Thursday, July 24, 2014

Exploring The Wilderness

We just returned from what all four of us have coined “The Best Vacation EVER!” Think I’m exaggerating?  Read on and decide for yourself...
This summer vacation took us to the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.  If you’ve never been to the Dell’s, this community is the textbook definition of a summer vacation locale. Salt water taffy, fudge, tourist attractions, waterparks, souvenir shopping and people.  Lots of people.
Nestled into the trees and centered around Lake Delton and the Wisconsin River, this sleepy little town lights up when the temps begin to rise. It’s a perfect summer getaway for those of us in the Midwest because a drive to the coast would be too far for most families.  Florida is 19 hours from our house…believe me, I've checked.  To put Brent in a car with me for 19 hours would be absolute torture - for him, not me.  So with the Wisconsin Dells clocking in at only 5.5 hours away, it's a no-brainer.
Choosing to explore the Wilderness was an easy decision after researching the resort online.  Since we are on a budget, we stretch our vacation dollars as far as we can, which is honestly why we were hesitant at first to book a room at the Wilderness.  It isn’t super cheap, compared to what we're used to spending on hotels, but after considering all that is included with the hotel stay, we knew we were getting one heck of a bargain based on the amount of entertainment that would be provided…and only steps from our hotel room door.  And even after pouring over the online photos for the past 4 months, we STILL weren't prepared for what the Wilderness had in store for us!
This place is HUGE.  Gigantic.  No wonder it's earned the title of "Largest Waterpark Resort in America"!  On the day of check in, the waterpark is available as early as 11am, although your room isn't guaranteed until 4pm at the latest.  Of course, we were excited to get started, so we arrived promptly at 11am – our room wasn’t quite ready yet so we grabbed our swim bag and headed in the direction of the closest outdoor waterpark (they've got fantastic locker room/shower facilities available).  When we walked through the hotel doors and into the Lost World Outdoor Waterpark, we almost dropped our swimsuits.
Everything about this place is beautiful. The swimming pools, the grounds, the landscaping and most important to adults looking for a place to relax – the padded chaise lounge chairs!
Want to know what else is beautiful?  Seriously, this is the best part of the whole place.  THE WATER IS WARM!!! The indoor water is warm, the outdoor water is warm, everything is warm!  Gone are the days of staring at lovely, sparkly blue swimming pools, only to dip your toes in and squeal.  There is just nothing worse to me than freezing cold swimming pool water.
Being in warm water isn’t just good for me though; it’s good for Owen.  He always gets shaky and cold when the water is chilly so I was so happy that he got to spend the entire vacation IN the water instead of sitting on the sidelines wrapped in a towel.  Plus, since Brent and I enjoyed being in the water, we got to spend all day playing with the kids instead of just watching.
Weather is always a concern in the Midwest, which is why we chose a week in July for our vacation. Typically, the temps and humidity are creeping into the 90's by this point in the summer so we were prepared to spend some steamy days lounging around outdoors by the pool. And for the most part, we got it!  Our last day, Friday, brought in some morning drizzle, which meant we were headed indoors. Were we upset?  Nope, because the Wilderness has 3 indoor waterparks at our particular location and one more at the Wilderness on the Lake location. One of them even has a glass roof that you can still get a tan through! Which also means the kids need to stay lathered in sunscreen.
Staying at the Wilderness makes for a disaster proof vacation since it offers both indoor and outdoor waterparks.  Weather is unpredictable, but at least with so many indoor activities available at your fingertips, a rainy day doesn’t have to mean a spoiled vacation.

Once we drove onto the Wilderness property, we were surprised to find that we had no reason to leave! Obviously, the waterparks will kept us busy during the day, but we were stunned to find out how much they have to offer when we were ready to be out of the water for a while.  Here's just a few of the things we did:
Indoor Ropes Course
Indoor 3-D Mini Golf
Lazer Tag
Outdoor Walking Trails
Save a ton of money by purchasing either a Wild Fun or Extreme Fun Pass for each member of your group.  These passes give you admission to all sorts of activities and are cheaper than paying for each attraction individually.  More info on the Wild Fun and Extreme Fun Passes can be found here.
With multiple restaurants, convenience shops and even an ice cream shop - we truly had no reason to leave!  And do you want to know what absolutely melted my heart?  Just outside of our hotel room door and down the hall about 30 paces was a coffee shop serving Starbucks coffee!  Padding down to the coffee shop in my pajamas and flip flops is definitely a great way to start the day, with an iced caramel latte in hand.
You're probably ready to start browsing through some photos of the actual waterparks - so here ya go!
This next photo is of some of the private cabanas that you can rent - you'll find these all over the resort as well, so you can pick one at your favorite pool.  This would have been an awesome experience - especially if you were traveling with a small baby that needed to be out of the sun or to have shade available if it was super sunny!  #maybenextyear!
From what I can remember, each waterpark had a zero-depth entry for very young children, which, as a parent, I LOVE!!  It was cute to see little babies getting their first feel of the water and I'm sure their parents were relieved to find the water was such a nice, warm, comfortable temperature!
There were waterslides at each park for kids that were a little bigger, and thrill rides that were popular with the teenagers (and Brent).   For the most part, the lines for rides are short because the waterparks are exclusively for resort guests.
It wasn’t unusual for me to lose Brent shortly after we entered a new park – as he would happily skip to the water slides as quickly as he could. At one point, I just found him randomly floating down a lazy river!
And speaking of lazy rivers - this one had a conveyor belt to take you from the lower lazy river to the upper lazy river!  I felt like a piece of candy in a factory, ready for my coating of chocolate.  Pure Awesome.
Each waterpark had eateries and snack bars as well, so we never had a reason to pack up to go find the kids some lunch.  And, is it just my kids that say they're hungry again only 10 minutes after they're done eating??
Remember how I told you how huge the Wilderness was? After 2 nights and 3 days, we STILL didn’t get to play at all of the waterparks, I know of at least two outdoor parks that we didn't even get a chance to set foot in!  There was so much to do in a short amount of time that we had to be really diligent about keeping Owen moving, otherwise he would fall asleep on the first soft spot he could find.  If you're a parent, you already know there are very few times when you prevent your child from taking a nap, and this was one of them.  The kids definitely slept well each night!
This was a vacation that the kids and Brent and I won’t soon forget.  Next summer can’t come fast enough, as we are already getting excited to plan our next vacation to the Wilderness!  But this time, we're staying for at least 3 nights (probably more) so we can enjoy EVERYTHING the Wilderness has to offer!  You have to check out their website to see some amazing photos of the rest of their waterparks!

*Disclaimer - A HUGE thank you to The Wilderness for providing us with 4 Wild Fun Passes in exchange for this post, no other compensation was received.  All opinions are our own.
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Long Distance Bathroom Remodel

Meet my adorable sister, Anne, and her equally adorable husband, Brian.  They live in a sweet little house below the bluffs in LaCrosse, WI - about 4 hours from our house in Sioux Falls.
Bought back in 2009, their house is a story and a half with this cozy main floor bathroom...
And this moldy tile.  Frowny face.
Anne and Brian were ready to update the bathroom with fresh tile and paint, since that's all we thought it needed.  The original tub is still in great condition, although it may have to be re-glazed in the next few years.  Does anyone have experience with this process?  We're wondering what the results are like, as we'll need to have ours done at some point, too.  The floor tile you see in the photo is that peel and stick vinyl stuff - and it's in decent condition here.
Since our family and my parents are usually only able to visit Anne and Brian for a weekend at a time, completing a medium scale bathroom remodel in 2 days would be tough - even for this family.  So to help speed things along, Anne and Brian got started on the demo a few weeks before family was to arrive.  This is my sister, showing no mercy to that old moldy tile.  In slippers.
Unfortunately, once they took all of the wall tile off, the years and years of moisture creeping through the wall tiles were showing a lot of damage.  
So the shower plaster needed to come off.  This is about how most home improvement projects go - and why they take twice as long as you expect and cost twice as much.  You just have to assume that anytime you're doing a remodel to figure in extra time and extra money!

Anne and Brian's friend came over to help with the demo of the plaster.  Why is it that anytime there's demo to be done, it turns into one big party when guys are involved?  I suppose demo satisfies some natural instinct in males to tear things apart.
You can see here how thick this plaster was!  I'm selfishly pretty happy that we weren't around for "demo dayz" - that plaster must have been super heavy and dusty.
Skip ahead to my parents arrival.  They helped to get the new backer board installed and included a shampoo bottle niche with a marble ledge.  You're probably thinking "that shampoo bottle niche is a little large, isn't it?"  Well, you don't know my sister.  Showering at her house is like visiting a spa...so many creams and lotions and potions and exfoliating face washes and multiple shampoos and conditioners.  Quite the inventory as compared to the three products in Brent and I's shower - shampoo, conditioner, soap.
With the backer board up, Brian and my dad could begin the tile work.  My dad was beginning to install a soap dish until someone kindly pointed out that no one in that house (or anywhere?) uses a bar of soap so it really wasn't necessary.  So the soap dish got voted off the island.
Here's Brian, carefully tiling away.
My dad is installing a waterproof membrane into the corners to protect against moisture.
And then, out of nowhere, someone made the decision to pull up the vinyl floor and put down new tile while the bathroom was all tore up.  That's how my family rolls.
At this point, my parents had to head back to Sioux Falls - but Brent and I were rolling into LaCrosse shortly after.  We spent the weekend grouting the walls and the floors with a dark gray grout - and that was A LOT of grouting!

At some point, Anne and I painted their existing vanity a charcoal color to contrast against all of the white.
Here's a close up of the floor tile they chose.
And their new subway tile shower!
New plumbing fixtures.
I told you that she had a lot of shower products.
The existing vanity they had was in great shape and a perfect size for the small footprint of this bathroom.  There was no reason to take it out and replace it!  Plus, anytime you mess around with plumbing, you're asking for more problems.  If something works - leave it alone!
Sometimes it's fun to see a side by side of the before and after, so here ya go!  They estimated that this entire remodel cost them about $600 - subway tile, floor tile, paint and miscellaneous tiling supplies.  Not. Too. Shabby.