You can’t raise a child in the Southern Ontario area (and well beyond) without hearing three words from them at some point: Great Wolf Lodge (GWL for short in this post). For some parents, GWL stirs up Disney-esque anxiety. Others count themselves among the 42 percent of returning families, year after year. The rest are somewhere in between. But we might just change that…
LOCATION: Great Wolf Lodge, 3950 Victoria Avenue, Niagara Falls, ON
DURATION: one night, two days
DATES: March 22, 2015 – March 23, 2015
WHO: Rick, Angie, 1 year old (boy), 10 year old (boy), 9 year old (boy)
When we first walked into the lodge we were slightly frightened by the shirtless, coffee drinking dads roaming around in flip flops, mid-March. Toss in the talking tree, dancing squirrels and flirtatious moose and we were definitely scratching our heads. But, within hours we understood it completely. Great Wolf Lodge is all about taking a break while still feeling as though you are in a home away from home. Feel free to walk around in jammies or your swimsuit. It’s that kind of place.
The year round resort lives up to the hype and, in my humblog opinion, could use even more of a push towards families with infants. When I first planned this trip, I asked another family (who are expecting in a few weeks and currently have a 1.5 year old girl) to come with us. They were quite hesitant after checking out the website because they discerned there wasn’t much to do with a wee one. In the end, they declined.
Mark my words – we were wrong.
As the General Manager, Keith Simmonds, put it to me:
“As soon as they can walk, this place is candy – they’re engaged.”
When we first arrived, the place was bumpin’. If you’re one of the families full of Disney-esque anxiety, avoid arriving at peak hours (11:00am, 1:30pm – 3:00pm). There are a lot of lines (which move decently), squealing and howling noises, and kids running rampant with pure joy.
GWL uses wristbands as the key to everything. In fact, they’re actually the key to your room which is fabulous because you never worry about losing your swipe card, locking out your pre-teen and so on. Staff easily identify guests and it’s your ticket to all things GWL.
We easily located our stroller-accessible room on the first floor. Our group stayed in the Majestic Bear Suite which allowed privacy for our infant (had a door to a bedroom we could close off) and lots of room for the pre-teens. There are other options though including themed rooms (Kid Kamp, Cabin, Wolf Den and so on). If you’re unsure which room will work best for your family, just ask the staff or your booking agent.
In terms of activities, the GWL website details all of their offerings so I won’t recap here. This is our review of our favourites:
The two boys focused on completing the quests and the lodge set-up allowed them some independent time. The safety and security of the resort (which is their top priority according to Simmonds) is set to such a high standard that as parents we sat in the grand living room (that is what they call the giant lobby area) and let the boys do the quest (you can see the different halls from the main, central area). Note: they recommend supervision for kids 12 and under but when I checked with staff, you can use your own discretion. Although it’s technically a gaming experience, MagiQuest gets the kids active as they go up and down stairs and roam the resort.
As one of the only (if not the only) four-season resorts in Canada (meaning booked all weekends year round) Great Wolf Lodge offers a ginormous water park — it has to be awesome to attract guests in the winter.
Simmonds joked that families who come during the week initially get excited about the short lines on the slides until they realize just how many more times they end up doing the stairs (4 flights).
And that we did –over and over and over again. The older boys loved Niagara Rapids Run which just so happens to be on the highest platform. It’s basically like a roller coaster in a water slide with tons of speed, hills and drops. As an adult, it was my favorite too and worth every trip up and down.
“On my first slide, I thought I was going to die,” said our 10 year old, who never fancied waterslides before this trip. “But once I got to the bottom I never wanted to get off,” he proclaimed.
Our infant son loved the waterpark too, which I didn’t expect. We’ve been to other parks before but found them too loud, stuffy, crowded and not baby friendly. But the edge-free pools, spouting water and wave pool at Great Wolf Lodge were all totally acceptable for an assisted walker like our baby. Life jackets are available as of 20 lbs (and up) and many people took their young toddlers on the Wooly Mammoth slide, which is a huge family-sized tube on a slower slide.
I recommend bringing your own towels though. While the resort does provide them free of charge, you can’t leave the water area with them. This means you are trekking back to your room damp, cool and scantily clad.
NORTHERN LIGHTS ARCADE:
Our family also loved the Northern Lights Arcade. Our infant son rode the mini carousel and baby rides while the older boys focused on games that earned tickets (which you then trade in for prizes).
I confess we visited the arcade on three occasions. It’s hard to keep four males out of them for any length of time. This one is so interactive, bright and cheery. It is very family focused. I enjoyed the lack of over-bearing loud noise/music and the multiple player options.
Last year a Ten Paw Bowling Alley was added to the roster of activities. Too be honest, although we had every intention of playing a few rounds, it’s hard to do everything there is to offer in just two days. I recommend two nights and three days minimum.
Every day the’ grand living room’ offers up comfy couches and a blazing fireplace to welcome families with free activities. At 9:00am there’s a Wolf Walk lesson (kids in jammies learning about wolves) and at 8:00pm it’s story time followed by a family-friendly dance party until 9:30pm (with the same kids still in jammies).
TIPS TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR GREAT WOLF LODGE EXPERIENCE:
(1) Room Research. Lets be honest, the rates can seem a bit daunting at first glance. But remember, the cost of the room includes access to fun under one roof. There’s no driving around or even walking outside in the winter months. Plus, the room rate includes passes to the waterpark for your family, for two days (at some places this would be extra and a per person charge). So one night hotel stay gets you two days of waterpark fun plus free activities. Bowling and mini-putt are extra as is the MagiQuest.
(2) Come ‘one’ Come all. If your child is one year old, he’s ready for GWL. Our baby just turned one, cannot walk yet and is only 17 lbs. But we still found a ton for him to do . He couldn’t get enough of the talking critters in the lobby, the build-a-wolf, water park and infant rides.
(3) Pre-order your Pack n’ Play. There are no cribs available but they do offer pack and plays. We chose to bring our own though. The mattresses in their pack and plays are standardly thin so (BYOB)…bring your own bedding.
(4) Plan meal time. It’s a busy buffet restaurant in the main area so a line forms quickly at peak meal times. Send someone over 30 minutes before you want dinner and get your name on the list (and a buzzer) unless you go early enough (we went at 5:15pm) to get a seat right away.
(5) Bring towels. Normally, I am all for packing light, but in this instance, having a few towels makes sense. You can use them to cover up when traveling between the water park, outdoor pool and your room.
(6) Book smart for savings. “A guest on a random Tuesday in October is just as important as someone staying over New Year’s eve,” says Keith Simmonds, General Manager. The resort offers the same fun activities 365 days a year. Thus, you don’t miss out on anything booking in the off season. Peak season is December (festive season), March Break, holidays and June through August. Rates are higher at those times. If you want a deal, opt for a weekday before or after summer (kids can miss a few days of school to make memories, right??).
Or, book NOW using Promo Code/Rate Code: FTGFUN for 20% off the best available rate from now until June 12, 2015
– Reservations must be made before May 14,, 2015.
– Blackout dates: The discount is based on availability, so other dates may become unavailable as occupancy increases.
|Offer valid only at Niagara Falls, ON location, and only on dates listed above. Offer must be mentioned at time of reservation and based on 2015 standard rates. Multiple night stay may be required. Limited number of rooms available for each date. May not be valid during holiday and blackout periods or combined with any other discount or promotional offers. Must stay by date listed above for offer to apply. Offer based on 4 guests per room and may be terminated at any time without notice. Must have one individual 21 years of age or older staying in each room. Offer is not redeemable for cash.
(7)E-Pack for Extra Savings. It’s no secret that insiders and repeat guests score savings (whether you’re subscribed to your favourite stores or restaurants). For Great Wolf Lodge, sign up for their e-pack for exclusive member promotions that get emailed as soon as they are available. It’s the easiest way to keep track of promo codes and offers. I was told this is the best way to get the best rate.
(8) Select the Right Swim Suits. For women, I highly recommend a one-piece. The rigorous nature of some of the slides and rambunctious kids can result in wardrobe malfunctions. To avoid it altogether I opted for my Speedo. For boys, choose trunks that fit snugly. When you hit the water looser garments tend to head south. Between the obstacle course and water basketball there’s a lot of room for error.
(9) Be flexible and share. It’s a family resort so set an example for the kids. There’s not enough tables and chairs for everyone so be prepared to make room for others and share the space. For lunch, we ate off our laps and sat with other families at their tables (there’s only four tables by the café so people were clambering over one another to get a seat). By the pool, it’s also hard to find a vacant table. So we buddied up with other nice people to set our things down.
(10) Go All-Inclusive For $50/adult and $25/kid, per day, it’s all inclusive (minus alcohol). The buffet is vast in it’s offerings with lots of healthy options (the more left you go in the buffet the less healthy it is and the more towards the right you venture, the healthier it is).
(11) Strollers are suggested. It’s a big space with lots to do. We used our stroller every time we left the room. Our baby was able to look around at all angles and my back thanked me (carriers are great too but you’ll be on your feet a lot)
(12) Don’t be afraid to picnic. A lot of families brought groceries and snacks and camped out in the lobby enjoying their lunch. This is a great option if you don’t want to go the meal plan route. Most rooms come standard with a microwave and fridge.
Overall, Great Wolf Lodge is an easy, quick vacation spot. Everything is under one roof and no matter what time of year you book, there’s a ton of activities for people of all ages (for adults there’s a spa and gym). We’ll definitely go back, stay a little longer, pack towels and book mama (me) into the spa.