Does Great Wolf Lodge live up to the hype?
I aimed to find out on a two-night weekday trip for my daughter’s 10th birthday in late January.
It’s more like three days with being able to start using the waterpark and grounds before check-in and continue using them after checkout until the waterpark closes.
But we made it at check-in time on a Wednesday as the snow began to fall.
The check-in line was incredibly long — and painful, for someone like me with disabilities that didn’t expect to have to stand in a 45-minute line.
I knew from contacting their national customer service that wheelchairs are “first come, first serve.” Unfortunately, they gave me one with no footrests — a painful way to get around — but I was told it was the only one available. They said I would get a text when they could put footrests on, but that text never came. This became an ongoing saga throughout our stay.
The front desk also didn’t manage to record several of our requests (found out a day later when I double-checked and fixed it), but they did put us in a room at the very end of a hallway far away from the lobby and any activities, which as light sleepers, my daughter and I appreciated.
We put on nightclub-like wristbands that allowed us to charge everything to our room.
The first evening, my daughter decided to explore, eat, and relax.
It’s possible to make food cheaper by eating in the quick-service restaurants on-site or by bringing your own food to store in the mini-fridge and heat in the microwave, both of which we did, but we also tried the restaurants.
I’m glad we did. The food and service at the restaurants were fabulous. If there’s one thing Great Wolf Lodge should be known for, it’s attention to dietary restrictions and delicious food. An allergy specialist went over everything with us before we even selected an eatery. Our very flamboyant server didn’t mind at all that my daughter wanted to move from a table to a booth after being seated, and wanted to order a combination completely not on the menu.
She is still raving about how perfectly rare her burger was over a month later. My chicken wings were wonderfully crisp and my partner ate the heck of his can-eat-anything buffet.
The room was well-apportioned, clean, and comfortable. There was plenty of room for our suitcases, boxes of birthday presents, and all our food. Lots of electric outlets. The two queen beds and the couch were soft and comfy. There were nice touches, like the pretty wall lamps and the high-quality branded toiletries.
While I slept in the next morning for our first full day, my partner (her dad) took the birthday girl to a fantastic buffet where she was able to nosh on plenty of scrumptious gluten-free and dairy-free food (which I can confirm was that good because I ate leftovers when I got up).
I was told by someone else at the front desk that maintenance could not ever put footrests on a wheelchair. The only thing they could do was exchange the wheelchair without footrests for one with only a single footrest and wait for a complete one that might never come. So I did it, but it was uncomfortable trying to place both of my feet on one footrest.
My daughter went to Dunkin with her birthday coupon. Because she couldn’t eat the free donut, they let her have a free Coolatta. She was thrilled.
We headed to the water park.
The air and water in the water park weren’t the advertised temperatures at any point in our stay, but I can’t imagine it’s easy to keep that entire facility warm in January, especially with an indoor and outdoor hot tub.
My family and I spent a lot of time in that hot tub. They tried different water slides, and together we played in the wave pool and drifted on the lazy river.
The water park is the crown jewel of GWL and it’s understandable why. It’s clean, fun, and the lines are minimal.
It was hard to find a table to put our stuff. When we did, my partner and daughter had lunch from the counter service inside the water park. They initially gave my daughter gluten-containing chicken fingers, but figured out their error before she ate anything and replaced it with the right one, letting my partner keep the gluten. My daughter said they were some of the best chicken fingers she’s ever had, with the coating tasting “real.”
My daughter decided she wanted to spend her birthday evening at the arcade, which is extraordinarily expensive. It comes out to about $2.50 per game of skeeball. I don’t want to tell you what she blew through in an hour, but Matt at the arcade was the best. He rounded her tickets up, and tried to get her special birthday wolf ears (which they were sadly out of).
Before bed, the gift shop, with something at a price point for everyone. I recommend the magnets for a cheap souvenir, and the basic wolf ears, which are free.
I also was finally given a second usable footrest on the wheelchair by someone who said maintenance could do it, and then got it done, which made all the difference in my comfort the rest of the stay.
On our final day, we checked out and went to see the land options. There was a depressing joke of a mini-golf course and some sad electronic bowling that my daughter declared “overpriced.” If my kid was the type to do the mid-air ropes course or the rock climbing wall, that might have been more value for money.
There was enough to do for another several hours at the water park. My daughter and I enjoyed the kiddie water slides — my first ever water slides, and safe for me. We shot some hoops in water basketball, she did the lilypad course twice and we revisited our favorites from the day before.
Around check-in on Friday it got busy, so we had another meal before heading home, which was again amazing. One of the best gluten-free burger buns I’ve had anywhere.
So is it worth it?
It’s something of a rite of passage for a local family with young children. I think a little of the magic was lost on a jaded tween and two adults, and we should’ve gone when our kids were littler.
It’s the opposite of all-inclusive. It’s an eye-watering $13 for a small cup of penny candy, the lockers in the waterpark are highway robbery, and I basically felt nickel-and-dimed for everything. My daughter lost a favorite sock right before we left, and they wanted $30 to ship it a half hour away. When I had questions, I texted the concierge in the app, but no one ever answered a single query I had that way.
I think they could be a lot more accessible. Wheelchairs could be able to be reserved. While they haven’t done that, GWL management did respond to my concerns by ordering more wheelchairs and training the staff in maintaining them.
But the food was incredible and the water park was loads of fun, enough that my daughter wants to go back just for those, and we probably will (either overnight or with a day pass). Get on their mailing list for 50% off sales (or buy a Groupon), which makes it a lot more cost-effective.
Everyone should go with their family at least once.