Three days in the Dells: A weekend away that’s close to home!

Disclosure: This post is partially sponsored by the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau.  I paid for my and my family’s transportation, meals, and some attractions. Fitzgerald’s Motel and the Kalahari Resort provided complimentary lodging. The Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau provided complimentary tickets for some of the attractions we visited. All opinions and observations are my own. Read full Disclosure Policy.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed going to Wisconsin Dells for vacations and short getaways. It’s just two-and-a-half hours from home for us — an easy, pleasurable drive up from Illinois to one of the most unique and fun areas in Wisconsin.

Our family recently spent a long weekend in the Dells, and there are truly so many things to do in this area — the current Wisconsin Dells tourism guide notes that it would take you more than a month to experience every attraction in town! There are many lodging options in the Dells too. Want to camp? Area campgrounds abound, for tent campers and RV’ers alike. Some smaller, family-owned motels continue to populate the Dells “strip” and downtown areas. The Dells are also, of course, known for their large indoor waterpark resorts.

Where to stay? For this trip, we split our two-night stay between the downtown Dells area and a waterpark resort. Our trip spanned a long, Saturday-to-Monday weekend and included a good mix of classic Dells attractions and newer thrills.

Wisconsin Dells

My husband absolutely loves the Downtown Dells area. He was born and raised in New Jersey, and he says the downtown Dells reminds him of the “Atlantic City boardwalk without the ocean.” There are many little shops, restaurants and attractions lining the streets here — old-time candy stores, homemade fudge shops, a haunted house, a pinball arcade — you name it, and it’s probably here. We stayed right in the heart of downtown at Fitzgerald’s Motel on Broadway.

Fitzgerald's Motel

Fitzgerald’s Motel epitomizes the kind of family-owned motels that much of the Dells’ tourism industry was built around. It was constructed in 1949 and has been a Dells institution for more than 65 years. It’s a small property with 37 rooms and a heated outdoor pool. 

One of my blogger friends’ recently pointed out that “Bloggers’ kids have the most fun” — it’s true that my children have been able to tag along on some pretty amazing travel experiences while Mom’s been working and reviewing family destinations! And, as often as we travel, I realized that my children often stay at the extreme ends of things — we tent camp and “rough it” pretty often on our outdoor adventures, and we’ve also stayed at some very nice resorts. Where hadn’t my kids stayed prior to this trip? A simple motel.

Fitzgerald's Motel

We had never stayed at Fitzgerald’s, but its TripAdvisor reviews looked pretty impressive with a 4 out of 5 rating. Many reviewers rave about the motel’s cleanliness and value. We arrived at Fitzgerald’s and picked up our keys (and yes, they’re keys on a keychain, not a keycard — something that amused my sons to no end!) from Margaret, the motel’s delightful owner. She and her husband Eugene have owned Fitzgerald’s for the past 20 years, and they pride themselves on the cleanliness of their motel and its home-away-from-home feel.

Fitzgerald's Motel

I was curious to see what my children would think of the motel experience, but they enjoyed it. The rooms at Fitzgerald’s have much more of a bed-and-breakfast ambiance than a hotel or motel — we felt like we were staying in someone’s home. Here’s a video tour of our room:

While the motel itself is officially a “senior citizen” agewise, it’s clean and well-maintained. Its amenities include in-room refrigerators and microwaves, flat-screen televisions and free wifi. One of the biggest draws of Fitzgeralds are its rates — queen room rates start at just  $55/night! Our family suite room slept 6 (two bedrooms, plus a futon) and rates for these start at $85/night. Coffee and continental breakfasts (doughnuts, danishes) are available each morning in the lobby. Guests will also receive a 25% off attraction voucher for tickets to many of the Dells’ most popular attractions:


In keeping with the motel’s small, family feel, you cannot make reservations online. You’ll have to give Margaret a call at (608) 253-1651.

As much as we love the Dells waterpark resorts, staying at Fitzgerald’s opened our eyes to a way to save money on the days one doesn’t plan to stay within the confines of a resort property around the clock. If you’re planning a day or two enjoying attractions downtown and along the strip, it’s not necessary to spring for a higher-priced resort that you’re simply going to sleep in for a few hours. View Fitzgerald’s rates at the Wisconsin Dells Price Guide.


On our second night, we stayed at one of our family favorites, the Kalahari Resort. We’ve been coming to the Kalahari since my boys were toddlers, and it’s just such a fun place — they’ve got a sizeable outdoor waterpark and an enormous indoor waterpark. It’s truly an all-under-one-roof destination. In addition to the waterparks, there’s an indoor amusement park, several restaurants and snack bars, and plenty for families to enjoy, regardless of the weather. In fact, this was the first time we’d ever come to the Kalahari during the summer season! It’s usually a winter-weekend-away destination for us.


Our boys couldn’t wait to hit the outdoor waterpark for the first time ever! The weather was chillier than we’d expected, but they toughed it out for a while, riding all of the slides and tube rides and enjoying the kids’ splash areas.

Indoors is where it’s really at though at the Kalahari:


The weather’s always balmy, the water’s always warm, and it’s a fun place to splash the day away. We noticed some new water features since our last time here too. There’s a swim-up bar for adults, as well as two indoor-to-outdoor swim-out pools to enjoy.


 Here’s a quick video tour of our room:

Rooms at the Kalahari sleep up to six people, with two queen beds and a pull-out couch. The rooms have refrigerators, microwaves and free wifi. Many of them have balconies or fireplaces, depending on which area of the resort you’re in. 

Money-saving tips: Your water park passes are included with a stay at the Kalahari, and they’re valid until the end of the day when you check out. In the past, we’ve spent nearly two full days at the Kalahari, arriving before our room was ready, picking up our wristbands, swimming that entire day — then continuing to swim after checkout the next day, enjoying the parks and resort, then driving back to Illinois late the next night. 

The Kalahari also has some nice perks for guests — all guests receive complimentary admission to the Tommy Bartlett Show through September 6, 2015 (more on that in a bit!) and the Timbavati Wildlife Park through November 1, 2015. We didn’t have time to visit Timbavati on this trip, but if these are attractions you’d enjoy, having them bundled with your resort package is a great value.


Kalahari’s rates are usually in the $169-$200/night range (view rates at the Dells Price Guide.) They often have specials though — we’ve never paid more than $149/night to stay here. Indoor theme park passes are an additional $25.95 for adults, $11.95 for kids age 3-6 — although again, we’ve previously had these passes included in packages too depending what promotions are being offered.

Kalahari’s indoor amusement park includes mini golf, a Sky Trails ropes course, an electronic shooting gallery, some carnival rides and go-karts, all of which are included in the park admission. We love go-karts, but if you’re looking for high-speed karts, you will not find them here — Kalahari’s karts are electric and run at kid-safe speeds. The entire go-kart track is elevated over the indoor amusement park though, which is a pretty novel design. Arcade games require a points card to play at an additional cost, and there’s a bowling alley on site too.


Wizard Quest

On to the attractions! Our children were excited about going to Wizard Quest, a unique adventure attraction located in the Downtown Dells. If your children enjoy adventure-style video games, as mine do, they’ll likely love Wizard Quest. Instead of playing in a virtual world, you get to physically experience an adventure. Your task is to free four wizards hiding within various realms of the Wizard Quest world — it’s part hide-and-seek, part scavenger hunt.

Wizard Quest


Guests will climb around, slide around, and crawl around various passages, rooms and halls looking for the hidden wizards, which appear electronically on a screen once you find them. It’s more difficult than it sounds — years ago, we visited Wizard Quest when our daughter was young (and our boys were toddlers.) After the 90-minute quest, we were still unable to find one of the wizards on that trip. 

Wizard Quest

Our sons were determined to locate all four, and this time, we did! If you’re uncomfortable exploring often smaller-smallish areas in a low-lighting, multilevel environment, this attraction may not be for you, but our sons loved it and lamented when the experience came to an end.

Admission to Wizard Quest is $14.99 for adults, $9.99 for children ages 5-11.
Save money by: Looking for discount coupons in tourism guides and brochure stands or at your resort. Buying a combo ticket for Wizard Quest and the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum next door reduces the price of both attractions.

We spent some more time walking around downtown. Ice cream was involved, as was some souvenir shopping. We even saw an intriguing sign outside a haunted house:

KISS Zombie

Does Uncle Gene know his zombie form is hanging out in the Dells? We also took a stroll along the scenic Dells Riverwalk and watched the boats go by. Speaking of boats…

One of the longest-running attractions in the Dells is the Original Wisconsin Ducks land-and-water tours. They were on our must-do list for this long weekend!

Original Wisconsin Ducks

The Original Wisconsin Ducks have been taking guests on land-and-water tours of the Dells for 70 years. These DUKW amphibious vehicles were built by General Motors in 1942 for use in World War II. 2000 of what the soldiers affectionately called “Ducks” hit the beaches for the Normandy invasion in 1944. After the war, the Ducks were sold as surplus. Today, Original Wisconsin Ducks’ fleet contains more than 90 of these historic vehicles.

Original Wisconsin Ducks

I hadn’t ridden the Ducks since I was a young child, and I mentioned this to our Duck driver, a young college student named Hayley. She dryly replied “Don’t worry, the jokes are all the same.” Indeed, the Duck drivers mix local lore and history with a fair smattering of Duck jokes. I won’t spoil them all for you, but here’s one: At one treacherous point along the trail, the Duck vehicle makes a turn along a steep dropoff. A sparse piece of chicken wire separates the path from the edge of the cliff. Pointing out the wire, our driver cheerfully said “Don’t worry about that cliff — we put some chicken wire there. The guy at the hardware store told me that if it could hold back a chicken, it could certainly hold a Duck!”

Original Wisconsin Ducks

My husband and kids had never ridden the Ducks, and they enjoyed everything about the one-hour tour — two land-to-water plunges, a trip up Lake Delton, and scenic land tours through the cool, shady Fern Dell and the rocky Red Bird Gorge, where the Dells rock formations extend within just four inches on each side of the Duck vehicle passing through. Taking a Dells boat tour is really a must-do at least once — the entire area is so scenic and beautiful, and you get to see the Dells — the rock formations that this area is named for.

Original Wisconsin Ducks

My youngest son has been fascinated with the Ducks ever since his teacher told him about their role in WWII (yes, he’s got an amazing teacher who taught the class much more than the usual second-grader fare!) He particularly enjoyed learning about the vehicles’ top speeds on land and water.

At the end of our tour, our driver Hayley announced “If you enjoyed today’s tour, please feel free to tell someone — my name is Hayley. If you did not enjoy today’s tour, and you’d like to tell someone, my name is Lisa.” Ha ha. We spoke with Hayley afterward, who confessed that she first learned to drive a stick shift when being taught to drive one of these Original Wisconsin Ducks. How many people can say the first time they drove a stick was in a WWII military vehicle? 

Admission to the Original Wisconsin Ducks is $26.70 for adults, $13.35 for children ages 4-11. 
Save money by: Looking for discount coupons in tourism guides and brochure stands or at your resort (seriously, they are everywhere – I’m going to say that a lot in this trip report, but you will see brochure stands all over the Dells at nearly every restaurant and attraction.) Buying a combo ticket for Ducks and other Dells boat tours gives you 20-24% off multiple ticket prices. 


Head on a Platter at Tommy Bartlett


We also spent a few hours at the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory Interactive Science Center, a hands-on science museum for families. (If you’ve been to one of the great childrens’ museums in Illinois, you’ll have some idea of what’s in store.) My boys are huge fans of the Rockford Children’s Museum in Illinois, and my oldest son exclaimed “This is like that museum times five!” The multi-level building is filled with fun hands-on illusions, experiments, and scientific fun.

Parents, some of the exhibits will also give you a chance to show off their brain-teaser prowess when puzzles like this one stump your children:

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

After my boys declared this impossible, I showed ’em how it was done! (Don’t click here unless you want to know the answer...)

The Tommy Bartlett Exploratory was known as “Tommy Bartlett’s Robot World” back when I was a kid, so any Gen-X parents who were also Dells-goers back in the day may remember it. The robot shows and exhibits are gone aside from two robots who greet you at the entrance to the museum. The entire facility is devoted to hands-on learning now, and there are quite a few new exhibits that weren’t here in my childhood days:

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

Ever want to ride a bicycle on a tightrope? Kids and adults alike can take this bike for a spin outside the museum. Of course, everyone in the family had to try! (A counterweight suspended from the bicycle keeps the bike balanced upright.)

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

My boys also got to see how strong they really are (and learn about the power of levers) when they lifted this brand-new SUV off the ground with two ropes and the help of a very long lever. Have you ever lifted a car with your bare hands? Pretty empowering, whether you’re an elementary-schooler — or an adult!

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

By far, my favorite exhibit at the exploratory is one that you cannot experience anywhere else in the United States: One of the Russian MIR space station core modules sits at the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory. You’re free to explore it and see how the cosmonauts lived in space. As someone who’s always been interested in space exploration, I was beyond excited to see this.

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

Entering the MIR is almost a surreal experience — even though the module is stationary, there’s something about it that messes with your head and makes you feel disoriented as if the gravity is out of whack. There is no “floor” or “ceiling” in the module — all of the walls have screens, panels, tools, and displays that floating cosmonauts could access from any angle. 

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

My children, of course, were fascinated with the space toilet. Of course they were. Just look at it and imagine using it!

Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett

There’s also a Project Mercury space capsule here with lots of information about John Glenn’s first space flight. No matter how large you might think this is when you envision a human being launched into space — think of that, and then think smaller. It’s incredible that anyone allowed themselves to squeeze inside of this and be blasted off the Earth — and then returned safely. Amazing!

Admission to the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory is $15 for adults, $12 for children 5-11, and $12 for seniors. 
Save money by: Looking for discount coupons in tourism guides and brochure stands or at your resort. Buying a combo ticket for the Exploratory and the Tommy Bartlett Show gives you 25% off both ticket prices. 


Tommy Bartlett water skiiers

Tommy Bartlett Show

One evening, we attended the Tommy Bartlett Show, another Wisconsin Dells tradition that’s celebrating 60 years of entertaining guests along the shores of Lake Delton. Part waterski show, part stage show with a lot of surprises thrown into the mix, this show really has something for everyone to enjoy. My husband and kids had never seen the show before, and they were thoroughly entertained – my boys particularly liked the skiiers performing flips and stunts off the ramps anchored in the lake.

Tommy Bartlett jet board

One of the performers flew over the lake on a water-powered jetboard, somersaulting into the lake, only to be blasted more than 30 feet in the air again. It was amazing to watch!

Tommy Bartlett Show

The land portion of the show featured the Nerveless Nocks, motorcyclists who performed stunts inside a steel mesh sphere. A trio of acrobats from the Philippines, the Fausto Scorpions, entertained everyone with some pretty incredible somersaulting and juggling tricks – except the male member of the group WAS the juggler who tossed the female performers (his daughters!) into the air with his feet. 

Admission to the Tommy Bartlett Show is $21 for adults, $12 for children 5-11 and $16.80 for seniors. 

Save money by: Looking for discount coupons in tourism guides and brochure stands or at your resort. Buying a combo ticket for the Exploratory and the Tommy Bartlett Show gives you 25% off both ticket prices. Again, guests of the Kalahari Resort receive complimentary admission to the Tommy Bartlett Show through September 6, 2015.

Olympus coupon

The Tommy Bartlett Show is also where we acquired coupons for OTHER Dells attractions. When we left the theater at the end of the show, we found a packet of attraction and restaurant coupons under the windshield wiper of our car. Normally, this sort of “flyering” would annoy me, but I’ve got enough Dells experience to know that one might find some good offers this way (don’t toss anything out until you’ve had a look at it!) Indeed, we received coupons for the Pizza Pub (a local favorite that we’ve enjoyed on many trips), discounts for several other attractions in town, and one that seemed really good –a free pass for up to six people to Mt. Olympus water park.

Now, as we were staying at the Kalahari, we felt we’d really covered the water-park portion of our trip – plus, the weather was unusually cool the weekend we attended, and we knew our kids hadn’t lasted more than a couple of hours at the outdoor Kalahari water park. What really caught my eye about this offer was the wording on the free ticket inviting us to upgrade it to a Mt. Olympus roller coaster-and-go-karts pass for $15.

dells rooms

Mt. Olympus is a large combination water park and amusement park at the north end of the Dells strip. If you’re around my age and grew up coming to the Dells often, you may remember all of the attractions that once called this area home: Sir Goony Water Slide (the first waterslide ever built in the Dells!) Emerald City amusement park. Big Chief Go-Karts. Family Land Water Park. Treasure Island. Many of these properties are long gone, and what remained of Family Land, Treasure Island and the go-kart tracks morphed into Mt. Olympus. It’s not as large as a Six Flags-style park, but Mt. Olympus does carry the honor of having built the first roller coaster in Wisconsin Dells back in 1995. Since then, they’ve been building even more.

We hadn’t planned to go to Mt. Olympus on this trip – really we hadn’t! (We already had a pretty attraction-packed trip planned.)  However, I’m a huge fan of roller coasters, and I know that nondiscounted admission to Mt. Olympus is $45 per person per day. I wasn’t about to spring for that to simply ride four roller coasters, which was about all of the time we might have to devote to this endeavor. But $15? Would a “just-roller-coasters”  trip to Mt. Olympus be worth squeezing in? I said yes. Thankfully, my family didn’t need much convincing either – we’re all coaster fiends!

Mt. Olympus

Mt. Olympus has four large wooden roller coasters: Hades, Zeus, Cyclops and Pegasus. The drop on Cyclops, shown above, was worth riding for the massive airtime you get! If you’re a fan of flying out of your seat, full-on ejector air (as I am,)  Cyclops has three great moments of hang time throughout the ride, culminating in the big float you get when the coaster goes down this hill. It’s a deceptive coaster that doesn’t look like it will thrill you nearly as much as it does.

Zeus is a traditional out-and-back, bunny-hop style wooden that will have you bouncin’ and racing across the back of the park, turning around, then racing all the way back. Pegasus is the smallest of the coasters in the park, but I wouldn’t consider it a kiddie coaster — it’s got a ton of rough, rattle-and-shake action that’s pretty typical of older wooden coasters. The star coaster of the park though, is Hades:

Mt. Olympus Hades

(Don’t they “look excited?” Not exactly. They were pretty apprehensive about this one, but they did it!)

Hades is a monstrous wooden roller coaster that features one inversion and 4725 feet of track, a good portion of which is underground. Yep — underground, in the pitch-black darkness. Check it out: 

Mt. Olympus Hades

After this drop, your train plummets under the ground, traveling all the way across the park’s massive parking lot to pop up on the other side. It’s not a straight shot across the lot either — the train turns a full 90 degrees underground, disorienting passengers until it pops above ground again, tossing riders into a barrel-roll loop:

Mt. Olympus Hades

(Look across the park from where the tunnel begins – that “little coaster” is only 1/4 of Hades’ entire track.)

After riding around the track over there, guess what — you plunge back into darkness for a trip back to the main above-ground portion of the coaster for more screaming-fast fun! Fans of Goliath at Six Flags Great America will love Hades– Goliath may hold all the world records at the moment, but Hades is just a monster of a coaster that doesn’t disappoint. When our train pulled back into the station, my husband shook his head and said “Wow. I’ve NEVER ridden anything like that before!” 

This was our first trip to Mt. Olympus, and we were surprised to note that all of their roller coasters only run one train. While the ride is out on the track, there’s no second train being loaded with passengers — so, the queues for the coasters take much longer to go through than you might expect from the visual length of the lines. 

Mt. Olympus also has some pretty cool elevated go-kart tracks. We drove go-karts three times here to check them out: 

Mt. Olympus

Mt. Olympus

We did not go to the water portion of Mt. Olympus on this trip due to the cooler weather. However, their Poseidon’s Rage wave pool looked insane — if you feel “average” wave pools don’t thrill you enough, and you like really huge waves, the pool here features 9-foot-high knock-you-over wave action. 

Save money by: Purchasing Mt. Olympus tickets off site or during a special. For the 2015 season, Menards is selling Mt. Olympus passes for $18.  At the time of this writing, Mt. Olympus is offering $10 tickets on their site which are good through September 7, 2015 — that’s a great price. In Illinois, the Radio Shopping Show has waterpark-only Mt. Olympus passes for $5. (Mt. Olympus charges $20 to park too if you’re not staying at one of their resorts, so be aware of that.)

Guests of Mt. Olympus’ resorts receive free passes to the park too. One interesting money-saving day-trip idea I read on a messageboard was to book a campsite for the day you wish to go to the theme park. A web search today revealed that a tent campsite at Mt. Olympus’ campground is $49.99 and comes with up to six park passes and free parking at the amusement park. The campground also has a good location — it’s across the street from the Mt. Olympus theme park. 

This brings me to my next observation…

I’ve been coming to the Dells since I was a child, and one of the things I loved about driving up the strip was seeing all of the little family-owned motels dotting Wisconsin Dells Parkway. Each one was unique, and many of them had swimming pools and water features right near the highway. 

Dells strip

Having not driven down the Dells strip for a few years, I was astonished to see how much Dells Parkway has changed in such a short period of time. Over the past few years, Mt. Olympus has been buying up many of the older, family-owned motels and rebranding them as Mt. Olympus Village resorts. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing may depend on your perspective – according to news reports, many of the owners of these older motels were looking to sell, and some of the aged properties needed some love and renovation. Buying up these motels has allowed Mt. Olympus to acquire more than 1500 motel and hotel rooms around the Dells. Mt. Olympus’ website touts this as a greener choice versus building new resorts along the strip, and their owner has stated in the media that he wants to revitalize the older properties.

Dells resorts

Each Mt. Olympus-owned motel has been painted blue and white, so they’re very recognizable when you drive through town. It was truly eye-opening to see how much Dells real estate is now owned by Mt. Olympus though. In researching this post, I read quite a few guest reviews at TripAdvisor noting that if you book a room at “Mt. Olympus Village,” all of these little motels and hotels scattered through the Dells are considered the “Village.” Their website state that these resorts are “surrounding the Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Parks.” However, you could end up at a motel that’s miles from the actual amusement park. From the reviews, many people didn’t seem aware of this prior to booking their stays, and the age and condition of the various properties seems to vary a great deal too depending on which hotel or motel you’re assigned to. 

If you’re interested in staying on-site at Mt. Olympus, know that the “Hotel Rome” is the only hotel that is actually on site. Some of the Mt. Olympus-owned motels are fairly close to the amusement and water park, but others are up to two miles from the park. They do not run a shuttle, so you’ll need to drive back and forth.

Here’s a video we shot driving from the south end of the strip up to Mt. Olympus. I’ve added arrows to point out the many Mt. Olympus motels and their distance from the park. 

If you plan to stay at a Mt. Olympus property, I would strongly advise reading reviews before booking at the “Village” resorts. According to many reviews, you do not get to choose which building you’ll be in, and many of them are quite a distance from the actual park. The condition of the various motels, according to reviewers, is also rather eye-opening. The age of the properties may also be a concern depending on your tastes and comfort level. Some of these resorts (Raintree and Copa Cabana come to mind) were quite nice in their day. Others are traditional 1950s drive-up motels.

Again, according to reviews, none of the off-site motels have staff on duty — you check in at the theme park, then find out which building you’re in. (Reviewers note that the individual motels’ former check-in offices are closed and unstaffed — one reviewer shared a photo of black plastic covering the former motel office windows.)  

And, about those swimming pools that used to line both sides of the strip… Sadly, reviews and news stories state (with photographic proof) that the original pools at these off-site resorts have been bulldozed or filled in with wood chips in order “to encourage the use of the other attractions” at Mt. Olympus. Our family enjoys a quiet swim at the end of each day when we’re vacationing, and if you do too, you may find the lack of on-site pools at these motels to be disappointing. 

Paul Bunyan

We ended our trip with our traditional dinner at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty. Paul Bunyan’s is another Dells institution that serves all-you can eat “Lumberjack Style” breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s very rustic, very fun, and the food is fantastic. 

Paul Bunyan

It was BBQ rib night when we went, and if you bring a big appetite (which we did after a full day of play!) it’s also a good value – it was $15.95 for adults, and kids pay .89 times their age. (Breakfast is $10.97.)

Paul Bunyan

The restaurant is designed with an 1890s logging camp theme, and you dine on tin plates and drink from tin cups! (You can get a traditional beverage glass if you prefer.) As you can see, the kiddos preferred something more in their comfort zone, but I was a tin-cup champ through my entire dinner. Dessert is included too — a big slice of chocolate cake!

Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan

Don’t forget to get photos with Paul and Babe, the blue ox. Your children can get complimentary sets of “Babe horns” when they dine in the restaurant too!

There are so many things to do in Wisconsin Dells — we packed a bunch of them into our three-day, two night trip, but we could easily go again and never duplicate an activity. Our boys already have eyes on some of the amazing outdoor mini golf courses in the Dells, as well as some haunted houses and fun houses for next time.

If you’re in Illinois and are headed to the Dells, the Radio Shopping Show has many discounted admissions and dining certificates to purchase too. A quick search of the site (type keyword “Dells” at this link to bring them up) is showing:

  • $10 admissions to Chula Vista waterpark (reg. $29.95)
  • $5 Mt. Olympus water-park-only passes (reg. $20)
  • $3.50 Pirate’s Cove mini golf (reg. $8.50)
  • $3 Timber Falls flume ride and/or roller coaster tickets (reg. $6.50)
  • $3.50 Timber Falls mini golf tickets (reg. $7.75)
  • $19 Noah’s Ark water park tickets (reg. $38.99 — this is the largest outdoor waterpark in the Dells)
  • $3.50 Knuckleheads ropes course (reg. $8)
  • $5.50 Knuckleheads bowling (three games, reg. $13.50)
  • $10 Pizza Pub restaurant gift certificates for $4
  • $5 Denny’s restaurant gift certificates for $2
  • $10 Howie’s restaurant gift certificates for $3.50 (this is a good diner-style place to grab breakfast!)
  • And, if you camp, Sherwood Forest two-night campsite stays for $35 (reg. $102! My family has camped at Sherwood Forest on past Dells trips – it’s located right near both the strip and downtown areas. They have a huge outdoor pool, and that’s an amazing price!) 

Paul Bunyan

Disclosure: This post is partially sponsored by the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau.  I paid for my and my family’s transportation, meals, and some attractions. Fitzgerald’s Motel and the Kalahari Resort provided complimentary lodging. The Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau provided complimentary tickets for some of the attractions we visited. All opinions and observations are my own. Read full Disclosure Policy.


  1. instock says

    Jill, thank you for sharing your Dells trip tips. We are going to the Dells soon and with your suggestions of the Radio Show Shopping site and resort free bees, will be able to do a lot more than anticipated. Thanks again for your money saving tips!

  2. Rebecca says

    What a great post! I grew up in the Milwaukee area and I think we’re about the same age, so I have many of the same memories as you do, Jill! And now it’s time to start taking my own kids to the Dells. Loved reading this to get some tips on what’s new.

  3. SSMark1 says

    Great Review Jill!

    The first time I can remember the Dells is 1972. We’ve try to go 1 – 2x times per year.

    There is much more to do within 10-15 minutes of the Dells than most people realize:
    2 Good Midwestern Ski Resorts.
    Devil’s Lake for Rock Climbing & camping
    Ho Chunk Casino
    Baraboo Circus World (Barnum & Baily’s old location)
    CowPie Chocholate Factory
    Several Cheese Manufacturer & Dairy Factory tours.
    WNNO Radio Station downtown Dells (you can listen online as well, I do often!)
    Lots of fishing
    Standing Rock Indian ceremony.
    …and LOTS of other stuff.

    Lots of info on the web if anyone wants to research…and find deals.

    We have a lake house about 35 mins. from the Dells.
    We love central Wisconsin.


  4. Kelley says

    We stayed at Mt. Olympus last winter and were really disappointed. Our room was far from the main hotel (which we didn’t know ahead of time), it was a pain to get to the waterpark, and the room wasn’t great. We wouldn’t stay there again.

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