If you live in the Seattle area (or any area that is near one of the 11 Great Wolf Lodge locations) and have kids who are old enough to play the “my vacation is better than your vacation” game, a trip to the Great Wolf Lodge is like pulling an ace card. Families are hitting up the Great Wolf Lodge, located just over an hour south of Seattle, for birthdays, for school breaks, for long weekends, for extended family get togethers, and for no reason at all, other than to have a great time! And, it’s no wonder that kids have such a great time at Great Wolf Lodge — they have no idea about the amount of prep and planning it takes to get your family there… especially if there are little ones in the family who can’t do their own packing. If you’re a GWL first-timer, quizzing your veteran friends about their trip is the best resource you have and we’ve rallied our own Great Wolf Lodge regulars to share their insider tips. First things first… leave the sunscreen at home!
1. It’s not as big as you think it’s going to be
Don’t get us wrong — this is not your average hotel with an indoor pool. But, we have to admit that we were pleasantly surprised at the size of the water park section of the Great Wolf Lodge — it feels manageable and reasonable to navigate with your kids. There’s no way that your school-aged kiddos are going to want to hang out in the tot-splash area the entire weekend — set up a check-in system that gives them the freedom to explore the water park area of the resort safely. For example, they can go up and down the big water slides twice before needing to come find you and check-in. The buddy system is also a great way to keep your older kids safe at Great Wolf Lodge and you’ll love that there is only one entrance/exit to the water park area to keep escapees at a minimum.
2. The Whirling Tornado might make you cry
And it will definitely make your kids cry… at least the first time they go down it. We’re still on the fence about whether or not you should explain what happens in the bigger rides to your kiddos before they go on them — it’s similar to telling them, in advance, that they’re going to need shots at their well-check… maybe it’s better to just let things happen as they happen and avoid the anxiety that comes from anticipation. Do your best to make sure that they aren’t going backwards on the tube before heading down into the tornado… or at least warn them that the drop is coming!
3. Avoiding MagiQuest is pretty easy to do
If you’re not so hip on the whole MagiQuest situation, it can be avoided pretty easily on your trip. The more time you spend in the water park, the less time you’ll have to roam the lodge in search of talking squirrels. Talk to your kids, pre-trip about what you want to spend your time doing as a family — sun up to sun down in the water? Squeeze in some time at the arcade before bed? The reality is that you won’t be able to do everything and letting your kids make the decisions might be your key to keeping your stay wand-free… especially once they realize they don’t want to get out of the water.
4. Don’t assume your kids are going to crash
While you’d think that hours romping around a water park would wipe your kids out, many parents discover that, in practice, the opposite ends up happening and their kiddos are wired into the wee hours of the night. Do your best to take advantage of that critical moment when you notice an opportunity to get them to sleep — and jump on it! Usually that moment is fleeting and often times it comes before they’ve had dinner or even changed from their bathing suits into pajamas, but if you don’t move on it, you may find yourself wandering the halls of the Great Wolf Lodge in the wee hours of the night while the rest of your family gets some shuteye.
5. They’re big on safety
We’ve all been to water parks that are filled with teenage “life guards” that we’re certain only took the job to work on their tan and hopefully get the chance to do CPR on their crush. At Great Wolf Lodge, safety is number one — there are life guards everywhere you look and all of them have their eyes on the water, making sure that kids and parents are safe. There is also a first aid station inside the water park — next to the wave pool — in case you need it.
6. There’s an underlying summer camp type of vibe
It will be apparent the moment you arrive at Great Wolf Lodge — both parents and kids have kicked things down a notch to enjoy themselves. Don’t be surprised to see people walking around the lodge without shoes on or grabbing a latte at Starbucks in their PJs in the morning. Great Wolf Lodge does request that you wear cover-ups over your bathing suits (or, guys, you can add a shirt to your trunks), so be sure to pack them for the whole family, even the little ones.
7. Day two is better than day one
And, that being said, two days at Great Wolf Lodge is plenty. By day two, your kids know how to navigate the park like pros, everyone has a favorite spot in the park and you’ll be able to grab an awesome pool-side table to make your home-base in the water park, since you’ll be arriving at the park in the morning. Since check-out is at 11:00 am, pack a bag of fresh clothes to wear on the ride home — there’s a locker room in the water park and a bathing suit dryer!
8. The food is a decent value
If you’re coming to Great Wolf Lodge from Seattle, you will hardly have sticker-shock from food prices. In fact, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how reasonable the food is… and how good it tastes after two-hours climbing the hundreds of stairs to the top of the water slides over and over again. There’s a food stand in the water park that has kid-friendly to-go style meals that will keep the crankies away. While coolers aren’t allowed in the water park, packing a few granola bars or some apple slices to get you by in between meals is perfectly acceptable. And, don’t forget water… to drink! You’ll be surprised at how dehydrated everyone will be after spending the day in the, um, water. It’s weird, but true.
9. Don’t expect any QT time with the friends or family you came with
Coming to Great Wolf Lodge with your best family friends or meeting grandparents and cousins there? Lower your expectations about having quality time to visit, catch up, or even talk about anything more than a headcount of where everyone in your group is at that moment! Save the visiting for later when you meet up to check out the arcade or grab ice cream. Psst! Don’t forget some mommy and daddy to-go cups for exploring the lodge with your kids before bedtime or when you take them to the evening story times… if you catch our drift.
10. The ride home feels very, very long
Your kids are tired and they don’t want to leave. You’re tired and looking forward to a shower at home to wash away all of that chlorine. Bring something special for the ride home — some special snacks that they’ll get as a reward for leaving Great Wolf Lodge without kicking and screaming or a new movie to pop in the in-car DVD player, perhaps? If there was any time to bribe your kids, now is that time.
What are your best “nobody will tell you” tips for visiting Great Wolf Lodge? Let us know in the comments section below.
— Katie Kavulla
Thanks to the Ruljanich, Hoff, Schindler and Artherholt Families for the great pictures!