The local Ghost Hotel across from our local Ghost Mall was finally bought and developed this year…by Great Wolf Lodge! I had heard occasional things about the Great Wolf Lodge in Washington, and so I was excited to check one out. We reserved a room this fall before they opened at 30% off for two weeks after they opened their doors. Here are my thoughts and tips based on our experience celebrating our kids’ 7th and 11th birthdays there with a one night stay.
We paid an extra $30 for a ‘themed room’ which was a massive hit with the kids (Junior Wolf Pup Den Suite). They love hotel rooms, especially suites, so having a little alcove all to themselves with bunk beds and a tv was HUGE. I had read reviews online that recommended skipping this upgrade since many families don’t spend much time in their room, but for our family the extra expense added a big wow factor.
The rooms have mini fridges, so bring
adult beverages, I mean snacks. They have a microwave, so don’t forget the microwave popcorn for an evening treat! The coffee makers use k-cups, so you can bring your own favorite k-cup from home (or go down to Dunkin Donuts).
One thing that the room didn’t have that was a small disappointment was a DVD player. Nic and I had looked forward to catching up on some movies, but without a DVD player we had to watch live television like it was 2003 or something.
While I’m nit-picking, the bed was ridiculously uncomfortable. The mattress was way too soft. Be prepared to wake up feeling 97 years old.
And back to the positives: The bathroom had shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel as well as a hair oil treatment, which was a nice touch after a day in chlorine! And did I mention that my kids completely loved the themed room? (Ignore my awkward editing. I should really stick to photos.)
Check-in officially begins at 1pm. We arrived at 12:45 and our room was ready for us and there was no wait to check-in. Definitely arrive a touch early for check-in if you can! Not only do you get a little longer in the park, but you are first in line for the rooms that are already clean, and you beat the line for check-in (and more importantly the line for the elevators)!
At check-in I asked if it would be possible to have a late check-out. Since they were fully booked on Friday I wasn’t able to get a 2 hour late check-out, but I did get a complimentary 1 hour late check-out (putting our check-out at noon) which was especially great because it kept us out of the elevator congestion occurring with the 11am check-outs!
The waterpark is really what everyone is there for. You can’t get a day pass–it is only for guests. We stayed Thursday night into Friday and while Friday was certainly more crowded than Thursday, neither day felt overly crowded. We lucked out both times and got chairs easily–the first day arriving at the waterpark about 5pm and on Friday getting there about 11am. You aren’t able to bring food/beverages into the waterpark area, but you can eat your own food in an area right outside the waterpark.
The hotel has lockers that you can use on Thursday before checking into your room and on Friday after checking out. THEY ARE THE MOST EXPENSIVE LOCKERS IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. A tiny locker that won’t fit a purse will set you back $10, a locker that will fit a standard beach bag is $15 and a locker that will fit your beach bag and shoes is $20. We had set ourselves up on Friday to use a locker, but if I’d known how pricey they would be I would have planned to leave a bag of clothing at our chairs and gotten a $10 locker for my camera. (If you have a DSLR the lockers are nice so that you can take a couple of ‘real pictures’ and then stash away your camera, otherwise you can probably skip the lockers. Nic and I have inexpensive android/windows phones which we felt perfectly comfortable leaving at the pool chairs.)
If you’re used to Villa Splash, the first thing you’ll notice about Great Wolf Lodge is that the waterpark is much colder than the steamy paradise you’re used to. While the temperature was fine if you were staying active and rushing around between the different slides, if you were damp and standing around waiting for kids, it was not so pleasant. There has been much talk on local forums about the lack of a hot tub (which would help the temperature issue a lot) as well as the lack of a lazy river. I love a lazy river, so the lack of one was a bummer.
I thought that the range of slides and activities for different age groups was fantastic. There were several slides for smaller kids, and lots for them to do in the splash area. For toddlers and babies there was also a fenced-off area with very small slides and shallow water. For older kids and adults there is a nice range of slides ranging from my idea to fun to my idea of completely terrifying. I could tell that my fifth grader wasn’t sure if he was going to be Too Cool for it all or not, but running into two of his buddies from school in the lobby when we checked in and getting to spend Thursday evening playing with them in the waterpark sold him on it being Perfectly Cool Enough for a 5th grader.
Quick overview of the different slides:
- Alberta Falls was my favorite slide and the one with the longest line. It is your best bet for starting young or timid kids off on the bigger slides. You can use a double or single innertube, which is perfect so that you can happy voice “wheee!” for your tiny companion and make sure they’re doing okay. It starts off with a dramatic drop and then is mild before another little dip and then calm twists and turns. This is one of the tube slides that you can see from outside the hotel.
- Mountain Edge Raceway is a toboggan style ride where riders slide down on their tummies and race against other sliders. While you can see the last part of the slide from the main waterpark area, the first part of the ride takes you outside the building in isolated tubes (you won’t see any of your fellow racers). We had taken our first grader on this as her first slide and as the slide began I thought “OH NO SHE MUST BE TERRIFIED!” but thankfully as we emerged onto the exposed portion of the slide I was able to look back and see a giant smile. It’s a little more intense than it looks from below, though, so have young sliders go on the splash area slides first to warm up (and preferably Alberta Falls next). Since four people load at a time, the line for this was never long.
- Howlin Tornado is the slide that broke our first grader’s desire to go on any of the slides. This is a family ride in a giant innertube, but it is intense. (Disclaimer: I’m kind of a chicken. Splash Mountain is scary to me.) I had the misfortune of riding it backward my first time, and spent the entire time thinking “THIS WAS A BIG MISTAKE” as Ellie and I tied for freaking out and being miserable on the ride. She was sobbing by the end of it and kept saying that she was so scared during the ride that she couldn’t breathe. If you have a chicken in your group, it’s not worth it to convince them to go. And if you DO convince them to go, ensure that they are facing forward! The tube tends to twist around toward the end, but the initial part of the ride has all the steep drops, which are particularly unpleasant when you can’t see where you are going and feel like the people at the opposite end of your tube are going to fall down on top of you. (Will rode backward when I tried it for the second time and he kept shouting at me “MOM HOLD ON!” because he also experienced the delights of feeling like the people opposite you were definitely going to fall down on top of you.)
- Wolf Tail is the infamous slide in which you enter a tube and then they drop the floor out from under you and you freefall 20 feet before looping around and finishing the adventure. As if that wasn’t enough, they amp up the anticipatory fear by playing a heartbeat inside the tube when you enter, and then counting down from three…only to add an extra beat onto the end of the countdown so you don’t even know when you will really drop! Nic and Will both rode it twice. Nic described it as horrible torture after riding it once, and then ended up being talked into going on it a second time when he escorted Will up for Will’s second ride. Bragging rights seem to be the sole purpose of going on this ride.
Great Wolf Lodge provides one towel per guest which you check in and out like a highly regulated narcotic. Remember that you can trade in your wet towels for fresh dry ones whenever you want, though!
They also provide both lifejackets and the ‘puddle jumpers‘ most moms use for non-swimmers. Using the ones on-hand instead of dealing with your own is nice.
There is a bar in the waterpark area (the Sangria pitchers seemed to be the best deal) as well as a place for food. On Friday we got lunch there since I didn’t want to take the time to get dressed and leave the waterpark. It was our only experience eating inside the park and it wasn’t a great one. They were sold out of several items (including the giant ice cream bucket I’d wanted to surprise the kids with) and after selling us sodas we went to fill the cups only to discover that basically everything except diet sprite was sold out. Not cool. The food was fine, and pricing what you would expect inside a waterpark–lunch for the four of us was about $40.
Since my kiddos are big into video games, I knew Magiquest would be something we’d want to try. To play the game for four days is $15, and the wands are an additional $20.If the kids hadn’t mastered the game while we were there, we could have come back to have them finish it on Saturday or Sunday.
Wands range in price by $6 from the most basic to the most fancy-looking, and my kids agreed to pay the difference so they could have the coolest looking wand. I’d told them ahead of time that there are wand toppers, but these aren’t a good value since people say it adds to the weight of the wand in an uncomfortable way. Since we’d talked about it ahead of time, they weren’t even tempted by the toppers. I spent some time in the months leading up to the trip trying to find used wands on ebay for a good price, but they seem to hold their value too well to make buying used on ebay a good option (they are all $15-$25 used with shipping, which really doesn’t save you anything). You only need one wand–that way the kids can run through the game together.
To run through the whole game took about 3-4 hours. The initial part of the game is easy for a non-gamer like me to understand because the main game consoles tell you to go collect items and tell you their location. At the end of each level the game lost me. You would interact with a console, but there is nothing to tell you what to do. For example on the final level you have to figure out:
a) How to wake up the dragon. If you go back to the portrait of the dragon you will see three or four symbols in the painting. Back at the console if you touch those (and only those) symbols in order, you wake up the dragon.
b) How to fight and defend yourself against the dragon. You have picked up several attacks and defenses, and have to figure out what will actually do anything.
If I was a kid this would make me insane. HOW DO I EVEN PLAY THIS STUPID GAME?! I would shout and then I would cry. BUT in retrospect I can appreciate this element of the game because it makes it very social. You will inevitably run into a boy who looks like he knows what he is doing, and he will be all too happy to share with your children how to beat that level. Think of it as an ice breaker.
Magiquest is most active in the evening. We played it on first arriving at the hotel while we waited for Nic to get off work, and we only ran into one other player during that early afternoon stretch. Will played it again in the evening Thursday with his buddies, and many more people were playing at the time. Will and Ellie were back at it again first thing Friday morning, and there were only a handful of kids playing. If you’d like help from the experts, hit the halls after 8pm.
Which brings me to which halls you want a room on. Magiquest is only on levels 3, 4, and 5, so if your kids will be playing Magiquest, request a room on those levels! If you aren’t into the Magiquest thing, request to be far, far away! Many of the clues are directly outside guest rooms, and since they are loud (and since kids are louder), you could easily find yourself with a lot of noise outside your door at 9pm. If you have a younger crew with you, this may not be desireable. We lucked out–I hadn’t requested a particular floor, but we were on the third floor in a room that wasn’t directly adjacent to either the stairs (which are heavily used by Magiquesters) or a game element, and so I didn’t hear any quest related noise.
Magiquest makes for a LOT of walking, particularly up and down the stairs. Bring your running shoes and make the kids run between clues and you’ll have your cardio for the day.
The big question with Magiquest is how much autonomy you’ll give your kids in running around by themselves. Our fifth grader was allowed to go out Thursday night with his two friends from school that happened to also be staying at the hotel (we required that he check back into our room every 15 minutes). Friday morning we felt comfortable enough to let our fifth grader and first grader go out together, requiring that they check in every 10 minutes (they made a habit of checking in every time they were on our floor, which meant they ran into the room about every 5 minutes). This was bliss. Nic read a book and I took a nap. We very much enjoyed our relaxing morning while the kids raced from game clue to game clue.
I think Magiquest is most fun and most intuitive for the 3rd grade and up crowd. It would have been too difficult for our first grader on her own, but was very much on target for the fifth grader. Middle schoolers and up would likely find it Not Cool Enough.
The other entertainment:
The forest friends story hour at 8pm was adorable and I was glad that I made it a high priority to take our first grader down for it. The animatronic bear in the lobby comes to life and several friends pop up to sing and tell a story. (I couldn’t tell you anything about the plot, since I had brought my own book, but Ellie enjoyed it.) After the presentation a staff member came out to read a book with the Great Wolf Lodge mascot, but after getting all the kids up for a dance, he neglected to have them sit back down, so Ellie quickly asked to go back to our room since she couldn’t see over the other kids. So for us the actual story time was a bust, but the forest friends presentation was a hit.
The hotel offers a manicure/pedicure salon that is ice cream themed and would have been a source of major angst for our first grader if we hadn’t talked about it ahead of time. (Talking with your kids ahead of time about the money they may and may not want to spend during your trip is the best piece of advice I can give!) Luckily I heard about it in advance, so I was able to go over the prices with my daughter and explain that I would be happy to take her to a regular nail salon after our trip if she really wanted to get a pedicure and it would cost her a lot less. We also discussed how beat up your toenail polish gets when you go swimming! In the end, we decided to bring nail polish to paint our toes together while in the hotel room. (We were too busy doing other things, though, and ended up saving painting our nails for when we got home, which was a great way to save something fun for home!)
There is also a candy store, so you can preempt that by bringing some special treats in your suitcase.
I read that the ropes course was a good value at $13, and the kids had wanted to spend their money on it, but we ended up being fully entertained with the waterpark and Magiquest. Something to remind your kids is that they can always come back and do the ropes course or arcade (or put-put golf or Magiquest), but the waterpark is a one time only deal.
The best part of the Colorado Springs location is that there is a lot of great food nearby. We had my favorite ever pizza delivered on Thursday night (Boriello Brothers) which actually cost more than the hotel’s pizza, but it is the world’s best pizza and they don’t deliver to our house, so it was awesome. We had lunch at Freddy’s Thursday and had contemplated dinner at Colorado Mountain Brewery and the BBQ place for Friday’s dinner but decided we were all wiped and grabbed Chinese on our way home instead. Our only experiences with the food in the hotel were donuts from Dunkin Donuts on Friday morning and our typical-for-a-waterpark lunch on Friday afternoon.
We could have saved money by bringing meals, but THIS IS MY VACATION, PEOPLE. I WILL BRING ALCOHOL AND STRING CHEESE AND THAT IS ALL.
The staff was wonderfully friendly and I was constantly impressed by how vigilant the lifeguards seemed to be. We were celebrating the kids’ birthdays, so on check-in the staff sang them a little song and they got special birthday versions of the wolf-ear headbands that you get when you check in.
Nic and I are divided when it comes to the value-for-money of the experience. Our room was 30% off and was $167 before the $50 ‘taxes and resort fee’ fee. That brought our total for the room and two days of waterpark play to $220, with another $40 for Magiquest and about $100 for food. I felt that it was a good value for the experience, but Nic said that he wasn’t sure he would recommend it to many people, especially given the normal cost of a weekend or school-on-break room. So a one thumb up, one thumb neutral from our family. (And like 18 thumbs violently up from the children.) Then again, Nic’s the one who had to ride the Wolf Tail twice, so maybe I would also be shying away from recommendations if I’d paid that kind of money to basically fall out of a building.
Ignoring Nic and Going Anyway? Don’t forget to pack:
Pajamas, robes, and slippers for the kids–the older ones will get a kick out of running around playing Magiquest in their pajamas and the littles will want to go to Story Hour in the pjs.
Snacks and drinks for the mini fridge and k-cups for your coffee maker. I brought plastic wine glasses and sparkling apple cider for the kids. Don’t forget microwave popcorn too!
Nail polish and fun candy to rival the money pits in the lobby.
Costumes if you have them for Magiquest (we sadly couldn’t find Ellie’s robe in the hustle to get ready, but they would have loved to both have their jedi robes for playing Magiquest).