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Lake Geneva Ice castle

The Gribble family from Burlington enjoys a family visit to the Lake Geneva ice castle, including, from left, Calder, Piper, Cian and Jade.

LAKE GENEVA — Hotel and restaurant operators say the new ice castle attraction here has been worth the wait.

Although it was delayed initially by inclement weather, the ice castle is being credited with bringing significant crowds of winter visitors to the Lake Geneva region.

In some cases, hotels and restaurants are reporting a boost in winter business of 40 percent or more.

“Attendance has been incredible,” said Charlie Lorenzi, spokesman for Bella Vista Suites hotel in downtown Lake Geneva.

Compared with last winter, Lorenzi said room bookings at Bella Vista this winter since the ice castle opened are running about 40 percent higher.

Guests at Bella Vista also are offering positive feedback about Lake Geneva’s new winter attraction.

“Every single person has raved about it,” he said. “Kids come in, and it’s like Christmastime.”

The ice castle also is bringing hungry customers into local restaurants.

Alastair Cumming, co-owner of Sopra Bistro, said his downtown Lake Geneva restaurant has seen a healthy jump in business.

Cumming recalled one recent weekend when business set a new record for the restaurant, soaring three times higher than the same weekend last winter. Some customers had to be turned away because Sopra Bistro reached its capacity.

“Some of the people said they had been to four restaurants, and they couldn’t get in,” he recalled. “It was pretty crazy.”

Opened since Jan. 23 and running through this week, the ice castle is a 20,000-square-foot interactive structure that treats visitors to frozen slides, mazes and tunnels. The outdoor winter funhouse at Riviera Beach opened a few weeks later than originally planned because of unseasonably mild weather in November and December.

Weather challenges

Extreme weather has since forced the operation to shut down temporarily a couple of times.

Melissa Smuzynski, spokesperson for Ice Castles LLC, said the attraction has been sold out just about every night it is open, with crowds coming from throughout large areas of Wisconsin and Illinois.

It is scheduled to continue welcoming visitors six days a week throughout the winter, weather permitting.

Although current attendance figures have not been released, Smuzynski estimates that at least 10,000 people will have visited the ice castle by the end of the season.

“It’s been phenomenal,” she said. “It’s a good problem to have when we have more people who want to come in than what we can accommodate.”

Local tourism promoters and city officials worked to bring the ice castle to Lake Geneva for the first time this winter after seeing the concept credited with big winter tourism seasons elsewhere.

Despite occasional setbacks with extreme weather, Lake Geneva tourism spots are reporting good success with ice castle crowds.

Paul Meckler, operations manager for Oakfire restaurant, said the downtown restaurant situated across the street from the ice castle definitely has experienced an increase in business.

Groups of 10 or more people often come into the restaurant after competing their ice castle tour.

Business has been up about 30 percent on typically busy days, and on days when traffic would normally be down, the ice castle has boosted business by 65 percent to 85 percent, Meckler said.

Oakfire has even hired additional staff to serve the ice castle crowds.

“We’ve had to do a little bit more hiring,” Meckler said. “We’ve also been able to give our employees more hours. Normally, we have to wait until summer to do that.”

Jasmine Kincaid, manager at Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub, said her downtown establishment, too, is benefiting from the ice castle attraction.

“Typically, this is our slow time of the year,” Kincaid said. “With the opening of the ice castle, we have definitely seen more foot traffic.”

Even temporary closures of the ice castle due to extreme cold or occasional rain showers have not slowed down this busy winter tourism season in Lake Geneva.

Meckler said several people still find their way to Oakfire when the ice castle has been closed down.

“People have still gone down and looked at it,” he said. “Then they’ve come in here.”

Lorenzi said the ice structure attracts people who are most likely going to stay overnight in Lake Geneva. A typical crowd arrives around 7 p.m. and spends about two hours at the ice castle, Lorenzi said.

“By the time they get out, they don’t want to drive home,” he said.

Even drawing across the lake

Even at the Abbey Resort and Spa in Fontana, located across Geneva Lake, room bookings are up because of the ice castle. The resort is offering its customers a shuttle service to the ice castle.

Karen Schmidt, marketing director for the Abbey, said the resort’s location on the opposite end of the lake has meant fewer ice castle visitors than some Lake Geneva hotels.

Schmidt, however, said guests who have visited the ice structure seem to have enjoyed themselves. If the ice castle returns next winter, she hopes it will be built closer to the Abbey Resort.

“Hopefully, next year they will decide to build on Fontana Beach,” she said. “Then maybe we will see more business.”

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Assistant Managing Editor

Pete Wicklund is the local editor for The Journal Times.

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