We decided to forgo another frigid, outdoor January birthday party, and take the kids to Great Wolf Lodge for a night to celebrate Asher's birthday instead. And, let me tell you, it was worth every penny. We had such a great time and the kids were beside themselves with excitement and wonder.
Have you ever heard of Great Wolf Lodge? It's a hotel with an extreme indoor waterpark that is kept at a comfortable 84 degrees; there are locations all over the U.S., and there is one in Grapevine about 4 hours from us. My sister's family had gone to GWL over summer vacation about a year and a half ago and they'd had a blast, but we were a little unsure if there would be enough for our two young kids to do. And, boy, were we mistaken and blown away! Having a two and almost four year old (I had to let him remain three as long as possible), (and with me being 8 months pregnant) really probably couldn't have survived more than one night's stay. Two days of playing in the waterpark was so much fun and the accommodations were so nice, but it was PLENTY...it wore us out! Let me give a disclaimer here: our kids are WATER LOVING KIDS. If yours aren't too fond of the water, I can't promise that you'll enjoy your stay as much as we did.
The lodge is so beautiful and we were extremely impressed with all of the detail that went into everything...we felt like we were at a Disney Resort! Unfortunately, I was too busy taking it all in that I didn't get any pictures of the lobby/family area. The lobby was decorated in a "winterfest" theme with Christmas lights and snowflakes everywhere and several times a day it would "snow" in the lobby.
Our little wolf pups with their wolf pups. We referred to Asher as either "Baby Wolf" or "Brother Wolf" and McKlayne as "Sister Wolf" or "Babygirl Wolf Pup" the entire trip. They chose those names and would answer to nothing else for 30 hours.
As soon as we checked into our room and the kids saw that we had reserved a Wolf Den Suite, they were already asking when they'd get to sleep in their bunk beds in the wolf den. (Totally worth the extra $40! Each time they went down for naps/bed they were asleep within 5 minutes. It was nice to have them "walled in" on three sides in a dark "den", so that we could freely move about/have lights/tv on without having to worry about waking them up, etc.)
Like I've already said, the waterpark had SO MUCH to offer: lazy river, wave pool, tons of slides, splashpad and pool area just for toddlers, a pool with basketball hoops and logs that you could jump across, a huge fort with a ton of different water gadgets and contraptions, hot tubs, and more. Asher could go on almost every ride/pool area b/c he's taller than 42 inches, while McKlayne was more limited. But, honestly, there was nothing that she couldn't go on, that she desired to, so it worked out well. We certainly did not run out of things to do!
McKlayne's two favorite areas were:
1. Fort Mackenzie: the three story treehouse where she loved standing under the giant bucket that poured a TON of water out and dumping water on each of heads as we went down the orange slide on Totem Towers. Each time she'd hear the bell ringing, signaling the giant water bucket dump, she'd run down towards the bottom of the fort to stand underneath the rush.
2. Whooping Hollow: She was happy to be able to freely walk about, crawl on her hands around the beach front entry like "Ariel", sit in mini fountains, shoot water guns on jet ski's and slide down the mini slides.
Asher loved it all, but his favorites were:
1. Fort Mackenzie: He enjoyed turning on all the gadgets that sprayed water out (it amazed us that our kids knew how to work these better than we did...maybe because they were just above eye level for them?!) and racing us down one of the slides on the Totem Towers.
2. Slap Tail Pond: Asher could not get enough of the wave pool. He loved being able to jump the waves, like at the beach, without having to worry about being stung by a jellyfish or being tossed around on the wild waves in a tube.
3. Coyote Canyon/River Canyon Run: Though he was not a fan of climbing 4-5 flights of stairs (and he didn't have to very often because one of us would carry him up) he LOVED the tube rides. He would scream the whole way down, with his arms up in the air, saying, "This is so much fun!"
Charlie and I enjoyed it all, too, but our favorites were Fort Mackenzie and riding any of the tube rides. The only problem was...we didn't want to go by ourselves on the rides (what fun would that be?) so our only other option was Asher (since we couldn't neglect both of our small children in a waterpark to go with each other, though we did consider it...) but he wasn't a fan of climbing the 4 or 5 flights of stairs (depending on the ride) to get there. So, as desperate as I was to go ride these things (they were so fun!) I'd promise Asher that I'd carry him up the 4-5 stories.
I climbed these stairs four times over the course of two days while carrying my 42 lbs almost four year old. (You should have seen my feet and cankles the day after we got back from our trip...I looked like the Michelin Man...really!...ask my friends..and this was the first time that my feet had even started to swell this pregnancy!!)
After climbing the stairs, I thought that I would enjoy the lazy river with McKlayne while the boys rode a few tube rides, but let me tell ya...you think getting yourself situated in a tube is awkward enough while trying to juggle a child on your lap? Try it 8 months pregnant, when you have no core to help you maneuver and a big ol' belly in the way where your toddler wants to sit! After several failed attempts, we resorted to the wave pool. Seriously, if it wasn't for Crossfit, this pregnant momma would not have been prepared to help tow two little ones around a waterpark for two days...so, be warned, if you're hugely pregnant and wanting to go here, it is hard work! My kids (and I) didn't last much more than 2 hours at a time in the waterpark. There was so much to do and we were loving every minute of it, but we just couldn't survive the exhaustion. So, we pretty much planned our time in the park in two hour increments.
At 8:00 each evening, you're encouraged to show up in your pj's for a show at the Clocktower, followed by Bedtime Stories where either Wiley Wolf or Violet Wolf make an appearance. Our kids were thrilled to get their picture taken with Violet. McKlayne, of course, adored her bows and "cute crocs".
Our two tired, happy little wolf cubs howling about how much they loved Great Wolf Lodge...
They still can't get enough of looking at themselves in their wolf ears...and with those sweet faces, neither can I!
We're thankful for such a sweet time spent enjoying each other and exploring all the fun that God created in the world of waterparks. What a wonderful Creator, He is!
Here are some tips that I wish someone would have given me to schedule our days with two young kiddos to maximize our time at the park/budget. We'd planned beforehand to eat one meal out, so I packed everything else for breakfast, lunches, and snacks and kept them in the mini fridge/cold bag in our room. The entire staff was so friendly and laid back. My sister had told me that outside food and drinks weren't allowed in the waterpark, but after seeing several families with their snacks and lunches inside, we opted to try and bring our food in the second day. No one searched our bags or even gave us weird looks as we sat at the tables and ate our lunch. (We also went during the "off season"....so maybe that's why they were so lenient? The occupancy was only at 20%, so that was VERY nice and we will definitely plan on going in the middle-end of January in the future.) If no one else benefits from my ocd planning, at least I can look back on this as a reminder for future trips:
-Plan on arriving at 1 p.m., in your bathing suits and fed, so you don't have to worry about stopping (or paying) for lunch and have one spouse get the kids started in the park while the other spouse gets all of the luggage/food settled in the room.
-Play for two hours in the park and go back to the room for a short nap around 3 p.m.
-Clean up and go eat dinner around 5 p.m.. There are several restaurants at the hotel, but since we were trying to save money and eat somewhere we know that we'd enjoy the food, we ate at a Fuddrucker's about 2 miles away.
-Go back to GWL around 6 (with bathing suits and pj's packed, so we don't have to go back to the room) and go play at the waterpark for a bit/explore the cool hotel.
-Report to storytime at the Clocktower with kid's in pj's at 8 p.m.
-Head back to the room by 9 p.m. with kids in bed.
-8 a.m.: Mom: get dry pair of clothes (and undies) and bathing suit set out for each family member and pretty much pack up and gather things to be ready to check out.
-8:30 a.m.: Eat breakfast in the room, dress for pool, call front desk to request a later checkout (they moved it back an hour to noon, which was what we were hoping for!) report to waterpark when it opens at 9 a.m. Play for two hours.
-Head back to the room around 11 for snacks and to take a short nap/rest. Change into dry clothes and have either another pair of bathing suits ready to put on or send husband with $1 in quarters up to the 6th floor to dry everyone's suits.
-Mom: while children are resting/napping pack up the room and make lunch: make sandwiches and cut fruit, fill up nalgenes. Have a bag or two with the essentials that you'll need for the waterpark: suits, lunch, snacks and dry change of clothes for car ride home. Anything you won't need until you get home, goes in the suitcase to be packed in the car.
-Dad: Load up the car and checkout at noon, while Mom wakes up the kids and changes them into suits to go play some more. (Once you check out, your wristband, which acts as a key to unlock your room door is deactivated, so make sure the other adult with the wristband is still in the room so you don't get locked out.)
-Head down to the waterpark around 12:30ish and eat lunch. (We were able to eat inside the park with our own food and drinks, but maybe they were just laxed since it was the off-season? Either way, we were thankful. You could easily just eat at a bench/table on the first floor.)
-Play some more from 1-3 p.m. Change, get snacks, load up for home.
-Head for home with two very sleepy children. Stop halfway for dinner. And be home by 8:30 p.m.