cindy_richards_headshotWhen my family and I arrived at the Wyndham Vacation Resorts at Glacier Bay in the Wisconsin Dells, we were still stuffed with Thanksgiving turkey and looking forward to a short family vacation.

It didn’t take us long to settle into the spacious three-bedroom condo. Once we did, we didn’t want to leave. Lucky for us, the Italian restaurant on site, Sorento’s, delivers.

If we had been a little more energetic, we could have taken the free shuttle to the restaurant and dined in style. But we wanted to save up our energy for the next day, when we checked out the two Wilderness Resort water parks and the awesome new Wild Water Dome, an indoor wave pool with a canopy that lets in the UV tanning rays. It may not sound very healthy, but it sure feels good on a cold winter day in Wisconsin.

Once we dried off and regrouped, we headed back to the Wilderness for a gentle game of indoor mini golf (we liked the Wild Abyss 3-D mini golf because of the cool aquariums) followed by a rousing round of laser tag. (My score was higher than the 16-year-old’s, much to his chagrin. I kept the scorecard in case you want to see proof). You can do it all, plus play bumper boats and get a few tokens for the arcade, in a Wild Fun Pass, $10 weekdays and $12 weekends.

The two resorts–Wilderness is a hotel rental and Wyndham is a timeshare vacation ownership resort–are connected. That makes it relatively easy (provided you can navigate the long hallways without getting lost) to make your way from the Wyndham condos to the Wilderness Water Parks without ever stepping foot outside in the snow. That was a blessed relief when we left the water parks with wet hair and dripping suits. If you don’t mind a little chill, you can walk outside and catch the free shuttle back to the Wyndham.

I’m a big advocate for condo rentals for family vacations. It helps keep down the cost of family vacations because the full kitchen lets you eat at least a few meals in the unit (breakfast for my family of four regularly costs $40 now that the kids are teenage eating machines). In addition, the separate bedroom for Mom and Dad means we get a real vacation too. And what kid doesn’t covet his or her own TV?

Here’s the problem: The Wyndham Vacation Resorts aren’t available for rental. You can’t stay at the Wyndham unless you buy into the company’s vacation ownership program. My family visited as guests of the Wyndham so we could check out the facilities.

The Wyndham vacation ownership program, like many of the larger timeshare operations these days, doesn’t sell you a 1/52 ownership in a particular unit that is yours for that one week each year. Instead, you own points that can be redeemed for a stay in any of the Wyndham properties worldwide or other travel options, including cruises, offered through Wyndham’s partners. The average timeshare purchase price, according to the Wyndham Resorts Web site is $16,000. And there are annual maintenance fees that depend on the number of points you own; $500 is the average maintenance fee. The site has a calculator that compare the cost of a Wyndham timeshare with the cost of an annual hotel vacation. It makes the timeshare seem quite affordable.