Our family trip to Wisconsin was one of contrasts – a full-on city experience of museums, restaurants, and post-industrial chic in Milwaukee followed by a weekend of cycling in the north woods and then a couple of days in the deeply verdant and spacious southeastern corner of the state where we were given a two-night stay at the Grand Geneva Resort by Holiday Inn Club Vacations.
Originally built in the 1970s as the Playboy Club (yes, we stayed at a resort created by Hugh Hefner, not something I ever thought I’d be able to say on this blog) Grand Geneva now caters to families with an indoor/outdoor water park, stable and petting zoo, trails for riding and walking, and a climbing wall. It’s the kind of place that invites you to relax while offering your children plenty to do.
What my kids loved about the Grand Geneva Resort
There was plenty of water fun. The Moose Mountain Falls Waterpark was probably the boys’ favorite aspect of our visit. Eleven-year-old Tommy loved going down the two giant slides and eight-year-old Teddy floated on the Lazy River to his heart’s content.
Pretending to be pinball wizards. The arcade that’s next to the waterpark may be the cleanest and nicest that I’ve ever been to. The games were fun, age-appropriate, and it was actually possible to win enough tickets to have some choices when it came to the prize counter.
I especially liked that the tickets don’t print out so that children are wandering around with longs strings of paper hanging out their pockets – the arcade operates using plastic cards, which keep track of your funds and your winnings without printing anything off.
About $20 bought a solid hour of fun here, including several vigorous rounds of Whack-a-Mole.
The chance to test their trivia prowess. When we checked in, I was handed a weekly activity guide with everything from scavenger hunts to rock climbing lessons at the spa’s climbing wall. Tommy immediately scanned the lists for the days we would be there and spying Twisted Trivia as one of the entries declared that it was on his must-do list.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that of the three participating teams, my family came in a solid last. But would you be able to say whether or not a camel has two eyelids or whether three of the presidents on Mount Rushmore were land surveyors?
Exploring Lake Geneva – or is it Geneva Lake? Grand Geneva is located in the town of Lake Geneva, which is situated on the shores of Geneva Lake. It’s a sweet, old-fashioned resort town, made for wandering. An arcade of ice cream, t-shirt, and candy shops called “The Riviera” sits next to the town docks where boats that ferry tourists on tours are parked. A path meanders along the lake, past a small beach and the town library, which was built by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright.
We enjoyed a couple of great meals in Lake Geneva. The Egg Harbor Café has fabulous breakfasts including some of the best berry pancakes I’ve ever eaten. We liked it so much that we ate there twice. Tuscan Tavern and Grill has delicious pasta and wood-fired pizzas.
On a return visit, I’d definitely like to take a boat ride around the lake and maybe go for a swim as well.
Having their very own whirlpool tub. Holiday Inn Club Vacations generously put my family up in two attached condos, which meant we had more room than we really needed – not that the boys minded. Teddy couldn’t get over the fact that he had his own kitchen! But even nicer were the deep whirlpool tubs in both of our bathrooms. The boys liked theirs so much that when rain spoiled our plans for a trail ride and swim one morning they were content simply to have another soak.
The villas are chock full of amenities that the boys didn’t really appreciate, but that make it perfect for families. In addition to having plenty of space and two fully equipped kitchens, ours came equipped with a washer/dryer. Outside there are communal barbeque grills and a pool. We also had our own small patio with a lovely view of the golf course.
What I really liked about the villas is the fact that they offer all the advantages, pace, and independence of a condo with the full service of a hotel. An on-demand trolley picked us up right at our door when we wanted to visit other parts of the resort. And on the first night of our stay when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and our neighbors were being a bit boisterous after we had gone to bed we made one call to the front desk, and within fifteen minutes all was silent.
The weather was not really on our side during our visit to the Grand Geneva – there were tremendous thunderstorms both of the mornings we were there. So we never did get to go horseback riding or see the petting zoo at the onsite stable. And even though the spa isn’t weather dependent, somehow I never made it over there – I definitely need to work on my spa-going skills when we are on family trips. Other seasonal things to do include a four-acre corn maze in the fall and downhill and cross-country skiing, skating, and sledding in the winter. And if you’re a golfer, there are two courses.
The Holiday Inn Club villas at Grand Geneva are a good value – you can rent a one-bedroom condo that would comfortably sleep four people for under $200 a night, a very reasonable price for a resort with some luxurious touches. But when budgeting for your trip you should bear in mind that you will pay to use the resort’s amenities – there’s a daily resort fee to cover things like the wi-fi and many of the on-site activities from the water park to the climbing wall in the spa cost extra to use.
The resort’s restaurants definitely charge resort prices – a perfectly decent but not especially exciting dinner for four at the Geneva Chop House was $200 (and Teddy ordered a child’s meal) and a small to-go lunch from the Grand Café was $40. But you could easily offset these costs by shopping for and cooking your own food – we discovered a large grocery/liquor store about five minutes away – and also by taking advantage of the resort’s free activities like the trivia challenge; other free activities include nature walks, basketball, and bingo.
It would be easy to include Grand Geneva as part of a Milwaukee family vacation – it’s only a 40-minute drive from the Milwaukee airport, and can be reached from downtown in under and hour. You could mix up city fun with some time out in Wisconsin’s rolling green countryside.
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Holiday Inn Club Vacations generously covered the cost of our room, our resort fees, and also our two meals at the resort and a visit to the water park. You can always count on me to tell you when I’ve received something for free – and also to share my honest opinions.