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What possesses one family to create an exotic wildlife park in the middle of The Waterpark Capital of the World!®? Or scientists to set up a foundation where you can see all 15 species of crane, from the largest population to the most endangered? Or locals to create a park where you can hand-feed deer?
Magnetism of the creatures is only part of the answer.
At Timbavati Wildlife Park, the stunning wildlife murals on the exterior of the park are the tip-off to the encounter inside. Just past the front gate, the soothing sound of a waterfall greets visitors, providing a nice counterpoint to the screeches of the birds and animals, more than 60 species in all and growing. Owner Mark Schoebel is ever enthusiastic when describing the 15-acre park with its menagerie of inhabitants that includes red kangaroos, tawny eagles, camels and big cats. He said his family hasbeen in the animal entertainment business since the 1950s, and credits his wife Alice with caring for the newborn animals, a 24/7 job. When visiting, be sure to visit the giraffe area, where you can actually feed the long-limbed, long-necked animals by hand. For a bit of nostalgia, ride the Safari Train – it’s actually Engine #9 salvaged from the Old Fort Dells attraction and beautifully refitted to the grounds of Timbavati Wildlife Park.
Wisconsin Deer Park dates back to 1952, making it one of Wisconsin Dells’ classic attractions. It’s operated by the grandson of founder Russ Tollaksen. This 40-acre plot provides a family-friendly hiatus from all the hustle and bustle of the Dells and takesyou to a simpler time. You can feed white tail deer from your hand and see American elk and bison. Best times to visit for photo opps? May to middle June when fawns are born almost every day, and August when the bucks are sporting their velvet covered antlers.
You can classify this next place as exotic. It’s the International Crane Foundation on the outskirts of the Dells. The 225-acre world headquarters hosts a captive flock of approximately 100 cranes, and is the only place in the world that you can see all 15 species of cranes. The campus offers live crane exhibits, an interactive education center, guided and self-guided tours, a research library, visitor center and over four miles of nature trails set among 100 acres of restored tall grass prairie, oak savanna and wetlands.
Did You Know: To prevent cranes from imprinting on humans and to prepare the birds for life in the wild, researchers caring for the young whooping cranes wear full-length crane costumes.
Circus World, in nearby Baraboo, was the home to The Ringling Bros. Circus from 1884 thru 1918 and continues to bring the circus to life with big top shows featuring skilled acrobats, horses, jugglers, dogs, clowns, aerialists and elephants. Watch as a black Celebes Ape steals the show, appearing alongside the Rhesus monkeys in Zoppe's Comedy Monkey Revue. Enjoy a thrill as you ride upon a real circus elephant.
Finally, for a little horseback riding or a wagon ride, try Woodside Ranch with 1,400acres of trails and more than 100 horses in every size, from pony to Percheron. It’s located close-by in Mauston. There’s also Red Ridge Ranch Riding Stable with a Mauston address and Canyon Creek Riding Stables in the Dells for short trail rides led by experienced guides.
‘Tis the Season: Best Places to Spend Christmas
Wisconsin Dells specializes in the fine art of fa-la-la-ing and ho-ho-ho-ing.
Meaning, the local business owners here revel in the opportunity to each December transform the Dells into holiday cheer central. Looking for holiday travel ideas? The list below is a good starting point. Now break out that Christmas sweater!
Indoor Snowfall, Life-size Gingerbread House Great Wolf Lodge gets the gold star for its indoor Snowland®. Snow machines create real snowflakes, how cool is that! Plus there’s a life-size gingerbread house you can reserve for breakfast, lunch or dinner; it seats up to six.
Disney Musical, Overnight Stay The new Palace Theater is staging the beloved Disney musical, “Mary Poppins,” through January 3. There’s just something about getting dressed up for a dinner theater production that says holiday to us.Spend the night at the Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort right across the street and save on tickets. For little boys and girls who have been extra good, the resort will even arrange for “elves” to make special deliveries.
Waterslides and Snow Slides Mt. Olympus Hotel Rome brings you the winter versionof the waterslide with free tickets to Christmas Mountain Village Ski, Snowboard & Tube for overnight guests of their resort. Plus you’ll get free passes to all the indoor fun at Mt. Olympus Theme Park & Water Park. That should keep everyone plenty busy and plenty happy.
Busy Elves Chula Vista Resort clearly loves the holiday season, as evidenced by their line-up of December activities, including photo ops with Santa and Mrs. Claus, wagon rides, crafts, sing-alongs, holiday movies, story time, even an elf tuck-in.
The Big Day Enjoy a scrumptious holiday buffet at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions when you stay December 24-25. Then head to the waterpark for some festive family fun. Hmmm, do you still need to wait an hour before you swim? Might be difficult to enforce given all the incredible slides and rides here.
Five Ways to Add to the Holiday Fun
Sleigh Ride There’s nothing that says “classic holiday” quite like a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow at Red Ridge Ranch Riding Stable. Woodside Ranch in nearby Mauston also offers wagon and sleigh rides, plus snow tubing, sledding and cross-country skiing for day visitors.
Train Ride For an experience that says “Christmas past,” hop aboard the 20th annual Santa Express, a train ride with the Jolly Old Elf himself aboard a historic train at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom. There are departure times throughout the day on November 29 and 30. Oh, and you’re guaranteed to be toasty warm because they use the century-old tradition of steam heating or coal-fired stove heating on the train. Come to think of it, isn’t that what they use at the North Pole too?
New Pair of Slipper Moccasins What’s the holiday season without a new pair of snuggly slippers. Pick up your favorite moccasin-style slip-ons at Winnebago Fine Goods & Gift Shop, Aunt Jenny’s Got-It-All Store, and Parson’s Indian Trading Post.
Create Your Own Holiday Treasure Paint It! Pottery Shop in downtown Dells is for all ages and all artistic abilities, plus they have specials all December-long. Create an ornament or chip ‘n dip tray that is uniquely yours.
Christmas Candy Sweet tooths unite! There’s something called the “Tower of Temptation” at Swiss Maid Fudge that seems tailor made for gifting or enjoying with those who made it to your “nice” list. The trio includes turtles, fudge and cashew crunch. The chocolate crème de menthe fudge at Goody Goody Gum Drop sounds goody goody good to us. Maybe pick up some champagne truffles while you’re there to tuck away for New Year’s Eve.
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