Wisconsin Dells’ best waterpark resorts for families

Chula Vista’s stomach-flipping outdoor plunge, Wisconsin Dells.

Get wet and wild in Wisconsin Dells

Wilderness Territory outdoor waterpark

Feature & Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick
 Wisconsin Dells rules when it comes to the best waterparks in the nation. In the way Walt Disney became the father of American theme parks, the resorts here have defined what it takes to be a waterpark destination. You could even call it an family resort incubator because what makes a splash here, ripples across the nation.

Truly. It’s a Who’s Who of Waterpark Royalty. If you know of Great Wolf Lodge with its animated clock towers and children’s story hours, it began in the Wisconsin Dells. It’s now in 11 locations (including Canada) and considered the largest family of indoor waterparks.

Kalahari Resort, a behemoth with an indoor amusement park and steady convention business, cloned its success in Sandusky, Ohio, and plans a third location in Fredericksburg, Virginia, next year.

What does that mean for families planning a vacation to Wisconsin Dells? A tough decision on which resort to choose. Each has its own personality and unique attractions.

Here’s a look at the four biggest and best Wisconsin Dells waterpark resorts. To learn more about each place, click on the headlines. They’ll link you to my full reviews on www.FamilyVacationCritic.com.

Chula Vista: Rooms with a Wisconsin river view

Chula Vista’s riverside wave pool

Wisconsin Dell’s Chula Vista Resort stands out nicely with a rare location along the nicely wooded Wisconsin River. It feels tucked-away from the hubbub of downtown, the Interstate or Dells Parkway with its blazing neon and over-the-top attractions.

Chula Vista guests can sit out balconies overlooking the waterway that carved the famous Dells, float the day away in an outdoor wave pool nestled beneath Norway pines or soak in romantic whirlpool outside the spa. Kids can ride the world’s largest indoor water coaster, then plunge down one of the tallest cyclone slides.

Another caveat is being able to leave the car in the parking lot. You can hop a boat tour from Chula Vista’s docks or grab water shuttles to downtown for more dining and shopping.

Kalahari Resort: Go big, go wild with African theme

Kalahari’s indoor water park, Wisconsin Dells

The resort stands out nicely with its African theme. It also has constantly added new attractions throughout the past decade, from bigger thrills in water park rides to its newer indoor theme park.

What else makes Kalahari stand out? For one, immensity. There are 752 rooms and suites to accommodate families of all sizes.

African music spills out from the lobby where staff members dressed in safari gear and pith helmets assist guests and real tiger or lion cubs may be on display in a glass enclosure. There are enough activities and things to see that the resort can feel like a dry-land cruise ship.

There is a paint-your-own-pottery shop, gift stores and seven dining options including a restaurant overlooking the water park. You don’t have to go outdoors either to access the 15-screen Desert Star Cinema.

All these amenities make Kalahari an ideal resort for kids 6 and older who can better appreciate the atmosphere and artwork, navigate longer halls without “Carry me!” tirades, and enjoy the bigger thrills of the water park and theme park.

Wilderness Territory: Best indoor wave pool plus zipline

Lost World outdoor waterpark at Glacier Canyon Lodge,Wilderness Resort
Wilderness Resort

The Wilderness Territory claims to be the largest water park resort in the world. Small wonder. It sprawls across 600 acres multiple water parks, and several resorts within one complex. There are 444 guest rooms, plus condos, villas and cabins with some partly on Lake Delton.

It’s often a top choice for travelers to Wisconsin Dells. Families could spend a week and never visit the same water park twice with indoor and outdoor water parks spread throughout the property, totaling more than 500,000 square feet. Different themes fuel young imaginations, whether it’s the frontier, the Wild West or dinosaurs.

The one that makes this water park resort stand out among others — especially on cold winter days — is the sunny, clear-roofed Wild WaterDome. Anchored by a huge wave pool with up to five-foot waves, families can spread out on recliners beneath tropical trees and get a tan.

‘Tweens and teens also love the go-carts, arcade, mini golf and zip-line, which is one of the Dells’ newer attractions. For adults, there are outdoor pools, golfing, Field’s at the Wilderness Steak House and one of the area’s most buzzed-about place for pampering, Sundara Spa.

Great Wolf Lodge: Best choice for younger kids 

Great Wolf Lodge’s animated clock tower

When it comes to Wisconsin Dells’ large resorts, this is the best choice for toddlers and preschoolers.

Older kids will find plenty to enjoy — especially with the sprawling water park and bling-y arcade — but it’s the younger ones who will be most excited by the atmosphere and activities.

They love the evening programs in front of the giant lobby clock, the woodsy decor, seasonal fun, ice-cream-themed kids’ spa, and the many ways they cater to children.

Highlights include an 80,000-square-foot indoor water park with funnel slide, wave pool and tube slides; an animated song and story hour each night in the lobby; Magic Quest, an interactive game with computerized wands to activate wizards, fairies and dragons; and bubblegum-scented shower gel in each room. There also are family suites with wolf-dens, a room within a room that has woodsy-themed bunk beds and TVs. Playful decor throughout the hotel has lights and objects that can be activated by Wizard Quest wands.

Great Wolf Lodge play fort

While this resort is big with 436 rooms, it’s less overwhelming than the Dells’ largest resorts. It’s manageable and easy to navigate. The resort also excels at seasonal decor — especially when it comes to kids whose eyes still sparkle at the mention of Santa. The entire lobby becomes a Christmas village in December complete with snow.

Save money on waterpark vacations 
Try these tips to make those waterpark vacations a reality without blowing the budget. Make sure kids understand your limits, too.

Want more Wisconsin Dells tips, details on other properties and attractions? Check out Madison-resident Melanie McManus’s Wisconsin Dells app through iTunes. It’s a great in-depth visual guide to the area whether you’re going as a family or as adults. For $1.99, it’s cheaper than a water park locker and whole lot more useful. Free updates included.

Don’t want to drive to Wisconsin? I have an app on Minnesota Lake Vacations with reviews of three Minnesota water parks. Both apps are through Sutro Media.