Even for the snow-loving natives, Wisconsin winters can get long. Looking for a fun winter activity for the family? We visited the Timbavati Wildlife Park in Wisconsin Dells during the winter off-season and we had the best zoo experience! From private feeding time with the giraffes to holding a baby kangaroo, this winter visit was filled with thrills for the whole family!
Timbavati winter VIP tour with kids
The Timbavati Wildlife Park is located in the heart of Wisconsin Dells. While in the summer it operates much like your typical zoo, in the winter guests are only welcomed into the zoo with the VIP tour. While the VIP tour pricing seems a little steep at first, for everything you get it is absolutely worth it! As a lifelong animal lover, I am always on the lookout for animal encounters and this is one of the best I’ve found. The tour costs $299 for up to 5 people. You can add more people for an extra $50 per person.
Our private tour guide met us at the entrance of the park. She had a bachelor’s degree in zoology and was able to answer all the animal questions the kids and I could throw at her. We started by walking past the large cat enclosures. We were the first visitors of the day. Our guide said the cats tend to be more interactive when there are fewer visitors around and sure enough, as soon as they heard us the various cats would come out and check us out. We even got a couple of big roars. Since it was a private tour, as soon as my kids got a bit restless she brought us to the next part of the tour-the giraffe house!
The Giraffe House with kids
We have fed giraffes at other zoos but never like this! For this winter tour, my family and the Timbavati guide were the only ones in the giraffe house with 5 giraffes and a bucket of carrots! We were able to feed all of the giraffes and get answers to all sorts of giraffe-related questions. Did you know giraffes have the same number of bones in their neck as humans!? A giraffe’s tongue can be up to 20 inches long and is considered prehensile. That means the giraffe can use its tongue to grasp and manipulate objects.
Looking for kids books about Giraffes? Check out this long list. Our favorite fiction one is Giraffes Can’t Dance. If you want a non-fiction book check out Girl Who Loved Giraffes-And Become the World’s First Giraffologist.
The Nursery at Timbavati
I didn’t think it could get any better after the giraffe house but I was pleasantly surprised with the nursery. Timbavati’s website says the animals in the nursery are rotating and you never know what you will get to see. When we were there they had lots of cool critters including baby flamingos, bats, and a very friendly baby camel. The best part was that we all got to take a turn holding a baby kangaroo!
The Parakeet House
The final part of the tour was a stop at the parakeet house. We each got a stick of parakeet food. The kids had a great time seeing the brightly colored birds land on the sticks giving them an up-close look.
Tip and Tricks
Let me offer a few pieces of advice for your Timbavati VIP tour. Make sure to dress for the weather. A good portion of the tour is in the buildings but the initial tour was outside and you have to walk outside between the buildings. Keep in mind that you are up close and personal with a lot of the animals and may smell a bit like a barn when you leave. Have your camera ready, the picture opportunities are endless!
The tour ends in the gift shop and then you are on your way.
Red Panda and Sloth Encounters
New in 2022 Timbavati now also offers both Red Panda and Sloth encounters! They don’t have a firm minimum age but at 3 and 5, I was told, understandably, that my kids were too young. The red panda encounter is $100 for 30 minutes. Guests enter two at a time. There is no petting allowed but you can feed them and get an up close and personal look. The sloth encounter is $50 for 30 minutes and you do get to pet them! Call for a reservation.
Nearby Food in Wisconsin Dells
For a kid-pleasing restaurant, our favorite place is Buffalo Phils Pizza and Grille. They have pretty typical pub food but the food arrives by model train and that is always a huge hit with the kids. The restaurant is connected to Knuckleheads Park which has fun for all ages. There is a large arcade, a ropes course, laser tag, and more.
If you prefer something a little quieter or the adults in the group would like to indulge, check out Moose Jaw Pizza and Dells Brewing. If you are looking for something faster, we like the Dells Pizza Lab where everyone can design a small pizza to their liking.
For a super fun interior design and unique seating options go to the Grateful Shed, it is a collection of permanent indoor food trucks. They have tacos, ice cream, grilled cheese, pizza, and more. There is an old city bus hanging from the ceiling as one of several interesting seating arrangements. This place has quite a nightlife and is less family-friendly in the evening.
Nearby state parks-Still fun in the winter!
We love Wisconsin state parks and are always looking for a little hike on our vacations. There are two state parks very close to the Dells though they feel miles away from the glitz and glamour of the tourist city. Rocky Arbor State Park is less than two miles from Timbavati. In the winter the park gate is closed but there are several parking spots available just outside the gate. It is a short walk into the park. You will immediately see the rocky ledges that the park is known for. There is a small playground near the entrance of the park or you can hike the one-mile loop to see more of the ledges. Here is a park map.
Mirror Lake is only 10 minutes away from Timbavati and a much larger park. There is a playground near the beach but I think the playground at Rocky Arbor was more unique and interesting. If you are looking for longer hikes, skiing, or snowshoeing, Mirror Lake will fit the bill! Our favorite short hike is Echo Rock because it is a manageable length for little legs and ends with great views of the lake. Check out the winter map of Mirror Lake here. If you are feeling especially brave, Mirror Lake is open for winter camping.
Roche-A-Cri is a bit farther, 30 minutes, but it is a beautiful park! Snowshoeing and winter hiking are available and you can also check out the Petroglyphs.
Indoor Water Parks and Resorts
Wisconsin Dells is called the waterpark capital of the world and a little snow and cold weather doesn’t have to slow you down. Many of the resorts have generous-sized indoor waterparks. Wilderness Resort Park is a 4-star resort and has multiple indoor waterparks to suit any taste. The Great Wolf Lodge is focused on kids and includes a large indoor waterpark and other attractions such as an arcade and Magiquest. The Kalahari Resort has a water park with water rides in addition to Tom Foolery-an indoor amusement park. Mount Olympus is a more budget-friendly resort with an indoor waterpark and an indoor amusement park. Finally Chula Vista. It is just north of town, has an indoor waterpark, and is more budget-friendly as well.
Other Lodging Options
If you aren’t looking to splurge on the indoor waterparks but still want a fun kids’ pool, we loved the Holiday Inn Express. There is one medium waterslide, a hot tub, a kiddie pool, and a couple of small kids’ slides. It is a great place to stay when you like to swim but don’t want the whole focus of your trip to be around swimming and waterparks.
Nearby Winter Activities
Looking for some snowy fun? If you want to ski or snow tube, Cascade Mountain is 25 minutes southeast. If you want a winter sleigh ride, check out Red Ridge Riding Stables. They are 25 minutes north.
Vertical Illusions is based in the dells and does winter activities such as a snowshoe zipline tour and ice climbing! They also rent out gear such as snowshoes, skis, and snowboards. Look closely before you book, many of their winter activities meet over an hour away.
Looking for a short walk? Check out the 1/4 mile scenic river walk which is right downtown.
Timabavati’s VIP tours are the perfect winter day trip for kids. The personalized tour promises not to disappoint animal lovers of any age! Have more time? There is plenty to do in Wisconsin Dells including two state parks, alligator alley, fun restaurants, and numerous indoor waterpark options. Have you been to Timabavati? What are your favorite destinations for kids in the Dells?