives more height, which in turn, was more of a shock than our usual wake-up call Cameron-style.

I would have loved to sleep some more but Cam was not having that, and neither were the older boys, who were dying to try out that waterslide.

They woke up too early though, and still had to wait until it opened. As we all squeezed into our still-wet swimming suits, I thought to myself that I would just rather relax and read, but knew that wasn't an option.

We all had a great time in the waterpark, and our little guy started to loosen up a little bit in the water. He certainly wasn't comfortable, though, which made it difficult for us to keep everyone happy.

The older boys thought that the waterpark was really cool, and I had to laugh because they had no idea where we were going to be staying for the next few nights.

We checked out of the first hotel and moved on to the real treat - The Great Wolf Lodge. We let them come in to check in, and they thought the lobby was really cool. The lady working behind the counter commented, "Wow, and they haven't even seen the waterpark yet!"

I have to say I enjoyed the look of excitement on my son's face when he heard that. It was more of the excitement level I was looking for.

After we got into our room and got situated, we took off on our tour of the hotel. Upon first glance of the huge 70,000 square foot indoor waterpark, complete with waterslides, a lazy river, and a three story play area with everything imaginable to do with water, those kids got so excited. We got a great look at it through a second story viewing window overlooking one of the pools.

We hopped in the elevator, and went down a floor, but not before they saw the video arcade through the glass at the back of the elevator. This caused just as much excitement, I think.

I even have to admit that it was a cool arcade, with black lights and an air-hockey table (my own personal favorite). I think they were having a hard time trying to decide what they wanted to do first, my husband included.

This had to be one of the coolest hotels I have ever seen, and I can even say that after living in Orlando, Fla. for almost a year. The waterpark was amazing, and was perfect for families, which I gathered as I looked around and saw real people, not just perfect figures in bikinis.

One of the biggest features aside from the waterpark was that this hotel had a large interactive video game sort of place called Wiley's Woods.

When you walk in, they give you an electronic wristband, which you program with your name and age. As you progress through the building doing different activities, you gained points, both as a family team and individually.

The whole place was covered with these foam balls, which you gathered in bags and went from station to station with.

Some stations asked each person to insert a certain number of foam balls, some had you shooting balls into buckets, and some had you doing other activities, like turning wheels to move the balls into a machine as fast as you could.

As if that wasn't enough, there were play areas to just hang out in, a floor that was completely mesh like a weaved trampoline to jump around in (which I hated because it was scary!), and a set of air guns that could shoot from the second floor down to the first.

There was many-a-time that each of us was beamed by foam balls from some dad who was having just as much fun as his kids, because the best place to gather up balls in your bag was the floor directly below the air guns.

What a blast it was, and I bet we literally spent three hours there. There were little kids and adults with silly grins running around, throwing balls at each other, and shooting baskets from all angles.

It was a lot of fun for all of us, and after spending time there each of the days we spent at The Great Wolf Lodge, we got to leave with second place honors for the RosieTommy team (our own team name for the Rosenau and Thomas family members), and Mitch gotfirst place in his age group.

By the time we had done all there was to do in Wiley's Woods, I was ready to leave. As much fun as it was, it was a zoo in that place with kids running and laughing and throwing balls at each other. We needed some relaxation.

We decided to finally let the boys do what they really wanted to do, which was to check out the waterpark.

There were two separate areas to play in. One area had more waterslides and smaller pools with different toys to play on, and the other had more of a large playground theme with water.

The coolest part of it was that they had a huge bucket that held 700 gallons of water, which was tipped over a crowd of people every five minutes.

A bell would ring, and a huge rush of people would gather under where the bucket dumps. It looked painful but wasn't when I finally gathered the courage to stand there.

There I was with the two older boys and a bunch of kids and dads (no other moms but me!). I looked at my son and said, "See, I am a cool mom - I'm here with only dads and kids, no other moms."

One dad close to us gave me some quick advice, which was to keep my eyes down. I don't think I was that comfortable when he said that but at that point it was too late anyway, because the bucket was already beginning to tip.

I decided to suck it up, and braced myself for the force of all of those gallons of water at once, which wasn't nearly as painful as it looked. There were a couple kids that were knocked over by it, though, but those little die-hards were right back there again five minutes later.

There was also plenty of other water things to do, like spraying each other with fire hoses, turning dials and pulling ropes to dump water, walking through water walls, etc, all in a multi-level water playground.

It was amazing at Great Wolf. There wasn't really much need to go anywhere else in Wisconsin Dells because the kids were so satisfied doing the activities in the hotel. The great thing about that was that it gave us the R-and-R time we wanted, and gave the kids the high energy fun time they liked.

Time to go home

After a few fun-filled days at Great Wolf, the time finally came to head home. It started snowing the last day we were there, so we left a bit earlier that we had planned on, and got home much earlier than we anticipated.

We plan to go back to The Great Wolf Lodge someday, and are highly recommending it to anyone interested in some good family fun. At $119 a night for a pre-summer special, and everything except food included, I thought it was a pretty good deal. Here's the web address to check it out: http://www.greatwolflodge.com.

I'm always interested in hearing of fun things to do, so I am asking for ideas for our next vacation. If you have any ideas, please email me at denise@hjpub.com.


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