Toyota Highlander to Kalahari
They made a great one even better
A well-worn nugget of wisdom says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Maybe nobody told Toyota designers and engineers: They took a hot-selling, popular SUV that owners loved and gave it a makeover for 2014. And they got it right. After a brisk test drive through the Baraboo Bluffs and all over Wisconsin Dells, we can report the Highlander is more spirited, dependable and family-friendly than ever. Success continues.
Wisconsin’s most popular travel destination, Wisconsin Dells—like Toyota—is another example of never being content to just stand pat. In the past fifteen years, local developers transformed a booming summer resort business into a more-than-booming, year-round, family-focused destination. Yes, it still has the time-honored Tommy Bartlett Ski, Sky and Stage Show, the iconic “Ducks” and the boat trips on the Wisconsin River. But now the Dells has added top-rated spas, sports venues, meeting facilities and exceptional shops. Whether your ideal getaway is a romantic weekend for two, a reunion for twenty, or a round-robin tournament for two hundred, the Dells will put a smile on your face.
Tough, reliable, refined
And so will the 2014 Highlander. It sports a handsome, rugged stance. It picked up more interior space, and Toyota added still more luxury, storage areas and state-of-the-art, high-tech safety and entertainment options. The 3.5 liter V6 engine packs the power of 276 eager horses. With 248 pounds of torque, a smooth six-speed transmission and all-wheel-drive, this SUV is going to be your best buddy. It’s more than ready to conquer muddy old back roads, tow a good-sized boat, pack in 83 cubic feet of camping gear and safely carry up to eight of you—in cushy comfort. You’ll likely be listening to digital stereo on the premium Entune® audio system or choosing a specialty channel on the XM band. Ride high, feel good and be happy that the optional Hybrid Limited model is the mileage leader among mid-sized SUVs with three-row seating. Yes, they did get it right!
Toyota has earned a reputation for vehicle build-quality, and the Highlander doesn’t disappoint. Fit and finish are excellent. Seats are nicely tailored and supportive. Doors close solidly. Switches are where they should be and they move smoothly. Somebody did some thinking. Good thinking.
The people’s choice
Ask any middle school student in Wisconsin or Chicagoland: Which waterpark resort do you want to stay at in Wisconsin Dells? Chances are the answer will be “Kalahari!” Founded in 2000, Kalahari has become the preferred “everything-you-could-want-under-one-roof” getaway for many vacationers. Last year it won the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Indoor Waterpark from the Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) and was recognized as one of the Top Family Resorts in the nation by Family Fun Magazine.
For our getaway, we chose a king suite in the Kalahari Sands Building. It was equipped with a full kitchen, dishes, cooking utensils and a big dining table. A patio seating area overlooked the property. The living room had a gas fireplace, a large flat-screen TV and full-sized comfortable furniture. Like all the Kalahari property, it was tastefully decorated with African art and design elements.
Built for fun
Since it opened, Kalahari’s 1.2 million gallon waterpark has soaked more than ten million guests with waterslides, lazy rivers and surf riders. A glittering 115,000 square feet of indoor amusement park features will burn excess kid energy with arcade games, laser tag, golf simulators, climbing walls, a rope course, a bowling alley, and rides on the Ferris Wheel or the “360,” which flips riders totally upside down while spinning them in circles. Whew! It’s enough to make an adult want to head off to a brew pub!
And Kalahari has that, too. After you get the kids dried off from the waterpark or peel them off the climbing wall, the new family-friendly Wisconsin Brew Pub is just down the hall. Kalahari’s newest dining spot, it celebrates all things Wisconsin. Eighteen of Wisconsin’s best brews are on tap, another forty are in bottles, and four styles of Wisconsin root beers await the little ones. The beer-battered fish fry does the state’s Friday tradition proud. The art highlighting state hot spots may fuel planning for future vacations. And save room for the roast-your-own tabletop s’mores!
See what’s new, explore the town
You may want to take your hungry troops downtown to try one of the newest eateries in the Dells, which is called MACS, for creative macaroni and cheese. Specialties include jalapeno poppers, mushrooms, bacon, pepper jack cheese, pulled pork, onion tanglers and even pickles. This is Top Chef-quality mac & cheese. The staff is Wisconsin friendly, and service is quick. But a warning: you may never want the box stuff again!
Driving around the Dells, on freeways and back roads, this Highlander SUV is nimble and easy to maneuver. It’s quick and responsive getting onto the expressway and will easily merge into faster traffic. Your seating position is high, for a good view ofthe road. There’s a great solid feel as you cruise. It’s responsive and you’re in command but, unlike some big units, it doesn’t feel like you’re sailing a semi down the highway.
We live in the age of electronic gizmos and that’s great, especially if they help you drive better, safer and with greater control. Highlander does that. A rear-facing video camera makes it safer to back up. The rearview mirror dims the annoying glare of bright lights from behind. The speedometer, tachometer and climate control gauges are big, easy to read, and easy to adjust. Toyota engineers made the Highlander a pleasure to operate and fun to drive.
While you’re out and about, drop in at the new collector’s magnet, Robin’s Nest, in the former city auditorium. This shop is for all
of us who watch the do-it-yourself shows and think “we can do that”—but then we never do. Michelle, Amy and Stephanie have done it for us. They know just which shade of paint will update a buffet, how to repurpose a window into a family photo gallery or
build a table from a door. Imaginations run free here. Handmade and repurposed jewelry, pillows, baskets, hardware and other treasures are tucked around the furniture in this spacious shop.
The Dells has some truly outstanding historical attractions. The H.H. Bennett Photo Studio opened in 1865 and is the community’s oldest continually operating business. Operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Bennett Museum has an impressive collection of his photos. It will be open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., from May 6 through October 26 this year.
Another place of interest, especially for Civil War history buffs, is the Dells Spring Grove Cemetery. It holds the grave of one of the most notorious Confederate spies, Belle Boyd. She died in the area in 1900, at the age of 57 while on a speaking tour.
To sample some local brews visit The Port Huron Brewery Engine House Tap Room. Tucked on a back street of the Wisconsin Dells Industrial Park, this two-year-old brewery takes its name from a 1917 Port Huron Steam Traction Engine that was lovingly restored by the brew master’s grandfather. Families are as welcome here as craft beer aficionados. The tap room is open on weekends and offers two tours each Friday and Saturday. You can get a peek into the brewery while sampling four kinds of beer. The friendly staff enjoy “talking brews” and will answer all your brewery questions.
Meet a new classic
When it comes to fine dining, the Dells has some great options. Kalahari’s new Double Cut joins the ranks of elite supper clubs like Del-Bar, House of Embers, and Fields at the Wilderness. The atmosphere is contemporary but comfortable, a perfect place for date night or a family celebration. Sip a specialty cocktail at the Liquor Bar or relax in the fireplace lounge. A small group can reserve the intimate, climate-controlled Wine Room, and dine surrounded by a collection of highly regarded wines. For an appetizer try Fresh Oysters, Black Pepper Calamari or Beef Carpaccio. House specialties include Crab Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp Scampi, Bacon-Wrapped Jumbo Sea Scallops, and the Center Cut Signature Steaks, charcoal-grilled, ranging from six to forty ounces. Diners can personalize their steak with sauces and “enhancements,” including crab and lobster. Sides are generous and intended for sharing, including Maker’s Mark Mushrooms and Lobster Mac and Cheese. The wine list includes local Wollersheim award-winners, a well-chosen selection of California designer-labels, and international mouth rippers.
Dead solid perfect getaway
Nearby Trappers Turn Golf Course is one of Wisconsin’s gems and was designed by two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North with links architect Roger Packard. It will again be the site of North’s fundraiser, sponsored by Kalahari, for the University of Wisconsin’s Carbone Cancer Center; the event has raised for than $4 million in five years. Guests at Kalahari can take advantage of lodging and golf packages at Trappers Turn, including a free shuttle and Titleist club rentals. Even non-golfers will enjoy the Sunday brunch buffet in the dining room. And, as the weather warms, dining on the deck becomes an option. In addition to a salad station, breakfast and dinner choices, there’s a children’s buffet featuring chicken tenders and tater tots. Diners are treated to live music by the talented Dells musician, Billy Anderson.
The 2014 Highlander is a perfect fit for active family getaways. When you head out on vacation, the Highlander makes it easy to bring along all your fun gear: put kayaks on the roof, bikes on back, and tow your boat, too. Campers appreciate the cargo room for tents and accessories. Toyota built in lots of storage in the huge console, under the dash areas and in door pockets. Fill your coffee mug with dark roast, put on your seat belt and hit the road. This is one strong buggy, ready to carry you to fun times and make good memories for years to come!
Gary and Mae Patrice Knowles live in Madison where he is a freelance writer and marketing consultant to clients in travel, food, hospitality and entertainment and she is a Communications Manager for the State of Wisconsin.
WHEN YOU GO
Wisconsin Brew Pub
Double Cut Charcoal Grill/Liquor Bar
1305 Kalahari Dr., Wisconsin Dells
MACS — Macaroni and Cheese Shop
208 Broadway, Wisconsin Dells
Port Huron Brewery
805 Business Park Rd.,
Robin’s Nest Restoration
714 Oak St., Wisconsin Dells
2955 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy.,
Wisconsin Dells Visitor
& Convention Bureau
701 Superior St., Wisconsin Dells