"You know a great time to go to Great Wolf Lodge, Mom?" my kindergartner asked me constantly last fall.
"No," I'd say, bracing myself for the answer. "Halloween, probably," she'd say, parroting an ad we heard in regular rotation on the radio. "Really, anytime," she added, ticking off all of the friends who had gone.
Full disclosure: The only time I'd been to a water park was when I was eight months pregnant with this same child and could do no more than the lazy river that circled the site. And, I've not been one for thrill rides. That is until recent trips to Disney World with my kids, a water park in Virginia and, finally, Great Wolf Lodge over spring break. I rode the big slides and roller coasters not for myself, but for my kids. I didn't want them to see their mom freaking out over things that people actually love doing. And, in the process, I found I kind of like them myself.
Our trip to Great Wolf Lodge wasn't supposed to happen. Long story short, I was planning a trip to Charlotte to check out kid-friendly destinations (stay tuned for more) and a friend mentioned she would be at Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, about 20 minutes outside of Charlotte, at the same time. She invited my girls and I to share their room. I couldn't say no.
Bottom line: We had a blast.
Concord's Great Wolf Lodge is one of 14 locations across the United States and Canada. The resorts include 84-degree indoor water parks, along with restaurants, an arcade, a bowling alley, ropes course, spa and the Magiquest game (more on that in a bit). Water park entry is included in the price of the room, but it's important to note that many of the other activities are extra.
We got there mid-day on a Monday and immediately headed to the water park. It's huge! Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., the park boasts 11 water slides; four pools; a "water-loaded tree house" where you get absolutely soaked when a 1,000-gallon bucket tips over; a wave pool; and a zero-depth playground for little ones.
The park, including the dressing area and restrooms, was clean and well managed. There were lines for some of the slides, but we never waited very long. Some of the kids in our crew - ages 5 to 11 - almost immediately flocked to the slides. We tried them all - except for the Howlin' Tornado (nobody was quite brave for that). The River Canyon Run and Alberta Falls both were favorites.While you zoom pretty quickly down those slide aboard tubes, there are no moments where you feel like you're free falling.
After a few hours, we needed a break and the room, a KidKamp suite with bunk beds, was ready. We'd eventually head back to the park to spend more time in the wave pool and get a few more slides in, but now was the time to start Magiquest.
I'd done my research. I knew Magiquest wasn't cheap. To play, you need to buy a wand and a game - which will total a little over $30 for both. The cost for both of my kids to play the game with their own wands was about $65.
At first, the whole thing made my head want to explode. Kids pick a wand, give it "extra powers" (basically it's a remote control) and then set off on various quests as they collect runes or battle an evil dragon or meet up with pixies. It's a live-action role playing game found at Great Wolf Lodges and other locations. Players follow instructions in a booklet, searching for various items and point their wand at the items to collect points.
It didn't work at times. Sometimes it was the game. A screen was frozen or an item wasn't picking up the wand's signal. Sometimes it was us. In the beginning, we didn't quite understand how it all worked and, with multiple players in our party, each wand didn't always register the items that we'd found.
But, my fifth grader, who I eventually allowed to roam the game area on her own, became completely addicted to the game. If something didn't work, she'd return to the Magiquest store to complain. By the evening, she was well on her way to completing a big part of it. The next morning, she woke up and waited for the game to start for the day so she could "collect" more "items" before we left the resort.
The little girls eventually loved it too - not fully understanding how it all worked, but enjoying making "magical" things happen with their wands and eventually moving through the game.
If we go back, we'll play it again. Your wands can be used for future visits. All you have to do is buy another game. It's hard to find fault in something that my kids ended up really enjoying, but that first hour was a struggle!
There are a lot of opportunities to spend money at Great Wolf Lodge, but there are some free activities that you can take advantage of if you go.
They include activities for little ones such as the Waking Up with Wiley, PJ Party, Lunchtime Lineup, the Great Clock Tower Show and the Cub Club. Before dinner, our group sat down for the Great Clock Tower Show, when the animatronic animals in the lobby display came to life with story and song (which reminded us of "A Circle of Life" from The Lion King) and a storytime with a Great Wolf Lodge mascot. The young kids in our group were fairly mesmerized by all of this.
The resort has several restaurants and is surrounded by others. Before we checked in, we ate lunch at a nearby Chick-fil-A. That evening, we ate dinner at Great Wolf's Lodge Wood Fired Grill. The food was good, the prices were reasonable and the service was fine. Because we were there so late, the kids got to watch employees shut down the water park and hose it off from the big picture windows in the restaurant. The next morning, we got doughnut holes for everybody at the Dunkin Donuts in the lobby.
If you go
- Room prices can be expensive, so look out for deals and savings. I've seen several on Groupon.
- If a friend has a Magiquest wand, see if you can borrow it. You'll save half the cost of the game if you bring your own wand. (If you do have your own wand, be sure to bring it back as you can use it again).
- Pack snacks and food so the restaurant bills don't add up. We had a refrigerator and a microwave in our room.
- Take advantage of the free activities. The young kids in our group really did love that PJ Party and clock tower show.
- One or two days is really all you need - unless you plan on taking advantage of everything Great Wolf Lodge has to offer. (Then, just make sure your wallet is prepared).
- Have fun! Because we were at a water park, we really had to put our phones and devices down and have a great time together. Just another reminder that I need to tuck that phone away much more often.