This past weekend we went to the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos in Pennsylvania and we had a BLAST! It’s a huge resort with an indoor water park, bowling alley, miniature golf course, restaurants and more! We chose that location over the one in Virginia because it was more centrally located to our friends in NJ who went with us. I thought I’d write about our trip for some friends who are planning a visit soon and asked about our experience. Or if you’re like me and want to live vicariously through vacations other people take, or like my friend Christina who needs every possible detail of her friends’ travels, read on! A disclaimer, though, I received no incentives or discounts to write this post (although I wouldn’t mind one in the future!). These are all my opinions and based solely on the trip with my special family.
When we arrived, we realized our room was at the very end of a very long hallway. We knew immediately this wouldn’t work. Ben is a Menkes Rockstar, but we knew after hitting the water park hard, not to mention all the other fun we had in store, he would have trouble walking the long distance. I went back to the front desk to request a room closer to the elevator. The staff was so nice and accommodating (the whole trip, actually!) and moved us pretty quickly. There was still a significant amount of walking but nothing more than a normal hotel.
The rooms were decorated in a log cabin feel. I love touches like that. Some of the wallpaper and pictures were dated (yes, I notice these things), but it was all pretty well done. The beds had nice log (?) headboards and were extremely comfortable. I think they were Beautyrest mattresses. Another point to note is about the pillows. I usually HATE hotel pillows. I’m also very picky about pillows even at other people’s houses and condo rentals so I always bring my own, but these were great and even better was there were a lot of them. The rumor mill said the rooms were hot and I’d have to agree with this. More so it was hard to regulate the temperature. Next to the vent where the pull-out couch was, was cold. The main sleeping area was warm. We had heard about this and tend to run hot, so I brought a small fan and we were fine.
We had initially booked a KidCamp Suite but when it was too far from the elevator we were downgraded to a Family Fireplace Suite. While Ben was excited to see the “Log Cabin in a Hotel Room” that he had heard about on TV commercials, I actually think this worked out better for us.
There were two queen beds instead of one and a pull-out couch in a semi-separate area. For detail’s sake we had a nice balcony that overlooked the outdoor pool, fire pits, splashground and ropes course. Our fireplace worked but we only used it to dry the kids’ bathing suits.
The first night Dave had a bed, Ben and I shared a bed, and Kelsey was squeezed into her Pack-n-Play in the area sectioned off by a half-wall. I worried that Kelsey would climb out of the PnP because we haven’t used it since the summer and she is way too big and tall for it but we’re still good. I’ll ride that train as long as I can!
Normally we look for way more separation on a vacation but I hoped that everyone would be tired enough to sleep virtually all in one room. A first for us!
The second night Ben took the pull-out, Dave and I each had a bed and we squeezed Kelsey into the bathroom because she tends to sleep later than Ben, the up-at-6:13 AM-every-morning-of-his-life waker.
PMy friend Kare said her room that was similar without the fireplace had a smaller bathroom, in case you’re thinking of putting your toddler in the bathroom like us! Both our kids have slept in bathrooms, walk-in closets and offices on vacations. Whatever it takes when it comes to sleep! We all slept well after the people above us stopped raging in their bowling-alley-of-a-room. So, mental note, when booking a hotel room in the future, ask for the top floor near the elevator. Check.
Kelsey is still small and a stroller is her main mode of transportation at a place like this but Ben is getting bigger. We are in the market for something between walking and a wheelchair but haven’t found it yet. In the meantime I need to remember to make special requests when booking a room.
Next up! The main reason one would travel to GWL. The Water Park! I had trouble picturing how this was set up inside a hotel. If you look online, it details each section of the park but it’s hard to imagine it altogether, if you ask me. The park is on the bottom floor of the hotel. It’s about the size of a football field, I’d imagine, but don’t quote me on that. The toddler pool, wave pool, lazy river, climbing and splashing structures, hot tubs (that I was bummed I never had a chance to try) and water slides are all located in this one, gigantic space. We heard it was freezing but it wasn’t. At 9 AM on Saturday morning it was a bit chillier than at 6 PM the night before but nothing that bothered a 3 or 38 year old. The space was clean and well-kept, in my opinion. While the lobby area and elevators were crowded, the pool never seemed to be overly crowded.
We had a blast! Kelsey loved the toddler pool and the wave pool the best. I absolutely love to see Kelsey in the water. In the pool she is no different than any other kiddo. Her Cerebral Palsy disappears in the water and because of the balance the water provides, she was even able to take a couple unassisted steps. The slide was tricky because of the whole getting out of the water, up the steps, and then down the slide. We, of course, had to carry her up the steps and then meet her at the bottom of the slide (unless we went down with her). Luckily the set up was great so that one of us “caught” her at the bottom of the slide and then hoisted her up to the other who took her up the steps and put her on the slide. We had our friends who helped us with the heavy labor to make it bearable, but Kelsey could have gone much longer if she could do the walking and climbing herself. Still, all things considered, it was awesome.
Life jackets of all (kid) sizes are available, first come first serve, as well as Puddle Jumpers, that we love. We brought our own but wouldn’t next time since they have them there.
Ben’s favorite parts were the slides and wave pool. When I saw the wave pool I didn’t think he’d be able to handle it. I was a bit right but he loved it! It certainly knocked him around as his balance and strength isn’t typical but once he stopped laughing and kept his mouth shut (and stopped swallowing water), he was okay and didn’t want to get out even past complete exhaustion. The steps up to the tall, windy, awesome slides were a lot for him but I think they were harder for the adult carrying the two-person tube. The first trip down the slide was a little terrifying since Ben couldn’t hold on and sit in the tube properly because of his tone and strength so I had to grab onto him for dear life. Once we were finished, though, the second trip was no big deal because I knew what to expect. I’m so happy he was able to enjoy the water park to the fullest.
He did get a splinter though…?!? Only our family would get a splinter at a water park. So I do recommend wearing water shoes for that reason and the fact that there’s a ton of walking (running) in wet feet and climbing up wet stairs.
I was VERY impressed with the lifeguards. They were of typical lifeguard age but they were ON IT! They were actively watching and engaged and pacing to keep tabs on everyone. I am always disappointed by lifeguards at our pool and on vacation at the beach but these people were good. And even more so, they were friendly and and very happy to help. Especially when Ben got a splinter.
My favorite story was when Ben and I were swimming in the wave pool. The waves only last for about 5 minutes before you get a much needed break. Those waves are relentless! Anyway, this was about our fourth hour in the water park when I said to Ben that this was OUR kind of place. I said, “It’s all in one spot…..It’s inside…….We don’t need sunscreen…..We aren’t hot…..” And then Ben finished my sentence and said, “We can shop…..” HA! I’ve created a monster! And a witty one at that. Except he wasn’t kidding. It is one of his favorite parts of vacations. Mine too.
Even though there are many better reasons to go to GWL than shopping, that seemed like the perfect segue to explain what you can buy while at the resort. There is a gift shop on the main level with T-shirts, cups, and toys galore. They also have some lovely home decor, clothing and accessories. I may or may not have bought a pretty pair of pants for the spring.
Near the water park is also a store with personalized gifts, a swimwear shop, and two kids’ gift shops. Ben made out like a bandit, as usual.
If you’re like us, you may be wondering about food and adult beverages when braving a water park with fifty-jillion kids. They have a full bar and a separate snack bar with burgers, chicken fingers, salads and beer inside the water park. We brought snacks and drinks for the kids 😉 too. We also brought waters, snacks galore and muffins for breakfast to the room too which worked out great. There is a large mini-fridge (oximoron!) that fit a lot.
Outside the water park is another quick-service type restaurant with pizza and sandwiches. I heard the pizza was good but we only had burgers and sandwiches which were just average. Luckily each time we had food at the resort, we were starving and were ready to eat anything so it all tasted fine.
There’s a Starbucks next to the gift shop on the main floor that is very crowded all morning…but equally worth it. On that main floor is also the large, main restaurant which has a buffet for breakfast and regular menu for lunch. I’m not sure what their dinner service is because we ate at the snack bar in the water park the first night and went off-site for dinner the second night. There’s also a bar in this restaurant for after-hours, etc.
The dry activities were the biggest surprise to me. There was so much to do and we didn’t get it all done. There’s an indoor mini-golf course, a bowling alley, a 3D virtual roller coaster experience, and in the kid’s gift shop is a build-a-wolf (like Build a Bear) creation station!
There are also lots of activities for the kids including character appearances (all the GWL characters which are pretty cute), story time in PJs, dance parties and more. There’s also an adult spa and a kid spa! We didn’t get a chance to do any of these. Good excuse to go back soon!
The most popular “dry” activity is MagiQuest which is a electronic scavenger hunt of sorts that you use a magic wand to unlock clues. So cool. Ben only was able to finish half of this but our friends’ girls (4-12 years old) loved it.
You may ask what we were doing the whole time besides swimming. Ben and Dave were in the arcade! Ben is an arcade junkie. He would rather play arcade games than ride rides, swim, bowl, etc. It has a whole lot to do with the prizes. 🙂 Dave commented that it was “the best arcade he’s ever been to.” Everything was accessible (short enough for Ben to see) and everything WORKED! How many times have you wasted money just to get a broken arcade game? So many for us. The claw machine is still a waste though. Geez!!
We didn’t nearly experience enough of GWL but we loved it! We were there from 5:30pm Friday until 11am on Sunday. The cool thing is that on the day of your arrival, you can use all the attractions (water included) starting at 1pm. Then on the day you check out, you can stay until close!!! That’s 9pm. How nice is that?
When we go again, I think we will do dry activities until we can get in our room (4pm) and then hit the water park. We didn’t get there as early as I would have liked, now knowing what we know.
I imagine it seems that based on my glowing review, you’d think we went to Disney World or on a cruise to the carribean, but it was so nice because we could do everything! Sure we had to help Ben and Kelsey more than the typical kid but not more than we typically have to help them. Vacations are always fun but it often means a lot more work for us than during our daily lives because of all the unexpected roadblocks, height limits, and energy needed.
But on this trip parents had fun.
The kids had fun.
And everyone was exhausted.
Have you been to Great Wolf Lodge? What am I forgetting? What is your favorite part? If you haven’t been and you have kids, you must go. It’s pricey but you get so much for your money.