This last weekend was a holiday weekend here in Canada and for us that usually means one thing; time for a mini trip! Victoria Day falls on the third Monday in May, and since the Americans have their May long weekend, Memorial Day a week later this is a great chance to go down to the States and get a long weekend trip at non-holiday prices.
I had been looking for a chance to visit Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound Washington for quite a while now. It is part of a chain of hotels that offer large indoor water parks and a range of entertainment options included in your hotel stay. Great Wolf Lodge locations are scattered throughout the United Stated with one location in Niagara Falls Canada as well. The Washington State location is about an hour south of Seattle; just over a three hour drive for us.
When you arrive, you pull up to an impressive, wilderness themed entrance with huge log pillars and large wolf carvings. The lobby continues the woodsy theme with a clock tower with animatronic trees and animals that put on kitschy shows throughout the day and a children’s story time in the evening.
The staff training manual must take a page from the Disney school of customer service because you’re greeted by impossibly cheerful staff members, or “pack members” as they refer to themselves and every question or request is greeted with a smile. Even the chamber maids seemed cheerful, which seems impossible considering the job they have to do, but somehow they managed it.
There are a variety of rooms and suites, all woodland themed. We had the most basic room, the family queen suite, which wasn’t really a suite but was very large with two queen beds and a sofabed. Everything was clean, although a few things looked a wee bit worn. The sofabed was fine for our four year old, but would have been pretty saggy for an adult. The bathroom was quite tiny with barely enough room to swing the door open which could be a problem for families with older children since this was the only private place to change. There were also some nice touches like a colouring book and kid’s body wash.
As soon as we checked in we headed for the main attraction; the water park. You can access the water park as early as 1 pm the day you check in and until 9 pm on the day you check out. Kids are measured and given a wrist band which allows staff members to see which rides they can go on without having to be measured at each entrance. (Why Disney can’t do this, I’ll never know. It makes things so much easier!) My son was under 42 inches, so he could go on two of the smaller slides but not on the big raft rides. My daughter was in the middle range, 42-48 inches and could ride everything except one ride. Kid’s over 48 inches can ride everything, but are restricted from entering the toddler’s water play area. Free life jackets are also provided for kids and our kids loved being able to float around effortlessly.
Because of the different restrictions, we ended up splitting up most of the time, but we still had a great time in the water. The park was fairly crowded and noisy, but we never waited more than about 15 minutes for any of the slides. One thing we could all enjoy together was Slap Tail Pond, a zero entry wave pool that had quite large waves. My son, who may never pass to the next level in swim lessons because he hates getting his face wet, loved standing waist deep and letting the waves hit him full on in the face, staggering back a few steps with each wave and laughing his head off.
I was also very impressed with the numbers and the diligence of the lifeguards in the water park. They were very strict about stopping horseplay and running, but as the parent of a preschooler I appreciated that my kids weren’t at risk from older kids who weren’t paying attention. There were at least two or three lifeguards watching each pool at all times and they looked almost robotic; scanning the entire pool in a grid and never taking their eyes off the swimmers.
The water park and lobby entertainment are included in your room price, but a few big extras are not. I had read about the Magiquest game featured at the resort on the website, but I had no idea what a big deal it is until we got there and encountered kids with Magiquest wands in every hallway and stairwell. The basic premise is that you use your wand to activate various interactive features and collect clues and prizes to complete a quest. It looked like a lot of fun, but it’s not cheap. Each game costs about $14 and the wand start at $16, meaning it’s $30 just to get started. And then you can buy toppers for your wand to activate special powers, capes, hats and even wand holsters. And trust me, once your kids start watching all the other kids play, they will ask for a wand of their own. I thought my kids wouldn’t be too interested since they’re a bit below the target audience and they’re not really into video games, but boy was I wrong. We managed to hold them off by telling them we were only doing the water park this time, but I know that if we go again the first thing they’ll ask is whether they can play the “wand game” this time.
Food at the Great Wolf Lodge is theme park price and quality for the most part, but it was fairly reasonable. Each room has a fridge and microwave so we brought our own microwave dinners for the first night and went to the breakfast buffet in the morning. The buffet was your typical carb heavy buffet, but the selection was good and it seemed like good value. The pizza at the lodge seemed popular and there were also some fast food chain restaurants just down the road. It probably helped that my expectations were pretty low, but I was quite satisfied with the food offerings.
So would we go back? Yes, but maybe not for a little while. It would be great to come back when my youngest is a bit bigger since several of the rides are multi person rafts and it would be fun to go on them together as a family rather than taking turns going with my oldest. I think the Magiquest game could also be a lot of fun for school aged kids as long as you were prepared for the expense. It’s still a very good place to take preschoolers, but I’m glad we didn’t take the kids any younger than four and five. Overall it was definitely worth the money and we had a very tired and happy family at the end of our stay.