Spring Break at Great Wolf Lodge: Warm, Wild Family Fun

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It might be the most perfect thing you’ll hear during Spring Break: Hey Mom, we don’t need sunscreen!

That was the delightful magic phrase my kids sang out as we made our way from our room to the water park recently on a trip to Great Wolf Lodge. No sunscreen. No worrying about reapplying, no ‘sun scream’ drifting into teary eyes, or spending precious pool time gooping up before going in.

And no guilty sleepless nights after forgetting to reapply and seeing my kids sunburned at dinner.

The expansion of Great Wolf Lodge brings the water park-meets very nice hotel-meets theme park idea to travel destinations around the East and Midwest. We visited locations in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is conveniently near Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens amusement park; and Charlotte, North Carolina, which is near the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Concord Mills shopping mall, a destination all on its own.

TicketGreat Wolf Lodge’s water park tickets are bracelets that allow you access to your room, open outside doors, and can be used to charge items to your roomGreat Wolf’s locations and fun lodge feeling gives it a leg up over the side-of-the-highway motels, but of course, the big attraction is the water park. The Williamsburg location had it all: a wave rider, a wave pool, a lazy river, two hot tubs, a large pool with basketball and a rope bridge, Fort Mackenzie, a large climbing fort with lots of sprayers and two slides, and three very large water slides. Charlotte had most of these, but lacked a hot tub and lazy river, which disappointed me; those are pretty much the lure for me at a water park.

The water park, under a single roof, had air and water temperatures set to 84 degrees, feeling very much like the breath-of-relief that a tropical vacation is in the middle of winter (though not very many sunny spots to relax inside). There were plenty of chairs and tables where I could set up and read a book, and my kids could cruise the rides and swim, splash and play until they were exhausted. In summer both locations  have outdoor pools and activities, which also looked like a lot of fun.

Moose Lodge BarThe Lodge restaurant also has a fun for grown-ups: A bar in the cafeIt’s pretty clear that Great Wolf tries to think of it’s parks from the guest’s perspective: Tickets to the water park are included with the price of your hotel room (about $200 a night when we visited) and come in the form of a bracelet that can be used to open your hotel room door or if you choose, to charge things to your room. This makes your ‘stuff’ strategy pretty easy, and if you need, there are lockers in the water park area. There are huge bins of (warm right out of the dryer!) towels, and a snack stand near the water park entrance. Food and activities around the hotel are all kid focused, and pretty much everything is a la carte–food, arcade games, spa, etc., so you can decide what to do and when. And, you can leave the property for things when you want, which we did for dinner the nights we were there.

In the water park there were lots and lots of lifeguards everywhere; kids could play and swim while the very serious life guards constantly pace and check the pools and slides to make sure everyone is OK.

Both the Williamsburg and Charlotte locations were central to lots of other things to do. The night we were in Williamsburg we decided to hit up a chain restaurant on the local boulevard; we passed by them all–Ruby Tuesday, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Chick-fil-A, and finally settled for Chili’s. In Charlotte we weren’t so lucky; it was a busy night and despite the fact that there must have been more than 20 restaurant choices, all had a long wait; we opted for take out burgers and girls night in with a movie in our room.

LodgeWhich was not a bad option. The rooms at Great Wolf are also designed with guests needs in mind. Both our rooms–standard rooms– had two double beds and a pull out sofa. The sofa is in a separate seating area at the end of the room, and beyond it is a sliding glass door and a small balcony. The room had a refrigerator, a microwave, a flat screen TV, and a sink and counter separate from the shower and toilet. All seemingly thought out by someone who has actually vacationed with a family before–such a novel and welcome approach!

The Lodge features a north woods-themed lobby is the center of the hotel’s non-water park activities

But what it all comes down to is this: Did the kids have fun? You can read my 10 year old’s review here and my 13 year old’s review here. But honestly, it was hard to them to leave the property. They would have stayed forever. But then again, I’d be tempted to never leave a hotel that had everything I ever wanted under one roof, too.

Disclosure: Great Wolf Lodge provided us with a media rate for our two nights lodging; all opinions are strictly our own.


Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss