Wisconsin Resorts Pursue Full Range of Expansion Strategies

By | June 13th, 2018

Major operators like Kalahari and Great Wolf are turning the Wisconsin Dells community, already well-established as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” into a year-round destination by catering more to reunions and kid-free weekend getaways and by adding in-house spas. And properties like the Sundara Inn & Spa, located next to the Wild Rock Golf Club, are offering a “different way to experience water” with adults-only quiet spaces, meditation trails and hammock retreats.

“Raja,” the newest ride at Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. stands six stories tall, is 335 feet long and allows riders on inner tubes to reach speeds up to 32 mph as they plunge down a 37-foot drop near the ride’s end, the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, Wis. reported.

One of the largest of its kind in the U.S., “Raja” resembles a monstrous cobra with green eyes that will be illuminated at night with LED lights, the State Journal reported. Once it opens in the coming days on the site of an old bumper-boats attraction, the water slide will likely be among the park’s most popular rides,  along with Scorpion’s Tail, Black Anaconda and Point of No Return.

But on the other side of Lake Delton, away from the acres of concrete, plastic tubes and screams of fun, the State Journal reported, water has been harnessed for its tranquility.

Set back on a winding road among stands of pines next to the Wild Rock Golf Club, one of the signature experiences at Sundara Inn & Spa is a purifying bath ritual, the State Journal reported, where guests, under a rainfall shower, exfoliate their skin with a body polish made from local sandstone. There are steam rooms with aromas of rose and sandalwood, a 102-degree essential oil-infused hot pool, and a 72-degree cool plunge pool.

Quiet spaces are prolific at Sundara, the State Journal reported, and electronic devices are strongly discouraged. The property includes a meditation trail through the woods and a hammock retreat. And to further set itself apart from the frenetic pace and over-stimulation of the Dells, no children are allowed.

“This being adult-only is really a part of what makes it a sanctuary,” Heidi Michel, Sundara’s Marketing Director, told the State Journal. “It’s a different way to experience water.”

Tourism is a more than $1 billion industry in Wisconsin Dells, the State Journal reported, and accounts for about 10 percent of the state’s tourism revenue, according to a study released this month by the state Department of Tourism. But while families with children, many of whom come for youth sports tournaments, spend millions of dollars on waterpark stays, rides on Ducks, zip-lining excursions, slices of pizza, pieces of fudge and go-cart rides, another economy is adding to the bottom line.

Those experiences, the State Journal reported, can include golfing, touring a winery, fine dining, taking in a show, gambling at Ho-Chunk Gaming and sampling the latest creations from area brew pubs and distilleries. Resort operators that include major names such as Kalahari, Mount Olympus, Wilderness, Chula Vista and Great Wolf have helped turn the Wisconsin Dells community into a year-round destination and have upped their game in recent years by catering to reunions and kid-free weekend getaways and by adding in-house spas. At Kalahari, one of the most visible water park resorts due to its location along Interstate 90-94, a major expansion is underway designed to increase weekday stays year-round.

The resort, which opened in 2000, is in the midst of a $35 million expansion project to double its convention space to 212,000 square feet, the State Journal reported. The project, which broke ground in October, includes a 56,000-sq.-ft. ballroom and will allow for larger conventions and help reduce instances where on a regular basis some conventions are being turned away due to a lack of space, according to tourism officials. The Wisconsin Dells area draws 4 million to 5 million visitors a year, which includes those who attend more than 5,600 meetings and conventions annually, a number that has grown over the past 20 years.

“When we first opened Kalahari, we definitely had our work cut out for us to encourage adoption of the idea that a convention center and indoor water park could exist in the same business model,” Todd Nelson, owner of the resort company, said last year when he announced the project. “We were steadfast in our vision, and it’s been incredible to see the demand grow exponentially.”

Sundara, which is celebrating its 15th year, is doubling down on grown-up getaways with a more than $13 million expansion, the State Journal reported. The project includes the addition of eight guest suites and the renovation of the spa’s existing 26 suites with Kohler Spa Shower Systems with digital temperature controls. The nearly 40,000 square feet of new space includes 13 private treatment rooms, a salon for manicures and pedicures, fitness and yoga studios, a retreat space for cooking demonstrations and classes.

A salt-treatment therapy room allows guests to sit in lounge chairs as a halo therapy generator releases microscopic salt particles into the air to improve respiratory function and rejuvenate the skin, the State Journal reported.

Other additions to the inn and spa, where stays range from $200 to over $300 a night, include a larger lobby, a saltwater pool with fire-pit seating on the deck and the Cambrian Oasis, which features cast replicas of the area’s sandstone bluffs, a large hot soak with a waterfall feature, and an indoor/outdoor pool bar that serves craft cocktails.

The spa has added a full-service restaurant with an adjacent room for meetings and private dining, while a large outdoor patio off the restaurant has seating around six fire pits, the State Journal reported.

“We aren’t here to become a mega-resort,” Michel said. “We’re trying to create more intimate spaces.”

Back at Noah’s Ark, the State Journal reported, the 70-acre property features over 50 water slides, the Big Kahuna Wave Pool, Paradise Lagoon, Adventure River and, since opening in 1978, has helped define Wisconsin Dells as the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” Noah’s Ark is still a Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend destination, but the trend line for many other businesses is to go year-round and not just market to families.

“This city is changing,” Matt Hehl, marketing director for Noah’s Ark, told the State Journal. “It used to be a very summer-centric place and now people are coming here year-round, and it’s great for all of us.”

For the State Journal’s full report, go to https://dailyreporter.com/2018/06/09/resorts-in-wisconsin-dells-plan-to-expand/

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