By Jody Robinson
“Creating family traditions one family at a time” – this is the stated mission of the Great Wolf Resorts, North America’s largest chain of indoor water park resorts.
Located in the city of Garden Grove a stone’s throw from other destination theme parks, the recently opened Great Wolf Lodge is the brand’s first California location and its largest resort to date.
With over 600 rooms and 105,000+ square feet of indoor water park, Great Wolf Lodge (www.greatwolf.com) more than delivered on its promise during our family of four’s recent weekend stay. With our kids (ages 8 and 9) aging out of petting zoo and bounce house birthday parties, my husband and I decided to celebrate our son and daughter’s most recent revolution around the sun by making a new family memory with a two-night stay at the all-inclusive attraction.
Given its proximity to Disneyland, California Adventure and Knott’s Berry Farm, I suppose tourists may be well inclined to make the Great Wolf Resort their “home base” and venture out for day trips to the other area attractions, but for our family, there was so much to do, see and experience under roof that we had no reason to leave the property.
The centerpiece of the resort is the sprawling, completely enclosed 84-degree indoor water park (no worrying about sunscreen or inclement weather) that packs in plenty of water slides, attractions and rides for every age – from toddlers to teenagers and their parents and grandparents. Admission to the water park is free and exclusive to resort guests which is a pretty great perk since the complaint my husband and I always have at other attractions are the long lines – sometimes waiting up to an hour to experience a two-minute ride. No such issue here – the exclusive aspect cuts down on overcrowding and lines for the slides and another nice plus is that resort allows guests access to continue using the water park until closing after checking out of the room – “stay one day, play for two.”
There are a series of interactive pools – splash pools for the younger set and a “lazy river” to bob along on an inner tube with the gentle current to a massive wave pool and high-thrill water slides and rides, including the six-story Howlin’ Tornado where you speed through an enclosed tube on a four-person inflatable and the Wolf Rider Wipeout – a dual body surfing experience.
The all-suite resort features spacious and comfortable accommodations for families of all sizes. We stayed in a suite called the “Wolf Den” – the kids couldn’t have been more thrilled with their bunk beds in a private sleeping area and their very own television – perfect for winding down with a kid show at the end of the day. Also ideal for Mommy and Daddy to stretch out on the queen bed and watch their own programs.
The plastic wristbands they give you at check-in are worn throughout your stay contain a chip which serves as your room key, access to your parking garage, water park and allows you to charge to your room – great for all family members, but especially awesome for moms who don’t want to have to drag their purse around.
When you are ready to take a break from all the wet and wild action, there is no shortage of indoor “non-water” activities including Wolf Kids Activities in the Grand Lobby, which take place virtually every hour on the hour and range from yoga for kids and a “Wolf Walk” and kids’ BINGO to arts and crafts and a Jammin’ Jammie Jamboree where the kids sing and dance along with super animated staff members (all at no charge).
The crowning jewel every evening – right at 8 p.m. – is an interactive event where a wall of woodland creatures come alive to talk and sing and culminates in “storytime” and an appearance by Wiley the Wolf and Violet the Wolf to wish the kiddos a good night’s rest.
If your kids are fans of Build-A-Bear, they’ll love Clubhouse Crew – a similar concept where you pick your character, outfit and stuff it. Each “stuffie” comes with an interactive chip inside that leads its owner on a scavenger hunt throughout the resort starting the Great Wolf Kids characters at each station (our kids selected the aforementioned Wiley the Wolf and Violet the Wolf) – and once complete, you head back to the Clubhouse Crew store to get your “completion” bracelet.
While Clubhouse Crew is for younger kids, MagiQuest appeals to their older siblings. Purchase a magic wand, select the interactive “game” you want to play and run around the resort activating items along the walls – the interactive screens keep you posted on where you are in the game and what items you still need to acquire to battle dragons, befriend characters and complete a quest. These games can take anywhere from six to eight hours to complete, so it’s a great activity to spread out during the length of your stay … and because there are items located on each of the six levels of the resort, you’ll really get a feel for the lay of the land (pun intended).
The Northern Lights Arcade is an “open all night” destination with everything from air hockey, basketball, motorcycle and car racing, Laserquest and a dizzying array of video and interactive games.
The Howly Wood XD Theater is the ultimate, full-immersion, 4-D thrill ride (my 9-year-old son loved the “monster” movie, but my 8-year-old daughter ended up with her hands over her eyes for most of the “game/show” so parents definitely check for age-appropriate content for your child).
We all loved the Howl at the Moon Glow Golf (think indoor, glow-in-the-dark mini golf) and Ten Paw Alley is perfect for young enthusiasts with half-length lanes and 5 lb. bowling balls.