A 60,000 sq foot indoor waterpark. Wolf ears. Pizza `round the clock. Two floors of buzzing, zapping, magic wand casting interactive games. An animatronic northern woods. Not to mention a kids salon, indoor mini golf and 10 pin bowling, and an arcade worthy of a pinball wizard. This, my friends, is Great Wolf Lodge. If you haven’t heard of it yet, your kids surely have – only 1 hour and 15 minutes away just across the Pennsylvania border in the Poconos, Great Wolf Lodge has been drawing families from the Tri-State area to it’s watery fun factory like wolves to pizza. Both Georgette and I gave in to the wolf pack and brought our kids in the last few months. (I went with two boys, 10 and 11, and another mom; Georgette went with her two girls, 7 and 10, and her husband.)
Here’s what kids love:
The indoor water park is really the key at Great Wolf Lodge; acres of dome enclosed fun, with waterslides, a lazy river, a wild wave pool, little kids play area, and wet obstacle courses. The boys and Georgette’s 10 year old LOVED the massive slides, some with plunges of 40 feet (!), the wild wave pool, and the gargantuan 1,000 gallon tub of water at the top of the playground that tips onto the kids. Georgette’s 7 year old had hours of fun at the smaller slides and activity pool. I floated in an inner tube around the lazy river, soaked in the hot tub, and then treated myself to a margarita – so there’s fun to be had for everyone.
Towels are included, there are chairs and table spread throughout the balmy 84 degree waterpark, and there are lockers for rent and clean and spacious bathrooms. Georgette and I visited in the spring and summer, but to fully appreciate an indoor water park, you need to go when it’s frosty outside and impossible to swim anywhere else. And GWL glams up for the holiday season with a gingerbread village and fake snow that sound a whole lot more enticing than the real stuff. That said, in warmer weather there is a large outdoor pool with lots of lounge seating so you can soak up the sun. However, all the slides and water play is indoors, so your time in the fresh air will be limited.
Here’s where Great Wolf Lodge excels; all rooms are suites, many with kid-pleasing touches such as mini log cabins and tents for young kids to camp out in (these are best for 8 and under). Big groups can opt for multi-bedroom suites with luxe touches such as fireplaces and whirlpool baths. One of the highlights of my stay was our duplex suite, where I was able to tuck my son Aidan and his friend into a loft with a half bathroom while my fellow chaperone and I passed out in our own queen size beds. Bliss.
Dining, on the other hand, is where things got sticky for the adults; first, the good news, there’s a Starbucks (yay, coffee!), and GWL has a liquor license, which was a nice surprise. I had a glass of wine with dinner along with a drink at the pool, which for me made the experience a whole lot more civilized (NB: of course we advise you to drink responsibly, your kids are here after all). There’s one main sit down restaurant and it’s buffet all day. Take our advice and focus first and most decidedly on the center island where a chef makes pasta to order for dinner and omelets on command at breakfast. Also at breakfast, the biscuits are howl worthy – hot, flaky, and buttery, they were both mine and Aidan’s favorite part of breakfast. Downstairs at pool level is a Pizza Hut Express AND GWL has its own pizza spot, Hungry as a Wolf (where’s Duran Duran when you need them?) right down the hall (there’s also subs, chicken fingers, and a surprise appearance of hummus and veggies). So that’s two pizza restaurants within 100 yards. But wait, there’s more: The buffet restaurant also serves pizza for dinner – and for breakfast. It’s easy to see that GWL had kids in mind when they planned their menus.
Georgette’s Note on Allergy Friendly Options:
The food options at Great Wolf Lodge may not be gourmet, but my family’s meal was amazing thanks to the resorts incredible allergy awareness. Eating at a buffet restaurant can be very tricky for someone with a food allergy like my 10 year old, who has a severe peanut allergy. When we sat down to eat, we informed our server about her allergy. She made a note of it and within minutes, the chef came out to walk us through the buffet to learn what foods were safe (wait for it……pizza! Pasta and some salads were okay too) and which foods were not (fried foods and all the desserts.) He was extremely knowledgeable about food allergies and cross contamination and, here’s what elevated our dining experience — he came back out with two Divvies brand treats for her to enjoy for desserts.
If you really want to experience the waterpark in the VIP lane, GWL offers private cabanas both indoors and out. Dear reader, I’m not going to lie, I sprang for it. Since I’m neither a fan of watery plunges or indoor pools, it was money well spent. We got a roomy tented space right in the center of the action with chairs and a table, a cooler filled with drinks, a selection of chips and fruit, and, possibly most importantly, a dedicated server who brought food and drinks from all the outlets in the waterpark; which meant no waiting on lines. Another perk: early admission to the waterpark with a 10am entrance, which gained us a few hours on the usual 1pm entrance (rooms are ready for everyone at 4pm).
The Other Fun:
First, a disclaimer: no matter how many interesting diversions GWL has added for post-water park entertainment, if you have kids 7 and older, you’ll probably end up doing MagiQuest for hours. This is what happened to me, to Georgette, and to everyone else we’ve spoken to with kids in this age group. Here’s why: the 3rd and 4th floor entranceways have been turned into an interactive enchanted forest, activated by wands that allow you to take part in ongoing “quest” game. The good news: it’s a one time activation fee (plus wand purchase, which ranges from $15.99 – $22.99 depending on the fanciness of the wand), good for 72 hours. So when the kids wanted to play both at night AND the next morning, we were good to go. The bad news: it’s impossible to avoid if you’re staying on one of those floors and you’ll be walking up and down (and up and down) floors for hours.
Tip: Visiting with smaller kids? Choose to stay on floors 1 or 2 and you’ll never have to see it. Downstairs, on the pool level, you’ll find 10 pin bowling, glow in the dark mini golf, a huge arcade, a grown up spa, and a mini spa for kids.
Happily, on the main floor, is the nighttime dance party and story time. It’s free. It’s fun. And it’s totally unplugged. Well, not totally, story time takes place at the animatronic forest in the middle of the lobby where the entire woodland scene of animals and trees come to life. Little ones come in their PJs and Wiley the Wolf makes an appearance; and then the dance party kicks into gear. It’s a pretty fun way to wrap up a day at the lodge.
Tips from Experienced GWL Visitors:
* All rooms come with mini fridges and microwaves, so it’s easy to pack treats and drinks to keep in the room; some folks bring cereal and milk or hot cereal packs and breakfast en suite. * You’re free to bring coolers into the park with sandwiches and drinks (although we’ve warned you about the tasty temptations all around). * Georgette and her family and many others we’ve spoken with head down the street about ½ a mile to Scotrun Diner, for inexpensive eats and a quick breather from everything wolf. It’s a good old fashioned Greek diner that serves a great breakfast. * On the day you check out you can use the facilities until the end of the day; so pack a dry set of clothes in a daypack and change in the locker rooms whenever you’re ready to head home. (A Westchester mom also told us you can extend your checkout time to 2pm for a small fee, freeing you up to swim and lunch and then change in your room).