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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Chula Vista, different from other water parks in the Dells because of its rural location.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Slip sliding away.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

The lazy river. Sooooo lazy.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

The indoor park at Chula has a wide range of slides.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

But the outdoor park might be better.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

More slides.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

The hot tub inside the condo. The kids loved this. The adults had other ideas for it.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Full kitchen meant big spaghetti dinner for all.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Fireplace No. 2.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Head in the sand.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Commentary

Chula "fore" the win.

Chula Vista is the natural choice for Dells vacationers


Many people have asked me which is the "best" waterpark in the Wisconsin Dells, but this is not a question that can be answered easily. It really depends on what time of year a person is going, how many people are going, the ages of the people and what they want out of the experience.

During a recent visit to Chula Vista, I reaffirmed my belief that it is the right fit for just about anyone, at any age. I am basing this primarily on the fact Chula has the widest range in water rides / slides both indoors and out – from terrifying to leisurely – and also because of the onsite 18-hole golf course, Coldwater Canyon, which adds another dimension of entertainment.

"What's great about Coldwater Canyon is that it's not a 'resort course.' It's unique, has charm you can't replicate, and it's short enough that if you're on your game, you can zip around quickly and get back to the water slides," says OnMilwaukee.com sports writer Jim Owczarski, who visited earlier this summer.

Chula Vista offers a variety of accommodations – rooms, suites, condos and villas – and the food options are plentiful as well. There's a chophouse, Mexican cantina, all-American restaurant, snack bars and two fresh markets.

Personally, I most appreciate when there's a full kitchen in my temporary space because I enjoy cooking dinner for my family while on vacation. Our two-bedroom condo was described as having a "full kitchen" and all of the major appliances were there – as well as a few extra items – I would have liked a few more pots and pans. But it did have a wine bottle opener.

We also wanted an iPod dock or, if not that, a television station with music channels.

However, we liked many other aspects of our condo, particularly the lay out, the cloud-like comfort of the beds, the two gas fireplaces and the massive hot tub which served as an in-room swimming pool for the kids.

Speaking of kids, the reason I go to water parks in the first place is for my kids. They would rather slide into water than do just about anything else and seeing them have such amped-up fun is what a fulfilling vacation is all about for me. Chula gets this and is kid-centered in just about every way.

The most important aspect of Chula Vista to take into account is that it is about three miles away from the Downtown area. For us, this is a selling point. We appreciate that Chula is nestled in a natural setting and surrounded by trees, rolling hills and the river. Some find it ironic, even tacky, to have a waterpark in the middle of nature, but I think it works.

For some water parks, I have strong opinions about whether it's better to go in the summer or winter, but for Chula Vista, I'm on the fence. I would lean toward saying Chula is ideal during a summer vacation because of the outdoor wave pool area which feels beachy and is surrounded by a beautiful, natural landscape.

However, the indoor waterpark features the Flyin' Mayan, an incredibly fast and fun waterslide with rollercoaster qualities. It also has a very large whirlpool and people are allowed to swim in the "lazy river." (At other water parks you can only be in the lazy river with a tube.)

Chula Vista was originally constructed in the late 1880s as a summer home for a New York family. In 1913, famous Chicago architect J.C. Wilson built the golf course.

In 1949, Chula found itself in bankruptcy and the bank took over. Eventually, a local musician named Joe Kaminski, who was also the leader of the Joe Jergen Big Band Orchestra, decided to buy the property and rebuild it. He named the resort Chula Vista which means something akin to "beautiful view," as a reflection of the spectacular scenery surrounding the resort.

Today, Kaminski's grandson, Mike Kaminski, serves as the CEO for Chula Vista. Kaminski attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he received a degree in music before taking over the family business.

"Chula Vista is the culture of a family business for more than 60 years," says Kaminski. "It's the quality of our product that keeps people coming back."

Accordingly to Kaminski, about 30-40 percent of the half-million guests who visit Chula Vista every year are from the Chicago area. The rest come from or near Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.

"The Dells has a unique location that's close to numerous Metropolitan areas," he says.

Hosting sports teams, primarily youth, from around the country has been one of Chula's fastest growing markets. Last weekend alone Kaminski says there were 1,000 teams in the Dells area. "That's a lot of tourism," he says.

Although plans have not been finalized, Kaminski plans to expand Chula Vista to include an aerial adventure park as well as an indoor wave pool. Chula will also soon complete a $5 million room renovation project and add new waterslides.

Kaminski believes each of the water parks / resorts in the Dells offers something different and this is why the area continues to be a thriving vacation destination. Recognizing the strengths of other businesses while staying focused on quality and service is the key to success.

"The Great Wolf Lodge is great, the Wilderness is great – there are so many interesting and different places in The Dells that there's something for everyone," he says.

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