The James Gang in the Dells.
Growing up, my family never got to the Wisconsin Dells for a variety of reasons... not the least of which is that we were so poor that we stood outside the Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick other people's fingers.
But My-Sugar-Na dragged me up there for the first time at age 39 a couple of years ago, and thought it was the neatest thing since I got too big to share a bathtub with my two brothers. During the trip this past weekend (which you will read about in stunning detail below the break) it occurred to me what attracts me to it... the fact that it looks like it is stuck in 1972. Sure, you've got the resorts and restaurant chains along exit 92 to the south, and some more restaurant chains right off of the northern exit 87, but in between those points there are very few recognizable logos. Yeah, a Subway sneaks in, and somehow a Hilton sits there on Wisconsin Dells Parkway, but all the roadside motels, attractions and locally owned restaurants remind me of the State Fair... even the roller coasters and thrill rides on both sides of the street fit right in to this amalgomation of architectural styles. Driving up the Parkway (as well as the drive on Hwy 13 through downtown) is beauty to behold. Even the Famous Dave's in downtown isn't a typical building straight out of the "How to Build a Famous Dave's" Manual. They are in a building that was already standing... it almost looks from the road like a take-out stand. The whole Dells thing just works.
Originally planned to be a day trip, a quick getaway to a water park turned into a three-day, two-night extravaganza of fun. (Side note; sometimes my trip reports - also called TRs by us in the fellowship of bloggers - are grouped by category. This one is straight chrono, baby...)
Leaving around 2:00 PM Saturday (9-5) afternoon, the first trip was to drop off Vier Pogo Squad 51 for boarding. However, local doggie prisons were mostly closed on Labor Day, charging for the extra day of boarding that we didn't want to pay for in order to collect the pets on Tuesday. Minimal internet searching brought us to Pet Retreat, located in the Dells area just north of Exit 89. Once My-Sugar-Na (always a sucker for that fur ball) got a look at the tagline "Wisconsin Dells New All-Inclusive Luxury pet resort", she was hooked. The price seemed reasonable, they offered six to eight outdoor play sessions per day, a "Frosty Paws" desert for a nominal fee, and - although my wife swears she didn't do it - the option to pay an additional $9 a day to get a suite for the pet with a race car bed and television (I swear, I did not make that up). A pick-up requirement of 5:00 PM on Labor Day got us about 48 hours of doggie-free bliss.
We then drove to the Alakai Hotel in Lake Delton, where we had gotten a two-night package with passes to Mount Olympus for all three days. There is always a concern about what to expect for what price in the Dells area. For example, the weather was absolutely perfect this weekend. I saw no need to pay almost $300 per night at a place like the Kalahari if we wouldn't have any need for the indoor water park. On the other hand, some of the motels in the Dells look a little, shall we say, dated.
The bottom line with the Alakai was that it completely served the purpose, and it was a good value. Even with the best discounts I had found for Mt. Olympus tickets, the package offered by the Alakai was fine. The bed was comfortable enough, it had a fridge and microwave in the room, an indoor pool and a kiddy splash pool outdoors (don't be fooled by the marketing photos, however. The outdoor pool has a capacity of about eight 6-year olds.)
After a quick unpacking and a peek at the Brewers game, we decided that it was too late to do any damage at the water park before it closes, so we drove to Shipwreck Lagoon for 36 holes of "Adventure Golf". (Side note; we have faithfully purchased the Entertainment coupon book for years and years and years at $35 a pop. Never have we used as few coupons from the book as we did this year. We took the book with us to the Dells, expecting to find a few pages of coupons. Alas, there were only three coupons... and Shipwreck Lagoon was one of them. Using that coupon saved us $20, and I'd bet that it has only taken us 11 months to get the book paid for.) For 36 holes, Your Beloved Blogger scored 100 on the nose. My-Sugar-Na was in the competitive 130s, and both Gooey and Sloppy had nearly identical high-150s. Although the waterfall and pirate ships were kinda neat, the golf course itself wasn't much to write home about. Very few obstacles (and little otherwise creativity) left a playable course for those of us accustomed to bring back the blade.
By the end of golfing, it was time for a Paul Bunyan-sized meal at.... (come on, you can figure it out.) Camp-style fried chicken and barbequed ribs in all-I-could-eat portions filled me up sumthin' fierce (I don't know what it is about the Dells, it brings out the worst in Americana phrases and accents). Following dinner was a trip to the Alakai indoor pool for the girls and I to play "Monkey Daughter in the Middle", in which the monkey daughter that was conveniently in the middle tried to tackle and otherwise attempt to drown me in an attempt to change the game to "Grossly Obese Bald Guy in the Middle". Didn't work. Neener, neener, neener.
Sunday morning brought on a problem. The cold that I was pretending that I wasn't going to have began to punish me for trying to have fun on his time. It started out with a sore throat Saturday night, before progressing to my head which - by about 3:00 Sunday afternoon - weighed about 437 pounds. Combine that with the ear infection that My-Sugar-Na brought with her to the Dells, and we were a barrel fun [sarcasm = on]. Breakfast was at Mr. Pancake, which is a favorite, although this time they never offered us kid's menus, and the result was a whole lot of wasted pancakes for a whole lot of money. But you can never go wrong with their Banana Split waffle.
Neither rain, nor snow, nor plugged up head could keep me from the reason for selecting Mt. Olympus: My rivalry with Poseidon's Rage. My buddy, Po, is quite the angry fellow. My guess is that he is upset because someone ate the last of his guacamole, and left the cover off of the 2 litre bottle of root beer to boot. But to those of us that are experienced with his outward show of emotion, it really is more like Poseidon's Hissyfit. At first, Gooey and Sloppy were hesitant, but it didn't take long before the three of us were in the front row (near the buoys) to come up with ways to best tame the wave. My favorite is (just before impact) turning my back and jumping into the wave... so I could see the faces of those I was about to clobber. America. What fun!
After dinner at the Moosejaw Pizza (and their phenomenal Beer Cheese soup), we decided to let the kids have fun at the Kids Quest. Taking them there, however, required My-Sugar-Na and I to deal with the casino for three hours, but we made do the best we could... by winning enough money to subsidize the tourist-priced meals that we dealt with all weekend.
Labor Day Monday morning, as we gathered our stuff and said goodbye to the Alakai, we headed off to Denny's Diner for their Famous Cinnamon Rolls and Homemade Toast (not to be confused with Denny's, famous for losing a racism lawsuit years ago). Unfortunately, my cold wasn't getting much better, and My-Sugar-Na was losing the battle with an impending migraine, so what should have been a lot of fun became "let's eat and get the hell out of here".
From the "Huh? Department", despite the way she was feeling, my wife decided that we should play the Wizard Quest game. When we were in the Dells two years ago, we played the game and almost found all four wizards in the allotted 90 minutes, but just couldn't quite come up with enough earned points to free the last one. "This time", said we, "it will be a cinch". Except that we were in no shape to crawl into holes, slide down slides, climb trees, etc to get all of the clues. Our time was up before we even found the third wizard, and we had to ask someone where the fourth one was (as it turns out, I had told Gooey to look under the tablecloth at the Lobster dinner party, but she apparently didn't look to her left, because the wizard was right there). The folks at Wizard Quest have to continually change the game so tourists can choose to return, and they have made it much harder than two years ago. Their signage says that the game will change again for 2010, so if we get to the Dells next year, we can take a third bite at the apple.
We were then at a crossroads. By this point, it was about 1:30 PM. To get Vier Pogo Squad 51 from death row by 5:00 PM, we would have about three hours max at Mt. Olympus. But with my wife's headache, should we just go home? Instead, we struck a compromise (for which Gooey and Sloppy should be eternally grateful, but they're kids, so I am sure it didn't even register). We first dropped off the girls at Mt. Olympus and told them to be HERE at 4:00. Then my wife and I went to McDonalds (it really was as pretty as the pictures) to get her some fluids (the $1 large soda cost $2.19) and so she can sit down in the air conditioning. We thought about going to a movie, but nothing we were interested in would start in time to get the girls at 4:00, so we decided to both go to Mt. Olympus, and that I would find her a lounge chair in the shade for her to nap. This idea worked brilliantly.
By 4:00 PM, we collected the kids and were on the way to rescue our rescue dog. We decided to do one last dinner, at the non-descript Mimi's American Grill, way on the north end of downtown as they had $3.99 kids meals, and I was tired of spending $50 for every meal (Side note; it didn't work. The last dinner still cost $45 with tip).
So how to best end a vacation in which both parent's felt run down before we ever got there? Right. Traffic. We left the Dells area at 5:45 PM, which is the precise time that everyone else left, too. It took - no foolin' - 45 minutes to get from the exit near the Kalahari to the point where I-39 merges with I-90/I-94 and becomes three lanes... about 20 miles. And it wasn't the fact there was traffic, it was the fact that we all just wanted to get home. My legs were too tired for the gas, brake, coast, brake QUICK, gas, accelerate, brake, repeat. Traffic eased up about 20 miles north of Madison, but it was still a tricky drive because now you had lots of traffic, all going around 75 MPH.
But we all did get home. Alive, too. And fittingly, as My-Sugar-Na went to bed, I got to do laundry.