Great Wolf Lodge Vacay: What to Know Before You Go!
Mmmkay. When I first heard about Great Wolf Lodge I basically thought you'd never catch me dead there. Water parks. Lots of people. A hotel connected to it. Ick.
But after Scarlet and I went overnight for her friend's birthday, I was blown away by the whole setup. It's SO CLEAN. The hotel rooms are simple but immaculate, the water park is spotless and has a ton of lifeguards, and they have thought of (almost) everything to keep young families entertained and happy.
Want a Mai Tai at your cabana while you eat grilled Mexican Street corn and watch your kids play in the outdoor pool and all of it's built in toys? You got it! Want to play arcade games, then bowl on a kid-sized bowling alley, then do mini golf in their glow in the dark room? That's an option.
We just got home from a weekend at Great Wolf Lodge's Anaheim location to celebrate Shepherd's second birthday, and now Sterling and Scarlet both want to change their birthday trips to go back (that's our plan this year, with a big move on the horizon -- weekend bday trips in lieu of parties. Though I'm talking them out of going back so soon - June and September are coming quickly and I'd say this is a 1x/year trip).
Here are some thoughts and tips on what you should know before you go:
1. Bring your own shampoo, etc. One area I feel the hotel has slacked is in the toiletry department. I don't travel with my own shampoo, conditioner, body wash or body lotion because I like to try the brands the hotels we stay at use. Next time we go to Great Wolf, I'll remember to bring my own. They only supply a bar of soap (I mean, it's cute and paw print shaped), but horribly drying after all of the (necessary) chlorine in the pool, and the shampoo is a "conditioning shampoo" which made Scarlet and my hair feel dry and sort of, well, crunchy.
2. Bring your own wine. Just trust me and pack a few nice bottles for your dinners. They charge a $10 corkage fee, and one of the waiters told us they're working on expanding their wine list, but for now, if you want a good bottle, just pack your own.
3. I'd recommend getting a Cabana. So...I was originally a little bummed that the only cabanas they had available when I called were outside. It's been unseasonably chilly in southern California, but I signed up for it because with six of us (us, our kids, and Nana), we wanted to have a little reserved space for all of our stuff and to sit with Sheppie if he needed a break.
It turned out to be the best thing ever when we wanted a reprieve from the chlorine filled air indoors, but didn't want to leave the pool area entirely for lunch. It was nice and warm the days we were there, and we were able to order our food and drinks right to our cabana. They were reasonably priced at $150, which included a cooler full of water, milk, and sodas.
*If you go in the winter months, not having the outdoor area isn't a deal breaker. The outdoor pool is the smallest part of the attraction. I'd still try to get an indoor cabana though so you don't have to go early for good lounge chairs.
4. Disneyland is really, really close. We took the side streets and got to Downtown Disney in 10 minutes to have dinner at our new Disney fave, Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. We watched live jazz music, had amazing, full-flavored food, then went back to Great Wolf Lodge to put Shep to bed and for the big kids to play MagiQuest (which they are obsessed with!)
5. There's so much more than the water park. For me, the waterpark was the highlight. Amazing waterslides, a wave pool, separate water playground for toddlers and big kids with age-appropriate waterslides. It felt a bit like a cruise ship with a ton of activities and entertainment.
But there's so much to do there, you could skip the water park entirely and still be thoroughly entertained.
6. They've got their act together in a Disneyland kinda way. Entertainment, cleanliness, greeting every guest politely. They really have their ish together.
*I didn't realize this the first time we stayed there, but they run great deals if you join their email list. I keep seeing 20-40 percent off for certain days.
7. There's no room service. This is the other thing they're really missing. Whyyyy don't you have room service, Great Wolf Lodge? Seems to me like they're toying with the idea because they advertise a "wine and snack" delivery for parents for after their kiddos are asleep. For us, it just makes it so much easier to have breakfast in your room.
What they do have is a character breakfast buffet as well as Dunkin Donuts, and a little kiosk that changes its food and drink selections with the time of day. You know I'm east coast, so I love my DD, and when I went nice and early, we got in and out in under 10 minutes, but at 8:30 am when I went back downstairs, the line was a mile long.
8. Think twice about checking in early. Only hotel guests can go to the water park. Thank goodness, cause that keeps the crowd under control. On the day you check in, rooms aren't available until 4 pm, but they will hold your luggage and you can go to the water park. Great. Except the lines for checking in are SO long, when we left on Memorial Day Monday, we pitied the people who were in a check-in line longer than we'd ever seen.
We checked in at 5 pm and there was no line. We explored the hotel, had dinner and went to the park the next day, and again the following day, had a late 2 pm check out, and went home showered and happy. Except for that dry hair and skin, eek!
*They have some very unique room setup/situations. We did a large suite, which was really two adjoining rooms, one of them with a little cabin inside of it for the kids, with bunk beds. Pretty cool.
9. MagiQuest is no joke. Four billion dollars later, our kids have two $30 wands and two $60 MagiQuest activations to use the wands (this game takes the average 10-year-old something like nine hours). Not to mention the hats, belts, accouterments, and um, capes.
10. The chlorine is pretty strong. Our kids had rashes from the chlorine, but they have sensitive skin and after a bath and a few hours, the rashes went away. I was actually glad that they test and treat the water as it should be treated with hundreds of people in and out of the water daily. Safety first. They've got that down.