Moist, humid, packed with kids: ingredients for a petri dish, for sure. We’d heard all of the stories. But fabled Great Wolf Lodge is so close — just a 90-minute drive from Seattle on I-5 — and we were so in need of a warm escape during these cold dark days, so our family decided to chance it.
We emerged a day later, slightly dizzy, bank accounts emptier, on the other side of sugar and adrenaline rushes. Our room was spotless, and none of us got sick, yay! And, no huge revelation here: The kids had an absolute blast.
Indoor water park
Great Wolf Lodge is a chain of indoor water park resorts, with 19 locations across North America and two more in the works. Our local outlet is found in Grand Mound, Washington, which is located about a 10-minute drive north of Centralia. This Great Wolf Lodge opened in 2008, and it’s the only one in the Pacific Northwest, sitting midway between Seattle and Portland. Each lodge has a huge indoor water park attached to a hotel, with everything you need under one roof.
It’s Vegas for kids.
Tips for your visit to Great Wolf Lodge
With our suspicions that your parenting journey might eventually lead you to Great Wolf Lodge, here are our takeaway tips for having a fantastic time.
Best for: Tots to teens will love it. Everyone outside that age group will not. There’s a beer and wine bar poolside by design.
The water park: The centerpiece of the lodge is the huge indoor water park. There’s something for everyone: a beach-entry wave pool, a hot tub, a toddler spray park, a water fort with two twisty slides, a pool for swimming and four big tube slides. Life jackets are available, and you can check out towels for free. Just make sure to return them or you will get charged.
The water park is advertised as 84 degrees year-round, and it really is warm in there. My 7-year-old, who turns blue in most public pools, stayed shiver-free.
The lines for the big slides seemed to ebb and flow throughout the day. But even when we encountered a line, it moved quickly.
The four big tube slides wind around outside the building. So, when it gets dark out (say, 4 p.m. this time of year), it gets dark inside the slides, too. My thrill-seekers loved it.
If you need a dry place to stash your keys/wallet/phone, you can rent a locker starting at $15 per day. Or just bring a waterproof pouch that you can wear on a lanyard.
Staff: The lifeguards are all unfailingly polite and patient. It can’t be an easy job.
Access: Your family will get wristbands to show you are authorized guests. These wristbands need to stay on for your entire visit, so don’t make them uncomfortably tight. Adult wristbands have a magnetic sticker inside that serves as your room key and payment method. You don’t have to carry a wallet; just swipe your wristband to pay for things. It’s very convenient ... maybe a little too convenient.
What to pack: Bring a robe or beach towel so you don’t freeze walking from the water park back to your room. You’re not allowed to take the towels you check out from the water park.
If you can, bring a spare swimsuit. No one likes climbing into wet, cold swimwear. There’s a clothesline over the bathtub, but your suits won’t dry quickly enough. You might even bring a drying rack to speed up the drying process.
Food: On-site food options include a pizza place, an ice cream place, a candy store. They know their audience. (And it’s not gourmet but it’s fine; the candy and ice cream are your basic grocery-store quality.)
Bring all of the snacks for your trip. There’s a microwave and decent-sized mini-fridge in the room. We brought sandwich makings and fresh produce. Otherwise, you’re looking at eating a lot of overpriced hot dogs and pizza, without a vegetable in sight.
There’s a Starbucks in the lobby of Great Wolf, and a Burger Claim at the north end of the Great Wolf parking lot. Business was brisk at both.
The rooms: We stayed in the most basic room, the family suite, and it was cavernous. It was practically echoey with its high ceilings. We are used to shoehorning our family of four into hobbit-sized hotel rooms, so we were pleasantly surprised by all of the space.
The rustic lodge theming is impressive. Even the bar soap is molded like a paw print.
Cost: Prices fluctuate based on demand. Mid-week during the school year, the family suite can go for about $100 a night, with discount codes. Prices for that same room can soar to $600 or more during school breaks and holidays.
You shouldn’t ever pay full price for rooms. Sign up for emails to get notified of discounts, check the deals tab on the website, check Groupon and join Facebook groups where members share coupon codes. If you find a lower rate after you book, you can chat through the website and they’ll rebook you at the lower price.
Great Wolf also offers day passes. For South Sound–area families, that’s an easy day trip. A full-day pass starts at $50 per person, or a half-day pass (4 p.m. until close) starts at $40 per person. Rates for day passes go up for holidays, school breaks and weekends. For the price of day passes for a family, though, you might as well get a room.
Activities, free and for purchase: Water park passes are included with your room, for the day you arrive and the day you check out (and any additional days in between, of course). Stop by the gift shop and ask for a free pair of wolf ears. There are lots of free activities in the lobby, such as morning yoga and story time. You’ll get a schedule when you check in. There’s plenty to do without spending extra money.
That said, my kids really enjoyed the extras. And I enjoyed being able to say, “Hey, let’s take a break from the water park to do X, Y and Z.” Our favorite was the MagiQuest game, where you use interactive wands to go on adventures throughout the resort.
You’ll pay extra for activities such as the ever-popular MagiQuest, arcade games, the mirror maze, mining, mini golf and Build-A-Bear. You can buy packages (Wolf Pass, Paw Pass and Pup Pass) that bundle activities together for a bit of savings.
The arcade is a money pit. If you go, set a limit on how much you’ll spend to win cheap plastic prizes. Go during the day, when it’s slightly cheaper. My kids are born gamblers and ran through their arcade credit like water. Their total haul: two Tootsie rolls.
How long should you stay? One night was plenty for us. Officially, you have water park access from 1 p.m. on your arrival day until closing time (8 p.m.) on your departure day. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. and the staff at the check-in desk told us we could go right in. The kids were delighted.
We logged six hours in the water on arrival day, and five hours on departure day. I can’t even imagine adding another pruney day in the water!
The bottom line: This was a one-and-done visit for us … or so I thought. I polled the kids after we got home, and they ranked Great Wolf on top of Disneyland. Really.
Great Wolf is a much easier and cheaper trip than a trek to Disney: no flights, rental cars, park reservations, etc., to book. I’m already looking into dates for our next visit to Great Wolf Lodge.
If you go ...
Find it: Great Wolf Lodge Grand Mound is located at 20500 Old Highway 99 S.W., Centralia. Even though the address is in Centralia, the lodge is in the town of Grand Mound, about 10 minutes north of Centralia proper.
Getting there: It’s about a 90-minute drive, without traffic, to reach Grand Mound from Seattle. It’s closer to an hour and 45 minutes of driving time from Portland.
Reservations: Book your reservations online, knowing that you should look for deals and discounts to get the best room rate.
Cost: Room prices include access to the water park, and vary widely. A quick search for dates in the next month reveals prices for the family suite range from $140 to $400 and up, per night.
Dining: Check out on-site dining options and keep in mind that you can bring in your own food.
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