Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Great Wolf Lodge

Between Mass on Sunday and the Monday evening Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we took an overnight trip to Great Wolf Lodge, located about 45 minutes from our home on the north side of Charlotte. We had heard about this place from various homeschooling families who enjoy it, so we choose it as a motivational reward when John had to work really hard day in and day out on something.

We planned this trip before I found out I was pregnant, and I find travel (even one overnight) while pregnant very hard, so I am now happily hoping not to travel again till after the summer.

I was rather surprised by how much I liked the Great Wolf experience. This gave me a glimpse into why families like Disneyland--a place I've never visited and always said I would find too commercial, too boisterous, too overstimulating. But maybe I'm mistaken!

Wolf ears

The organization at Great Wolf was greatly appreciated by me. Upon check-in, each person was given a wrist band. Our adult wrist bands are coded with a microchip to open our room doors, so no having to take room keys down to the pool area. They are also coded with our credit cards so we can buy things around the resort without having to carry our wallets. (The children's bands could have been coded this way, but we declined to do so.) The wrist bands stay on for the entire stay.

The children were each given wolf ears. I was charmed that ours are all still young and innocent enough that they desired to wear their ears most of the time and, apparently, even upon arriving home.

The hotel is designed as a lodge. All the decorations are grand and beautiful.

Our hotel room actually had a little "cabin" for the children inside of the room! The "cabin" contained bunk beds and was a major source of fun for the tots. I had happened to pack their overnight bags in one backpack each, so they got to feel like campers with their backpack slung up on their bunks, each with a flashlight and a book to read after bedtime. (For posterity's sake I note that John brought "Robinson Crusoe," Mary brought "Charlotte's Web," and Margaret brought the Golden Books "Pokey Little Puppy" and "The Lion's Paw," although she frequently resentfully points out, "I'm not reading! You haven't taught me how to read!")

Three-year-old hiding in a window

Two brothers snuggling in a bed

Now, the entire point of Great Wolf Lodge is that it is really a massive water park, but one can only patronize the water park by staying overnight in the hotel. The water park is of enormous proportions, but I don't have pictures because I couldn't manage snapping along with my iPhone while guarding my 3- and 1-year-olds from drowning. (You can view some photos here, but the close-ups really don't capture the grandeur at all.)

The outdoor pool (lake?!) was closed at this winter time of year, so we had access to a gated-in baby and preschoolers' area, a wave pool (like a beach), a huge splash pad with two-story climbing features, and slides the likes of which I'd never imagined. These water slides were so huge that the (pitch black inside) tubes snaked outside the building, they were two or three stories high, and caused the patrons go to approximately a zillion miles per hour. One (The Tornado) drops the patrons in their raft many feet into a giant-sized funnel. As the children pointed out, "Mama, you would never go on those slides." I concurred that there probably wasn't an amount of money I could be paid that would get me past that fear. Good thing Daddy was here to take the two older children on all the slides!

Video of the water dumping at the splash pad

We took the children for about an hour and a half of water play the first afternoon, which is really about all our exhausted bodies could take. It is super fun, but the noise is a roar so that an adult has to shout at the top of her lungs for the child next to her to hear her. There is water roaring, kids shouting, and bells ringing all over the place as part of the water games.

There are restaurants in the hotel, so we ordered pizza for our room. Then I got the two littles to sleep (which took about five seconds) while Chris took John and Mary down to the lobby for Story Time. This was our first glimpse of a growing phenomenon which Chris misses as part of his business travel because he stays in hotels oriented to business travelers: the practice of children and adults alike walking around in public in their pajamas. Chris reported about 80% of the (couple hundred?) people attending Story Time were in pajamas, a statistic I verified the next morning when at least that many people patronized the various restaurants for breakfast in their pajamas and ratty bedheads. I texted my dad my disbelief and he reported that he often sees this apparel at a breakfast restaurant he visits on weekends . . . so people are actually getting into their cars and driving somewhere wearing their pajamas!

I guess the indoctrination (already present in my elementary school days) of kids being told to wear nightclothes for Pajama Day during Spirit Week has worked its job of breaking down any boundaries at all.

Story Hour, my Mary with her wolf ears near the front

Meeting Oliver the Racoon
The conclusion of Story Hour is that it begins "snowing" from the vaulted ceiling, which is pretty magical for the children.

Speaking of magical, the one criticism I have of the Great Wolf experience (because the pajamas thing really reflects the culture at large, not a choice on the part of the hotel--although they could enforce a dress code) is the MagiQuest. One can pay extra for a magic wand so the child can wander the hotel, waving the wand at different stations where things like tree spirits or evil spirits or books of runes talk to the child. The child is on a quest to "save the light" from a monster of sorts. While there are some fairy tales that teach truth--we don't eschew the genre--this struck us as creepily pagan. We couldn't avoid it because every time we walked up and down our hallway to the pool, all the electronic MagiQuest stations are "talking" to the passers-by. It was a reminder to me that we live in a post-Christian culture. There's no completely hiding our children from it, so we need to catechize them strongly.

There were many more activities in which a family could participate with more time and more money: a game room (like Chuck E. Cheese), a spa geared toward mothers and daughters, mini-golf, a movie theater, and presentations in the lobby (like a nature talk on wolves and animals) each day. (Watch for specials to attend Great Wolf: We got a good discount through a special available on Amazon.)

Breakfast in the lobby--still wearing wolf ears

Buying squished pennies as souvenirs

In the morning, we (got dressed and) ate breakfast in the lobby before heading to the pool for another hour and a half of fun. The children had an absolute blast and I just can't make my pregnancy-addled brain put into descriptive words how well-designed these pools are.

I will give a "shout out" to Great Wolf for what I saw as very high safety standards, which put this water-phobic mother at east. Every single pool had numerous lifeguards surrounding it. They seemed professional, not slouching teenagers looking at their iPhones. The lifeguards had no station in which to sit (and get tired), but had to walk the pool perimeter nonstop, doing an also nonstop sweeping motion with their eyes in a regular pattern, their whistles never out of their lips. There was a "Timmy" the training doll, a rather alarming looking little training doll that looked like a drowning toddler that would be placed secretly at various places around the pool. "Timmy" was part of daily, ongoing safety training for the lifeguards, who are to spot the doll and leap into action to save it.

I also appreciated the family atmosphere at the pools, although I can attest only to this one day and don't know how and if the atmosphere changes at different times of year. There were so many Rubenesque mothers wearing increased-coverage swim dresses (and even two families, obviously religious, wearing full coverage swim outfits) that I felt perfectly at home. Sure, there were all types of patrons, but the atmosphere as a whole was definitely family-friendly.

Speaking of bathing suits, when I was packing our bags, the children saw my swimsuit. They all gasped, "Mama, do you own a swimsuit?" Then when they saw me wear it, the older two kept swooning with compliments about how beautiful I looked, as if I were in a ballgown. If you could see this dowdy skirt suit with its old-lady floral print on this already-popping out pregnancy stomach (which happens with #5), you would have laughed inside at their innocent reaction as much as I did! (Maybe I should take their reaction more to heart as being one that is pure and not already ruined by the world's eyes.)

When we marched back to our room, Joseph (22 months) had a nuclear meltdown of proportions I've almost never seen with him. I wrestled the screaming child into dry clothes and he was asleep in seconds (even though the whole family was loudly bustling about the room, packing up), which explained his meltdown. The pool broke my baby!

We had a wonderful time, if ever-so tiring for this Mama who really wanted to be curled up on the couch and not sloshing around swimming pools. I can absolutely see going back to Great Wolf for a special occasion in the future.


  1. Haha! I love the parenthetical (got dressed and). The pajamas in public thing just leaves me speechless. Why? Whyyyy??
    Glad to hear you all had a fun time.

  2. Pajamas in public is not just a US thing (as I had once thought). I hear that this phenomenon now exists in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. I really do not understand it at all... but it is everywhere.

  3. I must admit I would have let my kids go to story time in pajamas. Only because it seemed like a pre-bed time activity. I would not do the breakfast thing in pjs and all that though. Although lately my girls are insisting on sleeping in their clothes and Ben insists on sleeping in his skivvies. LOL...Anyway, we have a Great Wolf Lodge in the next town over from us. I always assumed it was exorbitantly expensive. How do you find the deals?

  4. Jamie: It is still quite expensive, but here's an example of one coupon (for our local lodge): http://local.amazon.com/national/B00NWW5W6U/great-wolf-lodge-concord-stay-for-one-or-two-nights-with-waterpark-wristbands

  5. Ahhh! You guys are so lucky! I've always wanted to go to Great Wolf Lodge...I'll have to make my parents be more aware of coupons and other opportunities in the future! ;) Sadly, the pajamas-during-storytime thing doesn't surprise me. Once, when we were in Virginia on vacation, we saw a twenty-something year old couple walking down the street, both clad in pajamas :\ what the heck??? oh well.... -Emiliann W.

  6. Glad you all got to go!!! When we go in march it will be our third time...the trips have all been a year and a half apart...for March the cheapest room I could find is $150...but when I tell them I have four kids and fees and taxes are added, it's $238 which is a ton...but my kids talk about it nonstop during the 1 1/2 years in between visits that we will probably always keep going back for a night! They love it sooo much!!!!

  7. That looks like lots of fun! Anything to get your mind off of the first trimester of pregnancy! I'd welcome the distractions!

  8. Unfortunately, pajamas is public is becoming more and more prevalent, especially in the town I live in. I used to teach middle school (10 years ago) and parents would come in to talk to me in their pajamas. It's very difficult to take you seriously as a parent when you are wearing Winnie the Pooh slippers and pajamas. What happened to self respect? Just plain laziness and very sad.

    I've always wanted to go to Great Wolf! Looks like a wonderful time.

  9. Looks like a great time! I'm pleasantly surprised that you went and enjoyed it. I'm sure the kids had a total blast! I admit I would probably let my kids go to story time in their pajamas and that they have gone to the chiropractor early on Saturday mornings in them as well. He is practically a family friend and hardly anyone is there, though. No way would I personally as an adult go out in pjs or allow anyone to go out to eat in them though!

  10. Thinking of you this afternoon. We were at Friendly's for dinner/icecream after Ben's piano recital and there was a family there who had their young children in pajamas....like full blown fleece footie pajamas. And it was a early dinner. We were there around 5 or 5:30