By Judy Kneiszel
Whether you’re suffering from cabin fever, visiting family and friends, or heading to the Fox Cities with the family for a sports tournament, one thing is certain—while you are here, you’ll never hear your kids say they are bored. Family activities available in the Fox Cities cover an amazingly wide range of interests with F-U-N as the common denominator.
In fact, when my husband Jim and I visit the Fox Cities with our two sons, Henry and Wilson, the biggest challenge isn’t finding something we’ll all enjoy, it’s figuring out how to fit it all in. From Neenah to Kaukauna and all points between, the area is bursting with family activities: the excitement of minor league baseball, hands-on museums, inviting nature trails, and loads of indoor and outdoor amusements from mini-golf to mega movies.
In the middle of winter, when cabin fever has set in, my kids need to MOVE; so we take them to Wild Air of Appleton, just east of Highway 441 at the Calumet (KK) exit, and let them jump for joy. Wild Air provides more than 15,000 square feet of giant-sized inflatables, soft play games and other structures with separate play areas for children large and small. Wilson never tires of climbing up the Super Slide and whooshing down on his behind, while Henry always emerges from the obstacle course red cheeked, slightly out of breath and grinning from ear to ear; who says exercise isn’t fun?
If you and your kids aren’t tired after all that, try Funset Boulevard located at Highway 41 and College Avenue. In addition to a Hollywood-themed restaurant, this family entertainment center includes a 14-screen movie theater with an “Ultra-Screen,” plus laser tag, outdoor mini-golf and batting cages, bumper cars, a train ride, carousel and more than 100 arcade games.
Yearn to Learn
One of the Fox Cities best-known destinations for families is getting even better in 2006. With both permanent and traveling exhibits, the Fox Cities Children’s Museum has always provided a constantly changing and growing environment, but this year it’s expanding more than ever before. By July, the second floor museum will connect with a new first floor area, creating a combined 30,000 square feet of museum space. The museum will remain open throughout the construction with minimal interruption of day-to-day operations, so you can watch the museum grow early in the year and then come back later to see what’s new.
Whenever you visit the children’s museum, you’ll find perennial delights such as the Happy Baby Garden—the sight of which makes me misty-eyed for the days when my boys toddled among the soft building blocks and were delighted by the tiny slide. As they grew into curious preschoolers with big imaginations, their favorite address was the museum’s kid town, complete with a cafe, bank, post office, police station, grocery store and library—all ready for role-playing. Of course, my children’s favorite spot in the whole museum now and always has been the real fire engine! Even though they are “big boys” of six and nine, they still can’t resist the bright red paint and gleaming chrome, flashing lights, dials, gauges, hoses and a fire plug. My husband and I, who are kids at heart, enjoy the Simple Machines exhibit because it challenges not only children, but also adults to lift a series of weights using a lever, inclined plane, pulleys and gears.
If your kids are Harry Potter fans (and whose aren’t) your drive to the Fox Cities is a good time to tell them the story of another magical Harry who was real and claimed Appleton as his hometown. Harry Houdini is featured in an extensive exhibit, “AKA Houdini,” at The Outagamie Museum in Appleton. The exhibit, which has been featured on The Discovery Channel, A&E and other national media, lets you experience some of his tricks of the trade through hands-on activities, which include a “practice” straitjacket and handcuffs. Admit it—what 6-year-old boy could resist seeing his brother in a straitjacket or handcuffs. I know mine couldn’t.
In addition to the outstanding Harry Hou-dini collection, other exhibits include “Tools of Change,” which highlights the work, people, tools and everyday life of the Lower Fox River Valley from 1840 to 1950. It will force your children to imagine life before TV and video games and make them grateful to have been born when they were.
After traveling back in time at the museum, journey to the moon and beyond with a visit to the Barlow Planetarium, located on the University of Wisconsin – Fox Valley campus in Menasha. The world-class facility features a 48-foot projection dome, giant full-color special effects and five-channel surround sound. Many of the rich presentations about our universe are specifically geared to children and have beautiful graphics and 3-D effects. What really kept Henry interested, though, were the interactive keypads at each seat that enable audience participation in the performances. And while you’re on the campus, check out the Weis Earth Science Museum where you can view specimens of Wisconsin rocks, minerals and fossils to make a scientific day of it! Henry went here on a field trip with his third grade class and could not stop talking about it for days afterward.Sports of all Sorts
All that learning is fun, but sometimes you just want a place devoted to pure entertainment ... a place where you can watch someone shoot Wisconsin’s favorite sausage out of a cannon called the Bratzooka or get your picture taken with a giant—but friendly—snake named “Fang.” All of this plus a baseball game is what you’ll find throughout the summer at Fox Cities Stadium, located just north of Wisconsin Avenue and west of Highway 41. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are a Class A farm team of the Seattle Mariners that delights audiences from April to September. Now I’ve got to admit, my sons are more into video games than ball games, but even for those less than loyal baseball fans, games are entertaining with the between inning antics of Fang and the gang, so even the youngest family member will have a blast at the ol’ ball game. We happened to hit a game last year with a team autograph session scheduled afterwards. I was impressed at how several members of the team stayed well beyond their scheduled 15 minutes to make sure every little fan’s glove, bat, poster or card was signed.
If you’ve got a family member who is more of a “doer” than a “watcher” when it comes to physical activity, the Fox Cities offer numerous outlets for his energy. There are several free outdoor skateboard parks including Appleton’s Telulah Park. For really serious skate boarding, Area 51, the largest indoor “riding” complex in Wisconsin, is the place to go. In-line skates and BMX bikes are also available at this large facility near Calumet Street and Memorial Drive/Highway 47.
Even though one of my sons (I won’t say which one) still clutches the walls as he makes his way around, he still enjoys an afternoon at the rink. There are many good choices in the Fox Cities for in-line or traditional roller-skating, including Gem Roller Rink in Appleton, Skate City in Kimberly, Fox Valley Roller Rink in Neenah and Skater’s Edge in Appleton.
Indoor ice-skating is popular at the Tri-County Ice Arena in Neenah and the Appleton Family Ice Center in Appleton’s Memorial Park, while indoor rock climbing is the attraction at Vertical Stronghold.Let’s Eat
After all the fun you’ll have in the Fox Cities, you’ll need to refuel at one of the area’s many kid-friendly restaurants. For burger lovin’ ap-petites, Red Robin and Hudson’s Classic Grill both do it up right with burgers in almost any configuration you can imagine. For pizza, pasta or both, Grazies Pasta Co. and Pizano’s Pizzeria have their ovens fired up.
Dessert has evolved from a simple meal ender to an event in the Fox Cities. You can satisfy your sweet tooth with ice cream at Goosebumps on South Kensington Street in Appleton. Goosebumps is an upbeat kids-oriented shop that features both Chocolate Shoppe super-premium ice cream in 16 flavors and New York Italian ice—also in 16 flavors. The ever-popular Krispy Kreme is also sure to delight as children watch the donuts being made and glazed before their eyes.
And nothing could be better on your trip home from your Fox Cities adventure than a couple of happy, stuffed, worn-out kids.