Planning student travel isn’t just booking lodging and arranging for visits to educational sites. No matter if it’s a class trip or an end-of-year reward – the best experiences in student travel are all about combining fun and awe with the chance to learn. And, if there’s a theme park or two handy, that’s even better.
For many years, Midwesterners have favored Wisconsin Dells as an all-around Vacation Central. The Dells does entertainment, sports, shopping, scenery, and adventure for people who like entertainment, sports, shopping, scenery, adventure, and any combination thereof. It’s also known as the Waterpark Capital of the World, and it’s only fitting that the area contains the biggest indoor and outdoor waterparks in the United States.
For student travel planners, though, the mere presence of waterparks doesn’t automatically equal the perfect trip. We also need to have activities that will engage the brain and the imagination equally, creating both a sense of wonder and a sense of accomplishment. And the Dells has these kinds of attractions ready to hand.
But first, let’s talk travel.
How Do We Get My Student Group to the Dells?
The Dells area – both the city itself and the surrounding communities – first became famous because of the landscape around the Wisconsin River. Its setting in the center of southern Wisconsin has proved propitious in another way: it’s quite easy to get there by air or by car.
If you’re driving in, the Dells is about an hour’s drive north of Madison; heading up I-90 will do the trick. Chicago and Minneapolis are within an approximately three-hour drive; it’s six hours from Indianapolis and St. Louis.
Flying into the Dells also presents few difficulties. The nearest commercial airport is Dane County Regional Airport in nearby Madison. It is served by Delta, American Eagle, Frontier, and United airlines. For more options, Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport is about two hours away. In addition, two major air travel hubs (Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago) are within a reasonable drive.
What Attractions Would You Recommend for Student Travel in the Dells?
Experiences with an education twist abound in the Dells. Here are some of our top picks:
Paint It! Pottery Shop. Why is art class so much fun? Because it’s hands-on. And things don’t get much more hands-on than they do in this ceramics studio. Kids can choose from different paint-ready clay forms – or, if they’re feeling very creative, they can mold a hunk of clay into whatever they like. Students apply the paint, and the shop fires their items in its kiln. The resulting works of art/souvenirs can be picked up later or shipped home by the shop.
Tommy Bartlett Exploratory – Interactive Science Center. Named after a local entertainer and water-skiing show creator, the Exploratory encourages kids to do more than just marvel. Students and teachers alike will get the chance to exercise their brains as they examine pieces of the Russian MIR space station and the Mercury space capsule. Then it’s time to exercise their inner sports fan at the virtual sports center, where they can “participate” in hockey, snowboarding and other sports. And, for a truly unforgettable experience, visitors can get a firsthand glimpse of the awesome power in a thundercloud at the Bridge of Fire exhibit.
Mid-Continent Railroad Museum. Who doesn’t love a train? At this museum, students can see actual locomotives and railway cars for themselves. Even better, they can ride on them, enjoying an hour-long excursion into the surrounding countryside. At various times of the year, this experience gets even better. Wintertime brings a snow train and a Santa train; in the fall, a pumpkin train celebrates the harvest. Barbecue trains and pizza trains combine two tasty foods with a ride on one of America’s most historical modes of transport.
Wisconsin Deer Park. For 50-plus years, this park has been part petting zoo, part animal breeding program, and a wholly popular attraction. While the majority of the 40-acre park is devoted to the dainty quadrupeds, there’s a four-block-long exhibit area that gives guests the chance to feed and interact with these shy creatures. Kids might also spot an elk, bison, or some European or Japanese deer when they visit.
Lost Canyon Tours. This harks back to the area’s original attraction – a river gorge with sculpted stone sides. The tours are definitely old-school; they’re conducted via horse-drawn carriage. At 15 people per carriage, there’s plenty of room for your students to take in the surroundings in a very authentic way.
Wisconsin Dells Student Travel Planning Tips
- You Don’t Have to Go It Alone. The Wisconsin Dells CVB is ready to help you with just about anything you could need. So, if you have a question (or 10), just ask!
- Summer Is Awesome, But There Are Three Other Seasons. Although the Dells is best known for its waterparks – a traditionally summertime activity – there’s plenty to do all year round. Some attractions have limited off-season hours; others have off-season special activities. Call before you go, and enjoy whatever of the four seasons are on display when you come.
- There’s Plenty of Room for Everyone. With over 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 3,000 campsites, your group can be accommodated with ease.
- Don’t Forget About the Cheese. This is Wisconsin, after all – the heart of the American cheese industry. And the Dells is well-supplied with cheese shops. So have a taste or two!
Plan your student travel experiences both wisely and well, but never forget the fun. After all, education is a dish best served with sides of wonder and joy.