For many Minnesota families, small resorts just don't cut it anymore. Families on vacation are looking for all the comforts of home. Resort owners say their guests are demanding more activities and better accommodations. They say growing bigger is the only way to provide guests with what they want, and stay profitable.
You can still find plenty of small resorts in Minnesota - resorts with rustic cabins nestled on a quiet lake. But at the state's largest resort, you'll find hotel-like suites, that require key cards to unlock.
"You can see a living room in front of you," says Brian Thuringer, owner of Madden's Resort west of Brainerd. He gives a tour of one of the newest buildings at Madden's.
"There's a television, there's a curved wall which separates the bedroom from the living room. You can see in here we have 10 or 12-foot ceilings, two queen-sized beds," Thuringer says.
Madden's Resort boasts 1,000 acres and sits on a peninsula in Gull Lake. Thuringer says his resort provides guests with all the amenities. Some rooms include refrigerators, computer hookups, and even a telephone in the bathroom. Guests pay $235 per night for a suite like this.
Madden's has more moderately-priced accommodations, starting at $99 per night. And even they are far more plush than accommodations at resorts just 20 years ago.
Thuringer says he thinks loafing by the water is still his guests' favorite activity. But he says most of his guests have high expectations - it is a golf resort, after all. Thuringer says for most resort guests these days, a hot, mosquito-filled cabin is not an option.
"People are very demanding for where they are staying, much more so than they used to be. And I think that's where keeping up is very important. It's expensive to be in the resort industry, because we have to constantly be remodeling and rebuilding," he says.
Thuringer says Madden's Resort is in a position to give its guests what they want. Madden's is the biggest resort in Minnesota. It has room for almost 1,000 guests, and can offer them 64 holes of golf.
Tourism officials say more and more, the key to success in the resort industry is size. A bigger resort is able to provide its guests with more to do.
Carol Altepeter is with the Minnesota Office of Tourism in Brainerd. Altepeter says fewer resort guests these days want to spend their vacations just relaxing.
"They want to get away to the resort, but they want to be busy and active," she says. "It's not just going to the cabin anymore and playing Monopoly, but it's, 'What else is there to do in the area?' That's become more and more important."
Altepeter says the family on a fishing vacation is no longer the main resort customer. Now families want to waterski, hike and bike. And Minnesota's resorts are paying close attention to the newest kind of resorter - the transient golfer.
Roving bands of golfers travel the state, stay at resorts for a short time, and hit all the area courses. Dale Oestrum is from North St. Paul. Oestrum is playing 18 holes at the Arrowwood Resort near Alexandria. It's a part of a mini-golf vacation that he and a friend are taking.
"(We're) going to golf Osakis on Wednesday, going to golf here, going to golf down in Sauk Centre on Friday - can't be any better than this," Oestrum says.
Arrowwood's general manager Jeff Wild says resort operators are doing what they can to adapt to this new type of guest. Wild says they are trying to provide as many recreational activities as possible - from golfing, swimming and boating in the summer, to snowmobiling and skiing in the winter.
Arrowwood is one of a growing number of resorts open all year round. Wild says because the resort business is expensive, operating from May to October just isn't enough anymore.
"We've got over a mile of lakeshore here. To pay for something like that - with property taxes and operating expenses - you really have to be a year-round resort, offering a lot of amenities to help...offset some of those costs," he says.
Wild says Arrowwood will build a new indoor water park this summer. The 30,000-square foot facility is expected to be complete sometime next year. Wild says the new water park will attract more guests during the typically slow winter months.
Resorts owners say they need to keep up with their guests' demands. And if being a big resort means they're able to give guests what they want, then they say bigger is better.More from MPR