Our first family vacation as a family of four was a success! Having a 3 ½ year old and an 18 month old, dealing with naptime, swim diapers, restaurant wait-times and all the details in between, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I'm SO glad we took the time to get away and make some incredible memories!
Though I'm certainly no Wisconsin Dells pro, I learned quite a bit on this trip and hoped it would help someone else if I shared our experience, tips and tricks!
Our Best Tips - Wisconsin Dells with Littles
- Make a list (in order of priority) things you want to do. Tell your kids some of the options (or show them photos from different places online) and let them pick what they're most excited about. This will help guide your decisions throughout the trip. Oh, and grab alllll the coupons - more on that later!
- Have a plan, but know that plans can (....and will) change! Back to the priority list.... we had SO much on our list and learned quickly that the girls are just too little to do it all. And though waterparks are fun, they're also exhausting! For example, I couldn't believe the girls fell asleep before we went out for ice cream one night, lol!
- If you're going out for supper, go early. We tried to get to our supper destinations by 5:15 pm (on a weeknight) and still had a short wait (15-20 min) at each spot. By the time we had finished eating, wait times were MUCH longer! (If you're worried about cutting your waterpark time short, remember you can always go back afterwards as many are open until 9 or 10 pm.)
- Plan for a lunch at the resort & naps in the hotel room. The first day, we let the girls skip nap-time, because they were SO excited to finally be on vacation and check it all out. However, the next day, we had sandwiches & veggies (that I had packed from home) in the hotel room and took naps shortly after. Having that "normal" routine kept the girls happy and energetic until bedtime.
- Make the most of your time away. Let's be real - traveling with kids can be exhausting. However, seeing a kid's excitement and pure joy experiencing new places and new activities is worth every penny and every bit of exhaustion! You have 18 summers with your kids - make them count. <3
Where to Stay in Wisconsin Dells
Here's the deal - there are MANY great resorts in the Dells, but if you're looking for something reasonably priced and full of great kid activities, the Wilderness is where it's at. After LOTS of research (pricing, availability, etc), it was the clear winner for us.
We looked into the Kalahari, the Great Wolf Lodge, and Mt Olympus as well, but chose the Wilderness as it seemed to be the best bang for the buck (and clean/safe!). A couple of the hotels were super expensive the week we went, due to events at their conference centers. Therefore, it's hard to compare prices because they fluctuate a lot depending on the time of year, night of the week
, what's going on at the resort, etc.
We specifically chose to stay in Glacier Canyon Lodge, which is one of three different options at the Wilderness. It was the cheapest option, but we ended up loving it because we got all the amenities as the "main" building but it was much more quiet....and with kids trying to sleep, we appreciated that!! 🙂
Waterparks at the Wilderness Resort
There are a total of 8 waterparks at the Wilderness, yes eight. There are four indoor and four outdoor waterparks - three of each are within walking distance (via skywalks). The fourth indoor and outdoor waterpark is a short drive (or shuttle!) away over at the Wilderness at the Lake.
Be sure to check the weather - that's how we planned our waterpark visits. The first day was beautiful, so we hit as many outdoor waterparks as possible. The next two days were cold and rainy, so we stuck with indoor waterparks.
My favorite and the quietest of all, were the waterparks over at the Wilderness on the Lake. The view was beautiful, the toddler area was perfect and the restrooms and food was in close proximity. The one big downfall (and the reason we didn't spend much time over there) was the fact that toddlers must wear lifejackets, due to the waterpark being so close to the lake. My kids haven't spent much time on the water and hated having the life jackets on.
Things to do at the Wilderness Resort (beyond waterpark fun!)
- Indoor and Outdoor Go-Karts: McKinley LOVED going on these with Zach. They really had the best time!
- Pottery Painting: We ran out of time, but this looked like so much fun. We walked by it each day on the way to the waterparks!
- Large Arcade Area
- Laser Tag
- Ropes Course
- Escape Rooms
- Bumper Boats
Best Places to Eat with Toddlers
The girls thought Buffalo Phil's was SO COOL. And, can you blame them?! The food is legit delivered on a little train that comes right to your table....I'll admit, it was pretty cool! We had a short wait, but spent the time checking out all the trains, the Lego displays and playing in the arcade in the restaurant, which made the time go super fast!
As for the food, I thought it was alright. The chips and salsa & guacamole were alright, then Zach and I shared a Philly Cheesesteak, which I thought was average. The next time we go, I will most definitely be ordering the rotisserie chicken - Bella had some with her kids meal and it was AMAZING! So tender, flavorful and juicy. Seriously, skip the rest of the menu and go right for the chicken! 🙂
Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co.
We really enjoyed our time at Moosejaw, a (huge) locally owned restaurant that seats over 600 people. We arrived shortly after 5 pm and had a wait, but spending some time in their arcade and bar area was enjoyed by all. Once we got seated, the service was great and the food came quickly.
McKinley was so excited to try their "pink" pop... the Wisconsin Dells Brewing Co's Cotton Candy soda! And they had two beer flight options....an 8-beer sampler and a 12-beer sampler. Gotta make the adults happy too, right?!
We got the pretzel bites with cheese as an appetizer (I thought these were pretty good - not as chewy as maybe I had hoped, more bready). Then, we got a regular crust "premium" (aka supreme) pizza and we thought it was fantastic!! The crust was really thin and the sauce and toppings were incredibly flavorful. It was piping hot and fresh from the oven - just how I like my pizza! The visit was complete with the classic moose antlers, which the girls thought was silly! 🙂
We saw the sign that said "Famous Cinnamon Rolls" and that made our decision for us. Denny's Diner, a locally owned restaurant (not to be confused with the large chain) was what we were doing for breakfast and it didn't disappoint!! The highlights of the meal was the Steak & Eggs, which had the most perfectly cooked steak, well-seasoned hashbrowns and lovely over-easy eggs.
The cinnamon roll was also really good - certainly different from any cinnamon roll I've ever had, which I liked! It's always fun trying something new, though I thought it was a bit dense, but overall tasty! Oh and it's huge, so I'd recommend sharing. Lastly, Zach really appreciated how great our waitress was and how she was always sure to keep the coffee nice and hot! 🙂 Overall, great stop!
Ohhhh my, was this a fun stop!!!! I had seen these "bubble waffle cones" online and when I saw that Dells Bistro made them, I knew I had to try! I placed my order and they let me know that it would take about five minutes to make, because they're always made to order. And trust me, it was WORTH THE WAIT....and worth the $12 it cost us (a little pricy, yes, but a fun treat for us to share!). #TreatYourself
The waffle was made right in from of me, so it was fun to see the process. It was then rolled up, filled with ice cream and the toppings I had chosen. The waffle was still a bit warm, crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy inside of the "bubbles." It was such a delicious dessert and the staff was so wonderful and inviting. I cannot wait to return! 🙂
Scoopy's Ice Cream
I'll take a scoop of hard-serve ice cream over a soft cone any day of the week. This place had SO many ice cream options (of the yummiest ice cream brand - Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream.) It was also fun to see the rest of the cute little store - it was chock-full of salt water taffy, other candies and over 90 flavors of popcorn!! Such a fun, delicious stop!
Bella Goose Coffee
When it was time to hit the road to head back home, I though a warm drink on that cool day sounded so good. Bella Goose Coffee popped up on my phone and I thought it looked like a neat place. It was clean and so stylish inside and the view on the back patio was beautiful. It was such a cute little place, the staff was wonderful and my Chai was SOOO good - the perfect start to the drive home!
Other things to do in Wisconsin Dells
Pirate's Cove Miniature Golf
Pirate's Cove was such a hit with McKinley (3 ½). It was a chilly, overcast morning and we were certainly not the only ones who opted for mini golf over waterparks that day. Though Pirate's Cove was packed, we didn't have to wait at all, because there were 5 different 18-hole courses to choose from - all different difficulty levels which was nice.
It was also very reasonably-priced. We had a coupon from one of the coupon racks (you can find these at most of the hotels, outlet mall, etc in the area) which made the cost come down to just $7 each for Zach and I and the girls were free (I believe 4 and under are free). Oh - and the winner gets a free ice cream cone from Scoopy's and I'm allllll about that! Talk about motivation! 🙂
Tips on Saving a Dollar or Two
- Grab the coupons!!! We stopped at the outlet mall on the way into town and saw the rack with brochures and coupons. We ended up getting 10% off the bill at Buffalo Phil's, 10% off the bill at Moosejaw and 20% off at Pirate's Cove. Seems like a small amount, but it adds up!
- Have at least one meal in the hotel. We chose to pack sandwiches for lunches each day along with fruit, veggies, juice boxes and snacks. It kept our food expenses a bit lower and got a little more nutrition in the kiddos than say a burger and fries! 🙂
- Utilize all the "free stuff" at the resort. There's so much to do - lots of waterparks and things to see, so we tried to enjoy all of it!
Our vacation to Wisconsin Dells was certainly one to remember. We will hear about the "racecars" (go-carts), "giant green slide" (small toddler slide) and the "train station" (Buffalo Phils) for weeks, I'm sure! Remember, you've got 18 summers with your kids - make them count. <3