Skip to main content

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park Survival Guide for Parents

Parent-approved tips to make the most of your water park getaway

Devon Hammer

Published on: February 29, 2024

Great Wolf Lodge water park tips for families playing at the indoor water park
Devon Hammer

Just a smooth 90-minute drive from Seattle, directly off Interstate 5 amid truck stops and gas stations, lies a slice of kid heaven, where children reign and parents happily follow suit. With two water-obsessed kids who celebrate winter birthdays, I anticipated my parenting journey would inevitably lead us to this kidtopia: aka Great Wolf Lodge. So, when my son pleaded to spend his ninth birthday there, I couldn’t refuse. Unsurprisingly, it exceeded their expectations and they are already clamoring for a return trip. As parents, witnessing their sheer joy was delightful, but we may require at least a year to dry out, recuperate and replenish our bank accounts.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park tips for parent, waterslides and pool games to play
Families enjoying the wave pool. Credit: Devon Hammer

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park

Great Wolf Lodge is a chain of indoor water park resorts, with 20 locations across North America and three more in the works. Each lodge has a huge indoor water park attached to a hotel, with everything you need under one roof. It’s Vegas for kids.

Our local outlet, located in Grand Mound, Washington, is about a 10-minute drive north of Centralia. It opened in 2008, and it’s the only Great Wolf Lodge in the Pacific Northwest, found midway between Seattle and Portland. It’s currently undergoing a $40 million renovation and it shows. The rooms are updated and refreshed, modern upgrades have improved the lobby, 1,000 square feet have been added to the arcade, new and renovated retail outlets and restaurants have been added, and the Cub Paw Pool play area has been completely redone. Some projects are still underway, so if you are planning on a trip soon, check the progress before you go. Renovations are scheduled to be complete this fall.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park tips for parent, waterslides and pool games to play
Towering waterslides and pool games are all part of the fun. Photo: Devon Hammer

Tips for your visit to Great Wolf Lodge

1. Book early and never pay full price. Room rates aren’t cheap. They do include water park passes for all occupants, but be prepared for a little sticker shock, especially after the resort fee and taxes are added on. Start your search early and sign up for emails to get notified of discounts. Check the deals tab on the website, and check Groupon and join Facebook groups where members share coupon codes. If you can swing it, avoid weekends and school breaks to find the cheapest rates and the least crowds.

After booking, you will receive tons of emails about add-ons — everything from birthday packages to late checkout. We added the breakfast package, but found that breakfast would be cheaper without the package. Do your research (and your math)! Fortunately, the very friendly front desk agent let us know about the price difference and took it off our bill. It may be wise to use the website chat feature; they will break down costs for you.

2. One night is plenty. We stayed one night and we all left feeling like we had our fill of fun — even the kids. Guests are allowed access to the water park before the 4 p.m. check-in time. We arrived at about 2 p.m. with a small swim bag packed and headed straight to the water park. We logged a couple of hours swimming and playing before heading to our room and checking out some of the other attractions. On departure day, we got packed up, checked out of the room and hit the water park once again when it opened (10 a.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday) and stayed until about 1 p.m. I can’t imagine spending one more pruney day at the water park.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park tips for parent, meeting wolf
Character meet-and-greets take place in the update lobby. Photo: Devon Hammer

3. Pack mindfully. Pack a few must-have items in your bags for a more enjoyable trip. Remember to bring:

  • Your own towels or robes. 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.
  • An extra swimsuit. No one likes climbing into wet, cold swimwear. There’s a clothesline over the bathtub, but your suits won’t dry quickly enough.
  • Waterproof phone holder. Invest in a waterproof pouch that you can wear on a lanyard (I wish I had) allowing you to easily capture photos. Or, you can stash your keys/wallet/phone in a rented locker.
  • Snacks. Bring all of the snacks for your trip. There’s a microwave and decent-sized mini-fridge in the room. We brought protein-rich snacks and fresh produce. Otherwise, you’re looking at eating a lot of overpriced hot dogs and pizza, without a vegetable in sight. It’s important to note, you can’t bring food into the water park area (there is a restaurant and bar in the water park where you can order food and delicious adult beverages), so plan accordingly.
Great Wolf Lodge Water Park kids with MagicQuest wands and wolf ears play
Remember to pick up your free wolf ears in the gift shop. Photo: courtesy Great Wolf Lodge

4. Set expectations in advance. This place is a gimmie-inducing kid wonderland. They have a Build-A-Bear shop, candy store, arcade, the MagiQuest adventure — you get the picture. You can end up spending your kid’s entire college fund if you aren’t careful. Each of our kids went through $25 at the arcade in about 10 minutes and had a few pieces of candy to show for it. Set expectations with your kids before arriving to avoid any complete meltdowns.

5. Do the free stuff. Each day, there are free planned activities such as yoga, bingo, crafts, story times and dance parties. The kids will have a blast participating and your wallet will thank you for the break. Make sure to also pick up the free wolf ears at the gift shop. They make for darling photos and can be your (free) souvenir.

6. Ask your friends to borrow their MagiQuest wands. Some of our friends graciously let us borrow wands from one of their previous trips, saving us $20-$50 per wand. It doesn’t hurt to ask around. I’m sure someone you know or a friendly person in a Buy Nothing group has them lying around and would be thrilled to get more use out of them.

7. Avoid the elevators if you can. With the MagiQuest game played on most of the hotel floors, the elevators took forever. We opted for the stairs when we could which seemed to be the trend. We didn’t verify, but assume these is an alternative elevator for people with mobility issues.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park, tips for families, rooms are spacious and clean
Rooms are spacious, clean and designed with families in mind. Photo: courtesy Great Wolf Lodge

What to look forward to at Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge is made for kids. Normally, our hotel stays with the kids are met with a lot of “don’t touch that,” “shhh ... be quiet,” and “for goodness sake stop running in the halls!”. It was refreshing to stay at a place where kids were allowed to be ... well ... kids.

The water park features are exciting and it’s perfectly warm. Think of the Great Wolf Lodge water park as a condensed version of Wild Waves, all in a more confined, warmer area. The Howlin’ Tornado was my 9-year-old’s favorite water attraction while my 7-year-old loved the wave pool and spent most of her time there. The slides were thrilling even for my husband and me, and the lines generally went pretty quick. My 1-year-old loved the new splash pad and water table. The water park is advertised as 84 degrees year-round, and it really is warm in there. We never felt a chill even while wet waiting in the slide lines.

The rooms are huge, clean and themed. There are a ton of room configurations that sleep anywhere from two to eight people. Even the most standard suites are cavernous and clearly designed with families in mind. We opted to book one of the fun-themed rooms that included a “cabin” with three bunk beds. Of course, the kids were thrilled and pretended they were at a real camp. I was very impressed with the cleanliness and upkeep of the room, and we found it perfectly comfortable.

The staff is super friendly. I always brace myself at places like this for uncomfortable interactions with burnt-out employees. I was pleasantly surprised to find incredibly polite, friendly and helpful staff wherever we turned. From the lifeguards to the front desk agents to the runner who brought up extra pillows. It made our visit that much more comfortable.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park families doing free yoga activities
Families enjoy free yoga in the newly updated lobby. Photo: Devon Hammer

The adult wristbands double as the room key and payment method. 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 — genius. You don’t have to carry a wallet or track down a room key every five minutes; just swipe your wristband to pay for things and to get into your room. It’s incredibly convenient especially when going back and forth from the water park. It honestly had me wondering why all hotels can’t offer a wearable room key, but maybe I’m the only one constantly losing key cards.

The MagiQuest game is unique and exciting. My 7-year-old was all about the MagiQuest game, but we may have started too late in our visit (you can play any time during your visit). She started her quest after the pool had closed, and the big dance party in the lobby was over, so it was quite busy at that time. The MagiQuest game takes you on quest around the whole lodge using your interactive wand to collect magical items, learn powerful runes and fight a dragon. The older kids preferred the arcade and water park.

The app is helpful. They recommend downloading the Great Wolf Lodge app once you arrive. I found it was well-designed and helpful when it came to viewing the activity schedule, hours of operation at each outlet and using the chat feature. You can also use it to order food from some of the restaurants in advance so you don’t have to wait in line.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park tips for parent, toddler play area
A popular play area for toddlers. Photo: Devon Hammer

More important things to know about a trip to Great Wolf Lodge

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 thrilling 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.

Food: On-site food options include a fast-casual pizza place, an ice cream shop, a pretzel snack bar and a candy store. There is also a convenient burger place and a bar for the adults inside the water park (outside food is not permitted). Mid-way through our first water park session, the kids worked up quite an appetite and the chicken strips and chocolate milk from the restaurant were life-savers. There is also a sit-down dinner restaurant that serves a better variety of upscale foods so adults can feel a little better about their food choices. There’s a Starbucks in the lobby, and a Burger Claim at the north end of the parking lot. Business was brisk at both.

Attractions: In addition to the water park, arcade, MagiQuest game and the free activities, there are additional activities that you can purchase. A mirror maze, mining for treasures and the Build-A-Bear workshop. If you are planning to do these extras, you can buy packages (Wolf Pass, Paw Pass and Pup Pass) that bundle activities together for a bit of savings. We didn’t see the need for even more activities (or spending) so opted to skip these attractions.

The bottom line: The kids are now planning their next birthdays at Great Wolf Lodge — we may have started a new tradition. As for the parents, we can manage a yearly visit, all for the sake of seeing those radiant smiles on their faces again.

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park, MagicQuest is fun for everyone
There are so many things to explore around the hotel. Photo: Devon Hammer

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.

More epic family vacation destinations:

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2022 and most recently updated in February 2024 including new tips, opinions and experiences for families.

JiaYing Grygiel contributed to this article.

Get the best of ParentMap delivered right to your inbox.

Share this resource with your friends!