Last winter our family packed up the car and hit the road for a mini winter vacation to Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA. You can read all about it Here. The trip was not a total disaster as us adults had maybe subconsciously suspected, but instead a success! So much so, that we decided to make our joint family vacation an annual tradition, but mixing up the location a bit. An indoor water park in the middle of winter gave the kids some adventure out of the norm to look forward to and gave us adults an easy go-to trip idea that secretly makes us feel like kids again too.
It has been yet again a mild winter, despite my dear sister-in-law Amie’s wishes. She cringes as the temperature climbs and the sun comes out in January. A true winter bird, I think she even admitted traveling in this weather and lugging the kids in and out of our cars in warm temperatures versus blistering snow was actually quite nice.
This year we opted out of the blizzard conditions we drove into as we traveled to Erie, for a 60 degree, window cracked trip south to Williamsburg, VA. In Erie’s defense you cannot control Mother Nature, although I hear it snows in Erie about 200+ days per year. Kidding. Not kidding.
This was both of our family’s first time experiencing Great Wolf Lodge after reading and hearing great things about the water park and resort experience.
About two weeks before we left for our trip we told the kids about our vacation, letting them explore the resort’s website and watch YouTube videos that fellow guests posted. Note: Kids do not understand time, so next trip, maybe a week out for the reveal will do. For two weeks, Lo asked, “Water park? Water park?” When she would open hers eyes in the morning she would ask, “Water park?” When she would sit down for dinner, “Water Park?” When she would take a bath, “Water Park?” In fact, she bathed in her bathing suit. I am now fearful what the following days will bring as I can no longer count down the sleeps for her.
Upon checking in, we were greeted by a welcome party that included a balloon artist, face painting, top 40’s music and complimentary cheese balls and juice for the kids and wine for the adults. Let me repeat, complimentary wine for the adults. Resorts around the world, pipe up and listen, complimentary wine for the adults. It was nothing fancy. No glass, small plastic cups, filled half way. I could care less. We just traveled 4 hours and 30 minutes with kids, one car with children who refused to sleep. They were hungry, sticky and ready to get to the destination. While the Dad’s unloaded the cars, us Mommas went straight to the bar, and the kind gentleman read my mind, and kindly said, “Red or white?”
You had me at “Red or white,” Great Wolf!
We booked the Grizzly Bear Suite which included two separate bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchenette, living room with a fireplace and balcony. The rooms could use some more lights. I immediately noticed that. However, after a few hours I realized maybe it was intentional so we did not stress over the crumbled chips and cookies our children were mushing into the carpets.
Here is what I love about Great Wolf Lodge, the overall layout of the resort is well thought out. There are dining options, a sweet shop (we visited a bit much), retail shops, bowling lane, 4D Theater, arcade, a spa we never visited and then of course, the water park. It is convenient, super convenient. You can head out that morning, grab donuts at the in-house Dunkin’ Donuts (you read correct – although beware – lines ensue early in the morning from exhausted parents), head to the park, head back to the room for naps, Dad can take the bigger kids to the arcade, grab a beer, do the park again, order pizza, go to room, crash and do it all again. Catch me? It is all there in a nice neat package! And, yes, while TripAdvisor reviews discuss the experience being expensive, the room rate does include quite a bit and Great Wolf does a really nice job of programming and added value for the kids.
We broke up the chaffing from wet bathing suits with a day at Colonial Williamsburg. I have admit I was thoroughly looking forward to this portion of the trip. I have never been to Colonial Williamsburg and I was intrigued by the history and beauty of the city. Unfortunately, no one told us in our travels, nor did the website reveal as we planned our trip, that Colonial Williamsburg is technically open March through January 3. This was “off-season” and it was a bit off with nothing really open except the Art Museum (5 kids under 8, pass!); a Church (see last parenthesis); a few shops and the ice rink along the Duke of Glouchester Street (Nathan bought some pickled asparagus from one shop – yeah me!) and a dining Tavern. I do not know what I expected but what I did not expect was that all the wait staff would be in true colonial attire and a single string musician man would serenade our less than enthused table of 9.
We indeed meet a nice Carriage Driver who sent us to the Tavern so we could experience something. Everyone else we ran into was a bit sheepish on the situation, but this dear Carriage Driver could see the desperation in our wind whipped hair and could hear the screams of our children and broke character and said, “I would recommend Great Wolf Lodge for the day!’ No just kidding she did not say that, but she was very honest to say, “There really is not much for you all to do today with your 800 kids. Come back in June!” Thank you, dear lady, thank you!
We did make the best of it! Including housemade chips and beers in the “Tavern,” photo ops any chance we could get, reading signs along buildings and walks to get our history on and we did meet one celebrity! Liberty the official dog of Colonial Williamsburg (see above).
But, the hit was indeed Great Wolf Lodge.
- MagiQuest – This game roams the halls of Great Wolf Lodge and is pretty ingenuous from a revenue making standpoint. It did keep the “big kids” (ages 8 and 6) engaged; however, the younger kids (3 and under) fought for the wand. Buy cheap wands from Dollar General, WalMart or Target before you come for the little ones who won’t understand the game but will want a wand to play along. This will save you money!
- The Loose Moose Bar and Grill features giant tree decor throughout. Be sure to bring your purchased MagiQuest wand and request a table under one of the trees. The wand will bring them to life with twinkling lights.
- Request the fourth floor! It is quieter than the rest of the hotel as amenities run close to the rooms.
- Pack food and snacks for your stay. Food and beverage at Great Wolf Lodge can run high, so plan meals that you can eat in to save some money. We had a mini refrigerator and microwave in our room and my sister-in-law brought a mini toaster, so we packed pop tarts, mini pancakes and waffles for breakfast options. Mac N’ Cheese, crustables and leftover pizza, all made great lunches. Oh, and a cooler of beer for the adults. Beverages in the park run $7!
- If coffee is a must, pack some for your in-room coffee maker. We failed to because we were excited for the in-house Dunkin’ Donuts. We bought coffee every morning, but be prepared to wait. Unless you are there super early, there is a line, a long line, a line no one would ever stand in unless they meet this description – “Tired parent looking for caffeine to withstand the energy of their children for the next 10 hours in a water park.”
- Creation Station – Similar to a Build-A-Bear. Creation Station starts at $29.99 before accessories, so it can add up. You can buy most of the same characters already stuffed as as stuffed animal for around $24.99. So, if the whole building experience in not necessary, opt out and buy the plush.
- Explore! The area is rich in history, activities and great dining options. Leave the resort if you can to explore.
Some Great Wolf Lodge Water Park Tips:
- If you need to save room in your vehicle or suitcases, leave the swimmers and towels at home. Great Wolf Lodge offers complimentary swimmers – life jackets and puddle jumpers for kids. Towels are also available as soon as you enter the indoor water park.
- Pack water shoes or crocs for the splash feature, Fort Mackenzie. There are climbing ropes throughout the tree house and they can be rough on your feet as you climb. Also, I found the floor of Slap Tail Pond (aka wave pool) to be rough.
- Don’t forget a cover up or change of lightweight dry clothes. It is humid in the water park and the main corridors of the resort, but once you leave to head back to your room in a wet bathing suit, you can quickly get chilly. I packed Lo a terry cloth cover up, cotton dresses and t-shirt and shorts, so that after our time at the pool, I could strip her down and throw something dry on her.
- The great thing about Great Wolf Lodge is that the indoor water park is exclusive to resort guests, so the crowd is managed. However, it can still be very busy. Mornings are the busiest. So, get there early if you want a table. Guests at Great Wolf Lodge get water park access on the day of check-in starting at 1 pm and the day of check out. Our favorite time was between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm. We found the crowd to be very minimal, and we rarely waited in line.
So, I would say this mini winter vacation was a whopping success. Five little girls had a very good time and four tired adults will try to fool you that the vacation whooped their butts (it did) but it was equally as good. In fact, I bet for most of us adults we had just as fun if not more tackling every slide in the water park, indulging in ice cream, fried food and beers.
After a four hour drive, when I could almost smell home, Lo got car sick and puked all over herself, her souvenir t-shirt and her car seat. It was a memorable end to a memorable vacation. Thankfully, she was just car sick, so I did not have to call my sister-in-law to warn her that the flu fairy would be making her rounds to her house too tonight. Oh, the memories!