Slip Slidin’ Away: Waterparks in Winter

Feeling the walls closing in this winter? Can’t swing a ticket to the Caribbean or Polynesia? If you live in or near America’s Dairyland, you can enjoy an aquatic getaway on the cheap, and if you’re lucky, a free lobster dinner.

Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream - in December.

Most Midwesterners are familiar with Wisconsin Dells, the tiny hamlet of 2,400 people nestled along the sandstone gorge that’s cut by the Wisconsin River. It’s no Grand Canyon, but the natural beauty of the area is worth a pullover from the interstate. Of course, most people go to the Dells for the man made wonders, namely, its 21 water parks. Eighteen of them are outdoors, perfect for a hot and sunny July afternoon, after which one might stroll past the shops showcasing tacky Native American knickknacks, bad oil paintings of wolves making out with squaws, or t-shirts whose messages contain at least one F-word. The indoor water parks, on the other hand, are great for those long, cold winter days, particularly after the holiday season, when cabin fever has set in and the Packers have been eliminated from the playoffs. That’s when it’s a great time to pack your bathing suits and hop in the car for the Dells.

Luciana and I chose Kalahari, curiously named after the South African desert, and conveniently located off the first Wisconsin Dells exit if you’re driving north. Kalahari isn’t just a water park – it’s a full-fledged resort, featuring an outdoor water park, indoor water park, indoor theme park, hotel, spa, convention center, cinema, fitness center, arcade, shopping area, and several restaurants. We opted for only the water park, paying $35 apiece for the day (parking is free), although it was nice to know we could take in a seaweed wrap or an Avatar matinee if the desire came over us.

The indoor park has several waterslides, at least six by my count, as well as a surfing pool, wave pool, lazy river, a few children’s areas, and hot tubs. Private bungalows (ranging in price from $99-299) dot the periphery, but most guests simply leave their things on the chairs that surround the natatorium. A few food joints are also located within the park area, selling pizza, ice cream, burgers, nachos, and the like.

Though she grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Luciana cannot swim, so when I noticed that the second waterslide we were try had a sign reading “For Strong Swimmers Only – Drops Into Ten Foot Pool,” I suggested she meet me at the bottom. She agreed, but finding no way back down the stairs, which were packed with lines of people, Luciana opted for a safer slide that drops into a four foot deep pool. It sounded reasonable in theory, but after inhaling a face full of water on the way down, she got a bit disoriented upon splashdown and required some assistance from the lifeguards. Of course, I had no idea where she was, and after casing the joint two or three times, I climbed the stairs to get a bird’s eye view. Oh, there she is, I thought, surrounded by lifeguards and coughing up water.

We decided to stick to slides with rafts, two of which were fairly dull. However the Master Blaster, which we saved for last, was certainly the most thrilling. It’s more like a roller coaster, up and down a few times, and through some requisite pitch-black tunnels. It will definitely get the adrenaline flowing. Spent, we calmed our nerves with the lazy river and the hot tub one more time each.

When the day was done, we went back to the locker rooms to put on our respective clothes, fetch our jackets, scarves, hats, etc. The indoor water park felt like a steam room, and the humidity and warm air was a welcome change from the dry, bitter cold outside. When you’re in the park, you’ll enjoy the strange juxtaposition of pasty-white people in bathing suits, and large windows that offer views of 18-wheelers hauling ass down I-94 in the snow and ice.

In the lobby, I noticed a lobster tank near the entrance of a restaurant. It was, in fact, a game, similar to those arcade games wherein you manipulate the hand or claw to snag a plush toy. Except in this case the goal is to catch a live lobster. “You catch it and we’ll COOK and SERVE your complete lobster dinner…FREE,” read the sign. At least they’ve made a sport of it, I thought, before remembering that the lobsters deft enough to avoid the claw will probably still be boiled and devoured.

All in all, I would deem Kalahari an excellent value, especially if you’re just getting a day pass. Family packages are also available. Kalahari also has resorts in Sandusky, Ohio, and Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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