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Great Wolf Lodge
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Great Wolf LodgeGreat Wolf LodgeWhat’s to Love:  Rest assured, when I visit places like the Great Wolf Lodge (GWL), I talk with as many parents as possible – gathering valuable feedback to pass along to my readers.  On this visit, I spoke to at least 15 parents, and not one person had a negative thing to say about their experience at the GWL.  I even fed them some criticisms I had read online, and they all looked at me like I was crazy.  I think that says a lot right there!  The reality at the GWL is that parents and kids absolutely love this place.  If you bring your family, I’m confident that you’ll all have the time of your lives.

Green slide in toddler areaSome folks refer to the GWL as “a giant, indoor waterpark.”  Although they are correct, the description is grossly inadequate for one of the premiere, family-resort destinations in the Pacific Northwest.  After a 3 day visit, I can state with confidence that the GWL provides a complete resort experience for the entire family.  There is so much more than the waterpark, but since many people describe the resort that way, I’m first going to share some waterpark (Bear Track Landing) highlights.  Before I dive-in, you may want to check-out this interesting GWL fact sheet.

1000 gallons of water!Bear Track Landing is 60,000 square feet of indoor waterpark.  Your first task will be scraping your kids’ chins off the floor when they stare in shock at the sheer magnitude of this place.  It takes a few minutes just to soak-in the entire array of options for the whole family.  You’ll quickly notice a giant, 1000 gallon bucket that fills with water and dumps it every 5 minutes over the entire interactive-treefort-structure known as Fort MacKenzie with a thunderous roar.  Even though the waterpark is very big, mature kids will be able to go their own way, and you’ll have the comfort of mind knowing they are safe.

Rope LadderOne of the best features of Bear Track Landing is the highly-trained lifeguards.  These lifeguards are in the water (in many spots) and very alert and friendly.  This really helped me feel at ease while my son played freely in the toddler area.  Speaking of the toddler area – it’s HUGE with some excellent features including squirting “wave runners,” two slides, zero-depth entry, and many other spraying surprises.  Wherever you turn, most likely, you will get wet!  Some other nice touches: free inner-tubes, free life jackets (high quality), double-inner-tubes so you can ride with your kids, rope ladder, water basketball area, wave pool, and some exciting water slides.

Red and Yellow body slides on Fort MacKenzieFort MacKenzie has two waterslides that are perfect for kids ages 3 and up.  I don’t think our son could have gone on these at age 3, but I know some other kids who were far more comfortable than our son in the water at that age.  These slides are traditional – in that, you do not need an inner-tube to ride, and there is no minimum height requirement.  To get maximum speed, just lie down on your back, launch yourself at the beginning, and you’ll zip though the turns faster than you’d expect.  My son really loved these two slides, because it made him feel very independent and confident.

Aerial photo from the top of Alberta FallsThe Alberta Falls slides provide the most excitement for kids between 42 inches and 48 inches.  NOTE:  If your child looks close to 42 inches, he/she may get measured repeatedly by different lifeguards.  This is a bit frustrating, but realize they are simply doing their jobs trying to adhere to the stated policy.  If  your child is barely over 42 inches and/or scared of the ride, make sure you haul-up the double inner-tube.  That way, you can ride with your child, which will give him/her a feeling of security.  These slides are very fast with banking turns and a couple short drops that will give you a jolt on your first ride.

Howlin’ Tornado water ride at Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound, WAThe Howlin’ Tornado is Bear Track Landing’s featured attraction.  You can check-out a video clip of it here.  This is a killer ride!!!  It’s one of the most unique amusement-style-waterpark-rides I’ve ever seen.  Wow!  You’ll ride a 4 person raft down a tunnel slowly gaining speed.  Then, there is – what feels like – an absolute vertical drop.  It’s so steep that I felt like the whole tube was going to flip over!  After the drop, which only lasts about 1 second, the raft is shot-out into a giant funnel where it goes back and forth about 4 or 5 times.  To me, this was the highlight of the ride, because it’s just so cavernous in the funnel when you come out.  It’s very hard to give this ride justice with a written review.  If you’re above 48 inches, you must give it a try!

Water basketballOf course, there are plenty of other activities/features at Bear Track Landing including the wave pool, hot tub, snack shops, swimsuit shop, water basketball, and a giant, waterfall-mushroom.  When you get tired of the waterpark, there are plenty of other activities for the whole family.  I’ll discuss a few…

Spraying wave runnersEven though we didn’t play, I recommend “Magic Quest.”  Parents and kids were really into this fantasy/scavenger hunt game.  You’ll need to purchase a wand and pay to play, but it seemed well worth the money.  I’m really sorry we didn’t get to play, but we’ll definitely do it next time.  The game has participants running all over the resort with maps, clues and magic wands.  The resort even sells fantasy costumes for your kids.

Kids’ Club at Great Wolf LodgeThe Cub Club is another great idea for younger kids – it’s setup like an elementary classroom and the staff has an “Ambassador of Fun” who leads kids in fun/crafty activities.  There is a daily educational tour inside the lodge with an educational focus on a variety of topics.  What’s really great is the activities are fairly short and run throughout the day, so there is always something fun happening.  Besides the daily walkabout, most activities cost extra money.  At least, the activities are fairly inexpensive – most were $10 or less.

Great Space for teens at Great Wolf LodgeOn your way to Bear Track Landing, you’ll pass a chocolate shop with all kinds of goodies.  I couldn’t seem to make it past there without buying something every time!  Right near the chocolate shop, GWL did something brilliant – they made a special area for teens (12 and older) to get together and dance, use computers and/or video games.  There are comfortable lounging chairs in a modern style.  Trips are difficult with teens, but meeting other teens often makes hanging out with your parents bearable!

Northern Lights ArcadeThe Northern Lights Arcade has plenty of games for all ages – many have redeemable tickets.  My son ended up taking home a slinky, which he thought was very cool.  We played air hockey, shot baskets, threw some skeet ball, drove race cars, and rode a simulated roller coaster.  Overall, this is a nice arcade where all the games are practically brand new.  The prices are pretty consistent with other arcades such as Bullwinkle’s Family Fun Center in Wilsonville, Oregon.

Clock tower in the lobbyThe options for food are somewhat limited, and we didn’t eat at the Camp Critter Bar & Grille; however, I have nothing but positive things to say about The Loose Moose Cottage buffet.  I ate breakfast and dinner there – both meals were excellent, especially the dinner.  The buffet had salmon, flank steak, a seafood pasta, grilled vegetables, and plenty of stuff for kids including all the familiar staples.  My son didn’t touch his food, because we made the mistake of showing him the waterpark first thing when we got there.  The waitress noticed this, and she didn’t even charge us the $9+ dollars for his plate!

Kiddie CabinAlso, it would be a crime not to mention our room.  This was probably the highlight of the stay for my son.  We stayed in a “Kiddie Cabin” room that had a mini-log cabin complete with wood bunkbeds, an extra bed, and a tv with video games.  Kids can hole-up in this area giving parents a bit of a respite between waterpark visits.

My son was so excited when he saw the cabin.  He quickly unpacked his cars we brought and climbed up into the top bunk.  These specialty rooms are a great idea.  They have several options, so please, check their website.  Here is a video of our room and a preliminary waterpark tour.

Kiddie CabinFinally, what makes the GWL worth a visit?  Sure, all the activities/amenities I’ve mentioned are sure to make a great family vacation.  However, there is one item I have yet to mention, and that item is quality customer service.  I know, it’s been awhile since you’ve experienced it, espcially if you’ve flown on airplanes.  Don’t worry, the GWL has it down!  They will greet you warmly, get you checked-in quickly, help you with concerns, and watch your kids like hawks while you’re in the waterpark.  This is “old school” pampering, and you will certainly appreciate it from the time you get there, to the time you leave.

Before coming to the GWL, I read several online reviews, and I just wanted to respond with my two cents.

– The elevator is slow:  What’s your hurry?  You are on vacation when you’re here, right?  Relax and enjoy the resort and the elevator’s speed will not be an issue at all.  In reality, I don’t think the elevator is very slow.  It’s simply parents holding the door for kids with wandering eyes and slow steps.

Lifeguards are too aggressive:  Not true…they are simply doing their jobs!  Imagine the liability for a place like GWL – I think they should train their lifeguards to take their jobs very seriously, and they do.  However, I found these folks to be friendly and engaged with their customers.

– The food is not up to par:  Wrong!  As a family, we are very picky eaters, and the buffet “Loose Moose Cottage,” provided plenty of high quality food with exceptional service.  Sure, there is macaroni and cheese, fried chicken fingers, onion rings, and fried potato cakes, but there was also salmon, brisket, flank steak, crawfish, and an excellent seafood pasta.

– The water temperature is too cold:  No way!  If the GWL heated the water more, it would be a misuse of energy.  Of course, it gets a bit chilly getting in and out of water, but you’ll be having so much fun, you won’t even worry about it.

– There is not enough to do:  What?  Perhaps, these reviewers stayed in their rooms the entire time. I don’t believe there is anything to their argument.  However, I could see where some teens might get bored outside of the waterpark, but the GWL recently opened the GR8 Space (Great Space) that is specifically for teens to get together.  This was a great idea, and it seemed to be hoppin’ when we were looked in.

– Check-in took forever/room not ready:   I think many of the negative reviews were from folks who visited right during their Grand Opening (March 2008).  Most likely, the GWL didn’t expect as many visitors as they got right off the bat, and it caused some minor issues.  If true, the issues appear to be ironed-out now.

Bear Track Landing Action/Tour:

Minimal Narration (Bear Track Landing) and departure:

Raft headed up conveyor belt to Howlin’ TornadoCaveats:  Considering waterpark admission is included with your nightly room fee, the prices they charge here are fair.  However, it’s a substantial investment for your family vacation or quick getaway, and you will spend money inside the resort.

Unfortunately, parents cannot ride with their young toddlers on the Fort MacKenzie waterslides.  This is obviously for safety reasons, but it’s a bit scary for toddlers to go on the slide by themselves.  After they do it once, they will be fine.  I wish they would have offered an option similar to a “training ride” – perhaps with a lifeguard.

“Magic Quest” costs extra money ($25) for a wand and to play the game.

A breakfast buffet seems a bit much for some folks, and it’s basically the only option for the first meal of the day.  If your whole family eats breakfast, it will cost you quite a bit of money.  It would be nice to offer some alle carte items off a menu for breakfast.

Although I think it’s a good idea to verify height requirements, it should probably be done at check-in, or perhaps, at a single place inside the waterpark.  I saw some kids turned away from Alberta Falls, but 10 minutes earlier rode the ride several times without incident.  There is definitely some inconsistency that could be fixed with a “certification of height” requirement that is done once.

There are only 3 options for food inside the resort with the inexpensive option being Pizza Hut Express.  If you want something “off site,” your options are very limited, because the GWL isn’t near a major city.  You’ll find a Figaro’s Pizza, McDonald’s, and Burgerville all within 10 miles, but that’s about it.

WebsiteGreat Wolf Lodge – Grand Mound, WA

Distance from Portland:  A very quick 99 miles from Portland in light traffic.  Don’t plan on leaving Portland mid-afternoon!  Here are directions from Google.

Recommended Ages:  As stated previously, the GWL is a resort for all ages.  The GWL just opened a space specifically for teens, which is a nice touch!  Pay $10 extra, and your kids can get unlimited access (inside the teen area) to the video games and computers the entire length of  your stay.

Parental Stress Factor:  Low!  Are you kidding me?  The GWL has thought of everything, and the staff will put your stress factor on the back-burner, at least for the length of your stay.  Your face muscles might get a bit stressed from smiling so much while you’re there.

Physical Difficulty:  The Lodge is fully accessible.  Check with the GWL about help for kids with disabilities inside the park.

Family Fun Factor:  Extremely high!  Your kids will remember their time spent at the GWL for a very, very long time.  This is that vacation you will talk about endlessly during family reunions, and your kids will want to come back again.  The fun factor is all about how fun a location is for the entire family, and the GWL definitely serves everyone.

Pet Friendly: Leave your pets at home.

Weather Considerations:  I thought this would be the perfect destination for all those dreary months of winter, and I still think I’m right.  However, the GWL appears to be all booked-up for most of its inaugural summer.  Even though the weather has been perfect, I don’t mind the fact that we were indoors for a few days.  My next visit will probably be during the rainy season.  

Kid swim areaInsider Info:  You’ll receive a bracelett at check-in, and it has two very nice features:  1) You can open your room door by just holding it up to the lock, and 2) The desk folks can enable any charge you incur during your stay to be placed automatically on your room bill.  This is a great option, because you won’t have to carry your wallet with you while you’re inside the GWL!

The flooring is always a difficult choice at a waterpark – too rough and kids will get their feet ripped up, too smooth and people will slip and fall.  The GWL’s walking surface is just right, but I still recommend some “aqua socks,” even for adults.

Despite the effort to entertain teens, they may get bored after a day or two.  Also, parents who are not into the waterpark may get tired of chasing their toddlers around all day.  Think carefully about the length of your stay.  For us, 3 days (2 nights) was perfect.

If your room is not ready, they will let you into the waterpark while you’re waiting.  Also, after checkout, you can stay and use the waterpark the entire day!  These are very nice touches that make even an overnight stay worthwhile.

Great lifejackets!Family Tips:  You may have older children and a newborn baby.  Of course, you’re probably hesitant to bring the new baby.  Don’t be!  The white-noise that’s created in the waterpark area will, most likely, put your baby right out!  We had no trouble bringing our newborn here.

If you’re concerned about the inevitable financial strain vacations can cause, bring breakfast and lunch with you in a cooler.  The rooms have half-size-refrigerators where you can store lunch meat, milk, yogurt, fruit, etc.  We saved a lot of money by eating breakfast, lunch and snacks in our room.

In closing, my son loved this place so much, he will not let us remove his (hospital style) wrist band!  It has been several days, and he says he wants to keep it on for our next trip.

Technorati Tags: Great Wolf Lodge, indoor waterpark, toddler, kids, family, fun, activities, Bear Track Landing, waterslides, howlin’ tornado, resort


  1. I'm glad to hear that this reviewer had good food when they were there. We didn't. Even after talking to the food service manager, they still were unable to bring us food that was even edible (omelets burned on the outside with raw eggs on the inside). We tried three different meals there and they were all awful.

    Even the clerk at the grocery store in Centralia knew how infamously bad the food is at GWL,

    We'll go again, but the food quality was a huge disappointment.

    In their defense, we went the first week school was back in and it seemed like they had let all the hourly staff go because there were mostly managers doing the cooking. Maybe at the height of the season, the regular line cooks would do a better job!

    • OUCH! Sorry to hear about your experience with the food. It's funny because we're kind of food snobs (i.e., my wife is a Naturopathic Physician…we generally eat only whole, organic/local food, shop at New Seasons, or co-ops, etc.). We thought we'd be disappointed by the food, but it was really good. We didn't eat at “Camp Critter,” which we will do next time we're there.

      We're visiting again in early February. I'm anxious to see if your experience continues…hope not! I know what you're saying…I was wondering what they were going to do when school starts up. It seems like they have to retrain and find a bunch of new people.

      Since you'll go back, I'm assuming the rest of your experience must have been positive, correct?

      Vince Schreck, Ed.D.
      Instructional Designer, Portland State University
      Editor: Portland Family Adventures

    • OUCH! Sorry to hear about your experience with the food. It's funny because we're kind of food snobs (i.e., my wife is a Naturopathic Physician…we generally eat only whole, organic/local food, shop at New Seasons, or co-ops, etc.). We thought we'd be disappointed by the food, but it was really good. We didn't eat at "Camp Critter," which we will do next time we're there.

      We're visiting again in early February. I'm anxious to see if your experience continues…hope not! I know what you're saying…I was wondering what they were going to do when school starts up. It seems like they have to retrain and find a bunch of new people.

      Since you'll go back, I'm assuming the rest of your experience must have been positive, correct?

  2. Yes, we'll go back. We really enjoyed everything else. My kids played with Magic Quest almost as much as they were in the water, and they can't wait to play again.

    Despite the food, I would still recommended off days, as we had so much more fun on the weekdays when attendance was very low, compared to the Friday afternoon and Saturday when it got very busy..

    We did find a great Mexican restaurant up the road in Centrailia called La Tarasca that we we can't recommend highly enough. It reminded me of my Mexican godmother's kitchen growing up.

    We were all happy to eat ever dinner and a lunch there for several days.

    • Kip,

      Thanks for the tip about the Mexican restaurant. We're going back in February, and we'll go check it out. Also, we didn't get to play the Magic Quest game, and we're planning on doing that this time. When we were there last time, people were really into it! 🙂

      Vince Schreck, Ed.D.
      Instructional Designer, Portland State University
      Editor: Portland Family Adventures

  3. Hello I live just 3 miles from the GWL.. and my wife works for them. It really is one of the best things to happen to our little community, let alone Washington State. If anyone needs help with info about the lodge, or recommendations, I can help.

    We will be going (again x 6) this May.. My wife gets water park passes as an employee… cost is lower for us, but still an investment..buts its so much fun.

  4. Thanks for the message. It's nice to hear that the GWL has made a positive impact on the community in these economically-challenged times.

    Vince Schreck, Ed.D.
    Instructional Designer, Portland State University
    Editor: Portland Family Adventures

    • I now can say I'm very disappointed with this place. It started out fantastic, but we have learned of extremely poor management practices. The hire and fire rate is extremely high with this place…so much in fact, that it has made the attention of local businesses and the unemployment office. So I guess along with the poor food quality, we can add the fact of complete noobs working here, all the time.
      It's too bad. The place is worth at least 1 visit. Pricey, so be warned you will need to bring your wallet.

  5. name one "Park Experience" that isnt costly! Ie: disney/universal/knotts etc
    you can always expect to empty your wallet if you vaca at any of these spots!
    thats why they call it a vacation- if u wanna go cheap just dont go.

  6. The children room costs nearly double in winter break and my daughter has to have her birthday party a few months late because winter break is the only time we are not busy around her birthday.

  7. I have visited that place once i was in college. They really shall provide the best suits to stay. Thanks for sharing.

  8. This is indeed a perfect location for entertainment.


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