Go big or go home: Dell's Kalahari sets standard for gigantic water fun
WISCONSIN DELLS – If you take your family to the Kalahari Resort, there's nothing stopping you from venturing out to see the rest of the beautiful Wisconsin Dells.
On the other hand, good luck finding the time.
With a water park this big, an indoor theme park this grandiose, and dining options this expansive, Kalahari is as close to the all-inclusive experience you'll find in the Dells. In fact, you won't try everything in just one trip. It's just not possible.
The one-stop-shop that is Kalahari works in either the winter or the summer but it different ways. In cold weather, the 125,000 square foot indoor water park – which is the largest in Wisconsin – pairs nicely with a 100,000 square foot indoor theme park with go-karting, bowling, mini golf and a six-story tall Ferris wheel.
In the summer, though, you can add in the equally huge outdoor water park, with its family-meets-Vegas vibe. Four full-service restaurants and bars round out the dining side, and really, you'll have to work extra hard to find the time to venture beyond the grounds of this sprawling property.
"Wisconsin Dells is the water park capital of the word, and this is the second largest in the country," says Kalahari spokesperson, Travis Nelson. "The only bigger one is our Kalahari property in Sandusky, Ohio."
Says Nelson, "One of our phrases is 'everything is under one roof.' You literally park the car and you don't have to leave if you don't want to."
Rooms are well-appointed and clean, large but not particularly lavish. The owners of the property have made numerous trips to Africa and have brought back original art to decorate the rooms and common areas. It's a neat and unique touch that completes the safari theme, which has been evolving through nearly constant renovations since Kalahari opened in 2000, says Nelson.
Packed in the summer or whenever school is out, Kalahari also does a steady convention center business. "This is absolutely a 365 day a year resort," says Nelson.
As for me, I'm relatively new to the world of water parks, as our daughter is just hitting the age to begin to appreciate them. This spring, we visited Sheboygan's Blue Harbor and really enjoyed it – but you can't compare the size and scope with Kalahari, which hosted us on a completely sold out July weekend.
To some, Kalahari's enormity is an advantage, to others, a disadvantage.
Our kid, for example, was less adventurous with the rides at Kalahari; however, there were more parts of the water park dedicated to smaller children. Lifeguards were everywhere on the sprawling campus; even sold-out, the water parks didn't feel crowded because they are just so very vast.
Fortunately, we took this 24-hour trip with another couple and their kids, so the adults could try some of the water park roller coasters. Inside and outside, these are some serious rides, and there are enough of them that you can hop in without much of a wait.
"It's such a big place, there's so much to do, at times you can come up here and there's not a whole lot of crazy lines," says Nelson.
For most of our meals, we snacked on the property, but we did enjoy one sit-down dinner at the very family-friendly Kahunaville Restaurant & Bar. The cuisine was surprisingly inventive, and I enjoyed the $18 pina colada chicken quite a bit. The restaurant was perfectly cheesy, with occasional chicken dancing that the kids adored; but good food made it a great choice for our group of seven.
The trick to enjoying a place like Kalahari, of course, is to keep it moving, and we were able to cajole the kids into the indoor theme park after dinner.
"You can only swim for so long," says Nelson. "Eventually you have to dry off."
Wrangling children, exhausted from splashing around all day, into a Ferris wheel, isn't especially hard. The long line for the double-decker, two-seat go karts (my favorite) was worth it, but just barely. We didn't even have the time to check out the bowling alley, golf simulators or dive into one of those gigantic margaritas in hurricane glasses – "we sell cases of those," says Nelson.
Kalahari's staff was patient and courteous, and the only flaw we found was the room key system and room billing system. Ours demagnetized at least five times, and we spent an awful lot of time swapping out new keys. The room billing was one snafu after another; we encountered problems at every stop, including charges for a restaurant we didn't attend. The staff resolved these mix-ups, however: my only advice would be to use a different method of payment for meals and snacks.
My only other regret is not enough time. Even though the Dells is barely more than two hours from Milwaukee, you can't truly appreciate everything Kalahari has to offer by arriving Saturday morning and leaving Sunday afternoon. Believe me, both my daughter and I have extremely short attention spans (just ask my wife), but you should either plan a longer trip – or expect to come back again.
And, while plenty of amenities are included in the price of the room, you're still going to drop $300 a night in the middle of the summer. That includes admission to the water parks, but not to the theme park – which is a great value at $20 for an all-day pass if you're a guest. It's $25 for outside guests, and $10 for children ages 3-6. Similarly, you can visit the water parks, even if you don't stay at the hotel for $37, or $25 after 5 p.m.
There are numerous upgrades you can buy, too, if you're so inclined. Cabanas and bungalows are available for rentals. If you can sneak away from the kids, Kalahari has a spa on site and a relationship with the Trappers Turn Golf Club. The famous Wisconsin Dells Ducks also pull right up to Kalahari's front door.
But however you divide it up, your child will thank you for emptying your wallet for this experience ... if only with the most solid night of sleep you can imagine when you get home.
Bigger isn't always better, but in the case of Kalahari, this Dells destination offer wet and wild fun on the grandest of scales.
When over the top is just right, this place has you covered ... and then some.
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