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Wisconsin Dells springs back to life

The Tommy Bartlett Show, with its stage on the shores of Lake Delton, is a great stop for families. But the show offers more than just water thrills -- it features acrobats, magic and more

Reports of the death of Wisconsin Dells' tourism industry are greatly exaggerated.

Last year's draining of Lake Delton and the subsequent impact on tourist-related businesses is still on people's minds, even though things are pretty much back to normal in this central Wisconsin community.

A few days of family vacation is all one needs to prove that fact.

Whether the weather is hot and sunny, or cool and rainy, there is always plenty to do in The Dells. Even winter provides plenty of options for fun activities for visitors of all ages.

Following is a guide of 10 "can't miss" opportunities to help plan your Wisconsin Dells stay. A family can spend a lot of money at The Dells if they're not careful. A little pre-planning can keep your trip on budget.

All about the rocks

You have plenty of choices for boat tours along the Wisconsin River. Of course there are the Duck boat options, scenic boat tour offerings, sunset cruises and theme trips. While they all offer something a little different, possibly the best tour is the Upper Dells trip with stops at Stand Rock and Witch's Gultch. If you have a need for speed, several jet boat tours provide a view of rock formations, along with a few thrills. Don't head out if it's cooler -- you will get wet and flying along at top speeds makes the chill even worse.

If it rains

There are plenty of things to do when the storm clouds roll in. Of course, many choose to head downtown during those moments to shop. Finding a parking spot can be a challenge. The Dells also offers numerous bowling alleys (several with cosmic bowling options) which can be fun for all ages. Several indoor water parks are open to the public, even if you choose not to stay in the attached hotels. There are also several indoor theme parks, with Kalahari Resort's being one of the newest. Several arcades also provide some fun on cloudy days or in the evening. One favorite for the younger set is Wizard Quest, located downtown. It's an interactive, treasure-hunt attraction that leads participants through a maze of clues as they try to release colorful wizards from their captors. The Tommy Bartlett Exploratory also is a favorite for the younger crowd.

History buffs

Plenty of local history is shared as part of the boat tours along the Wisconsin River. But there are other options waiting for those who want to learn even more. The H.H. Bennett Studio at Wisconsin Dells offers a host of vintage photographs of the region, taken by one of America's foremost photographers of the 1800s. Many of the images are spectacular. The Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum also offers a bit of global history, with a strange twist. Some of the exhibits will astound you, but others may gross you out. Thunder Valley Inn's Farm Dinner Show provides a glimpse into the old fashioned farmer's life, along with quite a few Ole and Lena jokes. It's a good option for the older crowd.

Great outdoors

You'll miss the boat if you don't spend plenty of time in nature during your trip. The region is incredibly scenic, whether you're sitting at the Tommy Bartlett Water Show or driving throughout the area. The International Crane Foundation is a nice stop for bird lovers, with plenty of information provided about the cranes that summer on the property. The younger crowd will enjoy a stop at the Wisconsin Deer Park, where you can feed and pet the deer, goats and more. Several businesses offer boat rentals, giving families a chance to spend the day on the Wisconsin River swimming, fishing or sunning.

Classic Dells

The Tommy Bartlett Show isn't just about water skiing, although it's certainly the biggest attraction for most. The ski show is fresh every year, and includes elements that will thrill young and old alike. The second half of the show includes a juggler/magician and amazing acrobatics. The show has been a Dells staple for 70 years and lasts about 90 minutes.

Hit the course

There are plenty of golf courses to choose from in the region. Options range from scenic but simple executive courses (Fairfield Hills Golf Course & Range) to challenging and scenic courses (Cold Water Canyon Golf Course). Some holes at Cold Water Canyon follow along the canyon cliffs and if you're not careful you'll lose your ball in the ultimate hazard.

Mini golf

The Dells have to be the mini golf capital of the world. There are so many courses and so many options at each of the courses that it's hard to decide where to head. If you're a big mini golf nut, Timber Falls Adventure Park and Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf offer unlimited play options. They provide courses for beginners and for more seasoned mini golf lovers. Other courses, like Old River & Totem Pole Mini Golf, offer the standard mini golfing experience.

Sliding by

What would a vacation at The Dells be without a trip to a water park? Of course, Noah's Ark Waterpark is the granddaddy of them all, with huge wave pools, water slides and much more. They've even added a new haunted house attraction, which has nothing to do with water but the kids like it. A 4-D Sponge Bob movie is also offered. A family can easily spend the day, if it's warm. Down the street, Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park has a lot to offer water lovers as well. Mt. Olympus, however, provides additional thrills on several roller coasters, large go kart tracks and more. Riverview Park & Waterworld has a smaller water park that is geared more toward the younger crowd. Of course, several resorts offer indoor and outdoor water parks, which can often be used by paying an admission charge if you're not staying the night there. Lost Rios Waterpark at Chula Vista Resort is a great place for families with younger kids. There aren't a lot of teens running around knocking down the small ones.

Go karts

There are so many go kart tracks around Wisconsin Dells, the smell of exhaust can hang in the air. Mt. Olympus offers some of the more impressive layouts, but such places as Riverview Park and Waterworld provide a host of karting options. Some places even offer indoor tracks, if the outside weather is threatening.

That's entertainment

You wouldn't think that a trip to Wisconsin Dells could include top, professional entertainment. But tucked away on the main drag is Rick Wilcox Magic Theater, where audience members are wowed on a nightly basis. If you can spring for the tickets, it's a great show for every age. Plenty of youngsters end up on stage to help out. There are plenty of other comedy and musical performances offered nightly around town, including a free concert downtown almost every day during the summer.