By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 07, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Somehow, I made it through six years of parenting without visiting a waterpark. Then, in April, my family and I went to the Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, the largest waterpark resort in the country, with three indoor waterparks and two more outside.

Later, we checked out the Kalahari Waterpark Resort, the Dells' largest indoor waterpark, and the Chula Vista, an indoor / outdoor water park resort a few miles off the strip.

Finally, we went to the Great Wolf Lodge.

After visiting four different Wisconsin Dells' waterparks in six months, and having four very different experiences at each, here are a few thoughts for families considering a maiden voyage to one of them.

The Wilderness resort is similar to a small campus, with separate buildings and dozens of buses shuttling visitors from one place to the next. We stayed at the Wilderness on the Lake, an upscale lodge about a mile from the main resort area, overlooking Lake Delton. Little did we know at the time that our Lake Delton photos and experiences that weekend would become so cherished considering that early summer floods caused the man-made lake to empty.

Some visitors  see The Wilderness as a great choice during cold-weather months because of the many indoor options, but others might not want to spend time in the cold when shuttling between waterparks. During our visit in April, we were yet to experience warm weather for the year, so we particularly appreciated the wave pool, which looks and feels like an indoor beach with its glass ceiling and frothy tide.

If you're traveling to the Wilderness with small children, the size can be daunting, and you might find the multi-building options unnecessary. Our kindergarteners had just as much fun in the "baby" waterpark on the ground floor of our condo as they did in the massive waterpark area.

Hence, parents of younger kids might want to consider the less sprawling parks. We appreciated the Kalahari and the Chula Vista for this reason.

The Kalahari has one, large indoor waterpark, attached to a sizable outdoor park. It was easy to move back and forth, and still be relatively near our room. (The Kalahari has a second lodging area, but it's attached by a skywalk.)

Because of the large indoor park, Kalahari is another great winter choice, especially for anyone who doesn't want to use a shuttle bus system to get around.

In December 2008, the Kalahari Resort opened a theme that includes an indoor Ferris wheel, 24 bowling lanes, a two-story laser tag area, go-carts, mini-golf, two golf simulators, dining and a dance floor. 

The beautiful Chula Vista is about five miles from the strip, surrounded by hundreds of acres of natural elements like pine trees and the Wisconsin river. It has a more upscale feel, with a classier design and stricter security presence that discourages groups of college students from booking rooms for all-night parties. Also, it features an 18-hole golf course.

The Chula Vista's indoor waterpark is more compact than the Kalahari's, but has a lot of range in its offering, from nice splash areas for toddlers to extremely thrilling slide rides. Also, it features a lovely outdoor beach area with a wave pool.

We found the Chula Vista to provide a lot of excitement in the waterparks, but a mellower lodging environment. We appreciated Chula's natural surroundings, cleanliness and that we could dip into the Dells' touristy stuff, but easily could get away from it, too.

Plus, we had a tasty meal at Market Fresh, the buffet inside the Chula Vista featuring buttery-but-high-quality food options like fresh crab legs.

The Great Wolf Lodge has three large adjoining waterparks. The fact the waterparks are big and connected gave Great Wolf a slight edge over the Wilderness, because we did not have to deal with walking or shuttling between buildings in the cold.

Great Wolf provides plenty of options for kids and adults of all ages. The lazy river will appeal to the mellow folk, whereas the Howlin' Tornado was designed exclusively for thrill seekers. And there's lots of slides and rides in between. 

The Great Wolf features a few nice extras, too, like an arcade, a variety of restaurants to choose from, and nightly storytime in front of the massive fireplace in the lobby. Dozens of pajama-wearing kids enjoy this amenity every night.

Prices to stay at a waterpark vary quite a bit, depending on the season, the type of room and the day of the week. We recommend renting a condo with another family or friends, because once you split the rate, for the same price as a small room, you get a lot more space, a full kitchen for healthier meals and a living room (usually with a fireplace) for "adult time" after the kids are asleep. 

Basically, kids will have a great time at any of the Dells' waterparks, so it's more a question of what parents want the experience to be like. To figure out where to book your vacation, ask yourself if you want a large-scale waterpark experience that provides full-on entertainment in any season (the Wilderness, Great Wolf Lodge) or a smaller, mellower place that offers the ultimate experience in summer, but still has a decent indoor offering during the winter months (Chula Vista.) 

The age of your children comes into play, too. With two young kids, we found it easier to navigate in places like the Great Wolf, Kalahari and Chula Vista because we didn't have to deal with dressing and undressing to get on and off a shuttle bus. Also, we liked the quieter vibe in Chula's lodges because it was easier for the kids to relax after a very high-energy day.

If you're planning a bachelor party weekend, or plan to go to a waterpark with a group of friends for any occasion, the Kalahari, the Wilderness or the Great Wolf Lodge are your best choices. 

Here is a list of the major indoor / outdoor waterparks in the Wisconsin Dells:

Chula Vista Resort
Highway 13 N, (608) 254-8366

Great Wolf Lodge
1400 Great Wolf Dr., (608) 253-2222

Kalahari Waterpark Resort
1305 Kalahari Dr., (608) 254-5466

The Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort
511 E Adams St., (608) 253-9729

Major outdoor waterpark in The Dells:

Noah's Ark
1410 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy., (608) 254-6351

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.