Whether referred to in shorthand - the Dells - or by its more famous moniker - “The Waterpark Capital of the World!®” - Wisconsin Dells (www.wisdells.com) is ingrained in the American vacation vernacular. Proof positive of that came a few months ago when the community turned up as the #1 family vacation destination in the U.S. in the annual rankings released by TripAdvisor.com. But enough about last year. This story is about everything new in Wisconsin Dells for 2011 and it carries a theme of the tourism community’s place in popular culture.
To set the tone, take a look at how the Dells has made it into comedians’ monologues, movie dialogues and even books. Jimmy Kimmel of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” late-night fame has spoken of his experiences vacationing in Wisconsin Dells. “That 70s” Show” made reference to one of its characters being a water skier in the Tommy Bartlett Show. “Frasier” mentioned the “big duck boats.” Leno and Letterman have poked some good-natured fun at the community. Legend has it that “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie includes a passing reference to the Dells. Wisconsin Dells is a featured destination in the book “1,000 Places in the U.S.A. and Canada to See Before You Die” from New York Times bestselling author Patricia Schultz. And here’s the ultimate: “Jeopardy!” asked contestants to solve the puzzle, “the waterpark capital of the world.” The answer, of course; “What is Wisconsin Dells?”
So it’s only fitting that business owners here have grabbed onto modern pop culture favorites and made them their own. See for yourself in the following rundown of “new news” for 2011.
Lost Voyage Boat Expedition a Nighttime Adventure
All those unsolved mystery shows got the better of the owners of the Lost Voyage. They’ve created an eerie evening expedition to Cold Water Canyon to uncover answers to the decades-old mystery of the missing tour boat. Fact or fiction? You be the judge. As the story goes, the year was 1943 and a new tour boat, the Badger, departed with a full load of passengers on a sightseeing excursion on the Upper Dells. Then the call came in from another boat captain - the Badger had vanished. The mystery persisted until the new millennium when some teenagers came upon the Badger, beached in a marshy area near Cold Water Canyon. Alas, all that remains of the teens is their video. This new attraction takes visitors on a boat ride to the Canyon where they disembark and explore the area on foot. Clues along the way add a layer of game-playing fun to the adventure, which can be continued online. Lost Voyage draws on spine-chilling elements from both the cult movie “Blair Witch Project” and sci-fi TV show “X Files.” As the owners describe it, “Think of it like the TV series ‘Lost,’ only you’re in the show with everything happening around you. And, we have a better ending.” They also suggest it’s not suitable for children under 10.
A Beachy Vibe at Chula Vista Resort's Waterpark
The newest addition at Chula Vista Resort’s outdoor Adventure Lagoon waterpark is a sandy beach that nicely plays off the resort’s Aztec theme. Here you’ll find loads of beach chairs, a BBQ and tiki bar with live music and a tent for spa services. Who says you can’t have a feel of the ocean in landlocked Wisconsin?
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum the Perfect Venue for Vampires
It may not be “Twilight” or the “The Vampire Diaries,” but this exhibit at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum is sure to delight anyone with a thirst for vampire-abilia. This 800 square-foot exhibit has the requisite interactive coffin stuffed with vampire trivia, plus there are secret passageways that lead you to other parts of the exhibit. This is a first-of-its-kind exhibit for the Ripley’s brand. If vampires give you the willies, maybe you’ll be more comfortable checking out the new wax figures in the lobby. There’s Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man; Parrot Man, the world’s smallest man; Bug Eye Man, who can pop his eyes out of his head and Lizard Man, a guy who is transforming himself into a lizard. Okay, that sounds creepy too. Ripley’s will also have a life-size cow made out of tennis shoes on display. Only in the Dairy State!
Tommy Bartlett Ski Show Goes Retro
The Tommy Bartlett Show is bringing back a full slate of classic water skiing with its new “Livin’ the Dream” show, which means lots of high-quality, fast-paced, high-flying stunts. Watch for long distance jumping feats, helicopter spins, skiers being launched out of the iconic space shuttle boat, side-by-side barefoot tricks and gals performing a swivel line. They’re even bringing back some of their retro costumes dating back to the 1950s. The Tommy Bartlett Show has been wowing visitors for 60 years, making it the longest-running, live outdoor entertainment show of its kind in the country.
Explore a Giant Kaleidoscope at the Exploratory
Here’s another attraction with Tommy Bartlett in the name - it’s the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory - Interactive Science Center - and they’ve added to their trove of 150+ scientific wonders with another interactive gadget, a giant kaleidoscope with specially designed lens. Could this signal a big comeback for the kaleidoscope?
Move Over Vegas, Rick Wilcox is Making a Chopper Appear
This guy is a master illusionist who’s most well-known for his close-up sleight-of-hand tricks. But he decided to go big with this new act - making a full-size helicopter appear on stage. This beast of a prop measures 11 feet by 40 feet, which means it literally takes up the entire stage at the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater.
Crystal Grand Reinvents Itself
Don’t think of the Crystal Grand Music Theatre as the Branson of the Midwest any longer. The playbill here now includes classic rock greats, modern country chart toppers, comedy acts and even family musicals. They’ve gone from 22 acts a year to upwards of 70. As an add-on, you can now attend their tailgate parties, complete with food, beverages and live music before select performances.
“Pirates” 4-D Movie Lands at Noah’s Ark Waterpark
The 4-D movie theater at this massive outdoor waterpark, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, provides a nice break from all the slipping, sliding and riding of waterslides, including last year’s humdinger, Scorpion’s Tail, the world’s largest and America’s only loop-de-loop waterslide. The wildly popular “Pirates” movie franchise is the hot ticket for 2011, which follows last year’s run of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” No if we could only get Johnny Depp to make an appearance at one of the showings!
Red Carpet Looks from Local Spa
Admit it, following celebrities’ styles is a guilty pleasure for a lot of us. Which raises the question: Why should the stars be the only ones to look red-carpet ready? The answer is, they shouldn’t, at least not when you have Wisconsin Dells’ very own Sundara Inn & Spa to call on for Red Carpet Facelift Facials. Sundara is the first spa in Wisconsin to offer these treatments, which are totally non-invasive.
Camping is Cool Again
Remember those road trips as a kid, piling in the car and heading to the campground for tent camping, complete with bonfire and weenie roast and some good old-fashioned family bonding? Camping is back in vogue and it’s showing no signs of slowing in Wisconsin Dells with a new campground going up - Mt. Olympus Mykonos Village & Camp Resort. Arrowhead Resort Campground is expanding with new hook-up seasonal sites and a soccer field and Mt. Olympus Zeus’ Village & Camp Resort is debuting their new tree houses.
Family Reunion Central at Baker’s Sunset Bay Resort
Out with the old and in with the new at Baker’s Sunset Bay Resort on Lake Delton. A number of the old cabins have been replaced with a dozen new units that can sleep up to 12. Individual units have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen with dishwasher, large dining area and outdoor decks and balconies. A new hospitality pavilion with room for 60 has also been added. So feel free to include more of the distant cousins in your next family reunion.
A Getaway to Ambers Hideaway
This completely revitalized hotel/motel has a new gazebo for weddings, a brand new pool and all the rooms have been renovated from top to bottom. An added plus for Ambers Hideaway is that it is right on Broadway, putting it near all the downtown attractions, shopping and dining. This is classic Wisconsin Dells vacationing.
Greece of the Midwest
While not exactly a Greek island resort community, the newest Mt. Olympus Village lodging properties when grouped together come pretty close, what with their pretty blue trim and white exteriors. These newly renovated properties are all near Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Parks on the Wisconsin Dells Parkway.
If You’re Catching the Aroma of Brats, It Must Be Wisconsin
A new restaurant has been added to the Downtown Dells line-up and it’s as Wisconsin as you can get - it specializes in brats and corn on the cob and is called, appropriately, Dells Brat N Corn, Inc.
A Taste of the Caribbean
It’s a themed Caribbean village. That’s the best way to describe the new digs for Marley’s - A Taste of the Caribbean restaurant and night club now located at 750 Wisconsin Dells Parkway S., less than a mile off I-90/94, exit 92. They’ve doubled the space from their previous location and designed the night club with an upgraded dance floor, lighting and sound system, which will come in handy on all those nights they have live entertainment. There’s also an outdoor dining space perfect for large groups.
Wollersheim Winery Adds Wisconsin Favorite
This historic winery, led by a French winemaker, now has a permit to make brandy. The pop culture tie-in, for the unaware, is that Wisconsinites favor brandy old-fashioneds over all other before-dinner libations. The Wollersheim Winery brandy will be aged for two years in Wisconsin oak barrels.
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Wisconsin Dells tourism & sightseeing