Tips and tricks for making your stay at Great Wolf Lodge memorable.

My family took our first trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington for a media weekend event. The trip was complimentary, and we were given special passes to try out everything! In a few short days we learned the ins and outs of all the family resort offers — including some of the brand-new attractions. Would we take our 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter back if we had to shell out our own cash? Yes. But we’d do things a little differently.

The Accommodations

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We stayed in a Standard Family Suite that included two queen-size beds, a partially separate living room with couch, coffee table and table. Our room also included a microwave and mini fridge (more on this later). The super high ceiling of the room ensured we did not hear our upstairs neighbors, which I greatly appreciated. (We did hear the occasional stomp of kids running and yelling down the hallway.) I always travel with the kids’ white noise machine, so that outside noise was muffled and did not wake up my kids. On our next trip, I’d consider upgrading to a Majestic Bear Suite with a king bed in a private room so my husband and I would not have to go to sleep at the same time as the kids. I liked that our room keys were coded into our plastic ID bracelets, so we never had to worry about losing our room key at the water park! You can also link a debit or credit card to the bracelet. Pro tip: When booking rooms, try to line them up at least two months in advance. And you can get deep discounts by joining the email list or if you book a new stay immediately after you’ve completed a trip.

The Waterpark

Great Wolf Lodge’s biggest the big draw is the giant indoor water park. (Although during our stay we learned the resort’s other attractions are just as – if not more – fun as the water park.) It boasts a newly updated wave pool, play structure with giant bucket that drenches everything once it tips, shallow toddler play area, and exciting inner-tube slides among other features. Our daughter was just tall enough to go on the slides, but she was too nervous to try them. But we still spent several hours hitting all the other features. On my tour of the property I learned that the water park is limited to overnight guests. The weekend we stayed, the Lodge was at full capacity and the waterpark was definitely busy, but never felt too crowded. That was a big plus in our book. The temperature of the water park is a balmy 84 degrees, so it’s a welcome antidote to our chilly and drab winters. It’s also worth noting that much of the water park is accessible for people using wheelchairs. Great Wolf has special wheelchairs available that can go in the water and devices to help lower those who need assistance into various features like the hot tub. Pro tip: You can stay at the waterpark until the end of the day you check out. So even if you have to be out of your room at 11 am, you can keep splashing.

Howloween

We arrived just as Great Wolf was kicking off its special Halloween celebration — Howloween. The lodge was decorated to the hilt with the crowning piece being a humongous balloon spider suspended from the lobby ceiling. (I thought Portland clowns and balloon artists Olive & Dingo would truly appreciate it!) I learned it took two weeks to create it! And special Halloween activities were scheduled throughout the weekend including a Trick or Treat Trail and Halloween dance party. They also give out special orange Howloween wolf ears to the kids during the month of October. If you can’t make it in time for all the Halloween fun, they also go all out after Thanksgiving with Snowland and during spring break with Springapalooza. Pro tip:We learned the Spring-a-palooza special ears are an extra-groovy tie-dye pattern!

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MagiQuest

While we had fun at the waterpark, the Lodge’s other attractions were what were most memorable for my kids. My 6-year-old daughter has a great passion for all things related to knights. She writes and illustrates books about adventures of her alter ego “Knight Adela” and her sidekick “Baby Dragon,” aka her little brother. She even created her own jingle: “Knight Adela, the bravest of knights. She goes to all the bad guy fights!” She also loves puzzles and riddles. She was built for Great Wolf Lodge’s MagiQuest game. To play you need to purchase a magic wand and get it set up with a magical name (no problem there!). The wand comes with a “Book of Wisdom,” which gives clues on how to solve various quests that are part of the game. The quests involve finding the chests, crystals, animatronic animals and interactive video screens scattered throughout the first five stories of the property. The game is uber popular with guests, with most kids dashing through the halls holding and pointing wands. We completed the easy Dazzle Rune quest hours after arriving and Knight Adela was hooked. I loved the fact that the game was a team effort and other players often stepped in to help us — like the group of 9-year-old boys who showed me how to activate the video in the Pixie’s Perch and the correct way of casting a spell, more a jabbing motion as opposed to the swish and flick of a Hogwarts student. We also asked other players we saw in the hallways if they knew about various clues and they always excitedly offered any knowledge they had. I also loved that the wands keep track of what quests you’ve completed, so you can pick up where you left off on future trips. (And you don’t have to buy another wand.) Pro tip: 3-year-old Cruz was not into the game. But we learned later that you can purchase any wand and have it set to activate game pieces and make them move or talk, but not actually participate in the quests. This is definitely a great option for the littlest kids. Also keep in mind that some of the videos and animals spooked Cruz. When we got home he talked nonstop about the “scary wolf in the stars” to our neighbors, his grandparents, people at the grocery store — basically anyone who would listen.

Oliver’s Mining Co.

The Grand Mound Great Wolf Lodge was the first of the company’s 19 properties to unveil an Oliver’s Mining Co. The new attraction has two cool components – a slightly spooky mirror maze and a hands-on panning for semi-precious rocks and minerals activity. My husband and daughter went off to find the moonstone at the center of the maze, while my 3-year-old hung back, unsure of whether he’d like it. We stepped inside, he saw how dark it was and he immediately headed back out. The operator helpfully offered to turn the lights up inside the maze, but Cruz had already made up his mind. So we grabbed a bag of sand and headed to the sluice to pan for cool rocks. This absolutely delighted Cruz. He excitedly pointed out the various stones as the water whisked away the sand. When his sister came out, she dug it, too. A card to help identify the stones came with the bag of sand and my kiddos poured over it when we got back to our room trying to match up their rocks. I really liked the mix of fun and education with this attraction.

Sugar Sugar Everywhere

When it comes to feeding my kids sugar, I take a “everything in moderation” approach, letting them occasionally have small amounts. That philosophy was sure hard to stick to at Great Wolf! Everywhere we turned we were just bombarded with sweets. The candy given out during the Trick or Treat Trail, servers walking around with candy samples, the dessert spread at the buffet, and two sweets-focused retail shops, Bear Paw Sweets and Eats and the Great Wolf Candy Company. Sometimes we just had to hustle them past the candy before they caught sight of it. But we finally did make a stop at the brand-new Candy Company with its giant wall of bulk bins. The kids had a blast filling their cups with candy LEGOS, gummy sharks and sour ribbons. And then I realized they had individual flavors of gummy bears and made sure they each put a big scoop of pineapple bears in their cups. We found a nearby table to eat some of the kids’ haul. My husband and I tasted those gummies and discovered how fresh and soft they were. He almost went back to buy another cup just of gummy bears. I also recommend the housemade Crème Brulee fudge from Bear Paw. Our moderation approach to sugar flew out the window and the sweets beat us plain and simple.

Free Fun

While the waterpark is included with your stay, the other attractions like Oliver’s Mining Co. and the Creation Station (basically a Build-a-Bear shop that lets kid personalize stuffed Great Wolf characters) cost extra. But I was happy to realize that you can still enjoy an action-packed trip by hitting up the free activities. During Howloween weekends, there are as many as 13 different free activities to try — storytimes, face painting, family yoga, button making and a dance party were among the offerings. The Lodge’s characters, Wiley and Violet the wolf kids and their friends, also come out to meet and greets. Pro tip: Study the daily activities sheet given to you at check in to make the most of the free, fun stuff!

Dining

The Grand Mound Lodge has five restaurants from sit down (Lodge Wood Fired Grill) to a fast food eatery (Buckets in the waterpark). For those with allergies, the resort is completely nut-free. Pro tip: There’s also a Starbuck onsite, but keep in mind that the line stretches far back with bleary parents in the morning.

We tried all the restaurants during our trip. We liked the Loose Moose Buffet for dinner. They had a little bit of everything from kid favorites like mac ‘n cheese and mini corndogs to plank-grilled salmon that my husband had two servings of. We also raided the ice cream sundae station to fill the kids’ plates with fresh blackberries and strawberries. They also offer breakfast, but the price didn’t quite seem worth it for the kiddos. Pro tip: Save some dough by utilizing the mini fridge and microwave in your suite: Bring instant oatmeal cups, or milk and cereal for cheap and quick breakfasts. We’ll absolutely do this next time because my kids often don’t eat much. We’d probably even pack easy picnic lunches: things like cheese, salami, crackers and fruit since we experienced a very long wait for food at Buckets. Also good for your budget, the Hungry as a Wolf pizzeria serves up very tasty pies and salads. Next time we’d order a $15.99 pepperoni pizza for dinner and eat in our room to start winding down for the night. (Although we did have a solid meal with an especially good rosé at the Lodge Wood Fired Grill.)

Parting thoughts

As we headed to our minivan after checking out, I realized we had not been outside in two days. Great Wolf Lodge is a little bit like a kiddie Las Vegas in that sense. It’s self-contained and there’s so much to see and do inside that you forget about the outside world a little bit. But overall we had a good time. And we learned what attractions were worth skipping for our family (the arcade) and which we’d absolutely love to do again (Magiquest). Pro tip: If you want experience it all, get your kiddo a Paw Pass, which gives access to the main attractions at a discount.

All the staff members we encountered from the waiters singing the howling birthday song to the housekeepers walking through the hallways were genuinely nice and helpful. My kids definitely want to go back. And we will take them back. I especially like the thought of going back when they are older and can roam around playing MagiQuest with a pack of friends – helping younger kids and bemused parents learn how to wave a wand the right way.

Denise Castañon
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