If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I’m the world’s worst cheerleader of Upper Midwestern tourism. Great place to live? Yeah, for the most part. Do I want to spent my travel time here?
Wisconsin, in particular, doesn’t appeal. There’s nothing wrong with Wisconsin—it has adventure, culture, and (some) scenery, and is as worthy of exploration as anywhere else. But for me, it’s not a travel destination—it’s my motherland (and the husband’s mother-in-lawland). We’re happy to drive across the state past cow-strewn pastures, cheese sellers, beer makers, Packer bars 🏈, and Amish horse-drawn carriages to visit family, but those are, you know, family visits, not vacations.
Still, never let anyone tell you I won’t contradict my most deeply held convictions, because this Wiscosotan/Minnesconsinite just returned from her first Wisconsin vacation.
Even more surprising is that I vacationed in Wisconsin Dells. Fellow Midwesterners will be scratching their heads right about now and wondering what would possess a seemingly sane, childfree, middle-aged couple to drive over three hours to spend two nights in a town that seems to exist purely for the entertainment of families with young children.
Known for its copious amusement and water parks (including Noah’s Ark, the country’s largest outdoor water park, and Kalahari, the world’s 5th largest indoor water park)—as well as every other kind of kidtainment you can think of, including something called “The Beef Jerky Experience”—Wisconsin Dells brings to mind adjectives and nouns like gaudy, garish, tacky, and eyesore (and perhaps meaty).
Land of 1000 Billboards is one way to think of Wisconsin Dells. Las Vegas for Children is another.
So imagine my surprise when, many months ago, I stumbled upon the town’s Sundara Inn & Spa quite by accident while browsing the web. A lover of hot tubs, hot springs, Jacuzzis, baths, pools, and all things related to relaxed soaking, I’ve been hankering for a visit ever since. After we returned from our stressful pandemic holiday in England, the husband and I briefly considered getting matching t-shirts emblazoned with “I Survived Omicron Christmas 2021,” but ultimately decided a two-night stay at Sundara was a better reward for all our pain and suffering. With our destination set, we scoured our respective school calendars for some mutual time off, made our reservation, and X-ed off the squares until our big weekend arrived.
After a drive through western Wisconsin that was hillier and prettier than I’d expected, we reached the antithesis of everything Wisconsin Dells stands for—Sundara—an oasis of quiet, adults-only calm in a sea of chintzy, kid-centered tourist traps. Entering the scented lobby, we handed over half our life savings in exchange for two nights of lodging and full access to Sundara’s aqueous amenities. Our next step was to agree, in writing, to the Peace and Quiet Policy, which prohibits electronic devices in all public spaces and requires the use of “spa voices,” a term I now use regularly at home when I want the husband to stop shouting at the Arsenal match on TV.
We then checked into our room, a “Woodland Suite.” Though it was a bit on the small side, we didn’t plan to spend much time there. Its best feature was the kitted-out, five-nozzle Kohler shower.
We quickly threw on our swimwear, donned the provided flip-flops and Sundara-logoed robe, and made our way to the ground floor to delight in its watery wonders. Here, and in fact everywhere on-site, you would be forgiven for thinking you were on the compound of some sort of luxury cult, people wandering around as they were in identical bathrobes and slippers, foreheads glistening, and faraway, zoned-out looks in their eyes.
The next 48 hours were spent engaged in a variety of hedonistic pursuits.
The Cambrian Oasis was our introduction to Sundara’s bathing delights.
We usually saved the outdoor hot-soak tub and infinity edge pool for after dinner.
But the star of the soaking show was the Purifying Bath Ritual:
- Shower with gloriously perfumed body scrub
- Spray oneself with mysterious aromatic mist
- Lounge in steam room
- Laze about in essential oil-infused hot tub
- Brave the cold plunge pool (but don’t yelp from the cold shock—shhh… spa voices)
- Sink back into the hot tub
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
We also walked their Chakra Meditation Trail, and thank goodness, too, because my Chakras were all kinds of messed up.
Energy centers rebalanced, we were able to be fully present during the Culinary Demo and the Mixology Demo, both of which showcased menu items from Nava, Sundara’s on-site restaurant.
One tipple in particular challenged the long-time leader in the “Cocktails Most Evocative of a Summer’s Day” division: Sparkling Gin Tarragon Lemonade. That drink is Nava’s Cucumber Lime Vodka Tonic. I’ll let you be the judge.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a vacation without a little unnecessary spending in the spa gift shop, or what I called “activating my Shopping Chakra.” Little did I know that my irresponsible cash outlay would throw my actual Chakras out of whack once more.
Praise must be given to the husband. This isn’t the kind of getaway he would normally choose, but he jumped in with both feet and ended up taking to it like a duck to water. We even survived hours-long stretches without digital screens (maybe I’m not as hooked as I thought). Even without partaking of the copious body treatments, massages, and energy therapies on offer, we thrived. Deep thoughts and even deeper conversations were had, books were read, muscles were unclenched, skin was rehydrated, and souls were soothed.
To Wisconsin, my homeland, I’m sorry for neglecting you all these years, valuing you only for your cheese output. And to Sundara Inn & Spa, thank you for rehabilitating my image of The Dairy State. I’ll see you again soon, and next time, I’ll be sure to bring my spirit crystals.