I preface the following with the understanding that Great Wolf Lodge was not built for adults, and that it is a for-profit business.
On the whole, I think GWL is a good experience. I would give it 5 out of 5 stars for delivering on its promises of entertainment and fun for children. I would give it 3 stars for value. I would give it 3 stars as a hotel
A few years back, as a Boys and Girls Club of America charity event, we got day passes to use the waterpark at Great Wolf Lodge. Thor loved it. We enjoyed it. We said to ourselves, “We’ll get these day passes every year!” Alas, the day passes went from $15 per person, to $35 per person, with so many blackout dates, we would not be able to use them. So, instead of taking a train ride on the North Pole Express this year, we decided our annual Holiday Family Outing would be a stay at Great Wolf. We were all looking forward to it.
You can go on their website and find the pricing. Trust me that we took the least expensive option available, and that we’ve been counting this in our budget since October. It still hurt my teeth a little to sign the initial paperwork with the cost of our room and breakfast package. For that amount of money, I expect Ashton levels of quality.
The room itself was nice. It was standard fare, with two queen beds, a sofa sleeper, and the all important coffee maker. The bathroom was very small–the same size as the bathroom in our townhome–with the sink and vanity outside, in the actual room, where you would normally find the closet space. Plenty of hot water, though, and plenty clean. This was one of the cleanest rooms I’ve been in. Everything looked brand new.
We put our things away, got into our swimwear, and headed to the waterpark. It was a Spring Break kind of crowded. Bodies everywhere. Little bitty tiny people, Thor sized people, tweens who were soooo over it, and grown ups who were chasing the rest of those bodies around. I mean it was packed. I assumed that the content of the knee deep kiddie pool was mostly kiddie urine, and that the rest of the pools were a mix of chlorine and tween eliminations.
(Aside: Most waterparks have these fountains that shoot up out of the ground now. The water pressure is pretty high, and the jets are pretty strong. Kids put their feet over them, aim and can spray you for miles. More precocious little girls… Listen, I have now seen five different little girls, in two different waterparks, straddling these things with glazed eyes and goofy smiles. Uncomfortable. Betty Draper would not approve. Sally Draper is another story entirely.)
Again, Thor had a blast, and B and I were enjoying ourselves. I did take one too many direct hits of water to the ear, and bashed my knee up (yes, same one) when our float capsized on a ride, but it wasn’t bad. Everything was fine until I got into the adult hot tub, which was so chlorinated, I got out in under three minutes. I have a weird sensitivity to chlorine, and it was downhill from there.
We stayed in a while longer, then went to dinner. Wow. Up front, I will tell you that dinner cost $50.19 without including tip, and consisted of a buffet. The buffet was in sections containing: Black eyed peas, turnip greens, and fried chicken, pasta, fish with sauce, and some other vegetable, and mac and cheese, peas and carrots, and chicken strips. Those were the only options. I chose chicken strips, which ought to give anyone who has ever met me great pause. The grown ups were not pleased. But this was Thor’s trip, so…back to the room for a rest.
Story time was supposed to start at 8, and it was going to snow in the lobby! All month, I’ve been hearing commercials for how it snowed in the GWL lobbies every evening. I was pretty interested in how that would work.
By the time we got back to the room, B was suffering from ear trouble, too. When it was story time, I took Thor upstairs and we both looked at each other like, “What is this supposed to be?” Chuck E. Cheese’s friends Moose, Racoon, and Boy animatronics were singing some song about how there was nothing to be afraid of in GWL, and how children should go to sleep and not worry about being eaten or something. It sounded like a song the old witch might have sung to Hansel and Gretel.
“Don’t be afraid lalalala you won’t even fit into the oven lalalala nothing here will eat you lalalala just be strong and relax lalalala…”
I don’t know about anyone else’s kids, but up until those lyrics, it hadn’t occurred to mine that there might be something to worry over. “What could eat me?” Thor wanted to know. “Nothing. It’s a joke,” I promised, wanting a distraction.
Score! It had begun to snow. Snow! Something you don’t see much of in Texas. But something that you do see enough of to tell the difference between actual lacy ice crystals and dishwashing foam. It was foaming in the lobby. Thor looked at me and frowned. I suggested we go get him a magic wand and do one of the magicquest games. He thought that sounded like fun.
We lined up to pay for his wand and game, another $32, and set off. If I hadn’t been having equilibrium issues, that might have been a lot of fun. I think this is a fantastic concept–a scavenger hunt dressed as a magical adventure. Thor was totally into it. But, since I was feeling like a seasick muggle, all I could really tell you is that we walked 8 flights of stairs looking for Thor’s quest items (elevators are not allowed for magicquesting), dodging unsupervised tweens who were doing the same. The only thing worse than a pack of unsupervised tweens is a pack of wolves–and only then because the wolves will eat you. Wild tweens might, but I got the feeling that these gentrified ones would just whine that we weren’t already cooked and garnished. That, Thor, is what you had to fear at GWL. Tweens.
Again, we understood that this was not a grown up hotel, so you can’t really complain about the free range children. I’m not complaining. I am reporting. I do hope that we are never the parents who give a child a wand and tell it to run free, though.
We accomplished Thor’s quest and returned to the room, where it was B’s turn to have magic fun. While they were gone, I considered ordering a pizza, but I was afraid they would charge me my firstborn, and he wasn’t available for barter at the moment. I made coffee instead.
The room’s coffee was fantastic.
B and Thor returned, and we paid another $7 for him to be able to play a video game on the television. Not the most cost effective weekends we’ve had.
By 10, we were settled in to sleep. This is good, because GWL enforces a quiet time from 11pm to 7:30am. So why was I on the phone with the front desk at 11:45pm?
I have no freaking idea what was going on upstairs, but it was loud enough to wake up Thor three times, and to keep me from going to sleep at all. And I have slept through a tornado in a campsite. I can sleep through anything. I thought.
We passed a miserable night. Because we were on the first floor, where the waterpark and game hall are, we could hear every sound as they cleaned and prepped after closing, and again in the wee hours as they started prep and opening procedures. Misery. I was a devil woman by the time our alarm went off. Devil woman.
I explained the problem to the front desk at check out, and was asked if I had called to report the noise. I said yes, and the girl said, “Oh…then I’m sorry.” She could not have cared less. I’m sure I looked awesome, all basset hound eyed and wild haired.
The breakfast buffet? Don’t get me started.
As I type, B and Thor are enjoying the waterpark again after driving me home. I am just that cranky. LOL. I got sent home.
On the whole, I think GWL is a good experience. I would give it 5 out of 5 stars for delivering on its promises of entertainment and fun for children. I would give it 3 stars for value. I would give it 3 stars as a hotel–if only because of the freaking noise. We will probably go again, but not on New Year’s Day, and not without budgeting even more. Oh, and we also won’t go because the snow sounds exciting.