by Lisa Meyers McClintick
In the nation’s epicenter for groundbreaking water park resorts, Wisconsin Dell’s Chula Vista Resort stands out nicely with a rare location along the nicely wooded Wisconsin River. It feels tucked-away from the hubbub of downtown, the Interstate or Dells Parkway with its blazing neon and over-the-top attractions.
Chula Vista guests can sit out balconies overlooking the waterway that carved the famous Dells, float the day away in an outdoor wave pool nestled beneath Norway pines or soak in romantic whirlpool outside the spa. Kids can ride the world’s largest indoor water coaster, then plunge down one of the tallest cyclone slides.
Another caveat is being able to leave the car in the parking lot. You can hop a boat tour from Chula Vista’s docks or grab water shuttles to downtown for more dining and shopping.
When night rolls around, it’s a peaceful time to stroll the resort’s River Walk, go out to eat and settle into the jungle-themed theater for Jeremy Allen’s Grand Illusions show with magic, comedy and white tigers.
Chula Vista’s South American influences inspired its water park’s jungle theme and the warm colors shades of red and gold in guest rooms. They seem most fitting in the fall when those same colors can be seen in the trees along the riverbanks.
Chula Vista has been around for at least 60 years, but it has kept up with the area’s largest resorts by investing more than $200 million into expanding accommodations, building the water park, adding restaurants and revamping its 18-hole golf course since 2006. It also added a large sports complex, which brings teams from across the country here.
Our Editor Loves
- Indoor water park with water coaster
- Outdoor wave pool nestled along the riverfront
- Outdoor water park and one of the country's largest cyclone slides
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Chula Vista offers 620 guestrooms, including hotel rooms, suites, villas and condos.
Standard room amenities include microwave, mini-fridge, coffee maker, flat-screen TV and coffee makers. Upgrades can include junior suites, with a semi-private living area and options such as fireplaces, balconies and whirlpools. There also are some themed fantasy suites with pirate, Outer Space, African and Wild West decor. Kids will probably like the Wild West covered wagon twin beds or funky lighting by the outer space whirlpool the best.
There are 220 condos that offer guests the convenience of being at home with kitchens, living areas, balconies and laundry. They come in one-, two-, and three-bedroom layouts that can sleep up to 12 people. Villas, loft villas and family villas sleep six to eight people and overlook the Cold Water Canyon Golf Course. They're best for adults or teens because they are stand-alone buildings and do not connect to the waterparks.
by Rachel R
Had a fun time. I'm not a huge fan of waterparks, but it's a decent winter activity. My kids are 2 and 5 years old. Waterpark opens at 10am which is a little long to wait for early risers. To kill time beforehand, we walked outside on the length of the resort with the river view. Pretty bluffs.
Waterpark temps were fine. My kids don't enjoy being sprayed in the face. So we spent most of our time in the 4ft pool (with provided life jackets), the lazy river and the hot tub until we were kicked out. Minimum age is 6 for the hot tub. For the lazy river, we had to ask for help getting in and out of the double raft. My 5 yr old got doused by one waterfall. The 2 year old sat on my lap. We lasted 2 hours in the water. Then we explored the arcade.
Family dressing room is nice; includes shower and full bathroom. If we go again, we'll make plans to try the hot springs on the first day of the stay. It's open to kids from 3-7pm.
by Carol H
Good food and beds were comfortable. View of Wisconsin River was a nice addition to the room; If weather would have warmer, it would of been nice to sit out on the room balcony to enjoy the sites. Also, enjoyed the on-site gift shop. I have enjoyed staying at Chula Vista many times.
Lost Rios Indoor Water Park
Thrill-seekers beeline for Fly'n Mayan, which claims to be the world's longest and fastest indoor water coaster. It tugs riders up hills and swooshes them down and around as it snakes above this 80,000-square-foot indoor water park. It adds some extra noise, too, but older kids love it.
Other highlights include the Jungle Adventure Bowl Ride with lights and sounds and more than a dozen tube and body slides and side-by-side steeply plunging mat slides for racing. The rainforest theme, with snakes, frogs and monkeys wraps through the floating river, Mount Montezuma Rainforest play structure and tipping bucket, activity pool, whirlpools and basketball.
Outdoor Water Park
The big thrill in summer months is Adventure Lagoon's Cyclone. Considered one of North America's highest cyclone slides, it spins riders through a darkened tube and into a giant vortex before dropping into a plunge pool. It was added in 2008 to the three-acre outdoor water park. It also has a 350-foot slide for the ultimate plunge, nine large water slides, outdoor hot tub and activity pool.
Guests who crave more amenities, cushier chairs and refrigerators can rent family-sized "Chubana" cabanas.
Dells Boat Tours
Chula Vista guests can hop aboard Dells Boat Tours from the resort docks. Tours include the Upper or Lower Dells, a combination or one of the specialized tours such as the Ghost Boat where kids 11 and older can see how easily they spook during a nighttime visit to Witches Gulch Landing. Prepare to get wet on 40-passenger Jet Boats that spin out, make sudden stops and push the odometer with 1,200-horsepower motors. Boat tours are generally free for kids under 5 and range from $9 to $23 for older kids and adults.
Original Wisconsin Ducks, vintage wartime vehicles that go on land or water, also pick up guests at Chula Vista.
Jeremy Allen's Grand Illusions
If your kids are clamoring for stuffed white tigers with blue eyes, it's probably due to Jeremy Allen's nightly show featuring magic, comedy, and, yes, two white tigers. If your kids won't last for the 8 p.m. show (especially after a day of playing hard in the water parks), there is a Kids Comedy Magic Show with a funny and more intimate look at becoming a magician ($20). The main show runs $30 to $55 per adult, with kids getting in at half-price.
Adding to Chula Vista's more outdoorsy atmosphere are nightly campfires with marshmallow roasts behind the resort. Few kids can resist that.
Watch for seasonal and holiday events such as spring break with wagon rides, family cooking demonstrations, cookie decorating, movie nights and nighttime storytime.
Kaminski Brothers Chop House
Modeled after Manny's Steakhouse in Minneapolis, Chula Vista's best-known restaurant serves up New York peppersteak, blue cheese filet and horseradish-crusted filet from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly. While it touts its dry-aged beef, it's often the garbage salad that gets the most buzz. Wait staff remembers everyone's order and assembles the salad tableside with the flair of a bartender. The butter chicken and "Big Moe's" burger are both Kaminski family recipes. If you love wine, they serve more than 300 varieties. The Chop House is a pricier night out, especially for families, but you'll likely have leftovers for the mini-fridge with its over-the-top portions. Reservations recommended.
Market Fresh Buffet
This three-meals-a-day buffet pleases hungry kids who hate waiting and can eat a lot. Look for wood-fired pizzas (even a breakfast version), Belgian waffles, and a made-to-order omelet station starting at 7 a.m. Lunch includes soup, salad, meats and a build-your-own bar with specials such as tacos or sandwiches. Dinner includes an all-you-can-eat crab legs and peel-and-eat dinner buffet with chicken, ribs and a pasta station. Drinks and dessert included.
Cold Water Canyon Clubhouse
This restaurant is best known for serving one of Wisconsin's most iconic meals: Friday night fish fry. The all-you-can-eat meal comes with relishes, salad and corn fritters. Order burgers, sandwiches and other Wisconsin favorites -- deep-fried cheese curds and brats -- anytime.
Sunset Dinner Cruise
Dells Boat Tours serve a surf-and-turf dinner and live music during its sunset dinner cruise. It's a good chance to see a pink glow illuminating the Wisconsin River's sandstone formations. Reservations highly recommended ($36-$46).
Steamboat Rock Bar & Grill
More imaginative than the Clubhouse and easier on the budget than a full-blown buffet, Steamboat has some nice twists on casual fare. Cheeseburgers are served on pretzel buns, tequila-marinated prawns are served with bacon and avocado on ciabatta bread, and the signature soup is roasted corn chowder. The pick-your-own sliders trio (which can include crabcakes or sausages) is a good way to split up burgers among small eaters.
Planning & Tips
Be sure to get the Children and Family Activities guide when you check in to maximize a weekend. It lists activities such as cookie-decorating, special events such as a Halloween haunted house, daily surf lessons on the Flow Rider, games with prizes such as game tokens, coloring contests and family movies. Some do require a fee.
Maximize Play Time
Check in is at 4 p.m., but guests can hit the water park early or stay beyond the 10:30 a.m. checkout. Ask for rooms, suites or condos that are near the tunnel that leads to the waterpark. That lessens time spent walking back and forth and lowers the risk of overtired toddlers having meltdowns.
The Art of Smart Timing
If you want to enjoy the outdoor water park with thinner crowds in the summer, aim for the last two weeks of August or first week in June. For fall and winter, you'll find better deals and fewer crowds September through early December (excluding holidays). Go mid-week rather than weekends if possible. Crowds peak mid-June through mid-August and from Christmas through spring break in March and early April.
The resort is right off Interstate 94/90, about 90 minutes from Milwaukee, 3.5 hours from Chicago, and 4 hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Dane County Regional Airport in Madison is about 45 minutes from Chula Vista. Chula Vista will pick up families arriving on Amtrak's passenger train or Greyhound's bus line.
For Mom and Dad
Chula Vista's Spa del Sol's coziest feature is its outdoor Hot Springs whirlpool with heated decks and adobe fireplace. Guests can use it for $15/per person or free with a paid spa treatment. Spa services include massages, facials, pedicures and manicures and body wraps. Some of the special treatments rehydrate winter skin, sooth sinuses and relax moms-to-be. Light bento box meals and bottles of wine can be ordered at the spa.