The Hubs and I seriously contemplated a family trip to Hawaii this year. Every time I thought about the logistics of flying with three kids ages 4, 3 and 1, dragging car seats, a stroller, pack & play etc. and the amount of money a trip like this would cost, I’d just about have a break down. We decided on a MUCH smaller and MUCH closer to home vacation — a trip to Great Wolf Lodge about two hours from our house. Since this was our first time and our vacation for the year, we splurged on a “Wolf Den” suite for the kids. We had also received a generous gift certificate for Christmas to help pay for it. I had missed the Groupon deal for it and since we were only staying one night, there were no other discounts we could take advantage of.
As soon as we hit the road, I was in vacation mode. I just wanted to get there and start having fun. I didn’t want to stop for lunch, even though I knew it would be more expensive at the Lodge. We knew we could start using the water park at 1 pm but that check-in wasn’t actually until 4 pm. Still, we thought we could get into our room early. We arrived, checked in and were told they’d call us when our room would be ready. The buffet was closed and when we looked at the posted menu for the restaurant, we (read: the Hubs) decided we should get back in the car and go eat somewhere else. Thankfully our kids didn’t put up much of a fight leaving right after our much anticipated arrival. We ended up at a Dairy Queen right down the road and got lunch for 5 for under $20 and headed back to the Lodge. As much as I hate to admit it, my husband was right about this decision and it won’t be the last time on this trip — I knew there was a reason I married him!
Since we still hadn’t been called to let us know our room was ready and by now it was snowing we didn’t really want to deal with getting only some of our stuff from the car for the water park so we went and purchased magic wands for the MagiQuest game, played in the arcade for awhile and shared some ice cream. If you’ve never been to Great Wolf Lodge, the magic wands can be pointed at various objects all throughout the Lodge to magically bring them to life. For kids older than ours, there is also a MagiQuest game that involves solving riddles and finding items. The wands are pretty pricey, I think we paid $17.99 for the cheapest model. The good news is, they can be used anytime you visit and since we plan on returning, we figured it wasn’t a bad investment.
We were finally called and notified that our room was ready. I should have listened to my best friend when she gave me advice about which room to request. The elevators were terribly slow and our room was a bit of a trek to and from the water park. My friend suggests asking for a ground level room near the water park without a balcony. This way you can pull your car right up and unload it through the sliding glass door and you’ll be right near all the action! (This is for the Grand Mound location)
I was worried about keeping track of our little ones around all that water and how much they’d actually be able to do there. Aside from one incident where we lost our son, I was amazed at how much fun we ALL had. Seriously, kids can disappear in a split second and it’s terrifying! Our oldest, Jackson, who is four, ran off from the shore of the wave pool area to another area while I was caring for our youngest and my husband turned his back for a second to grab our three year old. I turned around and he was gone. SCARY. We found him (or I should say he found us) just a couple of minutes later after I had already notified a lifeguard. Our little guy told me “No, Mommy, YOU scared ME!” when I told him how much he scared us but I think he was more upset that we were upset with him than he was actually scared.
I also had a moment of panic when we first got there. We were the “new” family who unknowingly stood under the giant bucket that dumps like 500 gallons of water every few minutes. ALL of us got slammed and it was a bit of a shock. As soon as I could see again I wanted to make sure everyone was okay but I didn’t see my three year old at first and started to panic. She was standing a couple of feet away and she was fine.
All in all we had an awesome time. There’s something for kids of all ages, and I mean that literally. My one year old had a BLAST. I think she smiled the entire time! The water park is heated — in fact it’s a little TOO warm in there if you aren’t getting wet. The water wasn’t cold either — I didn’t hear any complaints from anyone in my family, including myself who is usually the whiner when it comes to cold water.
The Great Wolf Lodge isn’t a frugal vacation but there are ways to save money. Here are my tips:
- Get a basic room — The Wolf Den was cute and the kids loved it but it was quite a bit more money. I was expecting the room to be larger than it was and was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to it.
- Wait for a sale — When I purchased tickets there was a sale for 20% off 2 nights. Shortly after I paid for the room, there was a sale for 20% off 1 night. Plan ahead, then wait for the right sale! Plus, keep your eye out for a Groupon in case they offer one again!
- Borrow a wand — As I mentioned before, these aren’t cheap. Ask around and see if you can borrow one from a friend or family member who has visited GWL before.
- Eat out — It’s not every often you’ll hear that eating out is cheaper than eating in! There were quite a few options nearby that were much cheaper than the restaurants at the Lodge.
- Play at the water park — its included in the price of your room so play as much as you can stand!
- Avoid the arcade — most of the games were designed just to win tickets to cash in for trinkets and the tokens don’t last long at all.
- Bring your own activities — we brought books to read, a portable DVD player and movies, our iPad, a Nintendo DS etc. These were perfect for down time in our room. Puzzles, coloring books etc. would also be good if your kids enjoy those.
- Bring your own snacks — our room had a fridge.
- Buy a waterproof disposable camera — I’m sad that I didn’t think of this beforehand. I missed out on some really cute photo opportunities because I didn’t want to risk bringing my iphone or camera into the water park.
- Sign up for text alerts — my best friend told me about this and I haven’t seen any mention of it anywhere else. While we were there, I received the following discounts via text message:
- 25% off homemade fudge from Bear Paw
- Free Campfire Sundae from Camp Critter with the purchase of a meal
- 10% off any Kids Scooops Service (a salon & spa for kids)
- 25% off a Light Topper for your MagiQuest Wand
- 10% off in the gift shop or swim shop
To sign up, text GRAND to 839863. The only one we used was the Free Campfire Sundae. If you decide to eat-in, this is the best route to go! Kids meals come with super cute wolf ear headbands. If you eat there a second time, you can get wolf tails instead! We ate there for dinner, bought two kids meals with drinks (extra) and two adult meals with water, paid around $50 and got THIS for free ($9.99 value):
We all dug in and couldn’t eat the whole thing. Under all that whipped cream and cotton candy is chocolate and vanilla ice cream — a TON of it!
We also ate breakfast a the buffet. Two of our kids were free. If you like breakfast, this buffet was pretty awesome. They even had smoothies and an omelet bar. I’m sure there are much cheaper options outside of the lodge but the Hubs is a big breakfast fan and we were pleased with this buffet.
Originally I wanted to book two nights. This vacation was, after all, replacing HAWAII. Not to mention the discount on a two night booking. Hubs was hesitant but said it was up to me. I followed his lead on only booked one night. While we had an absolute blast, one night was plenty. We went to the water park each day and had our fair share of fun. All of us were pretty wiped out afterwards though. I’m actually sore from carrying around our one year old and doing a lot of stairs. Most people that I talked to prior to our visit told us they thought one day would be enough, and they, like my husband, were right. Yes, I’m admitting for the SECOND time that my husband was right. We are glad to be home and in our own beds tonight and I think everyone will sleep like a baby!
If you’ve been to Great Wolf Lodge, do you have any tips to share?