I picked up my 5 year old from preschool last week and passed the administrator walking down the hall. “Have a great time on your trip!” she called to me. I arrived at his classroom door and his teacher gave me a wide-eyed look and exclaimed, “So, we all understand that you’re going to Great Wolf Lodge!” It seems my son had been chattering away to anyone that he saw throughout the morning about our trip. Needless to say, he was very excited.
Lest you not be familiar with Great Wolf Lodge (GWL – or WOLF on the Nasdaq, as the signs in the lobby point out), it’s a huge indoor water park and hotel chain with 12 locations around the country. If your kids haven’t already bugged you about going, they probably will soon. Earlier this month, I took a couple days off work, we pulled the kids from school and drove the family to a day and a half of wet fun in a balmy indoor environment (which is nice in early March). Living in central New Jersey, we visited the GWL in the Poconos, just over an hour away in Pennsylvania. (I should point out that (sadly), I received no compensation for this review – only the smiles on my children’s faces.)
Since our boys are 6, 5 and 11 months, we’d been hesitant to venture out to GWL in the past, despite hearing about its fun from others. We were happy to see that there was a wide variety of activities for all of the kids to do and it was well worth it. The baby certainly made it more challenging, as my wife and I had to trade off staying with him as the older boys went down the water slides, but it wasn’t too bad.
There are plenty of different types of activities for varying ages of kids. For the little ones there are 1 foot wading pools with gentle waterfalls and jets shooting up and down, small slides that they can go down themselves, a large area with sprinklers and geysers shooting out of the ground, and a lazy river where the whole family can sit on tubes and drift along. For preschoolers, there’s a wave pool (with lots of inner tubes or lifejackets if needed), a large four-story interactive tree house water fort with lots of falling water and an enormous bucket that drops 1,000 gallons on any willing participants. It also includes two medium size waterslides that the preschoolers can go down by themselves. For a bit older kids (which included my 5 & 6 year olds when we went with them), there is a 3 foot pool with basketball nets, a jump across the lily pad course and 6 different large water slides which you go down on with tubes. We went with the boys down 5 of the 6 slides (you must be 48 inches to go down the sixth, so Daddy had to try that solo), and they were by far the boys’ favorite part. We weren’t sure if they’d be too scared to try the slides, but they were brave and really loved it. My legs are still aching from climbing the stairs so many times. My favorite was the one we called the “toilet bowl”, which shot you through a tube, had a quick 10 foot drop, and then dumped you into a big funnel-type area where you spun “down the drain” before shooting out another funnel into a pool. Definitely better than sitting in front of my laptop!
While the water park is the big draw, GWL does a good job with the other elements of the stay as well. The place is set up as a big hunting lodge style hotel and many of the rooms offer cute features like bunk beds in a “wolf den cave” and other clever ideas to make it more fun. There’s also a large video game arcade, story time in your pajamas at night, and a cool-looking Magi-quest game (additional $) where they can run around the halls with a wand and interact with different stories (we didn’t do this part since we were only there for a day). Rounding out the experience, there is an onsite restaurant that has a buffet for any meal but is pricey and we didn’t go there. There is also a Starbucks, Pizza Hut Express and a couple snack shops with a good selection of food within the water park. If you want to head just down the road, there is a diner, Friendly’s and other local eateries. We brought a cooler with breakfast food and sandwiches to save dollars and they’re very good about letting you bring whatever you want into the water park area and putting your stuff on a table. Just in case you have any extra money to spend, there’s a large gift shop to bring home any keepsakes – we came away with two small stuffed wolves and a Christmas tree ornament.
We arrived at GWL around 2:30 PM and left around 4PM the next day. Other than standing in line at check in for about 15 minutes, the lines weren’t bad. Often you could go right onto the waterslides without a wait – the longest was about 5 minutes for the more popular ones. We went on a Monday – Tuesday, which I think helped with the lines but also is nearly half the cost if you can get off work and school for a couple days. The only challenge we faced, which is no different than any hotel with small kids, is that the baby woke up at his usual 6:30, so Daddy quietly changed his diaper, fed him a bottle and took him down to the lobby to walk around to keep from waking up the boys. He was fascinated by the giant bear carving and kept squealing and walking over to it.
Overall, we’d highly recommend a stay at GWL. Our boys at 5 & 6 were perfect ages, and older kids would have a great time too since they’d be able to do more on their own (consequently making it even more fun for Mom and Dad!). If you’re like me, and constantly fighting off the family’s desire to break the bank and trek down to Disney World, this is a good in-between solution and best of all, close to home. Enjoy.