GREAT Wolf Lodge

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.

Rooms

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.

img_4811
Touring the hotel before 7am with my early riser

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.

Water Park

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.

View of one half the water park
 
16265335_1235256143225927_7657672329594395529_n.jpg
Wave pool

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.

Kelsey’s Puddle Jumper and my cute new hat from the gift shop 🙂

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.

Shopping

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.

Restaurants

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.

Dry Activities

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!

Building Wiley Potter the Wolf.  You can also see his magic wand and Paw Pass here which we purchased to give us a “discount” on a lot of the activities and amenities (wand, arcade, ice cream, etc).

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.

img_4825

The kids had fun.

img_4858

And everyone was exhausted.

He slept almost the entire ride home holding one of his purchases.

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.

Faith, Hope and Love

Warning! I’m ’bout to get my Jesus on. Stick with me though.

When an late-term ultrasound showed significant dilation in Kelsey’s ventricles, faith and hope were scarce. Hope was something that solidified with Ben’s journey but a new, scary diagnosis for his unborn sister was weighing very heavily and the darkness was oppressive.

Growing up, faith of a greater being was present but not a mainstay. We said grace and went to church on holidays. My mom prayed with me every night which translated in later years into a wish-granting nighttime request.  “Please let us have a snow day! Please let Dave propose!”

After we got the hydrocephalus diagnosis, I was seeking answers and comfort. Why?!?! And how could it possibly be that our second child was sick too?! How could God do this to us? 

That day shook all faith that lingered. The night of the diagnosis I read the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. My main take-away was that God didn’t “do” things to make people suffer. But that He was suffering right along with us. With little understanding of what that meant to me and little relationship with God or religion, it helped a fraction of a percent but not really. The hurt was too strong. The injustice too great.

An escape to the beach after the scary news
Time has passed and most of you know how our journey continued with many peaks and valleys. During that time we found a wonderful church to learn more, connect more and find our faith. For Dave, it was more of a reignition and reexamining his views on faith, as he grew up quite religious.

So, where am I going with all this? Well, I’m currently reading a book that is more murder-mystery than a religious book by any means but it does have a sub-plot that takes place in church. My mom has been singing the book’s praises for awhile and while I liked what I was reading, it wasn’t “doing it” for me. But it’s really started to get good and now I know why she loved it so much.

The book is called Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by sharing the following excerpt that I read last night. I wanted to share in hopes that you can find comfort as well and I, myself, am tucking it away (or spreading it all over the interwebs) for times when darkness and struggles come back to our family as I have no doubt they will.

“When we feel abandoned, alone, and lost, what’s left to us? What do I have, what do you have, what do any of us have left except the overpowering temptation to rail against God and to blame him for the dark night into which he’s led us, to blame him for our misery, to blame him and cry out against him for not caring? What’s left to us when that which we love most has been taken?

“I will tell you what’s left, three profound blessings. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul tells us exactly what they are: faith, hope, and love. These gifts, which are the foundation of eternity, God has given to us and he’s given us complete control over them. Even in the darkest night it’s still within our power to hold to faith. We can still embrace hope. And although we may ourselves feel unloved we can still stand steadfast in our love for others and for God. All this is in our control. God gave us these gifts and he does not take them back. It is we who choose to discard them.

“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.

“And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.

Jesus suffered the dark night and death and on the third day he rose again through the grace of his loving father. For each of us, the sun sets and the sun also rises and through the grace of our Lord we can endure our own dark night and rise to the dawning of a new day and rejoice.”

Pretty good, right? I especially love the paragraph about miracles. “It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done.” I have prayed for a lot of miracles in the last nine-plus years. Some were granted. Some were not. But nothing was “undone” like I wished it had been. But since hindsight is 20/20, I can now see how perfectly made Ben and Kelsey are despite not getting some of the miracles I prayed and begged for.

I also caught up on some TV last night and the latest episode of This Is Us (are you watching?!? Oh my good!). And no spoiler alert needed here either! Dr. K, the obstetrician, shared this tidbit in the first episode and it was good, but not as meaningful. Last night’s episode showed us more of what led up to that pilot. He said “The worst thing that life could ever give to you has happened and you took those lemons and made something resembling lemonade.”

Well. I was sobbing. His delivery with the plot was so good and it resonated with our story. We got some lemons for sure. And while it’s not the worst that could happen…our dreams of a healthy child were crushed and that’s not nothing. But we have managed to take those lemons and make something “resembling” lemonade. I love that. I’d say we were more of a Limeaid or tarter version but still delicious and lovely.
Lately, I’m seeing and hearing all these tidbits from books, movies and TV that are so comforting.  They help me to make sense of it all.  I’m trying to remember these words of wisdom and stockpile them away so that they will help me cope with any future hardships. Well that and a little vodka in that Limeaid. Just (not) kidding! 😜

New Year, New Digs!

We expect the 2017 to be full of changes for our family! And I wanted to keep y’all in the loop. We’re building a new house!!


The Dream

It all started a couple of months ago now. Dave and I were sitting around dreaming our usual dream of owning a place at the beach. All four of us love Ocean City, MD. This one community we love, in particular, is where we’ve been staying for years, eyeing properties, and even meeting with a realtor to see and tour our options. We go to the beach about three times a year and love it on and off-season. The community we stay in is flat, well maintained and has so many options of things to do for our kids. We love the elevators, one-floor condos and “open concept” living. It’s honestly “easier” to go to the beach than to be at home. Not really, but no steps, a pool and hill-less space for bike riding sure does make you appreciate it. But we just couldn’t bite the bullet. Owning two properties is a big deal. And the ones we’d been eyeing were not cheap. Not at all.

Mule Rides
Now, back to the good ol’ rolling hills of Carroll County that we love. We have always loved taking a mule ride up to this beautiful spot on Dave’s parents’ property. Yes that’s right. A mule ride. You’ve been with me long enough now. You should know we have a mule. We do live in farmland, after all. Here’s a picture…

HAHA!!! Just kiddin’! Sort of. Dave’s family calls their ATV a “mule.” It always confuses new friends. Heck it confused me at the beginning!

Anyway, the mule ride has been a common activity since Ben was about 18 months. It’s fast. It gives fresh air. And it’s fun! We ride around the neighboring farms and then up to this hill overlooking Dave’s parents’ farm to have picnics, fly kites, and enjoy the view.

So peaceful

I don’t know exactly how it all went down, but one warm, fall afternoon we had taken the kids on a ride. It may have even been on the day in the picture right above. We were watching TV that evening while the kids were asleep and discussing “our” place at the beach again. When? How? Should we? It seemed like it would be another 9-12 months before we’d be able to do it. And that’s about 3 years later then when we first discussed the possibility.

Then our conversation flowed into the hill we’d been on earlier. The view. The peace. How Kelsey had been developing, calming down, and enjoying things like picnics and mule rides.

Kelsey smiles the entire time on a mule ride

I think it was me who said that I would almost rather scrap the beach dream and build a house that fit our family better, and then we’d have a place we could enjoy 365 days of the year. Not just 2-3 weeks a year.
Dave jumped on this! He’s dreamed of living up on that hill for years. Seriously. He wants to watch the sunsets. He wants to see the mountains. He wants more land. I always laughed in his face and said ‘No Way!” I didn’t really laugh. I’m not a dream-crusher. But I definitely had NO desire to pack up our 12 years of stuff and move ACROSS THE DRIVEWAY! Ludicrous.

Our new house will be at 1 o’clock in this precious picture from 2008.

Not to mention that our current, home is gorgeous, if I do say so myself. It has a magnificent view and we have worked very hard on it to make it our sweet home.

The view off our deck during Ben’s first snow

 

Dave not only had dreamed about living up there, but he had also discussed buying some of the land from his dad. And now that I was starting to get on board, he thought we could do it, financially. We kept talking about how great it would be to build a one floor, no steps, open concept, Dream Home for our family. This was just around the time that Ben had hurt his foot for the umpteenth time and we were having to carry his third grade, 60 pound-self upstairs before he got a walking boot.

Another birthday in a boot

 

Not days earlier, Kelsey had also fallen into our sunken living room while walking with her walker in our kitchen. So the difficulty (and dangerousness) that our house caused on a daily basis was fresh in our minds.  Ben also broke his foot on that step almost a year ago from that time while walking and looking at the iPad instead of in front of his face. I’ve fallen down our stairs a couple times (with both kids in my arms) and so has my mom. Kelsey’s fallen down both sets of stairs. Stairs are not great when you have a disability. Or when you’re a klutz.

So after lots and lots of discussion. We did it! Or we’re doing it…Long story short, Dave’s dad, a great man with a long history of building houses (including the current one we’re living in, all our neighbors’ and many houses in the family) will be our general contractor. Dave’s brother who now owns the family business will frame the house for us. We hope to break ground this month. Pray for warm temps…you know…with the current snow in the forecast.

We are so excited. And nervous. And overwhelmed with the to-do list. A 3,500 square foot house (right, Babe?) with 12 years of tenants, two kids and a dog…we have a lot of stuff.

The New House
In the new house, I am so very excited about the farm sink, the copper (!) metal roof, the mud room and the exposed beams we’re planning. Dave’s excited about the view, the space, the sun-room, and the outdoor kitchen he can now have since we will have a patio instead of a deck. He would love to plant some vines and grow some grapes too. 😜 Oh annnnd if there’s money for it there has even been discussion about a pool! I mean Dream Big or Go Home, right?!

But more than all that, we are both so excited to be lucky enough to be able to build a house that our children will feel free in. Kelsey will be able to get out of the car and use her walker to get inside the house. Then she can walk to her room, the kitchen or living room without needing to crawl or be carried. Ben can go from his room to the playroom to the kitchen without fear of falling down the steps. And God-willing we won’t need this, but we are also planning a design that will allow one (or both) of our children to live with us forever, as adults, if it’s necessary.

The house will be fully, handicap accessible from ramps to doorways to bathtubs. If anyone knows an expert in this field, please let me know. I suspect we will become the experts.  The plans and structure will all be just right for them but I’m thinking about counter heights, push button (entry) doors and the like… I’ll be sure to share pictures and progress along the way!

Watch out! This special needs family blog just may turn into a decorating and design blog. You can be sure we will be channeling Chip and Joanna Gains!! We will also get plenty of expert advice from my fabulous decorating cousins Liz the Naptime Decorator and Rani of Coastal Haven Designs. Check them out!

Also, it’s important for me to mention that Ben would like the new house to have a robot that cooks all our meals, does all our dishes and laundry, and completes his homework. I told him the search was over…that was me. Hmph!

It’s all very exciting! It’s taking too long in our minds to get the permits, get the plans and to dig the hole in the ground, but it’s coming. We have a new driveway, a water well (a big deal in these parts), and an honest and reliable contractor. All three of which are huge accomplishments in the world of building new homes. The rest will come in time…which leaves more time for PACKING! AHHH! Wish us luck!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a digital rendering of our house-to-be…

GAH!  So exciting!