[Note: This post was written by KFDC Contributor Emily Moise, a local writer and mom of three young children. She always has excellent recommendations for kids’ activities around the DC area. See some of them here, here, here, and here.]
In case you missed it, a Great Wolf Lodge opened this summer in Perryville, MD, less than two hours away from the DC metro area. The appeal of a sparkling new indoor water park and lodge – because we all know the wear and tear of kids – is a big draw. If Great Wolf has been on your radar, now’s a great time to check it off your kid bucket list.
Many bloggers can give you the ins and outs of Great Wolf, including this previous KidFriendly DC post, but there were a few main takeaways from my family’s visit this past month. Here are five things to know before you go…
1.Timing may be everything. We booked our August stay using an opening deal, however, summer was not ideal timing. Even on our weekday visit, the place was packed. If you’re crowd-phobic like me, try going on a random weekday during the school year. If the timing is right, take your child on their birthday (and add a birthday package).
2.Age matters. If your little ones need constant supervision in crowds or around water and they outnumber you, consider holding off. The water park is massive and not a place to “sittervise” (you’ll want to get in on the action anyways!). Expect to stay one-on-one with young children and to accompany confident, but young swimmers. Note that there are height restrictions for several water slides (42-48” requirements), as well as the indoor ropes course (48” requirement).
3.You’re not going for the food. We added the breakfast package, which ended up being unnecessary for my family. There is a Dunkin’ Donuts on-site which could have sufficed (bagels, breakfast sandwiches, COFFEE). We ate dinner at Barnwood, which offers reservations for up to 14 people. And we brought our own food for the rest. Rooms have mini-fridges, and coolers are allowed in the Lodge. No outside food or beverages are permitted in the water park.
4.After the water park, it’s the hotel lobby. The water park is the main attraction, MagiQuest is a must, and you’ll have to peel your kids out of the arcade… but there is something special about the free activities in the hotel lobby. The dance party was a highlight for us. Don’t miss the story time before bed and morning yoga if everyone can rally.
5.Less is more. If you’re local, a one night stay gives you two full days (read: plenty) of fun. Check-in is at 4pm, but guests can check in early to access the water park when it opens at 9am as well as other activities. Your room may or may not be ready early. Day passes are also available and more than feasible coming from the DC area.
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.
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).
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
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 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
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
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.