Category Archives: children

Dubuque, Iowa with kids: takemewithyou

My friend Jane is looking for some advice on entertaining two young kids during a possible trip to Dubuque so I’ve pulled out some old clips of mine – one from a NYTimes story in 2005 I wrote about Iowa’s undiscovered Mississippi River shore and another I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2003 about the then-new water park in Dubuque.  The National Mississippi River Museum has just added a new wing, I think, with new exhibits – although might not be the best for really young kids – but there are other things there that they’ll like – especially the aquarium. So I say, GO!

From my NYT story: (

Stop in Dubuque at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, a Smithsonian affiliate that opened in 2003. Huge blue catfish, gar and paddlefish swim in a 30,000-gallon tank, a boardwalk goes through reclaimed wetlands inhabited by herons and bald eagles, and a model of the river at Dubuque shows the havoc caused by a 1965 flood.

Downtown, Dubuque feels like an old factory town, with Victorian mansions (several converted into inns), brick row houses flush to the street and many a corner tap and church. Don’t leave without riding the Fenelon Place Elevator, a funicular that makes a steep climb to a bluff top where Wisconsin and Illinois are visible across the river.

From Dubuque, Iowa: Riverfront water park is a scream

SApril 20, 2003

Even before my family entered the new resort hotel in Dubuque, Iowa, we heard muffled screams coming from a chute snaking out and then back into the building.

We were soon screaming, too.

Screaming — in delight or horror — while sliding through a dark, winding water chute is part of the fun at Iowa’s first themed indoor water park. Opened last December, the Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark is the first tourist attraction resulting from a major redevelopment of Dubuque’s riverfront.

On a March weekend — during spring break for my children, L, 10 and N 11 — the resort was full, its 194 rooms packed with more than 700 guests. Most were like us, parents bunking with kids for a water-filled weekend.

About half the size of a football field, the 25,000-square foot water park has three main water areas — a shallow pool for young children, a deeper pool for older kids and a 4-story-high play structure resembling an old-fashioned steamboat (“The Huck Finn II”).

N, L and my husband, D went right to the big kids’ pool — and the water chute. Again and again, they whizzed down that dark chute on an inner tube, landing in a pool with a big splash. (Once was enough for me.) While N and D played water basketball, L climbed on giant plastic lily pads, and I happily drifted in an inner tube along a small “lazy river.”

We also enjoyed the Huck Finn II, which felt like a cross between a giant McDonald’s playland and the Titanic, posticeberg. A multilevel structure in ankle-deep water, the Huck leaked everywhere, with water spraying every which way.

Kids (and grownups) scurried up nets, climbed steps and slid down two curving open-air water slides. They turned valves, pulled pulleys and shot water cannons to release even more water (often onto unsuspecting people below.) Every 15 minutes, a steamboat bell clanged and an 800-gallon bucket atop the Huck tipped over, spilling water on people below.

The shallow pool was full of young children frolicking in vertical water sprays and sliding down a short, wide slide. Parents lounged in two warm whirlpools, watched kids from plastic tables and visited the snack bar.

The water park absorbed — and entertained — us all. We had plenty of elbow room. Lines for the water slide were short and moved swiftly. The place was clean and well-run, with lots of eagle-eyed lifeguards, water depth signs, inner tubes, balls and towels. The air wasn’t humid or reeking of chlorine. It wasn’t even noisy (despite the occasional scream).

Betsy Rubiner is the author of “Fun with the Family in Iowa,” to be published by Globe-Pequot Press in June.

If you want to venture beyond the water park, there are several other attractions in and around Dubuque:

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium: Scheduled to open in June, this museum will feature river wildlife from catfish and snapping turtles to alligators, otters and water moccasins, plus a working boat yard and replicas of barges, keelboats and steamboats. More information: 1-800-226-3369 or

Spirit of Dubuque Sightseeing Cruises: This authentic paddle-wheel riverboat operates May through October from the port of Dubuque, offering one-hour narrated sightseeing cruises, plus dinner cruises. Reservations are a good idea. More information: 1-800-747-8093 or

Fenelon Place/Fourth Street Elevator: This one-of-a-kind outdoor elevator is billed as the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway. A Dubuque banker built it in 1882 so he could quickly get from his house up on a bluff to his office downtown. It’s a quick, 263-foot ride with terrific river views from the top. More information: 1-563-582-9496.

Crystal Lake Cave: More than 40 feet underground, this is marketed as Iowa’s largest cave open to visitors (May through October.) During the 45-minute guided tour along well-lit passageways, you’ll see an underground lake and intricate formations (some resembling hollow soda straws or well-done bacon.) You may also spot rare cave crystals known as anthodites. For more information: 1-563-556-6451,

What to know

It’s a fact: Iowa’s oldest city, Dubuque, population 62,000, is midway through a major riverfront redevelopment to include a river walk (due to open mid-May) and conference/education center (due to open in November.)

Getting there: Dubuque is about 280 miles from Minneapolis. The scenic route is to follow the Great River Road south, following the Mississippi all the way. Faster: Take Interstate Hwy. 35 south to Hwy. 20 east through Waterloo to Dubuque. To get to the resort, turn left on Locust St. (just before the Julian Dubuque Bridge) and right on 3rd St.

More information: Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, 1-866-690-4006 or

Where to stay

The Grand Harbor Resort has 194 guest rooms including 31 suites. (Ask for one overlooking the Mississippi.) There is a restaurant, game arcade, “WaterSquirts” children’s activity club and, of course, the water park. Room rates include water-park admission (and sometimes breakfast.) Doubles range from $99 to $219; for a suite, from $139 to $329.

Where to eat

• For only $10 extra, our room came with breakfast at the resort’s restaurant, the River Walk, which was a great deal. We could have ordered off the menu but chose the buffet, which included a good omelet bar. The restaurant, also serving lunch and dinner, is open daily 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• We had a good dinner at the Blackwater Grill at the Bricktown Brewery, a lively family restaurant in a restored red brick building in Main Street’s Historic District. The long menu includes huge burgers, salads, steaks and fish. Open daily for lunch and dinner, it’s at 299 Main St.

• For terrific artisan breads and pastries, visit Cafe Manna Java, a coffee bar and bakery at 269 Main St.

• If you can’t bear to leave the water park, order a pizza delivery from the Shot Tower Inn, a popular place downtown at 390 Locust St. Telephone: 1-563-556-1061.

The water park

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 11 p.m. on Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and until 9 p.m. Sunday.

You can stay in the water park longer than in your hotel room. Hotel check-in is 4 p.m., but you can get into the water park at 2 p.m. (Our room was ready early.) Hotel checkout is 11 a.m., but you can stay at the water park until 1 p.m. There are bathrooms with lockers and showers next to the water park.

For kids: The WaterSquirts Kids Club, for children 12 and under, is a small room by the main entrance offering crafts, board games, movies, free arcade tokens and free T-shirts


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