Tag Archives: Family Getaways from DC

A Weekend Getaway to Great Wolf Lodge

greatwolf_sasha

When it comes to family getaways, I’m not usually one to opt for the all-inclusive resort or “themey” vacation. Our trips tend to be more DIY; I like to piece it together, and where we stay is more of a home base for adventures beyond our lodging, not where we plan to spend the bulk of our time.

greatwolf_front

This is much of the reason why, until very recently, we had never been to Great Wolf Lodge. I’d been hearing about it for years from friends who had been to the indoor water park resort in Williamsburg, VA. I’d also heard about it from my kids, who’d heard about it from their friends, and asked many times if we could go. So when I received an invitation for my family to experience a stay at the lodge, it seemed like a good time to compromise on my own getaway preferences and take the Great Wolf plunge — literally (it’s a water park, after all).

greatwolf_waterpark_window

And I am so glad I did because we had one really fun weekend! As you might imagine from a resort with a water park among its amenities, Great Wolf Lodge caters to families. From the moment we checked in on Friday evening when they gave us all head bands with wolf ears as a kiddie dance party was going on in the lobby with a Great Clock Tower as its centerpiece, there were treats and activities to be enjoyed by all ages.

So many great bonuses come with the Paw Pass

So many great bonuses come with the Paw Pass

Treats!

Treats!

The kids each received a Paw Pass, which granted them all kinds of fun and games: A magic wand for MagiQuest (more on that in a sec!), yummy snacks, arcade tokens, a round of mini golf, photos, swim goggles, temporary tattoos, stuffed animals, a leather bracelet, and more. There was so much it took them all weekend to redeem everything.

The Majestic Bear Suite also has kitchen area and separate bedroom

The Majestic Bear Suite also has kitchen area and separate bedroom

The suites are all designed with families in mind. There are many room options at varying rates, and they all have a cozy, lodgey feel. Some even have a separate Kids Camp or Treehouse area with bunk beds for kids. Rooms also come with a mini fridge, microwave, and coffee maker for added convenience, plus you can bring in your own food, so you don’t have to buy everything from the resort snack stands and restaurants. (KFDC tip: There’s a Wal-Mart less than a mile down the road, where you can pick up snacks and beverages to keep in the room.) We stayed in the Majestic Bear Suite, which was very spacious, and I have to note the beds were especially comfortable!

Dining in the Loose Moose

Dining in the Loose Moose

We arrived pretty late on Friday, so most of our fun started on Saturday. We began with breakfast in the Loose Moose Bar and Grill, a huge buffet with myriad options, including healthy ones (same with dinner, which we also ate there). There is also a Dunkin Donuts in the resort if you want something quick and less expensive, plus a couple of other snack bars.

Selecting a wand in the MagiQuest Marketplace - it's like the GWL version of Ollivanders

Selecting a wand in the MagiQuest Marketplace – it’s like the GWL version of Ollivanders

After eating, the kids picked out their wands for MagiQuest: Guardians of the Realm Portals. So, Great Wolf Lodge is WAY more than a resort with an indoor water park. Among the many fun activities for kids and families is this live-action game that takes kids on an adventure around the lodge with a magic wand and interactive displays. It’s like a virtual Harry Potter experience and kind of enchanting with hallways covered in forest designs and “magical” portals lining the walls. The kids loved this game, and we felt comfortable letting them roam the floors themselves to play (and saw many others doing the same).

On a quest for fun and adventure

On a quest for fun and adventure

greatwolf_slides

Of course, we spent much of the day at the water park — and it was a total blast. There are several big slides, some the whole family can ride down on a raft, so you enjoy the thrill together. The Howling Tornado, a fast ride that drops into a funnel and spins you through to the end, was our favorite, but we enjoyed them all many times over — the waits in line were never too long, so the fun was ongoing. There is also a water fort to climb up and slide down, a wave pool, lazy river, a mellow pool area especially for toddlers, an obstacle course, plus two hot tubs — one for all ages and one for adults. There is also a food stand right in the water park area for poolside dining (and they sell beer!). And you just can’t beat the convenience of throwing on swim suits and walking down the hall to access it all!

greatwolf_wavepool

greatwolf_kiddiepool

We finally left the water park to enjoy some of the other activities around the lodge. We caught a “movie” at the Howly Wood XD Theater, an immersive 4-D adventure that really makes you feel like you’re part of a thrill ride. We did the Oliver’s Time Challenge, the kids used their Paw Passes, and of course, there was a lot of MagiQuest. And as the kids wandered, Levi and I grabbed some comfortable chairs and a bottle of wine for some relaxation. (And here I should note that our kids’ ages allowed for this… parents with younger children shouldn’t let them roam alone.)

Storytime in the lobby

Storytime in the lobby

Namaste!

Namaste!

There are also lots of free activities and programs to join throughout the day, many that younger children can enjoy, like storytimes, craft sessions, character appearances, family yoga, dance parties, and more. You can usually find one of them happening in the lobby at any given time. And for additional fun, you can conquer a ropes course, play mini golf, or go bowling.

On the mini links with the Howling Tornado looming in the backgroun

On the mini links with the Howling Tornado looming in the backgroun

More of the same fun ensued on Sunday. And though we left by early afternoon, guests are welcome to spend the entire day at the resort, even after the 11am check-out time (and starting at 1pm on check-in day.) They really do want you to pack in the fun.

greatwolf_kids

So, as skeptical as I was about the whole water park resort experience, I have to give Great Wolf Lodge huge props. It really was a fantastic and convenient weekend escape for our family. And we’re aiming for a winter weekend next time, when we can don swim suits and enjoy some water park fun indoors while it’s parka weather outside.

Great Wolf Lodge has many locations around the country, the closest to DC in Williamsburg, VA, about a three-hour drive away. Rates vary depending on when you go and which room you select, but all stays include water park access and daily programs. Special offers are always running, so be sure to see what’s available before you book.


Disclosure: I received most of our getaway complimentary of Great Wolf Lodge, however, all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.


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Filed under All ages, Destination from DC, Getaway, Indoor Play, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Outdoor Recreation & Historical Explorations at Harpers Ferry

harpers_ferry

Autumn in the Mid-Atlantic region is sublime, in my opinion. The weather is generally glorious, cool and crisp with lots of sunshine. The brilliant hues of fall foliage make everything seem to glow, like an Instagram filter has been applied to the landscape. It’s at once exhilarating and cozy, a perfect time to indulge in outdoor adventures — then nestle in back at home with warm food and snuggly kids.

harpers_orange

We recently took advantage of the season on a day trip to Harpers Ferry. Just over an hour’s drive from DC, where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet, the West Virginia locale is a nice escape from the bustle of the city. And while fall is an excellent time to go, it’s a great destination any of time of year, with a pleasant mix of active recreation, historical explorations, and small-town site-seeing.

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It had been quite a few years since we’d been to Harpers Ferry, Owen still a toddler the last time we visited. But it was a go-to for active fun back in the pre-kids day, especially for tubing excursions on the river. The shallow water, mellow flow, and adventure outfitters in the area make it perfect place to spend a day on the water.

harpers_river_view

harpers_sash_view

This time, though, we went for the exploring and hiking. Located along the famous Appalachian Trail, there are a few good options for tramping with the kids that wind through the woods, lead to overlooks with stunning views, and offer some active recreation in a pretty, rural setting.

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harpers_town

We arrived in town, but immediately drove up to the parking area located about five minutes up the road. Part of the National Park System, it costs $10 to park (but if you have a 4th grader and the free National Park Pass, you don’t have to pay). A shuttle took us back into town, where many of the “shops” along the main street are actually museums offering a glimpse into the town’s past. There’s a clothing store, blacksmith, boarding house, industry museum, and more. You can walk into John Brown’s Fort, learn about the Civil War in Harper’s Ferry, and see the oldest surviving building in the town among many other historic sites.

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harpers_exhibit

harpers_footbridge

Several eateries are located in the area for a meal or snack pre- or post- hike. We stopped for some fuel before walking across the bridge, the B&O Railroad Potomac River Crossing, to Maryland for some hiking. There are several trail options, from easy, flat nature walks to more strenuous uphill hikes. We opted for the popular Maryland Heights Overlook Cliffs Trail, about a three-mile ascent to the cliffs overlooking the river and the town of Harpers Ferry. It was a bit challenging for the kids, but not too difficult. And the views at the top were a fantastic reward!

harpers_trail_owen

harpers_kids_view

harpers_overlook

After hiking back down, we stopped for an ice cream treat, walked around a little more, then caught the shuttle back. While we headed back home that evening, Harpers Ferry also makes for a nice weekend trip to experience even more activities. There are many options for lodging, from quaint inns and chain hotels to cabins and campgrounds. During the warm months, tubing and paddling on the river are popular pursuits. And hiking and biking can be enjoyed during most of the year. The Harpers Ferry Adventure Center also offers zip line tours (as well as tubing and rafting excursions).

Still, I highly recommend going in the fall — and planning on chili for dinner after.

harpers_silhouette_bridge

Harpers Ferry is located in Jefferson County, WV, about 70 miles from DC. The park is open daily from 9am – 5pm with the last shuttle bus departing Lower Town for the parking lot at 6:45pm. There is parking in town, though it’s restricted. Parking in the lot is $10; otherwise, admission to the park is free.


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Filed under All ages, Destination from DC, Educational, Exhibit, Fall, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Weekdays, Weekend