2016-11-18

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that a stay at a Great Wolf Lodge (GWL) would be a hit with little children, but what about teens? Is there enough to do to entertain them without making them feel like a little kid? To find out, our family visited the Grand Mound location in Washington state. We have two teen boys, ages 18 and 14, and we have never been to a Great Wolf Lodge Resort before.

A Little History
The very first GWL opened in 1997 in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Since then, 11 more have opened, most on the East Coast with a few more currently in development. Each location’s main feature is the indoor waterpark plus a few more activities, restaurants and shopping. Every room comes with free passes to the waterpark. In fact, you can’t visit the waterpark without staying at the resort.

First Impressions
Both our teens were very impressed as were we with the look and the layout of the Grand Mound location. Very upscale and yet very comfortable. While the resort has been in operation since 2008, it still looks brand new. Very neat, clean and woodsy. We stayed in one of the “basic” rooms which exceeded our expectations. It came with two queen beds, a sofa, dining table, mini fridge, microwave and a high vaulted ceiling. Almost all of the furniture is made with natural wood, keeping with the lodge theme.

Our boys couldn’t wait to walk around to see all there was to do. We let them go while I went to the Starbucks just down the hall and my wife looked over the guidebook in the room. The coffee shop was just like any other except that it had slightly inflated prices, but also had an incredibly nice and helpful staff who knew a lot about the resort.

We quickly learned that guidebook was quite out of date. It stated that the lodge had a “teen lounge” that offered video games as well as a place for teens to hang out. However, it had been converted to a family attraction. The on-site Pizza Hut no longer existed either. It had been turned into the “Hungry as a Wolf” take-out pizza shop. Ironically, the guidebook listed both pizza places and when we called to place our order, we found that the resort had already changed the menu.

Photo Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

When our boys returned, they were less excited than they were when they left. They too discovered that the teen lounge was no longer there. They also discovered that just about every activity in the lodge would cost an additional fee, and for that, they were bummed.

Dining
There are a number of options for dinner meals at GWL and most of them are fairly pricey. The Loose Moose Cottage is the biggest restaurant with an expansive buffet. A nice feature is that the restaurant is willing to work with guest’s special dietary needs, if you inform them ahead of time. There is one price for the all-you-can-eat menu with exception of soft and hard beverages. The buffet is led by Chef Tom Hanrahan who has been with lodge since it opened. There is also Camp Critter which serves like a bar and grill that is family friendly. We opted for the pizza which was ready to pick up in 30 minutes and quite tasty. Though the shop offered wine and 2-liter bottled pop, we opted for the cans of Coke we brought with us and saved a few bucks. There is also one more option in the water park itself, the Spirit Island Snack Shop which serves up cheeseburgers, hot dogs, hot pretzels, soft drinks and more.

For breakfast you only have one choice which is the Loose Moose. Breakfast isn’t cheap, but it does feature made-to-order omelets and waffles, hash browns, bacon, muffins, cereal, fruit and more. Don’t linger though as it shuts down at 11:00 a.m. Fortunately, local restaurants outside of the lodge are not far away.

Make a Splash
The reason you go to a GWL is for the waterpark and it is huge. All the stairs and construction are made with a “fo” wood that never needs to be re-stained or painted, so it always looks brand new. Like the hotel, the park was pristine except for the windows that were due for a thourough cleaning. During the summer, part of the park extends outside for sunbathing, but since we were there during the middle of winter, we were happy to stay inside the 84 degree park.

At first glance, my boys were disappointed looking from their vantage point, all they could see were small slides and a wading pool for the little ones, but they soon found that there was a lot more to experience. True, there is plenty for little tykes to do, but our teens (and us too) really enjoyed the bigger attractions like the Howlin’ Tornado where two to four people ride a raft through a giant tube that drops into a 6-story funnel. Riders typical swish up 30 feet on the sides before going down the drain. The River Canyon Run is just as fun, though a bit tamer. The Alberta Falls features four stories of twisting in a tube that changes colors all the way through.

The GWL also features a fantastic wave pool and the South Hot Springs warming pool is a good place to rest. And though Fort Mackenzie, (the 4-story interactive water tree house) is designed for kids, our teens didn’t mind running around and dumping water on other unsuspecting patrons. The 1,000-gallon bucket of water that dumps every few minutes is quite a trip as well.

The best part about staying at GWL is that though check out time is 12:00 noon, guests are allowed to stay at the resort for as long as they like with no additional fee. My younger son and I took advantage of this while my older son and wife relaxed in the giant living room by the fire.

Photo Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

Other Activities
As mentioned before, just about any activity outside of the waterpark will cost you a pretty penny. The former “teen lounge” is now the Great Forest where families are encouraged to work together in a series of puzzles which sounded fun but with the price of $15 per person to play, we skipped it. The reason we were given on why GWL took out the Teen Lounge was that parents complained that their teens just wanted to play video games that they already played at home. The idea of creating a game especially for families as an alternative is a good idea, but it would be better if they could come up with something a lot more affordable. Perhaps they will revisit the lounge idea but make it a hangout for teens and adults only, where they can play pool, ping pong or pinball together without breaking the bank.

There is also 4D world, an extra-expensive video game that we skipped as well. Some teens will enjoy the Arcade Center where you can earn tickets and cash in on some prizes, but my boys thought that the arcade had little appeal to them as most of the games were designed for little gamers.

Next to the waterslides, the GWL is known for its MagicQuest game where kids purchase a wand and run around the lobby area waving the thing at inanimate objects that suddenly come to life for a minute. (Bystanders get to see all the action for free). It sounds more impressive than it is. Still, we saw teens doing the journey along with the kids. GWL also features two other “quests” to try out for a fee as well. I’m sure my boys would have given them a try as well if they didn’t cost so much to play.

One of the more affordable activities is the Howl at the Moon Glow Golf, a darkened miniature golf course with glow-in-the-dark features. Teens might enjoy working out in the Iron Horse Fitness Center if they were allowed in. Virtually empty the entire time we were there, this large room features many state-of-the-art fitness machines, but you need to be 18 or older to sweat. Our family actually had a great time playing a board game we brought from home.

If you have the money to be pampered, there is the Elements Spa Salon which offers massage therapy, for about twice the price you would pay at home for the same services.

Final Thoughts
For such a busy place, it wasn’t overwhelming and rooms were surprisingly quiet.

We found that the majority of the staff were very friendly, outgoing and enjoyed their jobs. While mainly geared for families of small children, we did see people of all ages there including one group that was celebrating a 25-year-old birthday.

Many people complain about the high prices for the rooms at GWL and they are steep, (they usually start at $200 or more a night), but when you factor in the waterpark tickets, it becomes a little more reasonable. All in all, our family had a great one-night stay and we didn’t break the bank to do it either (although we did receive a media rate).

For more information on Great Wolf Lodge, visit their website.

http://www.greatwolf.com/

You can read more from Jeffrey Totey at Peanuts and Popcorn.

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