Recently, LA Parent offered my family a trip to the Grand Opening weekend at the Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove, CA. Even though I had never heard of this family resort, I was pretty confident we’d have a great time: a weekend away ~ not rushing from kid’s sport to sport, no cooking, no cleaning? Twist my arm.
All I knew was that it was an indoor water park. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that. I’m a water person and I love thrills so naturally, I love water parks but I feared weird smells and gross germs could fester in an indoor environment. Still….we were excited to get away.
We arrived and received swag bags with Paw Passes to experience the entire resort, which apparently had a lot more to offer than just the water park. We also got these cute little pink wristbands that have RFID chips embedded so they acted like room keys, passes to the waterpark and allowed you to buy anything on the resort simply by waving your hand. Who wouldn’t like that?
The boys loved their room, which included their own private little Wolf Den.
And their very own bunk beds.
And after fighting Friday gridlock on the 405, Mommy and Daddy loved our champagne welcome!
The boys couldn’t wait to get into the water park! Who are we kidding? Mommy couldn’t wait either!
The indoor park was much bigger than I imagined it would be. There were 12 slides, some big enough to accommodate several raft sizes. The temperature was a cozy 84 degrees….and at my age, I also appreciated not having to hide from the sun as my baby oil slathering days are long gone. No hats to keep track of, no chasing the kids around with sunscreen……I started to see the benefits of this crazy indoor water park idea…especially as we were experiencing a rare SoCal rainy day outside (imagine if we had planned this extensive outdoor weekend only to be thwarted by the rain…).
At Fort Mackenzie young explorers could find adventure crossing suspended cargo nets, aiming water cannons at passerbys
and barreling down tree top slides. There’s also a giant bucket that dumps 1000 gallons of water after a sequenced crescendo of beeps alerting those below to……
Much too quickly it was time for dinner but the kids were okay leaving since they knew there would be some forbidden fruit at the buffet to look forward to and by forbidden, I mean tons of sugary desserts which is a no go in our house. I was already cringing on the inside to what I anticipated would be a fried food fiesta and an oasis of sugary hell.
But the dinner buffet was actually very impressive. A few vegetarian options and many exotic vegetable preparations as well as some succulent cuts of meat, seafood and original chicken preparations.
And of course, there was the promised dessert. I let them each choose one and they both went for a cupcake that looked very tempting actually.
In addition to the Loose Moose Family Kitchen, which is buffet style dining, the resort has four other restaurants. Lodge Wood Fired Grill, is a little fancier and offers some gourmet style options but is still casual, after all it’s an indoor water park resort. Another is a grab and go, of the pizza and burgers variety, called Hungry As A Wolf and smartly situated by the arcade. Finally, two are located inside the waterpark, Grizzly Jack’s Bar and Grill, a full service restaurant, in the small section of outdoor space the resort holds and a more limited selection of fast food can be had at Bucket’s Incredible Craveables. There’s also a Dunkin Donuts some, like me, might find essential for staying caffeinated to keep up with the kids and a wicked little shop called Bear Paw Sweets and Eats for those who are planning on doing extra Boot Camp classes next week.
The GWL offers kids a daily roster of activities, depending on the season. Daily, there is yoga and arts and crafts. Seasonally, there is Howl-O-Ween in October and Snowland in December.
You can also find furry little pals, Wiley Wolf and Violet Wolf, roaming around the hotel.
The kids gathered in the lobby after dinner to enjoy a tale where the fuzzy creatures were part of the action, which always makes a tale more enjoyable. (This is a nightly event)
At the end of story time, we ran into some friends, the Prince family, who were also invited to family media weekend. This was great because any weekend with friends makes a weekend way more fun.
The Paw Pass around Howard’s neck allows access to areas around the resort. Guests could buy them to gain access to a set number of bundled activities which saves money instead of paying for them individually.
One of the activities both families enjoyed immensely was called MagiQuest. MagiQuest is a type of digital, fairytale scavenger hunt around the hotel. You start at the MagiQuest gift shop and select a magic wand that is programmed with your player name and vital stats (obviously a marketers dream machine 😉
Then you pick one of the many available quests and off you go to fight monsters, find magic crystals and save pixies.
Deposit your goodies at one of the video portals scattered all around the hotel and fight virtual battles as you progress through your journey.
There’s also an option for the younger guests to try their hand at mini adventure by joining the Clubhouse Crew, a scavenger hunt created for the littles. They start by picking pieces to put together a stuffed animal character in the same way that Build-a-Bear is born at
Then the nice Wolf people help them fill their new friends with stuffed animal fluff.
These are the cuties that lead younger guests on a much shorter quest through a smaller portion of the hotel.
That night we uncovered another little GWL secret. What we thought were just adorable little animal decorations in the kids Wolf Den, actually came to life and sang songs when you pointed that magic wand at them.
Everyone really did actually enjoy the surprise. Although, I bet, if our kids were any smaller, we might not enjoy that surprise, say at 3am, if they decided to see if the animals would wake up then.
The next day, we had breakfast with the Prince family and learned about the afternoon tour Kim and I would
have get to go on.
Our friends, Morgan and Justin, who live locally also joined us. Although the water park is open to hotel guests only, people can join you by paying for a $40 day pass. You can request an equal number of day passes to the number of people staying in your room. We decided to test out the waterproof pouch the hotel provided on one of the raft rides.
I swear all that screaming equals fun!
Then my brave boy decided to try out the Wolf Rider Wipeout, which is an artificial endless wave where people can surf or boogie board until their little muscles give out….as long as they can stay balanced or hold on!
Well….there’s always next year but daddy did pretty good!
OK, I sped that up for brevity’s sake but he did pretty good! The lady who took us on the media tour said she had never seen a grown up actually surf, only teenagers and kids – lower center of gravity and all – so I think my honey has earned his pat on the back.
Speaking of media tour, Kim and I left our lovely families to continue exploring all the available activities at the Great Wolf Lodge resort – all so we could share with you. Aren’t we sweet?
First we were taken down “Main Street” where all the other attractions of the resort await. There is the Howl at the Moon glow in the dark mini golf.
There is also mini bowling at Ten Paw Alley, which we did find time to do and it was really cool. Perfect for pint sized bowlers.
There is also a spa for kids, perfect if you have girls – which I don’t.
There is also the Northern Lights Arcade which allows you to win tickets for toys you will soon throw away and candy that you will try to throw away when your children aren’t looking.
There’s also the Howly Wood XD theater that acts like a virtual ride/video game. It’s great because the whole family can play at the same time which really is a blast (literally as you’re shooting zombies etc.).
Kim and I were treated to lunch, along with the other media guests, and heard the Executive Chef, Chris hammond discuss the careful approach all the resorts bring to their food selection.
We found out Hammond’s wife reads a blog called 100 days of Real Food and the mom blogger ripped the food apart at a Great Wolf Lodge she visited. Hammond read the blog post and realized she was right. They needed to cater to people with food allergies and had to offer more healthful and tasty options. As a result, I was thrilled to find out!, they removed corn syrup from all their food products and their ketchup, as well as many other foods, is organic. They use non-GMO foods (hooray!), offer many gluten free options (including the fried chicken!) and seek out locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.
They understood that 1 out of 4 guests have allergies to tree nuts (!) so they don’t serve any products that contain them on their premises. Also, a chef will walk any guest with concerns about allergies down the food menu and address specific ingredient concerns. Now that is thoughtful!
And what’s more thoughtful is they know not every guest cares about eating organic or non GMO so they kept the menu prices the same even though their source costs had increased!
I finally got back to the water park to observe the other attractions like the America Ninja Warrior style obstacle course at Chinook Cove perfect for adventurous souls to navigate.
There were also cute little animals floating around to swim on.
And for the athletic-minded, there’s a basketball court.
Since I was Facebooking the entire experience (because really, unless you see it on Facebook, did it really happen?), I had friends posting questions about our trip. My friend Diana has a one year old girl and two older boys and wondered if there would be anything for her little one to do. There is a toddler area
and there is also this small outdoor area that is suitable for toddlers as I kept having to wait for them to walk by so I could get this picture and right behind me is an outdoor bar. Plus the resort offers the free use of floaties and lifejackets so really, they could go wherever there aren’t height restrictions.
We had to rip ourselves away form the water park to enjoy a mock-tail happy hour for the media families invited. I told the kids we were going to a party and they were okay with that since, of course, we still had another fabulous day of water extravaganza to look forward to and who doesn’t love a party? Plus they planned to go back to the water park after dinner since the it stays open until 9pm. Plus you know they were all about the desserts which are always part of any good party and they were not to be disappointed.
And the Lodge was so sweet to provide a visit from Wiley Wolf and a balloon artist who handed out his crafty creations.
For dinner we went back to the buffet and again were not disappointed!
The boys got to go back to the water park after dinner so we did that for a while. Then mommy and daddy went back to the room for a nightcap and some room service snacks while the kids slept in their cozy Wolf Den.
The next morning, after breakfast, we decided to pack since we wanted to stay longer at the water park and didn’t want to come back to the room to do it later. The resort lets you stay at the water park until it closes, even though check-out is at 11am. We loaded all our stuff in the car and brought what we’d need to be comfortable at the waterpark and a change of clothes for the trip home. There are lockers but we just kept our stuff in our chairs since everyone was so friendly and we were feeling so good.
There is a very thrilling ride there called the Wolf Tail. We passed it on our way to tamer experiences. The rider steps into what appears to be a vertical coffin and the door shuts automatically and suddenly, a trap door opens and the poor sap is released to a straight drop through an enclosed slide. No way, I thought. I’m a mom and although I like little spikes through my comfort zone, this would create a huge hole and after all, my kids need me in one piece and I have that tricky back and……my son Kaleb wanted to do it.
Well, there was no avoiding it then.
I grew up going to amusement parks with my family and riding all the rides by myself or with my little brother while my parents brought a newspaper and read at a nearby bench. It felt lonely and I always wished for that big person to hold my hand and revel with me as I walked through my fears. I want to give that to my boys so I do everything with them. (Although I hope they don’t become X-game competitors or big wave riders because at that point, we may have to part ways).
So we stood in line. I consoled myself that there were young girls doing it. If they could do it, I could too! The line was long enough for us to really think about what was about to happen.
Finally we were almost at the front of the line! I wanted to go first but I wouldn’t be able to film Kaleb if I did, so my warrior stepped into the chamber of doom.
OK, it was my turn…..curious to know what goes on in that death trap? Watch on….
All I can say is I did it, my hands were shaking, my heart was thumping but if the line wasn’t so long, I would have done it again!
Finally, we showered in the locker rooms and changed into our clothes. The boys kept asking why we couldn’t just live there. Everyone had a great time and weeks later, they still ask if we could go back. I’d say that’s a big hit and since the hotel room price includes waterpark passes, it’s actually affordable and convenient. And those are the makings of a great family vacation.
And in case you are worried about the circulating water like I was, here is a pretty nifty graphic that explains the painstaking process of filtering and recycling it.