Indoor park rolled out in Wisconsin Dells

 
LA Times | Travel
 

\"This is like a casino for kids,\" my wife said as we approached the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, a sprawling complex of new buildings with valets parking cars, busmen carting luggage and hordes of pre-teens licking their braces-bearing chops to get inside. Inside the Kalahari Indo...

By Chris McNamara // 01.20.09
 

"This is like a casino for kids," my wife said as we approached the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, a sprawling complex of new buildings with valets parking cars, busmen carting luggage and hordes of pre-teens licking their braces-bearing chops to get inside.

Inside the Kalahari Indoor Theme Park, that casino analogy really came to life. Bells rang, lights flashed, gamers cheered with the enthusiasm of adults on the Vegas Strip. Only here, chips were replaced by paper tickets to be redeemed for toys, losses were quickly forgotten, and high-pitched giggles rounded out the din. And take the word "din" seriously; it's loud.

This theme park opened in December, providing an alternate entertainment option to families who visit the Kalahari Resort to splash through the nation's second-largest indoor water park. (It's a little jarring to see middle-aged men walking through the lobby shirtless, but you get used to it.)

Guests who visit the Kalahari Resort in winter likely don't step outside until they depart, unless they want to try the abundance of other indoor water parks in town. At the Kalahari, everything here is connected under one roof--the water park, the new theme park, the movie theater, the restaurants, the hotel rooms.

The theme park--all 100,000 feet of it, cost some $20 million, and there is an appeal for every age group. Toddlers scamper through their own areas. Grade-schoolers ride the Ferris wheel. Teens shoot one another in the laser-tag arena. Their parents sip cocktails while playing 18 holes at St. Andrew's via the golf simulator.

A miniature-golf course is tucked beneath the elevated go-cart track, like a green oasis nestled under an overpass. Golfers might get the yips by looking across the path, where the brave-hearted navigate the ropes course in the rafters.

When you look up, you'll see kids (or their parents) wobbling atop tightropes like circus daredevils. Harnesses keep the clumsy-footed safely aloft.

With a pair of toddlers, we spent most of our time at the far end of the park, where a 1,000-square-foot climbing structure invited them to navigate through padded trails and whiz down bumpy slides. An animal-themed carousel entranced my boy, who beamed when riding lions and zebras.

My 2-year-old daughter lasted about 30 seconds in the seat of our go-cart before hustling back to mom. Maybe she predicted that I'd get sideswiped by a grinning mother with her toddler strapped into the seat beside her. Jane also refused to join her brother and me on the Ferris wheel, which rises six stories into a bay of windows, offering us a view of U.S. Highway 12 that brought us here.

Older kids plunked tokens into video games and swiped debit cards through skill games. They sweated atop Dance Dance Revolution and clawed their way to the top of the three-story climbing wall. Some parents were content to snap pictures of their kids, others got hooked on the surprisingly addictive Deal Or No Deal game.

With the lights, the bells and the cheering gamers, my wife's first interpretation was dead on. The Kalahari Indoor Theme Park is like a casino for kids. But here there are no devastating financial losses or sleazy barflies, just the excitement of play adjusted for a younger audience. Guests don't go out clubbing or flirt at boozy poolside parties, they climb walls and play tag with lasers.

The Kalahari Resort isn't the Mirage or the Bellagio. The Wisconsin Dells ain't Vegas. And for Midwestern families on mini-vacations, that's a great thing.

Admission to the Kalahari Indoor Theme Park is $19.95 for guests of the resort, $29.95 for the general public. Admission entitles guests to use most amenities within the park. For more information, visit www.kalahariresorts.com.

The Kalahari Resort is at 1305 Kalahari Drive, Wisconsin Dells, just north of Interstate Highway 90-94, off U.S. Highway 12. Phone 877-525-2427.