It's a Jungle In There
Kalahari Indoor (and outdoor) Waterpark Resort, Wisconsin Dells, WisconsinFeb 10 2004
As you head east along Interstate 90/94 from Madison, the first evidence that you've arrived at the water park oasis known as Wisconsin Dells is the Kalahari's massive indoor water park building. Like a mirage in the parched desert (er, better make that the frozen tundra), the improbable edifice stretches at least a couple of football fields in length along the highway and sprouts a few enclosed water slide tubes at one end. The smoke billowing from the roof offers further testament to the climate-controlled wave pool, lazy river, and hot tubs beckoning inside. Even when it's 32-below with the wind-chill factor outside, there are bathing suit-clad folks shedding their cabin fever and soaking up the Kalahari's African-themed water park fun within. Welcome to indoor water park Shangri-la.
Perched on the outskirts of Wisconsin Dells, the Kalahari lays claim as "America's largest indoor waterpark." That's saying a lot in a town where you can't move 100 feet in any direction without bumping into a water slide. While the "largest waterpark" title is a matter of some dispute (see A Lotta Water: Who Has the Biggest Water Park?), there's no denying that the indoor water park is the centerpiece of the huge resort.
Vaguely reminiscent of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World, the lovely hotel looks fairly conventional from the outside. Once you step through the main entrance, however, it's immediately obvious that this isn't a conventional hotel. The giant elephant statue above the fireplace, the live baby tigers and lions on display, and the enormous map of Africa that hangs above the lobby help set the tone. But the unmistakable smell of chlorinated water wafting in the air firmly establishes the Kalahari as a wholly unique resort.
Slip Sliding AwayThe chlorine scent leads the way through the lobby and towards the rear of the property to the indoor water park. After flashing their hotel guest wristbands (or purchasing a day pass wristband for those not staying at the Kalahari) at the park's front desk, guests receive a towel, make their way through the well-appointed locker rooms, and enter the water park.
Once inside, the sheer size and audacity of the park makes an indelible first impression. Reaching some 60 feet high and extending hundreds of yards, the place is alive with hoots and hollers from water slide daredevils, reverberating percussions from water cannons, and squeals from tykes as they soak each other silly. A "mountain" houses some of the slides and serves as a backdrop for the crashing waves in the wave pool. (the first indoor wave pool ever built). A towering totem pole erupts with bursts of water every few minutes. The Kalahari's indoor water park boasts virtually every attraction found at a large outdoor water park. And we're not talking scaled-down facsimiles. The Tanzanian Twister is a full-sized Pro Bowl "spin-and-flush" ride. The Animal Kingdom children's play structure is loaded with mini-slides, water guns, and a host of other interactive gizmos to get yourself and others wet. The Rippling Rhino is a two-person raft ride with plenty of twists and turns. Victoria Falls allows up to four passengers for an even taller, longer, and more thrill-packed family raft ride. The signature attraction at the Kalahari, the Botswana Blast water coaster, is quite a sight as it snakes around the rafters and shoots riders uphill.
The Kalahari also offers attractions not typically found at outdoor water parks. Its five hot tubs, for example, are wonderful places to, er, chill out. In the Current Channel, users can get quite a workout walking against the considerable resistance of the water jets. An adjacent lap pool offers more exercise opportunities.
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