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A warm – but wet! – winter getaway- Great Wolf Lodge

This weekend we surprised our kids and took them for an overnight stay at the Great Wolf Lodge – an indoor water park/hotel. The one we went to is only about a half hour or so from our house – in Niagara Falls, Canada, but the other eleven locations are all over the country, from Washington State to New Hampshire – check out their website for a complete listing (www.GreatWolf.com). The formula at all of the “Great Wolves” is basically the same – spacious, fun-filled, sparkling indoor water park with a huge wave pool, toddler area and enough thrilling water slides to satisfy family members of all ages. In addition to the water park area, there are two restaurants, an adult and child spa, a kids camp, an arcade, ice cream shop and Pizza Hut. I’ve probably even left a few things out – this is kids’ nirvana. These water parks are not open to the public – you must stay at the hotel to use the facilities.

Our trip started on the rocky side – we had it planned for a few months and got the kids in the car for a false outing, no problem. We pull up to the Great Wolf Lodge – which is enormous, with a huge “Great Wolf Lodge” sign, and my 8 year old daughter, who has been there before, asks in a bored voice, “Why are we stopping here?” My six year old daughter bursts into tears because she wanted to go on the fake outing, and my five year old son is passed out in his seat. Not a stellar beginning.

Once everyone got the gist that this was a surprise – a present from Daddy and me – and we were going to go to the water park and stay at a hotel (huge thrill for the kids), things turned around. Until we walked across the crowded parking lot into the mobbed lobby. I thought I had carefully planned this outing around a day that was a U.S. Holiday – President’s Day – yet not a Canadian Holiday – Canada doesn’t have presidents so I thought we were safe. Little did I know that two years ago Canada adopted “Family Day” as a national holiday and it yes, coincides with President’s Day. While my husband waited in the very long check in line, the kids and I enjoyed the spacious lobby with huge comfy furniture, a blazing fire, a girl making balloon animals for waiting kids, and a huge stuffed bear singing songs. Kids had a great time – Great Wolf has this down pat.

Our room was, unfortunately, not available for early check in so we grabbed our suits and flip flops and headed to the water park area. It was packed with people with lines snaking down the stairs – mid- afternoon is not the best time to hit the water slides. Lockers are available to stash your stuff and everything at the park – from your room lock, to accessing photos taken on the slides to locker locks – are accessed by the wrist band all family members receive upon check in and must wear during the entire stay – very cool (yet challenging for my five year old son who was going crazy because he had to keep it on the whole time. Lots of  “Too tight!!”s). The kids didn’t mind waiting in the lines and my two older kids could do all the slides themselves – most of them are slides you ride down on single or double inner tubes. My son needed an adult on most of these but there were a few slides he could tackle on his own, along with an elevated water playground area with huge water guns, pails, and fountains to play in.

The first thing I noticed was how clean this place is. Sparkling. They close two of the pools for a few hours each afternoon to clean them. The second thing I noticed was how safe this place is. Attentive life guards are everywhere and there is only one entrance/exit and it is manned by staff – I wasn’t worried about my kids escaping. We did enforce the buddy system, even if my husband or I was the buddy, which always helps.

So we got a lay of the land in the water park until we could check in, at which point we thankfully escaped the crowds and had a snack (brought from home) and some down time in our room. All the rooms have mini kitchenettes with little fridges, coffee makers and microwaves. We got a standard room which was nice enough but nothing exciting (2 queens and a pull out couch) but for a little bit more they have KidCamp and WolfDen suites with bunk beds that kids love. Then it was back to the water park from 6 – 9pm, closing time (note: multiple bathing suits for all came in handy!). This was the perfect time to take advantage of hardly any lines as most people were eating dinner or had already called it a night and were going to take advantage of the arcade and story hour. We all had a blast on the slides – including my husband and me!

Next it was a late dinner of Pizza Hut pizza in the room and the kids crashed. Ok, we did too. The next morning we had breakfast from home in the room (if you are trying to save money, definitely bring snacks and breakfast with you – very easy with the room set up and kitchenette), loaded the car, and staked out a place in line for the water park which opens at 9am. The morning was also relatively uncrowded for the first hour or so, so we slid to our heart’s content. Checkout is 11, but you can enjoy the water park the entire day of your check out. We were all pretty much waterlogged by 1pm, which was the end of our stay.

So if you are looking for a warm getaway (it’s 84 degrees in the park) without going far that’s guaranteed to satisfy all family members, check out the Great Wolf Lodge.

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