Kalahari wows kids, woos adults

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 6, 2003

WISCONSIN DELLS–From the moment you step inside the African-themed Kalahari Resort, you know you’re in a different kind of waterpark. For one thing, there are (caged) lion and tiger cubs mewing and looking pretty darned adorable in the lobby. Then there’s the clientele, who are running around in bathing suits, flip flops and shorts, despite the chill outside.

Though spring hasn’t quite found its way to the Midwest just yet, it’s balmy here. Step into the 58,000-square-foot indoor waterpark–the largest in America–and the temperature rises to 87 degrees. It’s two degrees cooler in the water.

“We like to keep it comfortable for our guests,” says Josef Haas, the resort’s affable general manager. “We get a lot of small children here, and we need to make sure they’re warm enough.”

The Kalahari is a child’s dream come true. There are stations where they can shoot water at patrons lazily floating on inner tubes down the “river.” They can enjoy the thrilling water rides. They can romp around in the Children’s Play Center.

They can even feed the hippos. OK, so they’re not real hippos, but rather hippo-shaped garbage cans. Haas said it’s a cinch keeping the place tidy because the children are constantly clamoring to “feed” garbage to the cute trash receptacles.

But for adults who’d rather eat trash than take their kids to another kiddie destination, a waterpark can be a nightmare.

“It’s not easy finding vacations that everyone in the family will enjoy,” says Sarah Litner, 37, of Lincoln Park. “But when my husband and I took our 12-year-old and his friend to Kalahari, we all had a really great time because there were things we could all do together, things the kids could do separately and things we could do without the kids, which was a nice break for all of us.”

Though the Kalahari is geared for kids, there are things adults can indulge in when the smell of chlorine sends them over the edge. I’d suggest taking advantage of the child-care service at the resort and popping into the Oasis Day Spa for a few hours of pampering. The prices aren’t listed on the Kalahari Web site, which is annoying, so you have to call or stop in to find out how much each treatment costs. The prices are reasonable and generally cheaper than those you’d find at a downtown Chicago spa. Massages start at $70 per hour. Facials range from $45 to $105. But if you just want a quick fix, go for the manicure ($20) and pedicure ($45).

My guy friend, who had never experienced the pleasure of a facial or a pedicure before, wasn’t sure what to expect. But after having his face cleansed and delicately massaged by an aesthetician who complimented his skin (she wasn’t nearly as effusive about my noggin), he was ready for his pedicure, which, by the way, he said “rocked!”

As can be expected at a waterpark, the food was just so-so during our visit, though the general manager says much care is being taken to up the culinary ante. But why bother with hot dogs or pasta when you can indulge in some truly delicious treats at the Sweet Hut? I never got around to trying the hand-dipped ice cream, but I can vouch for the fact that the homemade candy is delicious. Rich, creamy and surprisingly filling, the pieces are good enough to give away as a gift. But buy an extra box for yourself, because the treats are that tempting.

A few other shops invite poking around as well: The Art Gallery features authentic, handcrafted African art. Safari Clothing Company carries men’s and women’s apparel. But if you’re feeling guilty about ditching the little ones, pick up a cute treat or two for them. Zakanaka sells children’s clothing and has some fun tchotchkes and souvenirs to take home.

And if you’re not ready to call it a night just yet, catch a movie at the Desert Star Cinema. There are 10 curved wall-to-wall screens with digital surround sound and comfy, high-back rocking chairs.

When it’s time to re-enter the waterpark area, you don’t have to get wet. You can park it in the Mud Hut–a bar where those of age can drink and even light up a cigarette while keeping an eye on their little ones playing in the pool.

Who said a waterpark was for kids only?


Read more about my trips to the Kalahari here.


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