Bougie and Far from Basic: Sundara Inn & Spa
Here’s the deal. I always kinda thought spas were pretentious. Bougie, if you’re fancy (which I am not).
With three stays at the Sundara Inn & Spa under my (bathrobe) belt, I now recommend it to all my friends as if it’s a religious pilgrimage (which it kind of is).
Spending time and money on “relaxing” can make me feel selfish. Initially, entertaining a spa getaway was a little bit of a mind maze for this working mama to wrap her head around.
I thought spas were made for successful, attractive people who deserve to be pampered because of how hard it must be carry the weight of success and beauty. They are for the moms who wear active wear to actually be active (and not because their pants don’t zip). Basically, I feared spas were grown-up “cool kids’ tables”. My place card has never been set at those types of tables.
If you’re going to go spa, you’ve got to go Sundara. It just doesn’t get any better. Nestled off the main drag of Wisconsin Dells, WI (a popular midwestern travel destination), Sundara Inn & Spa has first-class accommodations amidst a picturesque county landscape. The surrounding wooded area is the perfect backdrop to highlight Wisconsin’s four seasons. You can see deer sprint through freshly-fallen snow from the edge of their infinity pool or take a meditation walk and lay in a hammock under trees ablaze with the colors of fall.
And, if I were writing the brochure (Sundara, call me!), that’s exactly what I would write. Here’s the real deal:
I have a husband, five kids, a full-time job and a side hustle. Since becoming a mother, my time at the Sundara Inn & Spa is the closest I have come to relaxing and letting go. I’ve taken the deepest breaths I’ve taken in the past decade there, and my husband and I have had the most romantic dinners of our almost 15-year marriage at the Sundara Inn & Spa.
From the moment you walk into the lobby, you are greeted with first-class accommodations by hushed voices. There is a lovely (yet undefinable) smell, which I’m pretty sure is circulated through the ventilation system. I’m not saying it has addictive qualities, but I’ll just mention that, come checkout, I wasn’t the only one down at that front desk adding products with Sundara’s signature scent to my bill.
Following check-in, plushy white robe and sandals in your desired sizes await you in your room. All you need for your stay is that robe and your swimsuit. You’re either wet or drying off the majority of your stay.
The food is fresh, clean and beautifully presented. Late-night snackers be warned: Sundara is BYOJF – Bring Your Own Junk Food. If you’re addicted to the processed goodness of chocolate or salt, stash your favorites in the room’s minifridge or wet bar (to keep on hand if vacation mode requires a treat).
Somehow, lying around, swimming and being pampered all day is surprisingly exhausting. For a relaxed meal, room service is available. When they say they want you to relax, they truly mean it. I was caught off guard (and indisposed) by an early room service delivery person. I ducked behind a curtain while my husband ushered him into our room. The young professional didn’t bat any eye as he set up our meal to the soundtrack of my thinly veiled giggles. I hope he got a good party story out of the experience (I surely did), but something told me he was used to seeing it all.
I’ll be frank: all this luxury comes with a bit of sticker shock for this budget-friendly traveler. With mini-fridges and wet bars in the rooms, we’ve planned ahead and brought some of our own meals to keep costs down. You can also call or check their website for last-minute rate specials.
Still, I encourage every visitor to take at least one evening meal on the patio of Nava, the onsite restaurant. In the warmer months, book your reservation for dusk, when the patio glows with warm fireplace tables. The fires and surrounding greenery of the trees create an almost Shakespearian magical outdoor garden.
Robes are encouraged everywhere at Sundara, but please learn from my humiliation and pack an evening dinner outfit into your suitcase (among the bathing suits and pool reads). We made it through a romantic dinner of drinks, appetizers and half of our meal before noticing that we were the only people in the restaurant not dressed for dinner. I was only slightly mortified as I sat there in my robe and messy bun and realized everyone else had clearly dressed (and likely showered) for dinner.
Get the most bang for your buck by taking advantage of the free outings and class offerings. Take water yoga class, attend a culinary demo with the resident chef or learn about Sundara’s signature season cocktails in a mixology class. These experiences fill up quickly, so check the online activities calendar beforehand and sign up right away!
I took a water yoga class, where my suspicions were confirmed: I was the only non-yogi-looking yoga-er in the bunch. Thankfully, the water is the best place to try something that exceeds one’s physical fitness level. Eventually, I not only felt like I achieved a good workout, but I also relaxed and enjoyed the experience.
The syllabus for the mixology course includes whichever signature seasonal drinks are on the menu at the time – a fun takeaway for those who like to host at home. The course allows you to basically taste your way down the drink menu, in turn helping you decide what to order by the pool during your stay. The mixology class should come with a disclaimer, though. This spa novice is not a regular drinker, so I ended up a bit “overserved” by the end of the class. I weaved my way down the hallway to my room where my husband and I both promptly needed a nap. Personally, I recommend arriving on a full stomach.
I’m not sure I’ll ever really feel like I deserve spa treatment. I firmly believe the time and money we’ve spent at Sundara Inn & Spa is an investment into both our marriage and our individual health and happiness. I’ve written some of my best work while sitting in the salt room. We giggled together after I flipped myself out of one of the spa’s hammocks in the woods, and we made a monumental decision on the schooling of our children while sitting in the hot tub after the cleansing bath ritual.
A highlight for this mama was the quiet relaxation room stocked with magazines with grown-up words and snacks of pre-portioned granola with fruit mix-ins (which I didn’t have to set out or clean up). The only person who interrupted my reading with a question was the service professional who asked—in a friendly whisper—if I was ready for my spa treatment. Having someone else be the grown-up asking ME if I need to go potty* before we begin was nothing short of thrilling.
I may have champagne taste and a wine wallet, but I can always find a way to earn more money. We can never create more time. I’m glad we’ve spent money on the time we needed for ourselves at Sundara. We’ll be back.
*When inquiring about guests’ bathroom needs, the service professionals at Sundara use professional grown-up voices and vocabulary.