Our 10-year-old daughters each let out indignant yet happy shrieks as two fallow deer — one white, the other charcoal-colored — nosed into the crooks of their arms. They were after the crackers the girls hung onto like gold. Other deer crowded in, surrounding them like furry loose-lipped paparazzi.
After a day of eye rolls and dramatic sighs from twins who never seem to like the same thing, they found their common ground and equal joy on the paved path of Wisconsin Deer Park in Wisconsin Dells.
Lesson learned: Never underestimate the thrill of an entourage.
We’d passed the park numerous times in previous years on our way to watery adventures. We surely smiled at the giant deer statue out front and the distinctive look of an old-school tourist attraction. I can remember the days when city parks or even a roadside root beer stand kept a corral of Bambi look-alikes to delight pint-size travelers.
My kids barely remember Disney’s Snow White and her magical cleaning crew of woodland creatures. They’ve grown up as Wisconsin Dells boomed with year-round water parks, each trying to outdo each other in size, scope and fresh notches on the thrill-o-meter.
With hundreds of attractions jockeying for attention in this booming vacation spot, it’s easy to miss those that tout a timeless appeal. But that’s a shame, because they have two distinct advantages: They are less crowded, and they are easier on the budget.
Our timing wasn’t right to catch a double feature at the Wisconsin Dells Drive-in Theater (now open through fall), but we scored on another vintage gem: the Black Hawk Motel. A few blocks north of downtown, it’s among a handful of impeccably kept midcentury motels that continue the warm welcome of a mom-and-pop business, often in its third generation.
We went for the reasonable rates, not expecting it to be entertaining, too.
A carved Indian stands watch over Black Hawk’s outdoor pool and playground near the game room where you can still play Pac-Man for a quarter and introduce your kids to real pinball.
We accidentally dropped $5 into the jukebox, which bought us Michael Jackson, the Go-Go’s, Beatles and the Doors with plenty left over for a young couple to add their selections as we left to use the indoor pool. When we walked past later, we couldn’t help but smile as they battled each other in Donkey Kong, grooved to Rick Springfield and looked happier than hipsters.
That’s how the trip ended on a high note: doting deer, a loaded jukebox and a sweet motel. No water slides required.
St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick (www.LisaMcClintick.com) wrote “Day Trips From the Twin Cities” and “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path,” which has a new edition out May 1.