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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

Each individual water park is big, but when you add them all up, Wilderness Resort is gigantic.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

Solo or group water slides, you have many options.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

Some of the smaller slides cater to kids.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

Rooms are comfortable, clean and continue with the resort's rustic theme.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

The first look at Wilderness Resort's log cabin motif.

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Monk's: great burgers, great service.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

Ropes course above, arcade below.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

Wilderness offers outdoor go-karts.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

We ran out of time to try the bumper boats.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

This ride was a little scary for our 4-year-old ...

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

... and I'll have to come back another time to try the Hurricane.

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View from above of one of the several lazy rivers

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

The decor of Wilderness is rustic but peaceful.

In Travel & Visitors Guide Reviews

The ropes course from above.

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Mini golf!

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America's largest indoor wave pool.

Wilderness Resort unleashes kids' wet and wild side


WISCONSIN DELLS – Well, I guess I'm not a water park newbie anymore.

I got my feet wet at Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan this spring, and was invited to Kalahari in the Dells earlier this summer. And, when the PR people from Wilderness Resort asked us back to the water park capital of Wisconsin to compare and contrast their own giant property, I couldn't really turn down a chance to get soaked once again.

It turns out that each water park has something unique to offer, and Wilderness is no exception.

Located just down the street from Kalahari, which bills itself as Wisconsin's largest indoor water park, Wilderness also claims to be the biggest – not just in the Dells but in the whole country. That's because Wilderness is spread out over 600 acres, with myriad indoor and outdoor water parks, as well as a ton of other attractions.

Each individual park is big, but when you put them all together, Wilderness is humungous.

How huge? You can walk the entire property in nice weather – and we did – but jumping aboard the constantly running shuttles is easy. In the summer, you can stroll around outside, but in the winter, you can traverse the skywalks. Just be prepared to walk. A lot.

Interestingly, Wilderness only allows hotel guests to use its attractions, so the handful of water parks doesn't feel especially crowded – other than the speedy, hilly, not-so-lazy river at the "Lost World" outdoor park. What's nice is that each of the eight different water parks has its own character. Of course, I enjoyed them all, but our 4-year-old was most smitten by the "Wild West" indoor park that offered several slides just her size.

While toting a kid around, I wasn't able to try all the extreme water slides, but I did talk my wife and daughter into the "Dueling Mammoths" raft racing ride, and I sneaked away long enough to scare myself on the "Lunar Loop," a nearly vertical drop that shot me through a blue tube at 40 miles per hour. Once was enough on that ride.

We all especially enjoyed the indoor wave pool (also America's largest) inside the Wild WaterDome, which interestingly sports a "foil tech" roof that allows for year-round tanning. This matters, because the outdoor water parks are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so for much of the year, you'll be staying inside.

The benefit to taking our daughter to three water parks in one season is that she really became comfortable with the whole concept this time around. The downside is that we could barely get her out of the water. When we did, we found time to take a spin on the outdoor go karts. And, at the end of the night, we spent a whole lot of time in the 30,000-square foot, four-story Timberland Play Park.

Between the foam ball blasters and crawl spaces, this kept our kid's attention until 9:30 p.m. I'm sure the ice cream at neighboring Pistol Pete's didn't hurt, but this marked a new late-night playing milestone. But, hey, it's vacation ... and you've never seen a child sleep so soundly after a day of splashing around a water park.

Older kids can take advantage of many more attractions, like laser tags, mini golf and a ropes course. We'll just have to come back for that ... in a few years.

As gigantic as the property is, rooms are conveniently located near each water park. We stayed in a suite in the "Wild West Region," which fortunately was closest to both the play park and our daughter's indoor water park of choice. The decor is log-cabin rustic, which makes the entire resort a bit less ostentatious than, say, Kalahari.

The rooms are nice, although perhaps a small step down from the previous two resorts we visited. Although with the lodge theme, too much luxury would look out of place. We stayed on the first floor, which had the benefit of extremely easy access to the park through our patio, but it was quite loud after bedtime, with lots of feet pattering above. I'd recommend staying higher up.

Unlike our last visit, we had enough time during our two-night stay to venture outside the resort for a few meals. We had lunch at the nearby Buffalo Phil's, where lunch is delivered by tiny train, and a great breakfast at Mr. Pancake, a little closer to downtown.

Fortunately, we also had the chance to have a breakfast and a dinner at Wilderness, and both are worth mentioning. Our first morning, we tried the buffet at the Wild Canyon Café. It's a touch expensive, even though kids get free breakfast with a parent's purchase, but as buffets go (and I'm not really a buffet guy) this was special. The Creme Brulee pancakes were delicious, and the choices were expansive.

For dinner on our second night, we visited Monk's Bar & Grill, which is somewhat of Dells tradition, located on the southern edge of the campus. The original Monk's opened in the downtown section of the Dells in 1947, and this location opened in 2007. With a sports bar / monkey vibe, it serves up tasty burgers and more. Notably, our service was outstanding. When our little one fell off her stool and clunked her head – she was pretty pooped after two days at the water park – our server immediately brought over a bag of ice, followed by a complimentary dessert that effectively dried the tears and refocused her energy to ice cream. These little touches didn't go unnoticed.

You'd think that two days and two nights would be enough time to experience everything at Wilderness, but it really isn't. As sprawling as you'd imagine 600 acres of fun to be, there are activities at every turn. We ran out of time to visit the "Tombstone Town" haunted house, the bumper boats, and we'll have to come back to eat at Sarento's and Field's. And, when our daughter is older, we're definitely trying the zip line course and some of the more extreme water rides, like "The Hurricane."

There's always next time, right?

Lest you think all water parks are the same, I now know that they are not. Blue Harbor is "quiet" and understated, while Kalahari is gigantic but somewhat condensed. Wilderness is huge and diverse with endless activities, but rather spread out. And when I asked my daughter three times which one she liked the best, I got three different answers.

Which proves the Wilderness, like the others we visited, provides something for everyone. In this case, it was an excellent, end-of-the summer family getaway that we'll be talking long into the fall.


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