When my first son was 2 1/2 and my infant was 3 months, we joined friends for an overnight at the popular family waterpark and resort Great Wolf Lodge.
Prior to going, we’d never really known much about the experience. Let me tell you - it is an ‘experience’! It’s a great stepping stone for families that are wanting to get away for a quick overnight trip, and also a perfect training trip for a longer experience away like Walt Disney World.
I was skeptical about going. I had two children who were young, at unpredictable ages and I wasn’t sure how much there would be for them to do.
What would naps be like?
What about when we got to melt down hour?
Would I have to pack up the entire house to take with me?
Would I instantly regret going on this trip?
Luckily, we had an absolute blast due to all of the hospitality the resort has to offer.
We’re now veterans of the resort and have been to two of their locations (there are 16). The visit we took this past weekend to celebrate my son’s 5th birthday was our 6th trip, so I thought I’d share some tips for how to actually not only successfully survive the trip with family, but how to have a great time and make some amazing memories as well.
Surviving Great Wolf Lodge with Toddlers
Take advantage of all the activities - not just the water park
There really is enough to do. Apart from the indoor water park, which is heated to 86 degrees year round and has slides, pools, a water splash fort, lazy river and more for kids of all ages, there are tons of activities that very young children can enjoy.
The resort boasts an arcade similar to Chuck E Cheese, a miniature duck pin bowling alley even the youngest toddler will love, a child ‘Scoops’ spa for Mom and daughter, glow in the dark putt-putt and a game called MagiQuest that involves four leveled floors of interactive play with wands that activate many items around the resort. As kids get older, they can use their MagiQuest wands to play different quests and unlock runes. We see several teens running the halls for hours playing the game when we go, and the perfect age to begin a toddler is about 3!
The resort also has Kamp Counselors that run activities during the day such as Spring picnics, morning yoga, and the popular nighttime dance parties and interactive story hour and show at the clock tower, which keeps kids enthralled right before they need to go down for the night.
If it’s your first trip, stay one night
It might be really tempting to snatch the deals the resort offers on their website to save over two nights, but for a first trip, one night really is enough.
With that much to do, and little ones who will probably be off their schedule, it’s wise not to try and stay longer than a night. We usually arrive around check in at noon or 1 p.m. the first day and head straight to the water park until around 5, change and head to either the in-house buffet for dinner or pizza joint downstairs and let the kids play in their p.j.s at the dance party before putting them to bed after the clock tower show.
The next day, hit up the other amenities, then the pool for a shorter time. Around 1 p.m. is a great time to grab lunch and head out for home. Be prepared for your little ones to be zonked in the car for nap time and you’re good to go!
Plan for flexibility and bring some bedtime aids
Whether your schedule with your little ones is rigid or not, the excitement of the day will need some wiggle room. You may not get a nap out of your kids but be prepared to have them snooze at bedtime from all the water and fun! To help with settling them down, set them up in the suite on the partitioned side of the room (all rooms have a separate sitting area with a couch that can pull out separated by a wall).
We usually put our toddlers on the pull out couch or bring a blow up bed. When our little one was an infant, we brought a pack and play or a rock and play and did our full bedtime routine in the room. Don’t have room to pack? The resort has pack and plays for you, and also has room options with separate bedrooms if you need to put your child in a room away from you.
We usually travel with family members when we go to Great Wolf Lodge. Not only is it a great family gathering spot, and believe me, grandparents and aunts and uncles love to participate in the joy of the kids’ memories, but it’s great to have a few extra sets of hands to help. If that means one person stays to help put a baby to bed while another family member is running around downstairs playing MagiQuest with an older kid, then you can relax a bit more.
Sometimes we share a room with relatives, but most of the time they get their own room near ours and we can have them help out when we need it. Breakfast and bedtime are so much easier now on these trips with the extra help!
Water activities are doable and fun no matter the age
I was very worried my first trip that my non-swimmer, who was a little tentative in the water, wouldn’t have enough to occupy him. The pool geared at smaller children is only 2 feet deep and has a few mild, short slides that he was happy with. The pool area has puddle jumpers you can borrow during your stay as well to help with water confidence. There is a fort in the middle of the park where kids can splash in bubblers, dump water buckets on people below, and go down body slides with adults at the bottom.
They are also great about letting kids go down the inner tube slides with adults. There are mild slides the kids can ride under 42” with an adult, and a great raft ride that very young ones can ride with up to 4 persons, so the whole family can enjoy them!
The best part of the park may actually be the family hot tub, which is between 95-100 degrees and allows children to swim in. It’s warmer than the rest of the pools and the kids are allowed to splash around in it, which is a lot of fun!
I wore a water sling with my 3 month old when he was little and that helped me chase my toddler around. We also enjoyed taking him out and letting him explore the zero depth end of the toddler pool, and he had a spectacular time!
Look out for Coupons and Discounts
We mostly go to Great Wolf Lodge when we notice deals on Groupon or when we check the rates calendar and they have deals on Sunday into Monday nights. This is great for us at off times of the year, like this trip which is right before the spring break season begins, but fit into our schedules with some planned days off of work my family already had scheduled. It can be a very affordable trip when you aren’t super picky about when you go, and it’s much less crowded and more enjoyable for all!
Establishing a Tradition
We have made Great Wolf Lodge a special treat for our kids’ birthdays annually. The staff do an excellent job making a family friendly environment that we enjoy because everyone there is understanding of what happens when little ones are cranky and also overstimulated. You never have to worry about apologizing, because everyone there is in the same boat!
If you’re wondering how to navigate Great Wolf Lodge with little ones, know that it is worth the few extra advance planning steps!
With a few in the know details in place, you can have a great time with your children and still be standing on the other side of the trip. With two resorts within 3-4 hours of the metro D.C. area, you won’t have to travel far to be making special memories!
Need some guidance planning a trip with little children? Contact us today to sit down with a maternity concierge and discuss ways to set yourself up for success, whether it’s a ski vacation for the holidays or a trip across country to visit grandparents. We’re here to make your experience enjoyable and easy!