Bubba and Pete Ludwig strike a pose at one of the Wisconsin Dells theme parks. | Howard Ludwig~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:15AM
For lifelong residents of the Chicago area, it’s almost obligatory to visit the Wisconsin Dells. I fulfilled my obligation last weekend.
My in-laws graciously sprung for the overnight trip. The boys were looking forward to the indoor water park. I was dreading the drive but curious to see the self-proclaimed “Waterpark Capital of the World.”
After four hours in the minivan, we reached Exit 92. The scene from the interstate was what I expected — massive, barn-like structures with insulated tubes twisting in and out. We were booked for one night at the Wilderness Resort.
We arrived prior to check-in but just in time for lunch. Grandma and Papa Dave suggested a restaurant in the downtown area. This was an opportunity to drive the main strip. I was amazed at the massive number of tourist attractions. Everywhere you looked there was a water park, roller coaster, mini-golf course, T-shirt shop or go-kart track.
Now I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but I imagine if you replaced the casinos with water parks, it would look a lot like the Wisconsin Dells.
After a lunch of fried cheese curds and perch, we hit the indoor water park. This was a huge space with wave pools, water cannons and water slides. Most parents kept a close eye on younger children while unattended preteens flocked to various attractions in packs.
I scanned the adults in the crowd and realized I’d seen all these people 15 years ago. These 30-somethings are my peers — the same fun-loving group who gathered for Spring Break 1997. More than a decade later, our beach bodies look very different. That spikey tattoo isn’t so tough. The bikinis were traded in for one-piece suits a long time ago. And our haircuts are all intended to hide bald spots, gray hair or both. The party people from MTV’s “Spring Break ’97” were all there — chasing around kids in swim diapers.
After mourning my youth, we returned to the room to dry off and head out for dinner. We again visited downtown and meandered among fudge shops, toy stores and oddball attractions, including a place called “The Point.” This place sells all varieties of knives, swords, spears, armor and arrows.
My 6- and 4-year-old boys couldn’t have dreamed up a more fantastic place. Then, I spotted a set of three knives. The blades were designed to emerge from your fist like the Wolverine character from the X-Men comics. My awestruck sons refused to leave. Every weapon from every comic book and cartoon they’ve ever loved was on display.
I eventually pried the boys away. We ate pizza, and everyone slipped into a chlorine-induced coma that early evening.
We woke up early to hit the water park again before returning home. The boys had a blast. They insisted The Wife or I watch as they slid down every slide (forward and backward) and shot every water cannon. I joined them on a few slides, and I’ll admit it was quite a rush.
I’m glad we went to the Dells while the boys are still young. Eventually, they’ll be the preteens going from slide to slide, begrudgingly checking in with their parents every two hours.
I can only imagine what the “’97 Spring Break” crowd will look like then.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.