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Wisconsin Parent

Explore Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Feb 13, 2014 02:15PM ● By Julie Henning
Nestled on the northeastern shores of Geneva Lake in southeast Wisconsin, Lake Geneva has been a resort community since just after the Civil War. Often described as the “Newport” of the Midwest, Lake Geneva is a close enough vacation destination for those of us who doubt their minivans would actually survive the drive to New England.

A few years ago, our family recently rang in the first warm weekend of summer with a trip to Lake Geneva. Even though air temperatures were in the 90s, Mother Nature was creating her own air conditioning by blowing a gentle breeze across the 45 mile-long body of 55 degree water.

Yerkes Observatory

Our  adventure started with a tour of Yerkes Observatory, the birthplace of modern astrophysics. Operated by the University of Chicago in the nearby town of Williams Bay, the observatory is the home of a 102 cm (40 inch) refracting telescope.  Albert Einstein even made a visit to Wisconsin back in the day.

Yerkes-fallTouring the observatory is interesting, but if you have toddlers, their interest may fade fast towards the end of the visit.


Popeye's Restaurant

Popeye’s Restaurant on Lake Geneva is truly right along the waterfront. With choices like Alaskan red king crab legs, prime rib, and BBQ ribs along with traditional kids fare, we ordered three generously-portioned meals from the “Little Sailors” menu. While we ate, our eyes were as busy as our mouths as we took in the eclectic decorations and spied on a family celebrating a birthday. Known for spitfire favorites like smoked brisket and flame-roasted rotisserie chicken, we left Popeye’s recharged and ready to amble around on foot through the historic downtown.

P1030843Lake Geneva Cruise Line

Around mid-afternoon we boarded the Grand Belle of Geneva just in time for the Ice Cream Social cruise (compliments of Lake Geneva Cruise Line). Enjoing vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream, peanuts, strawberry, caramel, and cookies, we peered out both sides of the Grand Belle as our knowledgeable captain shared an hour’s worth of regional history, pointing out the architecturally-significant homes.Belle-IIWe explored the upper and lower decks, keeping a sharp eye for mermaids and other creatures of the sea. One smart family (not us) even brought playing cards and other games to occupy their kids once the ice cream had been licked clean.

Dancing Horses

For dinner, consider the Dancing Horses Theater in nearby Delevan. With a show engaging enough to hold the attention of a three-year-old boy for two straight hours, you won’t be disappointed.  Arrive early to explore the grounds and to pet a  hedgehog, calf, goat, or kitten in the Baby Barn. Pony and train rides are available and even Jay Leno once made a cameo appearance at the exotic bird show.

w-dancing-horse_1405The Abbey Resort

At some point, you’ll want to unwind, relax, and just enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside and the lake. Point your car towards The Abbey Resort & Spa in Fontana and know a full-service oasis is waiting to serve your entire family. A Lake Geneva icon for over 45 years, The Abbey Resort & Spa truly caters to the entire family.

Kids-Activities-MPTo the delight of our kids, both the indoor and outdoor pools were open in time for our trip. And, get this, they even have adults-only pools for the over 18 crowd. We could barely manage to  “walk not run” from one body of water to another (and not a single sun-bathing or relaxing adult got in our way). Even though we had clear skies, a rainy day couldn’t ruin a trip to the Abbey. With an on-site arcade, board game alley, and official activities director, a person might even welcome a crummy day or two.

With several on-site dining options, we ordered from the 10 page room service menu, enjoying our  food on the attached balcony overlooking the marina. A couple was getting married in the beautifully manicured grounds; my guess is that the bridal party pampered at the spa while the groom and groomsman found 18-holes at a nearby golf course. Before dusk, we threw stones into the lake, scampered around a nearby playground, and chatted with friendly locals and other happy vacationers. Fireside s’mores finished the evening, a true sign of a successful vacation and the arrival of summer in the Midwest.

P1030851This story was originally written and published (by me) on