For New Year’s Eve: retreats to hoopla

I suspect that you may want more than bad champagne and squeaky paper horns to ring in the new year. Rest up, Wild One. Here are a few options.

Chandelier Ballroom, Hartford (Washington County) – This historic and grand ballroom is making a comeback. Spend New Year’s Eve here and a part of the contribution is tax-deductible.

A $25 ticket for the festivities includes entertainment by the pop-rock band Front Page News, free beer from 8-10 p.m., a midnight toast and finger food buffet. There also will be a cash bar and raffle.

The octagonal ballroom, which has had several names since its debut in 1928, was brought back to its original state through a $1 million restoration initiated by the Hartford Rotary Foundation.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. During the height of the Big Band era, Chandelier performers included Guy Lombardo, Woody Herman and the Dorsey Brothers. During World War II, it reportedly was a prisoner of war camp that held more than 600 Germans.

For more, call (888) 261-8778 or go to

Fireside Dinner Theatre, Fort Atkinson (Jefferson County) – “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” a country/rock music comedy, is playing here through Feb. 23. Tickets, including dinner, are about $55.

This destination, which opened as a restaurant in 1964, is particularly popular with senior citizens. It is called the state’s largest year-round group travel destination.

The 652-seat theater is just one part of the complex. There also are four distinctive gift shops (containing garden, music and country wares), a bakery and dining space for 1,000.

Expect squeaky-clean entertainment. The Fireside’s 2003 lineup also includes the musicals “Hello Dolly,” Feb. 27 to May 4; “Annie Get Your Gun,” May 8 to July 13; “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” July 17 to Sept. 28; and “A Fireside Christmas,” Oct. 2 to Dec. 21.

It’s open Wednesday through Sunday; there are matinees and night shows. For more, call (800) 477-9505 or go to

Kalahari Resort, Wisconsin Dells – We’d be remiss to ignore the big splash that’s going on about the new, 58,000-square-foot expansion of this property’s indoor waterpark.

This $12 million project turns Kalahari into the biggest indoor waterpark in the nation – at least for now. We’ll study Wisconsin’s waterpark wars a bit more closely in January.

Let’s just acknowledge that there’s room for 4,000 of you – toddlers to retirees – to slide, soak, scream and steam your way into 2003. The place has an African theme, a huge roller coaster on water and too many diversions to list.

Five whirlpool spas, nine water slides, play areas for children and a 64-foot lap pool are under this roof. There are 378 rooms for overnight guests; day passes to the waterpark also are sold.

For more, call (877) 253-5466 or go to

Saint Benedict Center, Madison – This is about as far away as you can get from the booze, the bad music and the questionable characters that seem to swell as the clock strikes midnight.

“Vigil for the New Year” is a Christian celebration that begins with a light supper and ends with a bonfire at midnight. In between is one prayer service of psalms and scripture, another that is in the Taize tradition of meditation, singing and silence.

There also are workshops: baking cookies, guided labyrinth walks, massage, spiritual journaling, poetry readings, sand mandala construction. Participate or do your own thing.

I’ve not been here as an overnight guest, but the Saint Benedict setting is peaceful and scenic. The food is great, and the atmosphere is welcoming but not heavy-handed.

Cost for the meal and program is $15 per person, or $40 per family. It’s $50 per person, $75 per couple and $80-100 per family to stay overnight and eat breakfast the next morning.

About 100 people participated last year. Reservations are necessary and space is limited. For more, call (608) 836-1631 or go to

Fireworks, various locations – If you want 2002 to end with a bang, it shouldn’t be hard to get your wish. Fireworks, particularly in Wisconsin’s larger cities, aren’t as rare as they used to be during this time of year.

Extensive and affordable Firstar Eve – oops, now it’s U.S. Bank Eve – events will be during the evening of Dec. 31 in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Wausau and Stevens Point. They’re designed for the whole family, are alcohol-free and have been known to culminate with fireworks way before the Times Square ball makes the plunge in Manhattan.

For more, watch for specifics, or call your local U.S. Bank.

Big city getaways – Last, let’s note that hotel operators in Chicago and the Twin Cities have heavily discounted room rates for the winter.

For more, call (888) 676-6757 and go to, or call (877) CHICAGO and go to

We’re especially impressed with Chicago’s Winter Delights assortment of activities. They include fixed-price meals at respectable downtown restaurants, and “immersion weekends” with themes that range from theater to music to regional cuisine.