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If you have school-age children, you are acutely aware of the exact number of days left until school’s out for summer, mostly because your kids won’t stop reminding you of the fact. There’s also a good chance they’re reminding you that they have very high expectations for this year’s summer vacation. And that’s where the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau comes in, offering a list of 10 new ways the Dells, famously lauded as “The Waterpark Capital of the World!®” for its volume of waterparks, will blow their expectations out of the water, so to speak. The list includes attractions high in the sky, down-to-earth offerings, and even a few notable, quotable anniversaries. For more on these and all the attractions that make Wisconsin Dells one of the nation’s most popular family destinations, visit www.wisdells.com.
1. A Manticore First up, something called a Manticore. In mythology circles, that’s a legendary creature similar to a sphinx. In Wisconsin Dells circles, it’s the name of the new tower ride at Mt. Olympus Theme Park & Water Park. This vertical swing stands more than 140-feet tall, has 12 arms and 12 double seats, and is lit up with a barrage of LED lights. You’ll get a spectacular view of the entire Mt. Olympus Park on this one. Interesting side note: Given all the theme park and waterpark rides at Mt. Olympus, the easiest way for the owners to add to the collection was to build up and out, thus the choice of a monstrous swing configuration.
2. An Eco-Adventure Heightened Adventures at Chula Vista Resort, an aerial adventure park, is a first-of-its-kind for Wisconsin Dells. It’s part zipline, part obstacle course, with obstacles at varying heights and levels of difficulty, making it family-friendly for grade-schoolers through grown-ups. Bonus: Terrific views of the forest and the Wisconsin River.
3. The Man Who Made Wisconsin Dells Famous Can Wisconsin Dells’ fame be traced back 150 years to a single person? The answer to that tourism genealogy question is a resounding “yes,” and the person is Henry Hamilton Bennett. His exquisite images of the Wisconsin River with its towering sandstone cliffs and mystical caverns, raftsmen risking life and limb to ferry timber, the Ho-Chunk nation and their life along the dells of the river, and even his own family members standing in as models proved fascinating photojournalism. Bennett, and later his family, ran the photography studio in downtown Dells for 135 years before donating the studio and the extensive photographic collection to the Wisconsin Historical Society. It is the oldest continually operating photography studio in the United States. The sesquicentennial is being marked with a season-long anniversary gallery exhibit, “150 Years of Dells and Studio History,” plus a weekend of celebrations including activities in the studio and adjoining outdoor courtyard the weekend of June 13-14. Don’t miss the all-new 3-D stereo viewer station in the studio – it’s the best way to see the river as it was in Bennett’s day. On August 22, the Crystal Grand Music Theater will be the site of “Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial Reawakened,” a program of Native American song, dance and historic Bennett photos produced by Friends of H.H. Bennett Studio and Little Eagle Arts Foundation.
4. Some 70-Year-Old Ducks The Original Wisconsin Ducks®, the WWII land-to-water vehicles repurposed for tours of the Dells, start their 70th season this year. To mark the occasion look for 10 of the 92 Ducks to be painted in a retro color scheme reminiscent of the 1950s and ‘60s. Here’s some interesting Duck trivia: Upwards of 600 people have been Duck drivers since the ‘50s and it remains one of the most coveted jobs in the Dells, not only for the chance to be outdoors but also because it looks good on a resume. Today, along with three generations of visitors to Wisconsin Dells, there are even three generations of Duck drivers, with the youngest being 18 and the oldest 77.
5. A Trio of Broadway Caliber Shows Palace Theater enters its first full year in Wisconsin Dells. This 800-seat dinner theater was completely renovated with all new sound and lighting equipment plus major architectural and interior design updates. The summer line-up includes Pinkalicious, Ring of Fire, and The Little Mermaid. These Broadway-quality performances feature cast and crew hailing from New York, Chicago and other entertainment hubs of the U.S.
6. A Brandy Old Fashioned for the Grown-ups Wollersheim Winery opens its new 25,000 square foot distillery later this summer, featuring its own cellar and retail space. The fruits for the brandies are grown in Wisconsin and the grains for the whiskey and gin come from a farm just one mile down the road from the distillery. An intriguing factoid: Both wine and brandy were made on the property nearly 100 years ago. Post-Prohibition regulations made a return to these roots impossible, until 2009 that is, when a change in Wisconsin law once again allowed wineries to distill spirits. Wollersheim Winery sits on a hillside overlooking the Wisconsin River in nearby Prairie du Sac. It was just named “Small Winery of the Year” at the 2015 Riverside International Wine Competition in California, a prestigious competition now in its 34th year.
7. A Taste of Distillery Cuisine Driftless Glen Distillery on the banks of the Baraboo River just opened its restaurant with seating for 200 inside and outdoor dining for 55. Given their stock in trade as a distillery, it’s no surprise the owners are serving “distillery cuisine,” with the majority of dishes using the handcrafted spirits in creative ways. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner plus Sunday brunch. Tack on a tour and tasting while you’re there. By the way, their neighbor is Circus World and if you time your visit right you might see circus animals crossing the river while you dine.
8. A Friday Fish Fry with a View Cold Water Canyon Golf Course at Chula Vista Resort is debuting a new clubhouse this summer. The Clubhouse includes a 200-seat restaurant open to the public with outdoor veranda with firepits, TVs and great views to the bluffs. By the way, the resort has 65 years under its belt of perfecting the Friday Night Fish Fry, a Wisconsin classic.
9. A Disappearing Sibling Take a step back in time with the new illusion at the well-established, 550-seat Rick Wilcox Magic Theater. Master illusionist and star of the show, Rick Wilcox, will send a youngster from the audience back in time 30, 40, even 50 years. Rick and the grade-schooler will step into a clear octagon glass box with wife Suzan Wilcox at the controls setting the dial for time travel. Rick and the child magically fade away. When Rick reappears the child isn’t with him – makes sense since he or she technically wasn’t born yet. The illusion ends with a surprise and, yes, you’ll have to see it to find out just what that surprise is. He’s spent three years working on it, ever the consummate perfectionist.
10. A Pair of Cute Boutiques Brand new to the downtown shopping experience is A Homespun Heart, offering primitive home décor, antiques and gifts. Nestled into a grand home that served as a family photography studio for many years, A Homespun Heart adds even more charm to the neighborhood. Across the street, The Ivy Cottage is a great find for purse fanatics, jewelry lovers and those who fancy themselves interior designers of their own abodes. It’s located in a 1930s cottage-style home with loads of architectural charm and, of course, the requisite climbing ivy on the outside to add to the curb appeal. The shop offers some upscale resale items too.