Kalahari: Fun for All Ages and Thrill Levels

I am easily persuaded when it comes to vacation recommendations. If a friend, colleague, or family member—someone whose opinion I highly respect—recommends a certain destination as one of those places you just have to check out, I definitely consider it (that is, if my husband Aaron is in agreement, it’s in the budget, and the timing is right).

The Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells was one of those places.

Back in January, I wrote about how our friends Holly and Kevin, who have four kids ranging in age from 5 to 9, raved about the Kalahari and how I was anxious for my family to see what the hype was all about.

Ben at KalahariOur daycare was closed last week so we were able to make the trip, and I am happy to report that the experience was every bit as awesome as Holly and Kevin promised. Even our almost two-year-old, Ben, can’t stop talking about it. Since returning home, conversations have gone a little like this:

Me: “Ben, would you like some more corn?”
Ben: “Kah-hari! Waterpark!”
Me: “It’s time for bed. Let’s get your pajamas on.”
Ben: “Blue slide! Yellow slide! Orange!”

Clearly the Kalahari made a big impression on his little brain.

My four-year-old, Adam, has informed us that the next time we go to the Kalahari, we’re going for at least eight days, maybe 10. (Forget this Tuesday to Thursday business.) In my opinion, being there for two nights and three days—mid-week, no less—was perfect. And the drive wasn’t too bad—about three hours from St. Paul—nothing compared to one family we met, who had made the trek all the way from North Carolina!

After stopping for lunch in Wisconsin Dells, we pulled up to the Kalahari, where we were impressed by the sheer size of the massive complex. The first sound we heard was African drumbeats piping through a loudspeaker. Let our adventure begin!

We checked in (the front desk staff was very accommodating and friendly), unpacked in our clean, spacious room, and suited up. The waterpark wasn’t busy at all (apparently we had missed the chaos of spring break by one week), and I loved that there were no lines, no crowds, and no big kids accidentally knocking down the little ones. On the flip side, there was also very little people-watching, but I was perfectly ok with that. (I get enough people-watching working in downtown Minneapolis!)

We buckled the boys into complimentary life jackets and floated down the lazy river (the water was cooold), then headed to Leopard’s Lair, a 3,000-square-foot kids’ area where the lukewarm water is never more than a foot deep. This was where we spent the majority of our time, watching the boys play in the fountains, zip down the kiddy-sized waterslides, and follow one another across the giant play structure. (Another kids’ play area—with a 200-foot lazy river—was currently under renovation.) The Leopard’s Lair is in the center of the waterpark, but somehow still feels secluded. I liked that.

Adam on waterslideAaron and Adam went down a few of the “big” waterslides and played water basketball, I tried the Master Blaster rollercoaster waterslide (so fun!), and Aaron tried the Tanzanian Twister, which looks like a giant toilet bowl that swirls you around and around, then drops you into a funnel, either head-first or feet-first (he went head-first). You don’t ride on a tube, like the other waterslides, and because of that, he emerged with a scrape across his back. (I’ll skip that one, thankyouverymuch.) When we go back someday, I’d like to work up enough courage to try the Screaming Hyena, a waterslide with a trap-door start, like a human rocket launch, that drops you into a vertical plunge at 25 mph! Wheeee!

Between 3-4 p.m., you can decorate cookies in the lobby, so we did this before heading back to the room for naps, followed by dinner at the on-site sports restaurant Damon’s. After we ate, we spent the rest of the evening playing in the indoor theme park. We bought combo passes for the waterpark and theme park—a great deal if you plan to utilize both areas.

During our vacation, we rode the six-story Ferris wheel, took a spin (or two) on the African-themed carousel, tried the go-karts (too fast for Adam, who was a passenger in my car … I’m pretty sure I used the brake more than the gas), and played mini golf, laser tag, and arcade games. I channeled my inner gymnast on the ropes course; Aaron channeled his inner billy goat on the climbing wall. Ben loved the swing ride; Adam felt sick to his stomach on the “Air Show” rocking plane. One of the boys’ favorite parts of the indoor amusement park was what they called the treehouse (and the Kalahari calls Kenya’s Jungle), a 1,000-square-foot climbing structure similar to a gigantic McDonald’s playland, with two massage chairs conveniently located outside of the area, where Mom and Dad could unwind with a tasty beverage.

Our days took on a routine of wake up/waterpark/lunch/nap/dinner/theme park/fall asleep totally exhausted. There was no reason to ever leave the Kalahari. We were so busy playing in the water or theme parks, we didn’t even take advantage of the organized activities (a scavenger hunt, coloring contest, etc.).  There were two things we didn’t do that I would’ve liked to—go bowling at the on-site bowling alley and paint a piece of keepsake pottery at Pottery Pizzazz (three things if you count a pedicure at the spa), but I figure we can do those things when we return, hopefully in the next year or two.

On the way out of the Dells, we stopped for dinner at Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co., where two little boys fell asleep at the table. Apparently the excitement of our little getaway caught up with them in a big way. We pulled chairs together and made makeshift “beds” while we quickly finished eating (they were so wiped out, they proceeded to sleep the entire ride home).

I say that’s a sign of vacation success!


  • If you want to save on meal expenses, bring your own groceries. (We did this for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.)
  • If you are staying at the hotel, do not bring any valuables with you down to the waterpark. Lockers are expensive ($6!).
  • Wear flip-flops or water shoes to your designated “parking spot” (ours was always a table near the Leopard’s Lair). The floor in the waterpark does get slick.
  • There is a nice fitness room with multiple treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, and weight machines on the main level, just past the spa. Aaron and I both utilized this room at different times (early morning and mid-afternoon), and—at least during our stay—there was never more than three people working out at a time.
  • Our room was on the fourth floor. We had to walk a bit more to get to the waterpark and theme park, but we didn’t have any issues with noise. It might be a different story if your room is on the main floor, with constant traffic passing by. 
  • For the best rates, try to go mid-week during ‘off-peak’ season. Check online for package deals.