Christmastime at a Water Park
On Christmas 2016, we told the kids that we would be taking them to Great Wolf Lodge. The kids had asked several times if they could go and so we thought it would be a perfect gift for all of them… 1 big gift! We had envisioned spring of 2017 but ended up visiting Canada instead, you can read about that trip here.
As of August 2017, we really didn’t have any plans on going to Great Wolf Lodge but we knew Christmas was coming… so we did something a little out of the box for us, we decided to go to a water park for Christmas!
Where we live in the Midwest, we have 5 Great Wolf Lodge locations within 8 hours of us, 4 within 5 hours, and 3 within 3 hours… we opted for a closer location and chose Cincinnati/Mason. With 6 of us, we chose to get a room that is a little bigger, though each location is different, it seems most Great Wolf Lodge locations have a Loft Suite.
This suite has 3 queen beds and a pull out couch, a fire place, a balcony, a fridge, a microwave, and the best part… the adults get their own space in the Loft!!! This suite is marked as one of their premium rooms, but there are bigger ones, and I believe the location in Wisconsin Dells has rooms with full kitchens.
We didn’t know if being trapped at a water park during Christmas time would be something we would like, so we opted to only stay 2 nights, but their policy is that you can start using the water park at 1pm the day you check in (check in is 4pm) and can use the water park until it closes the day you check out (check out is 11am but the water park closes at 9pm). We figured that we would have a lot of time at the water park but if we got bored of it, 2 nights would be plenty.
When booking online we noticed that Christmas is a higher priced time, by almost double! Our dates of stay were 12/22-12/24. We had checked it out before but never at Christmas time. With Great Wolf Lodge, tickets to the water park are included in your hotel costs. You can not get a day pass to Great Wolf Lodge (see update), however, just like with any other hotel, prices can fluctuate.
I guess everyone likes water parks at Christmas… good sign… so we put our dates in the cart and we were offered other options to add on to our time there. They have attraction packages and food packages… and I will get more into all of this later, but we opted to add a dining package to 2 days and a wine down service for our first night. We were given our total but were only required to pay a portion, with the rest due at check in.
Time for the fun
We checked in and we were so happy with the decor. Great Wolf Lodge is a lodge theme, but add Christmas lights… and it was AMAZING! We hadn’t been there before so we had the dining plan explained to us. Online we purchased the Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner option (there are 2 other options). The 3 meal option included a voucher for breakfast at their buffet, $20 for Lunch, and $30 for dinner… per person, per day (lunch and dinner could be had at 4 different options).
We paid $40 a person and received breakfast and $50 per person… so we spent $240 (for 6 people) and received 6 breakfasts and $300 in total. For 2 days that would be 12 breakfasts and $600… that’s a lot of money for food… for a 2 night stay… but we were told that we could use the dining plan the entire time we were there.
We also found out that the dining plan was good for alcohol purchases (in the bar at the water park and in 1 of the restaurants) and at the Dunkin’ Donuts, it also covered tips as well. (see update for dining changes)
The Room and First night
The kids were excited by the room because we had never stayed in a hotel room with a second floor before. The room itself was comfortable for 6, with the pull out couch it could fit 8, but I think 8 would be tight if you wanted to spend any time in the room itself.
As I mentioned above there was a loft space with a queen bed and a half bathroom, on the main level there were 2 queen beds and a pony wall separating the sleeping space from the couch and fireplace.
Though we could have started the fun at 1 pm, we didn’t check in until right around 4 pm. After checking in and getting to our room, we decided to look around and grab some dinner instead of heading straight to the water park. We found they had a list of activities available in the lobby, they have things like morning yoga year round, but being this was Christmas time, they had other activities including face painting, carriage rides, cookies and hot chocolate by the fireplace, visits with Santa, and more… so were able to figure out what we wanted to do while we were there.
We had dinner that night at the Loose Moose Cottage, which is their buffet. The staff was very friendly, especially the cooks, and the food was surprisingly good, buffets can be a nightmare. My only complaint was that our server didn’t clear one plate our whole meal, she was very nice but not super attentive, but we still had a great meal.
We still had about 2 hours before the water park closed, so the kids got dressed and closed her down! After that we went to the room where we allowed the kids to open their matching pajamas. We normally get the kids new pajamas at Christmas and I was glad I brought them instead of waiting until we got home because everyone was walking around the hotel in either a bathing suite or adorable Christmas pajamas! Honestly, that was one of the best parts of the experience… the whole place felt like home!
We settled in to watch a Christmas movie and had our wine and down service delivered! On a side note here… on the way from the water park to the room we found something called MagiQuest which I didn’t think much of but it became a big hit during the trip!
The Water Park
We were at Great Wolf Lodge for the water park and we were making that a priority, playing the other activities by ear. We got up, had some breakfast at the Loose Moose Cottage, buffet style and the only breakfast restaurant (there is a Dunkin’ but it’s walk up service), and went to the water park.
The water park is open at 9 am and is relatively quiet that early, at least on the days we were there. We were in there by about 10 am and set to have some fun. The water is warm but our location also had a hot tub to warm up in. There were lockers and changing rooms, there also were plenty of seats.
The picture to the left isn’t a great one, we don’t have many of the actual water park, but I love this picture because it shows how much fun the kids were having… we all were having, though I am sure my husband won’t love this picture 🙂
As far as the park itself, my favorite was the Coyote Cannon, I think that was the favorite with my daughters as well. The Hydro Plunge was a big hit as was the wave pool was by far the boys favorite. All locations have different rides so if you plan on staying at a different location the attractions might be different, but the slides and pools were warm (not too warm), clean, and fun!
After a couple hours we had lunch in the water park at Buckets Incredible Craveables, where they serve hamburgers, hotdogs, and easy hand held food. After the kids ate and took a short break, they were off again… my husband and I took that time to belly up to Grizzly Rob’s Bar, which is located in the water park. We didn’t drink much but it was nice to have a minute to ourselves. At about 3pm the kids admitted to being tired and so we gave the water park a break.
Among some of the other activities that day, we were able to go on a quick carriage ride (with hot chocolate from Dunkin’). The ride was free though they asked for donations (for a charity but I just can’t remember which one). We also had an absolute blast bowling at their alley Ten Paw Alley, the kids got their faces painted, and we saw Santa.
The bowling alley is in the arcade area and it is shorter lanes with smaller balls. I thought it looked cheap but the kids, who have been on a bowling league for 4 years, begged to try it… so we did. It was SO fun! The cost is $6 a person but our experience was worth the extra costs.
The lodge also had Santa and Mrs. Claus stop by. I don’t know how often they appeared during the entire month of December, but they were there both evenings we were. Our children know the truth about Santa and have for awhile (you can check out how that went down here), so we weren’t going to do a picture at first.
We saw that face painting was being offered (for free) and the kids asked if they could do that. While they were, my husband and I thought why not get a picture with Mr. and Mrs. Claus for a memento. Of course, this was after the face paint but you know what… it was epic!
All of the other families had their kids in their matching pajamas or Sunday best to get their picture with Santa… and here come my kids with full face paint… I mean the boys went all out! But I LOVE this picture. This is the one I took with my phone but Great Wolf Lodge actually had a photographer there and handed out FREE pictures… that was awesome!
One thing we first noticed when we got there, that we knew little about prior, were kids walking all over the lodge carrying wands. From 9am until 10pm (11 on weekends) kids of all ages can experience different quests all over the lodge, and when I say kids of all ages… let’s just say that there were tons of adults, including us, that were loving this game!
Each game is $14 and you need a wand to play. The wands are between $16 and $22. This was an expense we weren’t counting on but I am so glad we decided to play. To save money we bought each kid a wand but we only activated one of them with the game. The game is a bit of thinking and doing it as a group was a good idea. They all used their wands but only our oldest’s wand actually was activated. The kids knew this but they still were using their wands right along with her!
For dinner we grabbed a pizza and a couple of 2 liters from Hungry as a Wolf for the kids to enjoy in the room, while the adults had a grown up dinner at Lodge Wood Fire Grill, but before dinner we grabbed their wands and activated their game. Once they had finished their dinner they were allowed to start their game. Our dinner was very good and the service was wonderful.
After we were done we caught up with the kids to see what MagiQuest was all about. We probably spent an hour walking around with the kids… having a blast watching them, helping them, and even watching other families have fun. In total the kids probably played for over 2 hours that night and they were only about half way through the game! As you can see from the picture above… they were serious about the MagiQuest!
We literally closed down MagiQuest… that was 11 pm! Along the way we had some more hot chocolate and cookies provided by the lodge and met a character. We headed back to the room and jumped into bed. The next day was both check out day and Christmas Eve but we knew we still had a full day ahead of us!
Check out and Day Three
We had used our breakfast vouchers but still had money from our dining plan, so we had Dunkin’ for breakfast. The kids wanted to play MagiQuest first thing, they were very excited to finish their game. While they did that we packed up and took everything out to the car, checked in with the kids, and checked out.
Though we checked out of our room at 11 am, we had until 9 pm to use our dining plan. After checking out we caught up to the kids to watch them finish their game.
After they finished their quest we headed to the water park. When packing up we left out a change of clothes and bathing suites. At the water park we rented a locker, but this was the only day we did this and you wouldn’t need to if you ran stuff out to the car. We enjoyed the water park for a few hours, had a late lunch at Lodge Wood Fired Grill, grabbed some Dunkin’ for the ride home, and said goodbye to Great Wolf Lodge!
Tips and Thoughts
The Dining Plan
I went into this a little above but I will try to break it down a bit more here.
There are 3 different options of dining plans offered, breakfast, breakfast and lunch, or all 3. We chose all 3 which got us a voucher for breakfast and $50 a day per person, this averages $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner, though you can use it however you want.
We were also given 6 reusable cups valued at $15. The cups were a lifesaver and worth the $15 in my opinion but because we bought the all dining plan, they were free. Great Wolf Lodge has cups that are chipped. These cups allow you to get free refills during your stay… they were an amazing add on.
$240 got us $300, 6 free breakfast vouchers ($64 value), and $90 in cups… that be a deal my friends!
The Food and Final Dining Thoughts
The food at Great Wolf Lodge won’t break the bank, the most expensive thing (at the time of writing this) in the higher scale restaurant Lodge Wood Fired Grill, is the bone-in Ribeye (16 oz) for $31 but you can also get shrimp and lobster pasta for $22… and even cheaper a cuban sandwich for $11.
The pizza place Hungry as a Wolf charged normal pizza prices and at Buckets Incredible Craveables you can get a burger for $10, as well as snacks (pretzels and more) for about $5. You don’t need the dining plan. We had $600 of food on our dining plan… that is a lot of money, but having the dining plan made life SO stress free! (see update about dining plan)
We know the food wasn’t free… we payed ahead, but it was so nice not to worry about costs! No matter a person’s income, sometimes spending $31 on a Ribeye at a water park wouldn’t be something they would do… when you are put on the spot people tend to second guess what they want and think about expense… this we did not do once during the trip. At the bar, I had a $22 margarita because it was in a special glass (basically 2 drinks) and made with all top shelf stuff… didn’t blink an eye… it was already paid for!
We got the kids a Tipping Bucket, it’s a souvenir bucket layered with soft serve vanilla ice cream, brownies, cookies, candy pieces and topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Do you know how many kids asked for one of those and got told no… it wasn’t a second thought for us, we were there to have fun and prepaying for the dining plan allowed us to have even more fun!
We spent all of our $600 and I would say we ate what we wanted but we weren’t wasteful. We tipped 30% because these people were dealing with a lot during the week of Christmas (tipping comes out of the dining money). I would recommend thinking about getting a dining plan for each day you are there, minus one.
We are going back this year but are staying 3 nights, I will probably be getting the same amount of dining plan as our 2 night stay. Also consider if you will be leaving the lodge, as King’s Island is right next door, if you plan to do both, you may not need the dining plan or not as many days of it.
All in all… check out the dining plan!
Is MagiQuest worth it? Well, only you know your child but I am going to say YES! Kids were everywhere loving this game and they weren’t being loud or crazy… they were having just pure fun. The kids made friends, walked about the lodge exploring… it was so worth it.
Like I said above to save money I only activated 1 wand… don’t feel pressured to buy a game for each child, if they are elementary age, it might even be super challenging alone, so doing it with parents or older siblings is beneficial.
By activating just 1 wand, I only saved $42, but buying 4 wands and a game already cost $78. When you factor in that the kids had at least 5 hours of solid fun, over 2 days, with this game… either way you look at it, the costs are worth it to me, and once the game is over the wands are still interactive!
The wands can be used again if you come back or go to another Great Wolf Lodge, there are also accessories to add to the wands, like wand toppers. We told the kids that the next time we go back we will buy them a wand topper, which run $18-$20 a piece.
This year they won’t have to repeat the same game, there is a new level called ShadowQuest and even after that there is a level called CompassQuest. Being at a water park is fun but kids grow tired of it quick and need breaks… MagiQuest was amazing add on from a parent’s perspective.
Lastly… another option to save money would be to buy a Paw Pass bundle, and I will get more into those in a minute, but if you are staying for a few days it might be a great deal for you!
Money and Costs
I have read and heard parents say that Great Wolf Lodge is expensive and I would say I disagree. Taking Christmas out of the scenario, you can stay at Great Wolf Lodge for $150 a night, even cheaper on Groupon. That price includes a room to stay in and admission into a water park for 1 full day and half of another… so for my family that’s $25 a person for a hotel room and 1 1/2 days of fun… seems like a deal. While booking, the costs are affected by how many people are staying in a room… so a family with 3 would get a little lower rate than my family would.
We went at Christmas time and our room averaged $400 a night, sounds like a lot but you can’t get tickets to a water park anywhere for under $40 a person, for my family that would be $240 of the $400, leaving $160 for the hotel room… still sounds reasonable as they allow you to come early and stay late. When paired with the other things they offered at Christmas time, hot chocolate and cookie time, face painting, pictures with Santa, carriage rides, and more… it really seemed worth the costs.
- Staying during a non-holiday time would be the easiest way to save money, and checking with Groupon might even be cheaper.
- You could save money by not doing a dining plan, though I obviously am a fan of it, there are cheaper ways to eat. Because there are mini-fridges (do double check your room will have one) you could bring cereal and milk for the mornings and eat in your room. For lunch you could do a pizza for the whole family and dinner could be burgers or you could bring peanut butter and bread for sandwiches at lunch and do pizza for dinner.
- You could forget things like bowling and MagiQuest and instead take part in free activities. Activities include story time, meet and greet with characters, yoga, a pj party, and more!
- You could do some bundles and save money! If you know you want to go bowling, do MagiQuest, do a round of glow golf ($6 a person), build a stuffed animal (just like build a bear)… you can buy a bundle for $90 a child. This bundle includes the following…
- MagiQuest or ShadowQuest Game
- a Wand, Standard Topper, or Magi belt
- Compass Quest game
- Creation Station Animal (like a build a bear but clothing is extra)
- Clubhouse Crew Adventure (this is kinda like MagiQuest in that you can take your new animal friend around the lodge doing activities)
- Ice cream from Bear Paw Sweets & Eats
- Arcade game card ($5)
- Candy Cup
- Great Wolf Lodge goggles
- Glitz Glitter Tattoo
- Leather Treaty wristband
- Howl at the Moon Glow Golf
- Bowling at Ten Paw Alley
This bundle is one of three options and the most expensive (the other 2 are $45 and $70 a child), but it will save you at least $25 on everything, however, I would only consider this package if you are staying at the lodge for a few days… it’s a lot to do on top of the water park.
There is also just a MagiQuest bundle where a child gets a wand, a topper, a belt, a game, and some ice cream for $55… that’s like a $15 savings.
These bundles can save you money, but only if they are things you already planned on doing or would do when you got there, sometimes spending money means saving, but sometimes saving means not doing everything… only you know what is best for your family!
Our Overall Experience
I will use this point to say that we did have one issue and I am not going to share what it was. It was not something we couldn’t come back from, it was handled well, but I don’t want to go into detail… my point is to say this… customer service at Great Wolf Lodge was good.
The people on the phone and behind the counter were great. The waiters were nice. The people in the water park maybe could have been a little friendlier, but they were still more than adequate. We really enjoyed our stay and as I believe I mentioned, plan on going again this year… in fact it started a new tradition!
I hope this helps anyone on the fence about going to Great Wolf Lodge or answers some questions… I’d love to hear from those of you that have gone!
These memories are priceless!
Bet + Fam 🙂