Before heading to any big-ticket, big-adventure resort, it’s always best to ask an expert for tips. I asked three BC and Washington State moms who have repeatedly visited Great Wolf Lodge for their best tips, and added a few more tips from my own research. Of course, these are just opinions and suggestions. You may have your own spin on a Great Wolf Lodge stay.
1. Don’t break the bank for Great Wolf Lodge bunks.
The bunk-style suite rooms (Wolf Den, KidKamp and Kid Cabin) are cute and fun, “but we have found that you are not in your room long enough to make them worth the cost if you can fit in a smaller room,” says frequent Great Wolf Lodge visitor and Kelso, Wash., mom Melissa Parcel. Check Great Wolf Lodge’s website with special deals and coupon codes when booking; remember that the resort fee and taxes do add a decent amount to the final price.
2. Sleep soundly — even at a crazy-busy water park.
For a quieter room, request a room away from the stairwells and on the opposite side of the I-5 freeway. Ask when making the reservation and upon check in. Although there’s a rule about “quiet time” in the evenings, guests do say that unaccompanied children playing MagiQuest down the hallways can be an earful.
3. Book your Great Wolf Lodge breakfast in advance.
If you think you want the on-site breakfast buffet — after considering point #9 below — book it in advance when making your hotel reservation. The total for four people is $40 when purchased in advance and includes drinks. If you buy buffet on-site, it’ll cost $13.95 per adult and $8.95 per child, and does not include drinks.
4. Make it a midweek resort stay.
To avoid crazy lines at these Washington water slides and to take advantage of great deals, head to GWL during the midweek. But ask if the hotel’s hosting a convention during your stay, suggests Korene Torney, a Victoria, British Columbia mom to two girls. Conventions can stretch the hotel’s capacity.
5. Display your cell phone smarts.
When you check in, you’ll get an information packet that offers a cell phone number to register on your phone. “I did this, and got some coupons texted to me, “ says Kirkland, Wash., mom Shannon Maher Longcore, a mom to three kids and frequent Great Wolf Lodge guest. “It saved us some money in their restaurants.”
6. Dive into two-day resort stay play.
Your pass into the GWL starts at 1 p.m. (you can access your hotel room after 4 p.m.), as long as you stop by the front desk to pick up your waterpark wrist bands. On the second day, check-out time is 11 a.m., and you can stay until closing (9 p.m.). There are changing rooms and lockers for use before check-in and after check-out. “We just put our suitcases in the car, and had a small day pack with our necessities in it. That worked out great,” says Longcore.
7. Wait on the MagiQuest wand.
The grand total for your MagiQuest game will come to about $30 total — $17 for the wand, and about $13 per “game.” If it’s your first visit, Melissa Parcel says you may want to wait to purchase the wands. “On our first trip, we caved and bought one for our son, but we spent all of our time in the water park and didn’t get any use out of the wand.” Older kids seem to love the wand game, however, and repeat visitors seem to love the game. Read more about how to extend play at #8, below.
8. Wave that MagiQuest wand.
If you leave near Great Wolf Lodge, you can visit just to play the MagiQuest game and run around the resort, which is something that Melissa Parcel has done twice. “It’s a pretty inexpensive day trip if you live a short distance away.” If you want to re-engage the wand, you’ll pay about $13 per wand on each new visit. You can also use the wands at other properties (provided you pay the “re-up” fee).
9. Host grandma or friends while staying at the resort.
Purchase additional water park wristbands (for $41.20 each) for people visiting you at the water park, even if they’re not staying overnight.
10. Skip the expensive Great Wolf Lodge resort food.
Korene Torney brought her own breakfast and snacks (cereal, yoghurt, fruit and vegetables) for the mini-fridge. Melissa Parcel brought along cereal and doughnuts for breakfast and sandwich making items for the next day’s lunch. Don’t forget to bring camping-style dining equipment (i.e. paper or tin plates, cups, bowls) for your in-room service. Korene Torney’s family also went to two Oregon-born restaurant chains in nearby Centralia: McMenamins Olympic Club and Burgerville (two thumbs up for both of those destinations from Lora!).
11. Freeze Great Wolf Lodge-related tantrums and meltdowns.
“I think limiting pool play to three hours at a time works well,” Korene Torney says. After three hours, Torney’s family lets the kids eat and relax in the room. It can also help to construct a schedule. Torney’s family wakes, eats in the room (with Starbucks from the lobby, delivered by her husband), goes on the morning “Howl Walk” at 9 a.m. (which includes a free craft), then pool time from 10-1. They rest, and eat in the room or drive to Burgerville. Then it’s back into the pool around 5-7 p.m.; out in time for evening stories.
12. Water, water everywhere…but bring a drop to drink.
“The pool room is very warm, so just remember to drink some fresh water while there,” says Longcore. She says she saw some episodes of possible kid-dehydration; despite all that chlorinated water around, some children forget to sip drinking water.
13. Forget-it-not at home: must-bring items for Great Wolf Lodge.
Some items are spendy to replace on-site, should you forget them at home. Pack swim goggles, earplugs, flip-flops, Aqua Socks (if your bare feet don’t like all that concrete) and a swimsuit cover-up. Swimsuit cover-ups are particularly necessary, Torney says: “You want one because otherwise you’re forced to wear clothes over your suit to get between room and pool.” Men should bring t-shirts or a robe. However, you don’t need to pack a towel – they’re provided for free by Great Wolf Lodge. Life jackets in several sizes, notes Longcore, so there’s no need to bring one from home. You can also bring arm floaties and floating swimsuits, but no other floating devices. Leave the ravenous floaty shark at home.
14. Get crafty with Cub Club.
Bring your own hands-on activities and avoid expensive resort crafts ($10-20) in the Cub Club, Torney says. However, if you do plan to participate in Cub Club (which offers kids’ programs, crafts and projects about nature and the Northwest), make a reservation upon arrival to ensure your child’s spot. Adults must accompany kids under age 12 in the Cub Club; it’s not a childcare venue.
15. Stop the souvenir gimmes.
“We give our kids an allowance of $15,” Korene Torney says. With $15, the kids can enjoy a craft, buy snacks or candy, a cheap souvenir, or pool the money for one wand. “As is usually the case with an allowance, this provided the perfect opportunity to teach them about the value of money while eliminating the perpetual ‘I wants,’” Torney says. “It worked great for us this year. They both bought ridiculous souvenirs, but enjoyed every minute of it.”
16. Snag your Great Wolf Lodge poolside spot.
“Friends of ours get down to the water area early and camp out at a table,” Longcore says. “If your kids are much older, and don’t need parents hovering, a table would be great.”
17. Entertain the teens at Great Wolf.
At gr8_space (Yes, that’s really the way it’s spelled), teens can use the Internet, listen to music, enjoy evening karaoke or play the Nintendo Wii and Xbox360. Admission runs $10 per child; you may want to bring the DS from home if that seems spendy. Most tweens and teens will be happy with just the water park slides, but you can visit the Myspace page of gr8 space here for a sample of the goings-on.
18. Avoid long checkout lines.
Use the express check-out via your room phone or TV.
You can find more answers on the Great Wolf Ask-A-Mom site (but these answers seem to be pre-vetted by a corporate PR firm). Or read a great write-up of a Great Wolf Lodge stay at PDX Family Adventures.
Do you have great tips (or a promo or coupon code!) for families headed to the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington State? Leave your tips in the comments.
Read more about Washington Water Parks and British Columbia (BC) Water Parks and Water Slides.