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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

It's no surprise that most people go to Wisconsin Dells' waterparks to get, well, wet.

At the Wilderness Resort, the outdoor waterparks are now closed for the season, but there are four indoor waterparks where you can splash and slide even when it's snowing outside.

When you get waterlogged, or if you'd prefer to stay dry from the get-go, the resort has four arcades and more than a dozen additional indoor attractions including go-karts, black light mini-golf and the Northern Lights Sky Ropes Course, as well as some outdoor activities including zip-lining and horse-drawn wagon rides.

At the Wilderness, which I visited recently with my 15-year-old son, Anders, and his 14-year-old buddy, Vinny, the boys spent so much time in the waterparks that they became "prunified," as we say in my household.

But they are also big fans of electronic diversions, so we had to check out the new, state-of-the-art CYvrSPACE Virtual Reality Arena. The computer graphics and action in the arena are so realistic that you feel like you are either inside a computer game or on the set of a Star Wars movie battling robots, drones and cyborgs. The resort added the arena in June after a two-year search, said Chris Ebben, attractions manager at the Wilderness. It's the newest attraction at any of the area's waterparks, according to officials at the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Ebben said he went to several International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions conventions in Florida, searching for "something futuristic that would grab our guests' attention right away and then hold it. We think we got it with CYvrSPACE."

The virtual reality arena has six 12-foot-by-12-foot pads bordered by green LED curtains behind an industrial-type door that appears to be belching steam. A feature pad is out front in a glass box where you can show off your shooting skills - or lack thereof - to others.

The CYvrSPACE experience, which takes about 25 minutes, begins with a short, instructional video narrated by a somewhat sarcastic voice that could be a relative of the humanoid robot C-3PO of Star Wars fame. (It said it could care less if we were destroyed.) Then, with the help of a Wilderness aide, we each donned a 10-pound backpack, a headset and two hand controls.

The untethered backpacks contain advanced wireless technology and are haptic, which means they rumble and transmit the action of the game to your body, as in letting you feel thumps when you've been shot. The hand controllers are not only virtual guns, but also allow you to "teleport" out of sticky situations, such as when you're about to be gunned down by a mob of robots or drones. The game has 50 levels, each of which is more difficult, to keep players coming back for more.

The boys got a big kick out of taking out the zombie-like robots that were stalking and shooting at them and even were able to teleport themselves out of trouble. Though I consider myself something of a pacifist, I, too, got into the swing of things, blasting away at the drones and robots.

Ebben, who has been at the Wilderness since 1999, said the CYvrSPACE game replaced the Buccaneer Miniature Golf attraction, which was somewhat redundant because it was one of two places to play indoor miniature golf at the resort.

"We were patient in our search to find a virtual reality company that offered what we wanted," he said. "The key was to be untethered so you can move about freely. VRsenal and its new haptic backpacks stood out night and day above others.

"When you first put on the headset, it looks like any other virtual reality offering, but when it loads, it really does feel like you are part of a game, especially when the robots start jumping at you. It can be a little scary, which is why you have to be at least 8 to play. But we've had older folks participate, too, including one 84-year-old grandmother."

Ebben said CYvrSPACE is the latest in a long line of attractions that the 22-year-old Wilderness Resort began adding seven years ago. The first two were a zip-line course and a go-kart track, which opened in 2010. Next came a miniature golf course and ropes course in 2011.

"We've kept adding since then, and try to bring on something new every year," he said. "We like to change things up and keep it lively so it will be fun for our guests. Our goal is to have plenty of things to do here, in addition to the waterparks. That means once people have arrived, they won't have to get in their cars and drive somewhere else. We think we've got the amenities and attractions to keep them here, and CYvrSpace is part of that."

More information: The CYvrSPACE attraction costs $20 for the first game and $10 for subsequent games. For reservations, which are recommended, call (608) 253-9729, extension 40812. For more on the Wilderness, see wildernessresort.com.

Getting there: The Wilderness Resort, 511 E. Adams St., Wisconsin Dells, is 120 miles northwest of Milwaukee via I-94 and the Wisconsin Dells Parkway.

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