superdumb supervillain: Get Away at the Great Wolf Lodge

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Get Away at the Great Wolf Lodge

Like many families, we decided against big road trips this summer because money was tight. I hate the term "staycation" but that was the only road we were on, until we got the opportunity to check out the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City, about four hours away. We'd heard about the wonders of Great Wolf from relatives and friends but had never ventured to one because the kids always seemed too little for a waterpark. Now, with Roo at 5 and Jasper at 2, it seemed do-able.

We've driven by the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City before, since it's next to the Cabela's and Bob has latent outdoorsman tendencies. We were intrigued by the northwest tribal-ish totems out front and, of course, by the gigantic tubes protruding from the building. I didn't really grow up with water parks (There was a popular one that opened when I was growing up in Hawaii but it was pretty far away and my mom worked so I didn't go much. Plus I was already self-conscious about wearing bathing suits in public by then, which is really sad, in retrospect. If I still lived in Hawaii now, I would probably shamelessly wear a bathing suit every single day and I'm probably 40 lbs heavier than I was in junior high…) and have never been to an indoor water park.

Here's the description from their media kit: Great Wolf Lodge is a first-class, full-service, year-round family destination resort designed to capture the atmosphere and adventure of the northwoods. Serving as Kansas’ Year-Round Family Resort™, Great Wolf Lodge provides a comprehensive package of destination lodging amenities, including: 281 family-sized suites; a 49,000 square-foot indoor entertainment area, featuring a grand-scale waterpark; a spacious outdoor pool; a 220-seat casual, themed family restaurant; Elements™, an Aveda® Concept Spa; Scooops® Kid Spa; a huge arcade with ticket redemption center; meeting space; a confectionery café; a fitness center; a gift emporium and an animated Great Clock Tower in the Grand Lobby. It sounds impressive, doesn't it? Well, it definitely lives up to the hype!

Plus, Great Wolf Lodge waterpark resorts are first and only national hotel chain to have all US properties Green Seal™ Certified – Silver and they've established a sweeping environmental program called Project Green Wolf. Both the hotel and waterpark portions of the business are part of Project Green Wolf, whose eco-friendly initiatives include Management of Fresh Water Resources, Waste Minimization, Recycling and Reuse, Energy Efficiency, Environmentally and Socially Sensitive Purchasing, and Guest Education, including an inventive educational program for the resorts’ youngest guests created in partnership with National Geographic Kids™. I was so impressed to learn that Great Wolf Lodge recovers, filters and reuses most of the water in their waterparks and that they use the least amount of chlorine possible under local and state guidelines to treat their water. Easier on the eyes and on the ecosystem.

We were offered the chance to stay in a Wolf Den suite for one night and jumped at the opportunity. An in-room cave-themed suite for the kiddos? Awesome. It had a bunk bed (Roo promptly claimed the top bunk) and their own personal TV, all surrounded by murals of wolves and faux stone with peek-a-boo holes. The kids were in heaven.

The folks at the Great Wolf had a special goody bag waiting for us on the bar, which was a nice surprise. T-shirts for the kids, some playing cards, a picture frame, a pair of wolf stuffed animals (already snatched and stowed in a bunk by the time I had time to get the camera!) and incredibly yummy chocolate-covered pretzels from The Bear Claw Café.

The in-room toiletries were also much nicer than I expected, featuring delicious ice-cream scented products from the Scoops Kids' Spa. And I know you'll all think I am insane for photographing this, but I have never stayed in a hotel that EVER supplied enough towels. This one does, even though there are pool towels available in the waterpark area, too.

Aside from the Wolf Den itself, the suite is pretty modest. Let's be honest, though: the charm of Great Wolf is not necessarily in spoiling parents. It's an adequate room but not my dream hotel bed. There is another TV and a microwave and minifridge, so you could probably reheat leftovers in the room or bring your own food for picky eaters or allergy sufferers. There's also a balcony should you choose to breathe fresh air. You might, since the entire hotel is kept at a humid and balmy 84º all year-round…

One of the unexpected highlights of our stay was the MagiQuest live-action adventure game. You buy an electronic magic wand (you can also spring for many, many accessories but my kids are thankfully not old enough to realize that yet) and unlock secret thingies throughout the hotel's hallways. I never really understood how points were gained or levels achieved but it was really fun to chase the kids as they waved their wands at everything in sight. Jasper was particularly smitten with the tree sprite lady in the video and kept going back to talk to her.

The lobby of the Great Wolf is really impressive, with a gigantic clock tower where they have an animatronic animal show (Jasper yelled "beaver!" when I had no idea he knew what one was…much to his father's delight) and nightly bedtime stories. I can't believe I didn't have my camera with me for that, it was very cute. Especially when all of the little ones lined up to meet the Great Wolf mascot, Wiley the Wolf, afterward.

The Camp Critter Bar & Grille was not outrageously expensive, as I feared, but about on par with other family-dining restaurants. The atmosphere was really cool, with booths outfitted as old-fashioned tents in the great outdoors. Jasper was past his bedtime so I wish I'd taken note of the room delivery service which would have been worth the surcharge so I could have eaten my dinner without a squirming toddler freaking out in my lap. The food was pretty good, too!

Of course, the real draw at Great Wolf is the waterpark. We got a late start on our check-in (Bob wanted to visit the KC Zoo on the hottest day of the year, which rendered us all devoid of energy) so decided to just run off a little energy with MagiQuest and call it a night. The next morning, though, we were ready. One thing that surprised me was that although smaller kids (under 42") can participate in most of the attractions as long as they are accompanied by an adult, they are not allowed to ride WITH the adult down the big slides. Roo was game for trying some things like climbing Fort McKenzie, the four-story interactive treehouse water fort with suspension bridges and cargo nets to spray stations and soaker buckets, and the Crooked Creek lazy river but Jasper pretty much stuck to the Cub Paw pool and Whooping Hollow kiddie slides. It was great that there was a wading area that he felt comfortable in but it also made me wish we had more than a 1:1 ratio because Bob and I were stuck monitoring the kids the whole time so we couldn't try the huge four-story Alberta Falls slide. Next time!

Great Wolf's all-under-one-roof approach seems like a great way to keep families with members of all different ages entertained. There were kids of all ages there during our stay, from infants to mallpunk teens who looked semi-mortified to be enjoying themselves as much as they were… and perhaps the best endorsement of all is the fact that Roo has brought up "the next time we go to the Wolf Lodge" almost every single day since returning from our trip.

For more information or to make a reservation, call toll-free 1.800.608.WOLF (9653) or visit Great Wolf Lodge online.

We received a complimentary one night stay in a Wolf Den room at Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City in order to be able to write this review.


  1. Oh... I'm so glad you finally got to go to a waterpark. It looks like the kids had a great time and are rarin' to go again. The tree lady does look kinda mesmerizing....

    We really wanted to visit the one here in the Pocono's but as our luck generally runs, twas not to be. BoyX insisted that it was for a younger crowd but your observation of teens enjoying themselves just solidifies my claim that Great Wolf Lodge looks fun for any age.

    So, when ya goin back? I think a winter stay would be fun.

  2. That sounds so cool! There's a Great Wolf Lodge in the nearby Poconos that we'll have to check out when SoJo gets older. I can relate to your waterpark bathing suit thing, and of course hotels with not enough towels.

  3. Looks like a blast, I'm hoping my family can go to the GWL in Grapevine Texas, just a little over an hour's drive, and it looks amazing! Great review!

  4. This place looks amazing! Wish there were one closer to us!


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