Three Days at Great Wolf Lodge: A Review

Among Little Bit’s first grade classmates, there are a few things that make up the kiddie bucket list.

  1. Disneyworld
  2. Cool Birthday Party
  3. Great Wolf Lodge

Having checked off two of the three, Little Bit begged for the third. But a trip Great Wolf Lodge can cost a pretty penny. Prices for the most basic rooms list for over $200 a night, even during the week. That sounds like a lot of money, and it is. Plus, you pay a pretty good resort fee in addition to the room.

So Jon and I made a deal with our kiddo: Skip your birthday party this year, and your present from us, and we’ll take you to Great Wolf Lodge. 

While it took her a week to decide to forego a party and a bunch of presents, she took the deal. And now that we’ve been, I think she made a pretty good one.

What is Great Wolf Lodge?

Great Wolf Lodge is a chain of resorts, all with indoor water parks. There are 14 of these suckers scattered around the US (and one in Canada).

Resorts vary in their rides and attractions, but between the water parks, cute character-focused activities, and kid-friendly amenities, it’s pretty much heaven for kids.

It also costs a fair amount of money. (A birthday party/big present would have been way cheaper for us!) But consider the offering:

On the day you arrive, you can enter the water park at 1 pm (even if your room may not be ready until 4.) That gives you 8 hours of waterpark fun on day 1, and you don’t have to drive home afterward.

The next day, the park opens at 9 am. On the day you check out, you have to be out of your room by 11 am, but you can stay until close, giving you up to another 12 hours in the park.

So essentially, if you stay one night, your price covers 2 days in the waterpark plus overnight accommodations. Considering that your plans won’t fall victim to bad weather or too much sun, it’s a much better value than at first glance.  

We Arrive at Great Wolf Lodge-Concord

We went to Great Wolf Lodge-Concord, less than 3 hours away from home. Since it was Little Bit’s birthday present and our first time visiting, we stayed for 2 nights.

Next time, for better value, I’ll probably just book us one night. As a birthday present whose goal was to make a kid happy and create good memories, our stay was a raging success. Little Bit declared it “better than Disneyworld.” 

Check-in was easy. We ate lunch on the road (burgers at Mickey D’s) and arrived around 1:30. We expected not to be able to go to our room, but it was ready. In line, we noted that there were several passes that provided discounted access to several of the resort’s amenities. When we requested 3 “Paw Passes” (the middle tier offering), the lady at the front desk told us “Aw, just get one for the kid. You guys won’t need them, you’ll just be following her around as she does stuff.”

Considering the passes cost $70 each, the service impressed me, and I found a high level of service pretty much everywhere in the resort. Everyone on staff focused on making sure the guests had a great time.

The Room

We got a basic room with a king-sized bed and a fold-out couch for Little Bit. We felt like we had room to spread out, with the seating area with the couch separated from the bed by a partial wall. The room also included a small balcony with a table and chairs. Sure, it overlooked the parking lot, but it gave us a bit more space from each other.

Of course, if you have more kids or are willing to spend more money, the resort has fancier rooms. You can get themed rooms with bunk beds, suites, or private whirlpools.

While none of these rooms is cheap, you do seem to get better rates by signing up for deals and discounts on their website. They regularly reward folks for booking at least 2 months in advance.

We didn’t. Instead, we booked through about 6 weeks out. While we didn’t get the best rates, we didn’t pay full price either. But be prepared: While the room price listed said $199.99 per night, taxes and fees added half again as much to our cost.

The room was clean and reasonably quiet, despite the fact that we shared the hall with a bunch of 5th-grade kids on a field trip. It had the usual amenities (fridge, coffee maker, wifi, etc.) That said, we didn’t spend a lot of time there or do much other than sleep.

The Water Park

The Water Park was about what you’d expect: warm, wet and extremely noisy. Fortunately, they serve adult beverages, because the noise can be overwhelming. Only resort guests are allowed in the water park, which somewhat limits the crowd. That said, it stayed busy the entire time it was open.

Little Bit is exactly 47 inches tall. Being between 42 and 48 inches tall meant she could ride all but one of the rides, but she needed to be accompanied by an adult on most of them. Since Jon doesn’t do rides, I spent a lot of time climbing stairs and going down slides.

I’m not going again until Little Bit grows another inch. At least I can say I reached my exercise goal last week. Walking up 4 or 5 floors worth of stairs several times an hour, often carrying tubes or mats, had my thighs burning and my heart pumping.

While there were 2 regular pools (one indoor and one outdoor) and a toddler pool, Little Bit and I spent most of our time on the slides and in the wave pool. The wave pool stayed crowded, though it eased a bit whenever the waves stopped. The waves weren’t overly big, but it was the only place I had the slightest concern for Little Bit’s safety, and that was only due to the crowds. Attentive and friendly lifeguards watched everywhere.

The slides were a ton of fun. You go pretty fast on them, and of course, end up soaked.  The resort has 5 major slides (some have more than one chute), and the lines moved easily without more than a 10 minute or so wait most of the time.

Little Bit also liked playing in the fountains and getting water dumped on her. Plus she got to channel her inner Kacy Catanzaro and play American Ninja Warrior on the rope path. (I tried once, failing miserably but probably provided some laughs for Little Bit and Jon.)


Three Days at Great Wolf Lodge: A Review

The Paw Pass and other Attractions

Since it was our first visit, I decided to spring for the Paw Pass so Little Bit could enjoy a bunch of resort amenities. So for $70, she got to play MagiQuest, stuff her own toy wolf cub, and play a scavenger hunt and a couple of arcade games. We also went home with a family photo shot (complete with dragon), a pair of goggles, a bracelet engraved with her name, and some candy for the ride home.

Not bad. I’m not sure we’d need to buy one again, but it seemed worth it for the initial visit. It was much easier to have the pass than to pay for each thing we wanted to do, even if we could put any charges on the room with a wave of the wristband. 

The resort had several things we didn’t try. Little Bit wanted to try the kid’s spa but didn’t get out of the pools long enough to make a big deal about it. Jon wanted to play mini golf. The resort also had a movie theater, a bowling alley, a grown-up spa, and a ropes course.

For free activities, the resort offered morning yoga, crafts, and story time in the lobby. While we went to animatronic story time one evening, it seemed more oriented toward the smaller kids. Our kiddo found it boring. We skipped the rest of the free activities. Basically, we’re water bugs, and mostly we wanted to play ourselves into exhaustion at the water park.

Food and Drink

The Concord Great Wolf Lodge has several restaurants, but we skipped most of them. I will say the lines for food exceeded the longest lines for rides in the waterpark, no matter where and when you went.

The first night we intended to go to the dinner buffet. (Little Bit fell in love with buffets during our Orlando trip last year.) Unfortunately, it was closed, so we bought a pizza instead. It was good, not great, but fed us for dinner and lunch the next day.

We picked up breakfast both days from the on-site Dunkin Donuts. While it may not have hit all our nutritional needs or culinary buttons, the coffee was tasty and the prices matched those off-site.

We availed ourselves of the waterpark snack stand every day for Icees or virgin margaritas. I wanted a more adult beverage but decided alcohol and wet stairs probably don’t mix well. I thought I was being clever not to pick up the $14 souvenir cup with free refills, but it probably would have saved us a bit over the course of 3 days. We skipped the food, other than a shared order of chicken tenders and fries  (it was good if not spectacular.)

For our other night, we went out. Since the Concord Great Wolf Lodge is near Concord Mills (a big outlet mall), there are a ton of chain restaurants nearby. Pretty much any type of food you might want is an easy drive away.

The Verdict

It’s easy to see why Great Wolf Lodge gets such terrific word of mouth from Little Bit’s classmates and their parents. While it’s not the cheapest vacation choice, Great Wolf Lodge provides a host of kid-friendly activities and fun, good service and a safe environment.

Plus, you can have water park fun even in the depths of winter. I think we may try it for a night once Little Bit’s February track-out comes around.

Meanwhile, we’ll wear our wolf ears and enjoy our memories. And I’m sure something new will come up with the Second Grade Bucket List. For now, Little Bit’s one of the cool kids.

We did not get compensated in any way for this post. All opinions are our own.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

28 thoughts on “Three Days at Great Wolf Lodge: A Review

    • I hope so. Her birthday is actually next week, so all of the celebrations (even the family dinner) are taking place before the birthday. Hopefully, she’ll keep all the fun things in mind when her actual birthday rolls around with nothing more than school and swim lessons.

  1. I love this! And it sounds better than a birthday party to me, too. I am both so excited for these days down the road and dreading them. There isn’t enough chlorine in the world for some of the water parks I’ve seen in Wisconsin Dells 😉 I will definitely be filing these tips away for later!
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    • Yep, there are advantages and disadvantages to all ages, including almost 7. And you worry about the cleanliness of a water park no matter what…there’s just so many people in them most of the time. (Little Bit decided within an hour of us being at the park that it was a good idea to work a loose tooth out so she could get in an extra visit from the tooth fairy while we were there, while Jon and I cringed at the germy chlorine fingers in her mouth.)

    • It looks like they may have been featured in 2010. I’ve only watched the show a couple of times, but that seems like it would be an interesting episode.

  2. It sounds like all of you had a good time, especially Little Bit! I loved the picture Jon sent of her in the wolf ears, just too cute! Your suggestions of how to sort of “squeeze in” extra time before going to your room or after check out are something most folks would not have thought of doing. At the prices you paid, I think you should be able to go a little outside the lines, so to speak. When we lived in NC, we used to see extensive advertising of the Great Wolf Lodge. No wonder all of Little Bit’s classmates wanted to go. It sounded so fantastic, I wanted to go. Enjoyed the recap of the vacation. Now I can go back and look at the pics Jon sent and figure out which activity is was. Keep of the good (frugal) work! Oh, I have to have surgery on my broken root canal and jaw next week. Can you think of any ways for me to save money? LOL!

    • Oh no! Sorry about your teeth! I don’t really have much advice for getting discount dental care. (we are hunting for a new dentist.)

      Before I had Little Bit, I thought about taking my niece and nephew to Great Wolf Lodge for an excuse to go. It never happened, and I’m not sure my nephew would have done very well with the noise and crowds. But Little Bit was fine with it (better than me.)

    • Yep. I think it will probably be a bit better for us all when she’s just a tad older (or taller) so she can do more things independently. And it might be a good idea to try and coordinate with friends, too, so Little Bit can have a non-Mom buddy to join her.

  3. I like the way you struck a deal with Little Bit. She gets the idea that in order to enjoy x, she has to delay or give up y and possibly z. She’s learning that she can’t have it all, but that she has power to choose. And she chose well : ) Sounds like a fun time for all.
    Fruclassity (Ruth) recently posted…Know Your Money BlueprintMy Profile

    • Yeah, we emphasize choices and consequences a lot. For instance, she’s lost her new water bottle twice since April. She knows she can either a) find it b) use her old one that she doesn’t like (it leaks a little) c) use her own money to buy a new one. Strangely enough, when reminded of those choices, she has gone to the school’s lost and found and comes home with it.

  4. This looks like such a fun trip!

    We’re working on the “choices have consequences/results” with JuggerBaby but I think it’s a little early, still. Ze makes pretty bad life choices, still.

    I love the pictures but I agree, the cleanliness of a water park is best not thought of while you’re there. We used to go to Raging Waters occasionally and I’m glad I never thought too hard about what we were dunking ourselves in.
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life recently posted…Just a little (link) love: jumping editionMy Profile

    • It’s not surprising that JB hasn’t quite grasped “choices have consequences.” It’s tough enough for some adults, much less a toddler. Bad life choices are the essence of the terrible twos, unfortunately.

      But yes, you don’t want to think too much about water park cleanliness. I was frankly impressed that the rest of the resort didn’t reek of chlorine and damp.

    • I remember when those adds first started coming up, it took a while to realize what Great Wolf Lodge was. Once I got plugged into the mom grapevine, I had a much better idea what to expect and figured it would be something Little Bit would enjoy. I was just surprised that I came around to the idea that the price tag was probably warranted, at least for a 1-night visit.

      Everyone needs a cookie every now and then.

  5. We are pretty much past that stage now, but I wish they would have had a place like that near here when my kids were little. There are a couple of outdoor water parks but you deal with the sun there.
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    • It was a ton of fun, and while it skews elementary/middle school, there were plenty of older kids (and adults!). And since we had a rainy week, I was glad our waterpark plans were indoors.

  6. I had no idea Great Wolf Lodge was a water park! It looks like so much fun if you can get over crowds/germs/expense-so perfect for a child! I love how you’re teaching Little Bit to weigh decisions and make choices. I hope that if I ever have a child that I would be as consistent as you in raising a thoughtful, well reasoned kid.

    • You do have to get past all of those factors and just go with it once you’re committed. And thanks! Jon and I really try with Little Bit.

  7. I’ve literally never heard of these before. They sound super fun, and what a value for that pass! I’m glad the worker didn’t take your extra $140–that’s the kind of service and honesty and breeds brand loyalty.
    Femme Frugality recently posted…Using Cashback Rewards for TravelMy Profile

  8. This is the first I have heard of Great Wolf Lodge – it looks like you all had great fun. I completely understand, I remember going to Disney with my youngest and resolved never to go until she was much older because I spent most of the time carrying her whilst waiting on the ride queues.

    I really liked the idea of choosing between a birthday party/presents and going to the Great Wolf Lodge. I will definitely be using this tactic with my kids as it will go a long way in teaching kids to develop respect money.
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    • I’m glad we didn’t try GWL until our daughter was (almost) 7. I saw parents carrying their kids up all those wet steps, which seemed pretty unsafe to me. Although she wasn’t quite tall enough to do the rides independently, she could at least carry her own slide mat and navigate the stairs. That’s a big part of why we waited until last fall to do Disneyworld too. She may have been exhausted by the fireworks show, but she did all the walking/standing/etc.

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