Planning a Wisconsin Dells Mini-Vacation for Toddlers

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With the arrival of the new school year, you might not be thinking about vacations anymore. But if you’re part of a “toddlers and under” family, like me, this is actually a perfect time to plan a little getaway!

The crowds have thinned out dramatically, but the weather is still beautiful, and many places are offering late-season discounts.

The Dells is an obvious choice for a mini-vacation here in Wisconsin, but most of the big ticket activities are geared toward older kids. Is it worth planning a trip up there with toddlers?

In my (recently battle tested) opinion: YES!

dells mini vacay for toddlers

Last month, we spent a few days in the Dells with our 3- and 1-year-old boys, and we had a blast. I was nervous about the trip, since my husband was going to be gone for a big chunk of the daytime hours at a conference, leaving me alone to wrangle the two boys AND try to do fun activities with them. But everything went surprisingly well—so well that I couldn’t wait to get back and share it with all of you!

Here’s a little breakdown of what we did (plus a few things we would have done with more time) and why they’re awesome for toddlers!

Where to Stay

We stayed at Great Wolf Lodge, and I was SO impressed with their toddler-friendliness! (Falicia also wrote about her family’s experience at Great Wolf earlier this year – check it out!)

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First, there’s the amazing indoor/outdoor waterpark. Here are a few of the things we loved most about it:

  • Kid life jackets (free to use on site)
  • Multiple zero depth entry pools, including the indoor wave pool (both of my boys LOVED this!)
  • A separate baby pool area with a mini slide, completely closed off with a latched gate (perfect for a mom who’s alone with a baby + toddler!)
  • Look Mountain: a (very slow/easy) tube waterslide with no height minimum for the passenger, so toddlers of any height can ride with parents (life jackets are permitted too)
  • Hawk’s Beak: mini body slides ending in a kiddie pool
  • Raccoon Lagoon: an indoor splash area just for littles, with slides and ride-on spraying jet skis (my oldest son’s FAVORITE!)
  • Fort Mackenzie: a multi-story interactive treehouse with plenty of spraying and a gigantic dumping water bucket (the bucket was scary for my toddler, so don’t forget to keep an eye on it if you’re in the same boat!)

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In addition to the amazing waterpark, Great Wolf offers these other toddler-friendly options:

  • PJ story time in the lobby (daily at 8 PM)
  • The morning Wolf Walk (daily at 9 AM)
  • Crafts and games in the Cub Club
  • Arcade and ice cream shop

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Other great hotel options:

Kalahari

Wilderness

What to Do

1. The Riverside and Great Northern Railway Train

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This mini-train carries you on a scenic 25-30 minute loop through the forest. It’s perfect for your train-loving toddlers—ours absolutely LOVED it!

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At the halfway point of the trip, everyone gets off the train to watch the conductor turn the train around on a manual turntable. Pretty thrilling stuff!

The train runs every hour, on the hour, as long as they’re open (daily hours vary by season). Tickets are $12 for adults, and kids 3 and under are FREE!

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There’s also a cute gift shop with a play train table and all the Thomas paraphernalia you could ask for—great for killing some time before the train arrives!

2. Knuckleheads

This is basically a giant indoor amusement park, with trampolines, rides, and an arcade. It’s mostly geared toward older kids, but I was surprised to find some great options for toddlers too.

Our 3-year-old was able to ride a go-kart with his dad (no height minimum for passengers, although kids must be at least 3 years old) and it was just $7 for both of them.

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There’s also a flying tiger carnival ride with no height minimum and no age requirement—$3 for kids and chaperones are free.

Depending on your toddler’s adventure level, you could also try out the jumping pillow or Ball-O-City (a 4 story soft play area with slides).

3. Pirate’s Cove Family Fun Center

Pirate’s Cove is most known for its mini golf course, but it actually has lots more to offer. We went there one morning to blow off steam at their huge FREE park.

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This is a great spot—right next to a large parking lot (and an ice cream shop!), and surrounding by nice picnic areas.

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Once you venture down into the Family Fun Center, you can find peddle go-carts for ALL ages (there are even ones with baby seats in the back for infants!), a jumping pillow, and a sand castle area.

Other ideas:

These are a few of the other activities that were on my list, but we didn’t have time to check out.

Where to Eat

If you’re in the Dells with a toddler, Buffalo Bill’s is a MUST. It’s a fun, kid-friendly restaurant where drinks are delivered by TRAIN.

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We waited a little longer to score a spot right next to a train, and it was so worth it. Our son was beside himself when the train stopped right next to him to deliver his apple juice.

This really was toddler heaven, with trains swooping around the room from all directions and kid shows on the TVs. At one point, one of the trains zipped by shooting bubbles. (Not necessarily an adult’s heaven, while eating, but the kids loved it!)

Of course, there is an extensive kids’ menu, but Buffalo Bill’s also has special allergy-free menus for peanuts, seafood, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, and gluten.

Other ideas:

Are you getting the mini-vacation itch yet??

If you’ve never done the hotel-with-a-toddler thing, here are a few quick tips to make the experience go smoother:

  • Bring some kind of white noise. We brought a large fan and positioned it between the “kid” side of the room and the “adult” side. This was HUGE, as we were able to putter around the room after the kids went to bed without worrying that every little sound would wake them up.
  • Invest in a room with a little separation. We got the family suite at Great Wolf, which had a living room with a partial wall separating it from the main sleeping area. We rearranged the furniture so we could tuck the baby behind the couch in his Pack n’ Play, then had our toddler on the floor on the other side of the couch. (Great Wolf also offers premium rooms with completely separate bedrooms, lofts, and really cute themed kids’ rooms.)
  • Consider springing for a room with a balcony. This might seem like an unnecessary luxury, but again: when you have very young kids, separation is critical to hotel success. A balcony offers a great option for adult hang-out time after the kids are down for the night.
  • Ask for a room with a mini fridge and microwave. These are pretty common in hotels these days, but not every room has them, so it’s worth checking it out in advance. It is so much easier to be able to prepare meals/snacks (especially breakfast) in the comfort of your room, rather than having to scramble to get to a restaurant with a hangry toddler.
  • Pack paper cups/plates AND/OR dish soap/cloths to wash your plastic stuff. Easy to forget—tragic to forget.
  • Bring entertainment for the adults. This is usually the last thing on your mind when you’re planning for a kids’ vacay, but it’s kind of depressing to get the kids to bed and then realize you have nothing quiet enough to do. Bring a book (and a mini light!), a laptop (possibly with headphones), or some other activity that requires minimal sound/light.

Q: Seasoned Dells travelers, what would you add to this list?

GIVEAWAY! {ENDED}

Great Wolf Lodge would like to offer one of our readers a complimentary one-night stay in a Family Suite at Great Wolf! The winner will receive a certificate valued at $250, which will expire on June 30, 2016.

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter. The contest closes next Tuesday, September 15, and the randomly selected winner will be contacted via email.

Good luck and happy toddler vacationing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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