How our “quick trip” to try out a new water park turned into a great family memory.
I have been seeing advertisements for Great Wolf Lodge for YEARS. In the beginning, my kids were a little too little and money was a little too tight to try to save and plan for that. Still, I would see the advertisements both online and in magazines, dreaming of the day when the time was right. Years went by and the kids grew up and before we knew it, it was time to make the splurge.
It had been a long time since we had tried out a new hotel, a new resort, even a new adventure. Moving eight people a few hundred miles is definitely not something to wink at, so I had my work cut out for me and I was a little nervous.
I originally started scouting the deal out on Groupon, since it was my favorite Go-To for vacation deals, but after a few weeks of researching and hemming and hawing about committing, I realized that the best deal for our family was to go straight through the resort website. (Side note: if you are ever booking for a large crew, I highly recommend creating an account and saving your settings at the beginning. Otherwise you can plan on repeating your search over and over again.)
It was very easy to book online, and we got the option of paying it all upfront or just a chunk with the remainder due at check in. We also got the emails through the upcoming weeks offering upgrades and other fun opportunity packages. For our budget at the time, and for the short amount of time we were taking for this little trip, we decided not to choose any add-ons or extra packages before we checked it out in person for our first visit.
The communication from the hotel was great. With the slew of emails I received in the weeks before hand for our trip, some of it included the option to pre-check for our check in process to be expedited. I decided to try it out, and literally checked in on the three hour ride to the hotel. It was very simple and I was able to receive text messages as well as let them know when we were planning on arriving.
So once we decided to take the plunge, we got to planning and packing. Since we were only going to stay for one night, the packing part was fairly simple, if you count trying to find and sort bathing suits in the middle of February. Truly though, we have so much excitement and fun just looking forward to the whole trip, the anticipation of it all was totally worth it.
The first thing that we loved about Great Wolf was that you get your water park passes for both days, even if you only stay for one night. For us, that meant two days in the water park when we were only paying for one night in the hotel. When you have six kids, I cannot think of a better way or a better deal for a family vacation.
They also advertise a mini fridge and microwave in the suite, which is a must and a lifesaver with so many in your crew (especially four boys!!!). We planned and packed ahead with lots of food and snacks, and all of it fit on the counter and in the mini fridge for the two days we were there. (We definitely forgot the microwave popcorn though!)
We also pre-paid for the breakfast package for that morning, just so we had one less thing to think about. It was an all you can eat buffet including juice and coffee, so the price was more than worth the value and the stress of not having to think about breakfast in the morning.
From the minute we pulled onto the resort campus, the theme was amazing, really. Our kids were screaming with excitement as we pulled in at all the decorations, how big it was, how beautiful it was… They had decorated for spring break and a great way, and we were there for it all.
It was very clean, organized and well-kept, and even though it was around spring break season, we did not wait very long in the checking line. Clearly, they were prepared for long lines and lots of people. The staff was kind and easily communicated with text messages and phones as well. Having a Dunkin’ Donuts in the main room letting you have coffee while you waited in line was a definite plus.
They gave us plastic bracelets at check in that also acted as a room key and purchase scanner, directly connected to our debit card. Our only discussion was to decide which kids could be trusted with debit card privileges…
The huge main room and lobby was full of amazing animals, and gorgeous themed items that the kids loved exploring for.
The hallway was full of animal print carpet, and the endless prints helped us to walk through the long hallways in fun and style over and over again.
In some ways, the room was the best surprise of all. Decorated in the cutest theme, with animal prints and camp decorations and lots of fun kids options, we really enjoyed watching their wonder and excitement over light fixtures and paw prints on the bathroom mirrors and hand soaps.
We had to get the biggest suite that they had in order to accommodate our family of eight. We were wondering how it would go, having so many people together in a small space for two straight days with three hour long car rides. There were pull out sofas and with two little boys, making two little beds on the floor in the boys’ room gave them plenty of space. I also love that the master bedroom had its own bathroom and closing door. The kids loved that they had their own TV, and the resort had a channel with lots of information that they also liked watching.
We explored the whole resort, walking up and down the halls, checking out the store, and watching the mini shows and songs they had going on periodically throughout the days. I totally appreciated how they had a yard game set up in the middle of the main room: one time it was a ring toss on to a standing plastic bear, and another time it was a huge yard jenga block set.
It was so easy to buy into the scene and to love the feeling that you had been transported into a place far away from reality. And being a family resort, there really were no hard and fast rules, besides safety and kindness. We saw kids running through the halls for a treasure hunt with no shirts, bathing suit beauties flip flopping towards the water park, and exhausted parents a little farther behind in pajama pants or comfy clothes and slippers.
The whole theme of Great Wolf Lodge carries even to the wolf ears: straight out of the gate at check in, they let you know that each one of you can go over to the gift shop to pick up your complimentary wolf ear headbands for keeps.
We wore them everywhere we explored, except to the water park.
The gift shops were lots of fun to browse through, and each of the kids picked treasures with their own spending money.
I definitely appreciated that they had some low cost options for the Littles that did not have as much spending money as some of the older ones. But they also had some great quality things that were useful as well as great souvenir ideas: matching buffalo plaid pajamas, gorgeous coffee mugs, and super soft stuffed animals just to name a few things.
The candy store was a dream, not just for my kids but for me, too. I guess I have always had a dream of owning a candy store… I think it stems from seeing “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory“ as a child, but every time I step into a store like that I can’t help but think my dream has come true.
And then…. the water park.
It did not disappoint.
It was warm and clean and well-lit and really sort of peaceful in a rushing water, muted shriek-ey, fall asleep from the constant droning sound, way…
It was 84 – 86 degrees in there, both water and air, the entire time we were there.
There were lifeguards everywhere, actively rotating and participating in all areas of the park.
There was a snack station in the park, and plenty of tables and chairs for a home base. Lockers were available for a charge, but we never used them because we had no valuables in the park and could keep an eye on our table from wherever we were.
There was a kiddie area with great age-appropriate options, a wave pool that appealed to all our kids ages 7-16, and water slides that the older ones ran through endlessly, both tube slides and body slides. The wave pool kept a typhoon schedule every fifteen minutes, giving a good mix of down time in the middle of riding the waves. Our teenagers kept swapping slides and siblings, each set choosing tubes or mats or partners or teams. Some of the tube slides held four people at a time!
All the kids played on the water town jungle gym, though the younger ones for much longer. The huge bucket of water on the top of the water jungle gym fills up and pours out every five minutes. The mini water slides in that play set are a great starter for littles working on their bravery.
Another favorite for all my ages was the pool, loaded with basketball hoops and floating plastic “wooden” discs with climbing ropes to cross. They all took turns doing all the things, and the camaraderie between all the people in the pool to make ball teams and play games was super heart warming to see. I’m only sorry we called it a day before nightfall: as we were leaving the water park to go back to our room, the pool lights were shining inside the water, and it looked so awesome right next to the wall full of glass windows to the outdoors.
Cabanas were available for rent, and I had seen the option to upgrade in the emails in the weeks ahead, but we were trying to go for the simple and streamlined option for our first round, so we chose not to. I did not really ever wish for one, since we were constantly counting kids and had our room to go back to when we were done.
The snack station had good prices, and deals like a refillable soda drink for your entire stay and whole pizzas that promised to fill you up.
My personal favorite was the loaded fries. We ordered those both days, and it was totally worth blowing our food budget and my diet. The one order of fries was large enough for our entire family to munch on, just using it as a snack. They were AH-MAZING.
Breakfast was another great addition to our stay, and I was so grateful we upgraded that part of our package before we got there. We were given vouchers at our check in, and just brought those down to the buffet as we went in the next morning.There was plenty of seating, and the buffet gave everyone in our family lots of options to choose from. Again, the theme and the decorations made the stay. We ate breakfast under a tree that was so beautiful… and as other children came by to play their magic searching game, their magic wands lit up the tree in blinking colored lights and magical sounds. Mixed with chocolate covered pancakes, we were sold.
One other thing I really appreciated as a mom was that the waterpark was set up really well to accommodate daytime visitors and travelers. They had a full set of restrooms for both men and women right inside the waterpark, and they also had a full set of changing rooms, those also equipped with bathrooms as well as showers and changing stalls. They were pretty clean, (though I still remember my mama’s voice to wear my flip-flops everywhere I go), and there were soap dispensers on the shower walls with shampoo and conditioner, and the water really did get nice and warm. This was a great way for us to utilize our second day in the waterpark even after we had checked out: when we were finished in the waterpark and ready to head home, we just showered and changed right inside the park and put on dry fresh clothes before we headed home. It really was great.
If I could have wished for anything extra during our stay at Great Wolf Lodge, I would have loved a hot tub and a lazy river. There were not either of those things at the Charlotte location. Two of my kids are adopted from foster care, and the excitement and heightened level of emotion that comes with a quick family vacation can really call for a lazy river as a sensory calm down tool. I know my husband and I both wished for both of those things. I can’t think of a better way to keep track of my kids for any length of time then to stick them on a tube in a lazy river, so I definitely did miss that. And after we had gone through a crazy few days of packing both clothes and food, we definitely could have used a hot tub to soak in while supervising the Littles.
We gained so much as a family when we sneaked away for just those two days. Because we were able to unplug and go somewhere that we had never been before, it actually seemed like so much longer. To travel to our family that we visit quite a few times per year, it takes us nearly 10 hours one-way for the drive. Being able to go less than three hours to get to our destination made the two day trip possible, and seemed so easy compared to our usual drive.
For the price we paid and the value we got, combined with the precious memories that we made, Great Wolf is officially on our list of things that we would like to do again. We did talk about coming when the weather was better, so we could take advantage of some of the outdoor options like the ropes course and mini golf. The kids were also asking to do the magic challenge quest that you sign up for right inside the resort and stay indoors to complete it, so we will probably look at a package including some of those things for next time.