Stephanie loves to travel. She has written numerous articles with tips, photographs, and information on places to visit.
Great Wolf Lodge, Washington
Traveling with the family? Looking for a place to go that will be fun for all ages? Have you considered one of the best-known indoor water parks?
With 12 locations across North America, chances are you won't have to drive too far for a wonderful, inclusive vacation with fun for ages 1–101. The best thing about this indoor water park is that you don't have to worry about the weather. The lodges are open year-round and are always around 84 degrees inside. From toddlers to teenagers, your children will love swimming and sliding at this park. Some people have even compared it to Disneyland!
We visited the Washington State location, just over an hour south of Seattle, for spring break in 2009. A lot may have changed since then, but our experience was unforgettable. My kids are begging me to go back again soon.
Locations Throughout North America
There are currently 12 Great Wolf Lodges in North America (mostly concentrated in the Midwest and East):
- Grand Mound, Washington
- Concord, North Carolina
- Mason, Ohio
- Grapevine, Texas
- Kansas City, Kansas
- Sandusky, Ohio
- Williamsburg, Virginia
- Traverse City, Michigan
- Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
- Niagara Falls, Canada
- Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania
- Sheboygan, Wisconsin
*Check their website for new locations.
You'll find ample, free parking outside the lodge, and (I love this) free wifi inside!
At the Grand Mound Washington resort, the interior of the lodge includes a Starbucks, gift shop, Pizza Hut, sit-down restaurant, sweet shop, spa/workout facilities, children's spa, and an arcade. In addition, there are several snack and beverage locations in the water park area. Kiosks are set up for children to get temporary tattoos, and there are vendors that sell flip-flops, swimsuits, stuffed animals, and more!
They also have conference facilities. It would be a great location to schedule your next company retreat.
Pros and Cons of Staying at the Lodge
You cannot play in their water park unless you are spending the night there. In other words, you must lodge at the Great Wolf Lodge. Prices change depending on the number in your party, the dates you'd like to stay, the location of the park, and whether you want a really cool themed hotel room. When I went in 2009, prices ranged from about $250-$700 per night, but check their website for current prices.
Ask your travel agent, or call the lodge itself to find out if they are running any specials. You can also sign up online for the "Wolf Pack," and you'll get special offers emailed directly to you. Either way, you will definitely need to plan in advance before making reservations.
While the hotel rooms are not cheap, the upside is that you can start swimming and playing at 1:00 p.m. (3 hours before check-in) and can continue playing until the park closes at 8:00 p.m. (9 hours after check-out). There is no additional cost for any of the waterpark activities, from the wave pool to the numerous water slides. Swim to your heart's content!
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Playing at the Water Park
Toddlers and their parents will be comfortable in a special area of the water park designed just for kids under age five. The water is shallow, and they have fun vehicles and water-spraying animals to play with. Children can play under numerous water fountains throughout the park. There’s even a huge bucket overhead that slowly fills with water and then tips over and dumps a waterfall on the kids below. It's a hoot!
Life vests are provided, and there are lifeguards stationed throughout the water area. Of course, it is still crucial that parents keep a close eye on their children.
As with any swimming pool environment, running on the decks can be slippery and dangerous. Horseplay, dunking, etc. will not be tolerated, and you could be asked to leave the park. Also, there are height and weight restrictions for some of the water slides. Children may have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian if they are not tall enough to ride by themselves. Be sure to check the signs and ask any questions you may have before you stand in line for the Howling Tornado!
Food and Drink Options in the Park
You won't go hungry during your day of water play, because there are a number of snack and lunch locations right inside the water park part of the lodge. Parents and other guests over 21 can even enjoy a cocktail or beer! While you may be tempted to save costs by bringing in your own food, that is not permitted in the pool area. However, we stocked up with groceries that ARE allowed in your hotel room. The mini refrigerator in our room was great to keep our snacks cold.
Other Games and Attractions
Around the interior of the hotel, you'll spot fun stuffed animal critters, from wolves to weasels. If you buy a Magi-Quest wand, your children can use the wand to animate the animals and hear them sing, talk, or laugh. In 2009, the cost of the wand was about $10, plus $15 to play the game. Prices may have changed.
My school-aged kids really enjoyed playing the Magi-Quest game. It's somewhat like Dungeons and Dragons and a scavenger hunt rolled into one. You use your wand to go on quests around the first four floors of the hotel. Fairies, crystals, and wizards help you along the way. Fortunately for other guests, the game is turned off at 10:00 p.m. and doesn't recommence until 9:00 a.m. We ran all over the place and up and downstairs so that my kids could earn their Magi-Quest certificate. Be forewarned—it took about five hours to complete and is so addicting that it managed to draw my children out of the pool several times.
The clock tower in the lodge is a kids' delight, reminiscent of other theme parks like Disneyland. You can watch an animated show around the tower or go on a "Wolf Walk" several times a day. On the "Wolf Walk" kids learn basic facts about wolves and their natural habitat. In the evening, children can meet at the clock tower for bedtime stories and free chocolate chip cookies.
I Highly Recommend This Great Family Vacation
All in all, I gave this family resort a big thumbs up. For $400, our four kids (plus two adults) enjoyed hours and hours of water park fun. We didn't visit the spa or workout facilities, but we did take a trip to both Starbucks and Pizza Hut. For the full price of the vacation, we added in another $100 for food and drinks at the lodge, plus another $50 or so in groceries. The Magi-Quest game was so much fun that our kids didn't beg for us to buy souvenirs.
In short, we enjoyed the trip on a relatively tight resort budget. If you want to splurge, however, there is plenty to see, do, taste, and drink while you're there.
We're confident our family will return again in the future, if not just to have a memorable trip for less than the overall cost of other theme parks.
Our four-hour drive home was a quiet one. The kids were asleep within half an hour, and we could smile at the memories made during their spring break.
© 2009 Stephanie Marshall