A Divine Place to Be:
April 1, 2011
Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park
Just as Mount Olympus was the divine kingdom of the Olympian gods and the most worshipped place in Greece, Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park, located in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., is quickly making its mark in history, one mile at a time. The Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park complex covers a total area of over 200 acres, which includes over one-and-a-half miles of frontage on the Wisconsin Dells Parkway (nicknamed “The Strip.”) The Parkway is a 4.5-mile section of road that is the main thoroughfare through the Wisconsin Dells tourism area, which is also described as the “The Waterpark Capital of the World” and earned the title of number one Family Destination in the United States as ranked in the 2010 TripAdvisor.com Travelers’ Choice poll.
Nick Laskaris and his wife Eva, along with their two daughters Fotini and Maria (ages 14 and 12), own and operate the Mr. Olympus resort complex. What started out as a small, struggling family business in the 1970s, has become what is now referred to as a “Mega Park” that boasts both indoor and outdoor water and theme parks and the Mt. Olympus Mall, a retail shopping area at the park’s center that features candy and gift shops, apparel and surf shops, dining and essentials. There are 37 water slides, six roller coasters, eight go-kart tracks, two arcades, a surf pool and a wave pool all found within the four “thrilling lands” that make up Mt. Olympus. Scattered around the over 200-acre complex are seven resort/hotel properties where you can immerse yourself in the Greco-Roman atmosphere of the Hotel Rome or experience a night in one of the Tree Houses at the Zeus Village & Camp Resort. No matter your budget or preference of overnight accommodations, when you stay on one of the Mt. Olympus properties, you are provided access to all the Mt. Olympus water and theme parks for free.
Nick’s late father, Jim Laskaris, brought the family from Chicago to Wisconsin Dells in 1970, where he purchased 20 acres and built a small hot dog food stand just off the Wisconsin Dells strip. He named the food stand “Big Chief” after the 25-foot-tall Indian statue he had recently purchased and decided to place in front of the building. Big Chief later became the catalyst for one of the fastest growing resort parks in the Wisconsin Dells area.
In 1975, Jim opened a very simple figure-8 go-kart track on a piece of leased property off Wisconsin Dells Parkway. While 9-year-old Nick acted as the chief mechanic and operator of the go-karts, his sister Penny, 8, sold tickets for the track. Nick and Penny worked side-by-side with their parents while growing up. “My father never believed in having their kids work for someone else so he provided us an opportunity to be part of a business we could all call our own,” said Nick. “We were a team and the business belonged to all of us. We didn’t get paid by the hour, but my father treated us very well. He would tell us, whoever works the hardest gets the most. I have passed this same work ethic onto my girls as well.”
In 1980, they left the leased property and Jim built a new go-cart track next to the hot dog stand and called it Big Chief Go Kart World. By 1985, they had torn down the original hot dog stand and built a four-level go-kart track, the biggest in Wisconsin Dells. In 1991, the family purchased 35 acres right on the strip and opened Big Chief Go-Kart World #2. This big, new track complex was a huge hit, doing more business than the eight tracks on the original property. Throughout the 1990s, the attraction grew to include 17 go-kart tracks, three wooden roller coasters – Cyclops (1995), Pegasus (1996), and Zeus (1997) – and the park’s name was changed to Big Chief Carts and Coasters.
1998, Nick purchased a small reproduction of the Trojan horse replica he had seen at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and brought it back to the park. After the family purchased another 28 acres along the Strip, for $2.8 million, Nick and three park employees proceeded to build a gigantic 65-foot-tall wooden replica of the horse, which is now part of the Trojan Horse go-kart ride. The go-karts climb up to and travel through the hollow cavity of the mythological horse. This purchase gave them more frontage than any single property owner along the strip. The next year the Laskaris purchased another 25 acres, spending another $4 million, to acquire the land and competing go-kart park adjacent to theirs.
Nick’s father passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2003, after being struck by a motorcycle while crossing the street. Nick and his wife Eva took over the family business at that time and, in the spring of 2004, the park was renamed Mt. Olympus Theme Park in appreciation of his family’s heritage, as well as to tie in the theme that they now had with the Trojan Horse. Also in 2005, Nick entered into an $80 million merger with Treasure Island Waterpark Resort, which consisted of Treasure Island’s Family Land Waterpark and Bay of Dreams Indoor Waterpark. After spending millions on landscaping, refurbishing and installing Greek theming throughout, Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park was officially unveiled.
Expansions continued with the first indoor theme park in the Dells, the 45,000-square-foot Parthenon, opening in 2006, which houses Opa, a spinning coaster from Zamperla and the Dells fastest indoor Go-Kart track. The 8-foot-diameter columns of the Parthenon where created on site in a foam factory that Nick set up on the property. In addition, they have their own construction company, go kart manufacturing, metal shop, mechanics on site, as well as their own furniture manufacturing shop. Not only have they sculpted the beautiful facades and themed structures throughout the resort, they design and build the furniture and print their own wallpaper that adorns their lodging guest rooms.
Poseidon’s Rage wave pool made its debut in 2007. The 48,000-square-foot attraction, built by WhiteWater West Industries, holds 1.3 million gallons of water and sends over 160,000 gallons of water surging through the 480-feet-long-by-440-feet-wide surf wave pool every 90 seconds. Towering waves reach heights of up to 9 feet, making this one of the world’s largest surf pools. The total investment for this attraction was over $7 million.
The River Troy, the world’s fastest river ride, came next in 2008 and forms the boundary between the two worlds of the indoor and outdoor water and theme parks.
There are now 23 rides that make up Neptune’s Outdoor Waterpark. Included in these are: Triton’s Fury, where up to three people can ride down this 340-foot-long raft ride; Triton’s Rage, another multi-person raft ride with a 550-foot descent through a variety of twists, turns and drops; Triton’s Challenge, which allows you to compete with your family or friends on this side-by-side, six-lane downhill racer for over 350 feet; Tidal Wave pool (one of the Midwest’s largest,) where you can ride the wild surf or lay on the beach and watch all the action; two endless rivers; and, three exciting children’s water play grounds.
The indoor waterpark at Mt Olympus, Medusa’s, which was originally part of the Treasure Island Waterpark Resort, has 55,000 square feet of water fun for all ages with 1,500 feet of waterslides throughout the complex. Some of the water attractions include, Anaconda – the biggest and longest of slides, Warriors Water Walk, Mayan Raging River, water canyons, geysers, nine water slides, waterfalls and an awesome children’s pool. The waterpark has a Mayan jungle theme filled with native artwork and many stone sculptures. It is said that there is enough to make anyone happy.
In the summer of 2009, Mt. Olympus began Night at the Theme Park, where certain rides would be open from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for four nights a week. Initially, the concept was challenged due to a violation of the amusement ordinance that dictates businesses have to close around midnight Sunday through Friday and by 1 a.m. on Saturday. Due largely to the success of Night at the Theme Park, Mt. Olympus requested and was granted a temporary variance.
While there were no new attractions at Mt Olympus in 2010, the Laskaris family continued to expand the property by purchasing distressed motel and camp ground properties in the Wisconsin Dells area. All the properties have been refurbished in the same theme as existing Mt. Olympus properties. “It is our intention to have all of our properties look and feel like you are staying in a large resort,” said Nick. “I believe that our guests are looking for a clean, attractive location to stay that has good attractions and amenities included with their stay. We provide that service with all of our properties, whether it is the “old mom and pop” type motel that first existed in the Dells, or the larger Hotel Rome.” Nick commented that they would rather buy up the existing properties along the strip and refurbish them than see them torn down and turned into larger resort hotels. “It is my goal to revitalize and beautify the Strip, one mile at a time,” Nick said.
Earlier this year, Mt. Olympus finalized a deal to purchase two local properties: the Riverwalk Hotel and American World Resort. American World Resort, located across the street from the park, has been renamed Mt. Olympus Zeus’ Village & Camp Resort. The Riverwalk Hotel has been renamed Santorini Village and rethemed as a Greek monastery. With the purchase of these last two properties, there will be close to 1,000 rooms, including the current and planned campsites. They have accommodations to suit all budgets and, no matter which of the seven properties at Mt. Olympus you choose to visit, your park tickets are included with your lodging plus your day of check out is also free.
In looking at the future of his park and the waterpark industry in general, Nick feels that anyone who blames the economy on slow business is just making excuses for poor business decisions. “When the economy gets bad, lower your prices,” said Nick. “Eventually you can increase them again as the economy gets stronger.” The resort remains busy and attendance continues to increase each year, even if guests are spending less. Before acquiring American World, Mt. Olympus had already partnered with them and noted the increase in attendance at the campsites. This will be the first year that the Laskaris family actually owns the campsites and they are planning to increase those from 60 to 200 sites. When the economy gets tough, many vacationing families apparently tighten the belts and head for the great outdoors. A lot of people are shopping around now and find it appealing to be able to choose a less expensive option for their overnight stay, while still having access to both the water and theme parks.
For more information about Mt. Olympus, visit their Web site at www.mtolympuspark.com. Although the park has gotten on board with the social media market, Nick still feels that the Web site is what attracts and brings in new guests every year. The park also has its own in-house marketing department that works hard to keep all of their media up to date and fresh from year to year. Although they have over 22,000 fans on their Facebook page, Nick pointed out that this number only represents about two days worth of attendees at the park. “Social media has its place, but it does not bring in the traffic to the park like the Web site can,” Nick said.
The Laskaris family has even bigger plans for the future. Nick learned the value of hard work from his parents and credits much of his success to the values his father had passed on to him, which he hopes to now pass on to his own children. Sitting idle is not one of them. The one-time go-kart mechanic still knows how to get his hands dirty and stays involved in every aspect of the business. This is how you take an annual attendance from 200,000 to over 1,000,000 in just six years. –Back