Playboy Turns Family Guy

Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark at Grand Geneva
Lake Geneva, Wis.

By Margaret Ahrweiler

It used to be a Playboy, but the Grand Geneva has turned into a real family guy. With the addition of Timber Ridge Lodge and its indoor waterpark, Moose Mountain Falls, a resort that began its life as the Playboy Club added a new spark by creating a separate segment catering to a family audience year-round with a wide range of programs and opportunities.

The 1,300-acre property, 50 miles north of Chicago in Lake Geneva, Wis., opened in 1968 as the Playboy Club, complete with fluffy-tailed Bunnies and Rat Pack glitterati. Now the bunnies are more likely to be found on the slippers of kids cavorting at the resort, thanks to Timber Ridge, specifically developed to attract a family market.

Just 10 miles north of the Illinois state line, the Lake Geneva area had long positioned itself as an quick getaway for Chicago-area travelers but was traditionally perceived as more adult-oriented than the Wisconsin Dells, the indoor waterpark capital of the world, 90 minutes to the northwest, says Allen Anderson, director of marketing for the Grand Geneva. With the addition of Timber Ridge, the Grand Geneva Resort could offer Chicago-area families an easy getaway with a variety of on-site leisure options.

The waterpark, Moose Mountain Falls, tops that list. With 30,000 square feet indoors and an additional 20,000 outdoors, Anderson calls it a "boutique" waterpark, compared to some of the behemoths in the Dells. The Grand Geneva did not want to compete directly with the Dells but offer a more manageable size, he explains. It was designed by Ramaker & Associates, Inc. in Sauk City, Wis., to provide an all-ages environment where parents can maintain visual contact with their charges—at least until they vanish down the water slides.

The two 35-foot-tall slides, created by Ottawa, Ontario-based ProSlide Technology Inc., provide the main focus, along with the biggest thrills, in the facility. An inner-tube slide accommodates the two-seater variety to make sure smaller children get an adult along for the ride, while the body slide plunges patrons into complete darkness. Seasoned adult Recreation Management professional testers found them exhilarating to the point of (almost) scariness—including the temporary temperature drop in winter months where the tubes travel outside the building.

On a milder note, a lazy river winds through the complex, past a water basketball court, smaller slides designed for younger children, and a stepping-stone event that challenges kids of all sizes to stay on their feet as they cross the water. The lazy river provides a whole-family experience, while serving as both a unifying factor and transition from more intense play areas like the slides and basketball to the zero-depth areas for toddlers. The facility also offers three whirlpools. The indoor/outdoor variety provides added entertainment for older children in colder months, encouraging a tough-guy game of chicken to see who can jump out of the pool into occasionally sub-zero weather for the longest.

Moose Mountain can host up to 700 guests during winter months and up to 1,200 in the summer with its additional capacity outdoors. In keeping with the name, the designers worked with a North Woods theme than invariably gets a tropical feel from the water features. During peak periods, local artisans offer intricate hair braids and temporary tattoos, adding to the festive environment and resort ambience.

To keep the getaway experience pleasant for adults as well as children, Anderson says, the resort designed all 225 of Timber Ridge's suites with private bedrooms, rather than half-wall partitions, to provide parents a much-needed break. Each room also features a kitchenette to feed tired, hungry waterpark adventurers. Visitors also have the option of staying at the Grand Geneva Lodge, the more traditional, adult-oriented property a brief trolley ride away from Timber Ridge.

While the waterpark initially may entice visitors, the array of four-season recreational activities at The Grand Geneva keeps families on site—and keeps them returning. Chief among those is The Mountain Top, the 18-run ski slope on the resort that complements Timber Ridge's family orientation and the focus of its popular "Water-Ski" promotions. About 30 percent of its guests use both facilities, Anderson says.

No one will ever mistake the ski hill, with a 211-foot vertical drop, for the Rocky Mountains, wherein lies its appeal to families, says Hans Hauchild, the facility's ski director. Its non-threatening size makes it a perfect learning environment.

"We've taught several generations to ski here," Hauchild says, noting that he regularly meets parents who (like him) learned to ski at the Playboy Club, honed their skills on real mountains and are returning to introduce their children to the sport. The resort's certified ski instructors specialize in children. Conversely, the low-key family orientation means parents can let their hair down enough to take snowboarding lessons without fear of embarrassment.

The presence of the waterpark and other recreational facilities takes the pressure off beginning skiers, Hauchild adds. Tired or frustrated beginners don't feel obligated to stay on the slopes—instead, they can take a waterpark break and know they can return later.

In summer, families can break up their waterpark experience with a round of golf on the Grand Geneva's two PGA tournament-quality, 18-hole golf courses. One surprise since Timber Ridge opened in 2001, Anderson notes: Fewer parents than anticipated combined the waterpark experience with golf.

"We thought we would have a lot of Dad golfing while the kids were at the waterpark, but we discovered that when they come to Timber Ridge, they tend to stay together as a family unit," he says.

The one exception to that rule is with spa treatments. About 60 percent of the resort's leisure guests use at least one spa service during their stay, he notes. The recently expanded spa, The Well, gets booked to capacity on weekends.

Other popular warm-weather resort experiences include trail rides at Dan Patch stables (the Grand Geneva's horseback riding facility), biking and walking on the resort's paths, and, increasingly, adventure tourism offerings, where the resort sponsors tours to nearby Kettle Moraine State Forest.

"With the addition of the waterpark, we've truly got something for everyone," Anderson says. "And if you live in Chicago's north suburbs, you can get here as fast as you can get to a shopping mall."

For more information
Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark at Grand Geneva:

Grand Geneva Resort:

Ramaker & Associates, Inc.:

ProSlide Technology Inc.:

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