A snob’s guide to surviving the Great Wolf Lodge

If you’ve been following along, you know that Steve and I decided to take the kids to the Great Wolf Lodge for 25 hours during mid-winter break. Before we left, I polled my friends on Facebook to get some advice. I also got pretty freaked out, because I heard that the clientele was “interesting,” that the place wasn’t particularly clean, that the food was lousy, and expensive, to boot. Now that we’ve taken the plunge — get it? — I’m gonna give you my own special spin on the place.

  1. Do not go for two nights. That was our original plan, as we didn’t want to drive 90 minutes to Grand Mound, Wash., only to turn around the next day and come back. But as one friend put it, there is not enough fun in the place for two whole nights. She was 100 percent right. Overnight guests get access to the water park starting at 1:00, and you can change in the changing rooms. We were able to get into our suite early, which was nice. (See #3.)
  2. I wouldn’t classify the “suites” as an actual suite. We booked a Wolf Den Suite, so named for the partially walled-off kids’ sleeping space. Inside, there was a bunk bed and a private TV. We got a queen bed which was the smallest queen bed I’ve ever slept in, a dusty couch and a carpet that I insisted only be trod upon with slippers or socks. I mean, can you imagine what goes on in these rooms? Anyway. A suite, as far as I know, is a hotel room with a separate living area that HAS A DOOR. The Wolf Den Suite did not have a door.
  3. Bini enjoying his second ice cream of the day.
    Bini enjoying his second ice cream of the day.

    If your kids are adopted, find the check-in agent who is also adopted. So, I need to ‘fess up to something here. I’d heard that you should tell the Great Wolf Lodge that it’s your kid’s birthday, so they can get free ice cream. I didn’t feel right doing that, but since we’re about two weeks away from our Adoption Day for Evan, I was prepared to exploit that for some free stuff. I didn’t need to, though. Somehow, we got the check-in agent who was also adopted, and when she saw our little rainbow family she got all teary and started handing out free ice cream wristbands. I didn’t need to say a word. I wish that I hadn’t pre-paid for the late check-out or the buffet breakfast, though (see #9) because she was prepared to throw those in too, but couldn’t take it off our invoice. She did hook us up with a room three hours early, though.

  4. Go with friends. We didn’t do this, and I so wish we had. Not only so we’d have other adults with which to share our pain, but because then we’d have people to tag-team with for kid-minding. I didn’t get to go on the Howlin’ Tornado, which looks awesome, because Bini did it once with Steve and then wouldn’t go again. I spent a lot of time in the wave pool going “whee!” with Evan, and in the baby pool area. It would have been nice to run off with Steve and go on water slides. I guess we’ll have to go back.
  5. The baby pool will be contaminated at some point. I’m not a germaphobe (which is helpful at the GWL), but I did wonder what might be commingling with the heavily chlorinated water in the baby pool. On the second morning, they closed the thing, and we all know what that means.
  6. It wasn’t as gross as I’d feared. I don’t know what I was worried about. A human head floating in the hot tub? Feces in Fort Mackenzie? The clientele was “interesting,” and I think I may have spotted some prison tattoos. But there were plenty of “normal” people there too — pale-bellied software developers and moms in sensible swimsuits, just trying to get through the day.
  7. I did get a rash, though. I can’t prove it, but I suspect the rash that I got on my neck, chin and upper lip was somehow related to our visit. Was it from Big Foot Pass? Or was it from the vegan, organic Eminence Apricot Oil that I had to buy because I forgot my body lotion?
  8. Don’t forget your body lotion. In order to filter out all the gross stuff, the Great Wolf Lodge employs “state-of-the-art water treatment equipment,” which I think means a shit ton of chlorine and saline. Your skin, my skin, everyone’s skin is no match for that. Bring body lotion. Lots of it. And hair conditioner, which I also forgot, and had to buy a travel-sized Aveda thing for $8.
  9. No, I will not enjoy your overpriced Dasani water. I will drink Grand Mound tap water. On ice. From Starbucks.
    No, I will not enjoy your overpriced Dasani water. I will drink Grand Mound tap water. On ice. From Starbucks.

    Prepare to be nickel-and-dimed TO DEATH. Everything, except life jackets and towels, costs extra. Those kids running around the hotel with magic wands? That’s extra. Wiley’s Story Time? Extra. Late checkout? Extra. Buffet breakfast and dinner? A fortune. (See #14.)

  10. Do not buy bottled water. I learned this from a barista in the lobby Starbucks (which is mobbed at breakfast time): Buy a Venti ice water for $.73, and you get free refills your whole stay.
  11. The spa actually sells good stuff. I might have to try it next time.
  12. There are kids everywhere. Even the goddamned exercise room. As Steve and I told the kids, there is nothing, NOTHING at the Great Wolf Lodge for adults. Except booze (see next tip). It’s like Vegas for kids, and they LOVE IT. But if you think you can escape to the gym for a little alone time, you can forget it. The sign on the door clearly says that no children under 18 are allowed without “proper supervision,” but the dumbass on the treadmill next to me seemed to think that that meant it was OK to have four kids clanging on the weight machines and yapping away on the elliptical while she ran. She kept saying, “Behave, you guys!” and “Almost done!” But she wasn’t almost done. So, after 20 minutes of it, I stopped my treadmill, turned to face her, and said through clenched teeth: “Get your kids out of here.” I must have looked scary, because she did. And then I changed all the TVs from Fox News to CNN.
    Tip generously, and you too can enjoy two very strong margaritas for the price of one.

    13. Bring your own booze. Or, tip generously when you buy booze from the bartender. After spending almost three hours in the water with the kids, Steve and I felt deserving of a drink. He took the boys to get ice cream, and I bellied up to the bar. I ordered a Mac & Jack’s for Steve and a margarita for me. The bartender had a full blender going when she handed me the receipt, and my swim-addled brain wasn’t thinking clearly, and I gave her a $5 tip on a $13 bill. She looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again, and said, very sincerely, “Thank you, honey.” And then she dumped the entire contents of the blender into two cups, and gave them to me. (They were strong, too.)

  13. Bring your own food. I’d heard from some people that the food at Great Wolf Lodge was awful, and I remember thinking they must be high-maintenance. No. The food at Great Wolf Lodge is indeed awful. And it costs a fortune. We did the dinner buffet, because we were too tired to get in the car and go somewhere else, and it’s $20 per person. I gotta hand it to them — the buffet is huge. And has all the bells and whistles: Pizza, “Mexican” food, salad bar, carving station — even salmon for the fancy types. There was no way I was eating the salmon at this joint, so I had a $20 salad. And got a stomach ache. I swear. Steve grimaced while eating the salmon. The kids loved their pizza and Costco taquitos, as well as the dessert bar. Next time, we’ll rally and go off property.
  14. Get down to the water park as early in the morning as possible, or, go after dinner. These are the least-busy times, and you’ll actually be able to snag a table or a solitary chair to dump your stuff. We ended up having to clump our shoes and towels and duffel along the wall with 100 other people’s shoes, towels and duffels.
  15. When a table opens up, be ruthless. Evan and I were waterlogged and hungry, but Steve and Bini wanted to do one more ride, so we nabbed a table as it was being vacated. It had pretzel salt all over it, but I didn’t care. These teenage boys had claimed two of the chairs accompanying the table, but I was undeterred. Cool as a cucumber, I ignored them and placed our stuff on the remaining two chairs, and the table top. “Um, is this your table?” one of the kids asked. “Yes,” I said, giving them the best haughty stare I could muster with a towel wrapped around my head. (They went away.)
  16. Yes. I actually had a good time.
    Yes. I actually had a good time.

    The cabanas are stupid. Don’t waste your money. We actually considered renting one of these, to the tune of $159 a day, so that we didn’t have to fight for space. But these aren’t Seahawk Suites at Century Link, for God’s sake — they’re just little nooks with a place to sit, a safe and a TV. If you’re a guest in the hotel, the cabanas make no sense. They make no sense anyway. They’re stupid.

  17. Get late checkout. It’s worth the $50 splurge. That way, you can enjoy the delicious breakfast, take advantage of the exercise room and use the water park one more time. And your kids might fall asleep in the car on the way home, like mine did.
  18. Watching your kids have a blast is infectious. The Great Wolf Lodge was tied with Pyongyang on my list of Places Not to Visit. But as one friend said, it’s kinda magical seeing your kids having The Best Time Ever. Bini was beside himself when we pulled in to the parking lot, for God’s sake. The looks on their faces when we walked into the water park? Pretty awesome. At some point, you’ve gotta just let go of the fact that you’re in an indoor water park in Grand Mound, Wash., and roll with it. And think about what you’ll do next time.

Who’s coming with us?

Great Wolf Lodge or: Why I stopped complaining and finally went to the damned place

Look at how much fun they’re having! What was I supposed to do?

About a month after winter break,  and eight weeks before spring break, Bini’s school district takes a “mid-winter” break. If it seems like the kids are out of school more than they’re in school, you’d be right. And don’t get me started on Evan’s school, which didn’t sync its weeklong mid-winter break with the local school district.

Still, it is mid-winter and dreary here in the Pacific Northwest, so it seemed like a good time to get out of town. I lobbied for a Southern California trip, where we could visit with friends in Los Angeles and then head down to San Diego to go to Legoland.

It was a lot of traveling (fly to L.A., stay somewhere, drive to San Diego, stay somewhere, fly back) and it was also pretty expensive. Also, after flying to the Bay Area twice in 10 days, I was weary of airplanes. It was snowing a lot by then, so Steve and I booked three nights at Suncadia, a mountain resort about 90 minutes away.

Two weeks ago, we were getting really excited about our fun family trip filled with snowshoeing, sledding and snow tubing. Then I looked at the long-range weather forecast: Rain, rain and more rain, which meant melting mountain snow and a trip spent indoors.

“Well, what should we do?” Steve said.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

We had this same conversation about three dozen times over the next few days, and finally, I said: What about Great Wolf Lodge?

I don’t think I could have surprised Steve more if I’d come home and said: “Honey, I’ve decided to live my life as a armadillo.” Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor waterpark and hotel in Grand Mound, Wash., and since becoming a mother almost seven years ago, I’ve always said never. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, over my dead BODY. Nope.

“I hate the idea of it,” I would say whenever we passed the exit for Grand Mound, on the way down to Portland. “It’s my version of hell, being trapped inside like that.”

Bini was forever telling me that he was the only kid never to have been there, but I wouldn’t relent. I even remember, at a playgroup, telling the assembled women that I would rather endure my children whining and complaining through back-to-back museum visits than go to an indoor waterpark.

But here I was, suggesting it. Why?

The only answer I have is motherhood. It’s somewhat easy to cling to your pre-child ideals when you only have one child. Like: “I will never buy my kid a Happy Meal!” Like: “I will never let him watch more than an hour of TV a day!” Like: “I will never  hand him my phone while I get my hair cut/try on clothes/finish up dinner at a restaurant!”

When one has more than one child, however, one’s righteousness begins to lose out to one’s weariness. As in: “Sure. You can stand on the end of the shopping cart.” As in: “Don’t cry– Mommy has 15 Oreos for you!” As in: “Oh, did Bruno Mars just use the ‘f’ word? Just don’t say it on the playground.”

And that’s how I found myself rebooking our luxurious mountain suite at Suncadia for later this summer, and reserving a Wolf Den Suite at the Great Wolf Lodge for one night. Also: blog fodder.

How’d it go? More on that later.