By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 29, 2019 at 9:01 AM

In recent years, the renowned Ice Castles have slowly drifted closer to Milwaukee, first reaching northern Minnesota a couple years ago and then creeping down to Wisconsin Dells.

But, this year, the incredible ice sculptures you can climb inside have landed on the beach at Lake Geneva – already a haven for winter fun – offering you the best chance ever to see these remarkable creations.

The Utah-based Ice Castles are large man-made creations, built from hundreds of thousands of icicles "farmed" on cages, in six locations across North America.

These massive formations look a lot like natural phenomena you might see in arctic climes and at night they’re illuminated in an ever-changing array of brilliant LED colors.

Inside some there are spouting fountains, and some thrones to make you feel like Elsa. Beneath others there are passages you can crawl through. A few even have ice slides if you feel like setting your butt (you dressed warm, remember) down on the ice and having a go.

Other than "flee!" I rarely offer winter advice. But this year I have two nuggets:

  1. Do not miss the Ice Castles in Lake Geneva
  2. Dress really warmly and the cold won’t hinder your enjoyment

I speak from experience, having elected to visit the Lake Geneva Ice Castles on an evening during which zero degrees Fahrenheit would’ve qualified as a heat wave. And, honestly, I wondered what the heck I was doing.

But, we bundled up (two of everything for me: socks, scarves, gloves, hats, etc.), found a parking spot right across street, joined the queue that turned out to be quite fast-moving – all this on a Saturday night during Lake Geneva’s popular annual Winterfest celebration – and had a great time.

It’s the kind of experience that will have you oohing and aahing and snapping away trying to capture the perfect photograph. The littler ones enjoyed the passages and slides, and though we didn’t hang out there, right at what would be the water’s edge there was a lounge area with firepits, fountains and a little ice railing.

The Ice Castles open at 4 p.m. weekdays (closed Tuesdays) and at noon on weekends, but if you can do it, I’d suggest going at night, when the evocative colors feel like such an integral part of the experience.

The Castles remain on Riviera Beach until at least Feb. 16, but tickets are selling pretty, ahem, briskly, so don’t wait too long to get yours if you’re interested in this unique experience that may just take the edge off what’s suddenly morphed into a brutal Wisconsin winter.

Warming in the waterpark

We decided to battle the bitter cold by combining our Ice Castles visit with a trip to the waterpark at Timber Ridge Lodge at Grand Geneva Resort and Spa.

Although we’d been to this waterpark before, we’d never experienced it on a day with sub-zero temperatures and, as many of you already know, there’s nothing quite like the warmth of a waterpark on a gelid day.

(PHOTO: Visit Lake Geneva)

At least for a time, the indoor/outdoor hot tub was open and was steaming like a witch’s cauldron as the cold air slipped in under the overhead door that was open just enough to allow folks to slip beneath it.

Crazy as it sounds there were lots of us who did so and, as long as you didn’t stay too long, the hot water mixed with the frigid air was a nice treat.

In the blink of an eye, more than six hours slipped away as the kids ran between the water slides and the play pool and the adults sipped pina coladas and floated down the lazy river.

A quick stop in the arcade, leisurely seafood and prime rub buffet at the Grand Cafe in the main resort building – as well as the evening run over to the Ice Castles – and what would’ve been a drab, maybe even oppressive, winter weekend at home felt instead like a much-needed vacation just an hour from home.

If you decide to make the trek, and can make it happen this weekend, the annual U.S. Snow Sculpting Competition kicks off Jan. 3 at Lake Geneva Winterfest and runs through Feb. 3.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.