Northwest weather and water: They go hand in hand. So, you may ask, what is the draw of a pricey resort that promises to douse you from every angle? The answer involves gravity, speed and indoor bathing-suit craziness that would otherwise be hard to find without getting on a plane.
Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound near Centralia, Washington, is not about peace and quiet, or good hair for that matter. If you visit, expect that your children will not want to leave. Expect that your kids will find their loudest voices and that their water-soaked fingers will be wrinkled like raisins. And expect your wallet to feel lighter afterwards.
Fun for everyone, even teens, at Great Wolf Lodge
Great Wolf is located just off Interstate 5 in Grand Mound, Washington, halfway between Seattle and Portland. From the highway, the resort’s lighted sign makes it look like a casino. But inside, the resort’s giant logs, massive stone fireplace and high ceilings lend a cozy, higher-end feel. Just remember that with all that kid energy going on, public areas are not where you will find a break from the noise.
The nearly 400 rooms at the hotel are all suites. Some have a miniature log cabin with bunk beds in the room — a huge hit with kids, especially when they see that they have their own TVs in their “cabins.” Rates range from $179 to $550 per night. That rate includes unlimited access to the water park.
Still, this destination family resort really does entertain comfortably. Inside the 60,000-square-foot water park, the air temperature is kept at 84 degrees, and the water temperature is 82 degrees, so even on the cruddiest of foul-weather days, you won’t feel a chill. Best of all, the fun is intense enough to keep even teens engaged.
The granddaddy of the rides, the Howlin’ Tornado, drops you 65 feet with the water running at a rate of 30 feet per second. It is a thrill careening down the tube for a few seconds before seeing the bottom drop out from underneath you. By some feat of physics, the landing feels solid, and then you zigzag through a watery half-pipe. It’s worth a good scream.
For more family thrills, check out the River Canyon Run, a multi-passenger raft ride with lots of twists, dips, drops and a fantastic splash-down finish. Fun, but not recommended for the wee ones.
There are other, smaller tube and body slides (with shorter wait times), a giant wave pool, water basketball, and Fort Mackenzie, which looks innocent enough until you unknowingly stand underneath the giant bucket — the one that dumps 1,000 gallons of water every seven minutes. Here, you’ll want to hold onto younger kids because the deluge has enough force to knock little ones off their feet.
Tips on tots
Speaking of children who are less than 48 inches tall, the Cub Paw might be less overwhelming for them. Parental supervision is still a must; for toddlers, make that close, arm’s-length supervision. This area is zero-depth entry, meaning that kids can wade right in, then climb around the watery play structure or pretend jet skis, squirting each other or pulling levers to dump water on themselves. Life jackets are provided, and — while not required — are strongly recommended. At busy times, younger kids can easily slip underwater, so in the midst of the fun, parents must not let down their guard. There are at least 23 lifeguards on duty throughout the indoor park at any given time, but parents will see quickly that younger kids cannot be left alone.
What to do out of the water
What might surprise families is how much there is to do out of the water. Children who have even a remote interest in scavenger hunts or wizardry will love the MagiQuest adventure game, which can take several hours to complete. Guests buy wands implanted with computer chips that then set off an electronic treasure hunt for “runes.” This will explain to confused newcomers why kids are running all over the place pointing wands at pictures on the wall, treasure chests in hallways, or the bearskin hanging above the staircase.
Those diligent enough to complete the game become certified “magis.” It’s not inexpensive; even with the simplest of wands, for two kids to play the game, it will set you back $60. Still, MagiQuest is a creative way to keep kids of all ages busy during those necessary break times — all the wand waving has proven so popular with families the lodge has recently added a new layer to the adventure game, Compass Quest, in which kids use a high-tech compass to find their way through nine new adventures!
For out-of-water activities that require less time than MagiQuest and Compass Quest, guests have some great new choices. For a glow-in-the-dark miniature golf experience, families can check out the indoor, 9-hole putt-putt course, Howl at the Moon. Another fast-paced family-fun game is the Great Forest Challenge. Families team up to score high on this interactive journey collecting points on adventures involving magical waters, mystical acorns and laser mazes. For family fun in a pinch spend a few fun-filled minutes in the 24-hour Northern Lights arcade.
For parents of younger children, there is the Cub Club, which offers crafts and activities for an extra fee. Parents play and create alongside the kids, though. Unlike cruises and many other destination resorts, there is no child-care option here. Tweens and girls may want to check out the Scoops spa, with dessert-themed treatments and treats. Weary parents truly looking for a break might consider the Elements spa.
Family restaurants and inexpensive dining options
Sound as though you’ll need caffeine to keep up? Luckily, there is a Starbucks. Depending on your level of caffeine addiction, it may actually be a highlight of the resort’s budget food offerings.
The biggest restaurant, the 250-seat Loose Moose Cottage, has buffet breakfast and is often open for dinner if the resort is full. The other full-service restaurant, Camp Critter, offers lunch and is also open for dinner depending on hotel reservations. There are some other scattered choices such as the Hungry Like a Wolf pizza joint, which can help fill the gaps.
Cost-conscious guests might consider bringing in outside food, at least for snacks. All suites feature refrigerators and microwaves. There are several fast-food restaurants nearby, and the Centralia Safeway grocery store is located just a few miles down old Highway 99.
Bottom line: Great Wolf Lodge is fun for families. Not just for kids, but for parents, too, who might even impress their youngsters with how much fun old folks can be. That alone may be worth the price of admission.
If you go ...
Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound
Resort Direct: 360-273-7718
Estimated drive time: By car, the resort is only 20 minutes away from Olympia and an hour and a half from Seattle.
Rates and deals: Rates include water park passes and range from $179 to $550 per night. The resort website always has package and special deals running.
Tips to maximize your playtime: While check-in is not officially until 4 p.m., the hotel allows guests to check luggage at the front desk, use the lockers inside the park, and access the attractions as early as 1 p.m. the day of check-in. On the back end of the stay, guests must check out by 11 a.m., but can play until 9 p.m.
Hilary Benson is the TV Editor at ParentMap. She'll join her kids on a water ride any chance she gets.
This article was originally published in 2008 and updated in April, 2013.