Lake Geneva’s ice castle is open for business, and the new frozen outdoor funhouse is drawing enthusiastic crowds from throughout the region.
After weeks of delays and slowdowns because of poor weather, the interactive lakefront attraction celebrated its grand opening Jan. 23 for what could be a long run of winter fun.
Fans lined up to visit the ice castle, and early reviews from visitors were resoundingly positive.
“It’s so cool,” visitor Maggie Finley said. “I feel like a kid again.”
Finley brought her son, Mason Huebee, from Beloit to experience the ice castle on opening day, as winter conditions turned cold and snowy just in time for the new winter attraction.
Another patron, Phil Pinarski of Milwaukee, took photos of the walls and other features during his tour, saying he was fascinated with all the work that went into building the structure.
“I just think it’s kind of cool,” Pinarski said. “It’s impressive they were able to construct all of this.”
The 20,000-square-foot structure, which began construction in October on Lake Geneva’s Riviera Beach, is made entirely of ice and allows visitors to try out slides, tunnels, mazes and other interactive components.
Organizers plan to keep the ice castle open six days a week all winter, weather permitting. Tickets available at www.icecastles.com range from $10.95 to $18.95 a person.
Officials said about 1,000 people — or 200 per hour — visited the ice castle Jan. 23 on opening day, some from as far away as Chicago and Milwaukee.
“It was an amazing night,” spokeswoman Melissa Smuzynski said. “We had people coming from all over.”
Dozens of people were standing in line Jan. 23 when the doors opened at 4 p.m.
Vincent Kunicki of Mundelein, Illinois, was among those waiting to get inside the ice structure as quickly as possible. Kunicki, who recently returned from visiting Disney World, said he was eager to see what a frozen ice castle looks like.
“I think it’s something nice to come and do,” he said. “I thought I would just come on my day off.”
Keith Corwin of Morris, Illinois, attended with his wife, Alex, and his 9-year-old daughter, Adalyn.
“We love it. It’s amazing,” Corwin said. “I’m pretty blown away.”
Crews from Ice Castles LLC battled unseasonably mild temperatures in Lake Geneva throughout November and December, twice postponing the opening of the attraction. But after cold weather finally settled in, crews were able to get the structure assembled and ready for visitors.
Ryan Davis, president of the Utah-based company, said he was relieved to see people finally enjoying Lake Geneva’s ice castle.
“It’s especially satisfying with the challenges that we’ve had with the weather,” Davis said.
The company has enjoyed great success attracting winter crowds to similar ice castles in Minnesota, Colorado and elsewhere, but this is the first for Lake Geneva. The attraction opened in time to coincide with Lake Geneva’s popular Winterfest festival, which continues until Feb. 3.
The ice castle is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.
Combined with Winterfest and other seasonal attractions, the ice castle has driven hopes high for a busy winter tourism season to benefit hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
Bridget Leech, executive director of the Lake Geneva Downtown Business Improvement District, said she was elated to sees crowds filling up the downtown area during the ice castle’s opening week.
“It was like a summer month,” Leech said.
Officials reported that with advanced ticket orders, weekend hours were sold out for the next few weekends.
The ice castle offers visitors a feast for the senses, with tall carved walls leading to tunnels and other interactive features, plus fountains, colored lights and music. Several spots are ideal for visitors to take “selfies” or other photos or video.
Emily Whitcare and Sue Karman, friends who drove in from Oconomowoc, were impressed with the artistry of the jumbo-sized ice structure.
“It’s like natural artwork,” Whitcare said.
Remarked Cynthia Pizzuto of McHenry, Illinois: “I feel like I’m in a Hallmark movie.”
Ruth Mortenson of Madison toured the frozen funhouse with a photography group that made the trip to Lake Geneva to capture the scene with their cameras. Mortenson got a photo of herself riding down one of the frozen slides.
“It was fun,” Mortenson said. “I felt like I was five again.”
Jade Gribble and his wife, Piper Gribble, of Burlington brought their two children, Cian and Calder, to check out the interactive castle, mostly out of curiosity.
Piper Gribble said the trip was worth it.
“The tunnels were cool,” she said. “The fountains were really cool.”
Crowds continued flocking to the beachfront attraction even as temperatures turned bitter cold during the opening weekend.
“The weather is perfect,” said Jeff Berman of Lindenhurst, Illinois.
Tham Rati of Chicago paused to warm himself by one of the fire pits provided inside the ice castle, while taking in the visual impact of the surrounding structure.
“It’s pretty cool,” Rati said. “It’s beautiful.”
Some visitors were making plans for a return visit to Lake Geneva’s new winter attraction.
Finely said she and her son had so much fun, they might come back again tomorrow.
“It’s hard to experience something like this,” she said. “You don’t see this very often.”
Ice castle crew member Jake Springston said work will continue on the structure throughout the winter, so the features could continue to grow and expand as the season goes on.
“It’s going to keep getting larger every day,” he said. “It’s going to be even more of a masterpiece.”