When planning our family vacation this year, it was Great Wolf Lodge that pulled us to Niagara Falls and not the other way around. I’d been hearing rave reviews about GWL from other families for a while, and though I thought it was rather overpriced, when my sister-in-law said she could share her teacher’s discount, it seemed more reasonable. Lucky for us, about a month after we made our reservation I stumbled onto a special offer for 50% off July prices, so we ended up paying about $180 a night — a little steep for your ‘average’ hotel accommodation, but entirely affordable when you factor in the cost of five unlimited-use passes to the best water park we’ve ever visited. (And I do love me a good water park!)
In the end, I have to say that the good points outweighed the bad points, but there were a few things that keep me from raving with satisfaction (is that an oxymoron?) about our experience. Here are five things about Great Wolf Lodge:
1. There is a wide variety of fun water-based activities for just about any age group. There were tiny slides for the littlest ones (Lucas was just an inch or two too short to try them, but my 2 year old niece had a blast) and more than one pool that started out at zero depth with a comfortable grade — perfect for toddlers. There were bigger slides that were perfect for adventurous five- and seven-year-olds (even Simon, who doesn’t like slides at the park, loved these!) and some really big slides that were fun for grown-ups or grown-ups and kids to ride together.
2. They have an excellent wristband security system. Although I was mildly irritated by the constant presence of the wrist band, it more than made up for the irritation with sheer convenience. Not only does the wrist band allow you access to the water park, but it acts as a room key so you just wave your wristband in front of the door lock to let yourself in. Loved it! Also, the wristbands activated the lockers provided in the water park, which I wish I’d known the first and second day we were there — I’d have more in-park pictures if I’d known I could leave my camera somewhere safe and dry! When I asked if I had to put and keep one on Lucas, the desk staff said yes, but that on a daily basis they used the system to reunite separated kids and parents. It was great not to have to worry about room keys, and the kids loved the novelty and independence of being able to unlock the doors themselves.
3. Everything is oriented to kids. In our case, this is a good thing – others might not agree! You can’t get a less-expensive room if you aren’t planning on using the water slides, for example, so Granny and Papa Lou decided not to come with us this year. But they do offer fun things like crafts and stories for the kids, and even the food on site is heavily geared to kiddie tastes. There’s even a kiddie spa on site, but my boys weren’t particularly interested in getting a mani or a pedi.
4. The place is extremely clean and the staff are super-friendly. Maybe even a little too friendly! The constant refrain of “Have a Great Wolf Day!” wears a little thin by the end of the first day. But I have to say, I was impressed when I called down to the desk to ask about on-site first aid. Lucas had seen a life-sized Bob the Builder (literally Lucas-sized) in the gaming arcade and made a beeline for it, not seeing the sharp edge of the air hockey table between him and Bob, and ended up with a nasty bump and cut just milimeters from his eye. I didn’t even see the cut until we were on our way back up to the room, but it was still bleeding almost a half an hour later, so the desk clerk sent up a couple of the lifeguards with first-aid training to take a look at him. He was fine, but I had to laugh when one of the (barely) 20-something girls suggested I hold some ice on his eye for 15 minutes after he fell asleep when he wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to keep an ice pack on him while he was awake.
5. This is really the only negative thing I have to say about Great Wolf Lodge, but considering the price, a few more inclusions and amenities would be nice. It was the nickel-and-diming for the extras that most irritated me. For example, the website says “There’s a bunk bed and TV, so they can “rough it” with movies and Nintendo,” but the you had to pay $8 an hour to play the Nintendo. Not that we needed the video games, but I did feel that it was false advertising to insinuate on their website that it was included when there was an extra charge. There was mini-golf on site, but that was an extra fee as well — it would have been $18 just for Tristan, Simon and I to play… about double what we usually pay. And when I asked at the desk on check-in if there was anything special I could do for our ten-year wedding anniversary, the clerk suggested I buy a cake at the bakery down stairs. Not exactly what I’d had in mind. (Heck, even a free round of mini-golf would have been nice!)
My recommendations to improve Great Wolf Lodge? Some nice terry bathrobes in the rooms would be a lovely touch. The cabin theme with the bunks is great for the kids, but other than that the rooms are pretty stark of comforts for the grown-ups. And, a courtesy phone in the water-park area would be much appreciated so one doesn’t have to truck three dripping kids across the lobby to find one. (It would have been easier to simply walk everyone back up to the room!)
In the end, we enjoyed our stay enough that I imagine we’ll be coming back for a return visit, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a high tolerance for noise and chaos. Luckily, with three boys I’m pretty much immune to both by now.
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