Have you thought about going to Great Wolf Lodge but hesitated because of the price? Good news – there’s a homeschool discount rate. Here’s everything you need to know about a successful homeschool vacation at Great Wolf Lodge.
You know those places you always dream about, but never really believe you’ll visit?
I’ve always counted Great Wolf Lodge on that list, figuring we’d never make it to the family waterpark resort. My eyes would bulge every time I saw the price tag for one night: we’d spend less than that on a week at my mother’s beach house.
Thanks to some budget savvy friends of ours, though, we discovered a way in: several times throughout the year, Great Wolf Lodge offers a deeply discounted rate for homeschoolers.
We scored a three day, two night stay in a premium suite for less than half of what it would have cost otherwise.
And we had a blast.
When we first decided to head to Great Wolf Lodge for our mini-vacay, I scoured the web looking for insider info. I found plenty, but would have appreciated having the specifics all in one place. That’s what I’m providing here: an up close look at our trip to Great Wolf Lodge, and the things I wish I had known before we went. If you’ve got your sights set on this family resort, read on!
The short of it:
- Pack your swim bag separate from your luggage
- The lobby is busiest between 1 and 4 PM
- Don’t be surprised by long lines at check-in
- If you can help it, don’t arrive on a Sunday
The long version:
We started our stay on a Sunday.
We will probably not do that again.
Check in at Great Wolf Lodge begins at 1 PM. Thanks to an email from management and some insider knowledge, we knew our room wouldn’t be ready until around 4. The management is gracious, though, and allows you access to the waterpark as soon as you check-in.
In our welcome email, management specified the lobby is busiest between 1 and 4.
They weren’t joking.
We had packed our swim gear separately from our luggage, planning to check in, hang at the water park for a few hours, then head up to our room for showers and dinner prep.
Maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t anticipate having to wait in a line that snaked around the lobby and to the front door. The kids were super cranky; Dan and I were super hungry. We ravaged the snack table, I got in line, and Dan took the kids to participate in some of the lobby craft activities. All told, we had keys in hand in about half an hour.
If you have a sensory kid, be aware that the lobby is really stimulating. Loud music, lots of people, lights, shops, etc. I was overwhelmed, and I’m a grown up.
Choosing Your Room
The Short of It:
- When you book, select a room type that best fits your needs. Don’t get swayed by the decor.
- The Lodge is huge. If you don’t like walking, ask for a room close to the waterpark.
The Long Version:
Great Wolf Lodge has three levels of suites: Standard, Themed, and Premium. All three have the same basic amenities, including “complimentary” waterpark passes, in-room safe, mini-fridge, microwave, hairdryer and coffee maker.
So what’s the difference?
- Standard suites offer a range of sleeping options at the lowest available rate
- Themed suites offer a range of sleeping options in a themed environment (think tents, cabins, wolf dens, and the like) for a mid-range rate
- Premium suites offer a range of sleeping options in an extended-stay type environment for a luxury rate (these suites offer separate bedrooms, dining areas, and, in some cases, lofts).
If you have access to the homeschool discount rate, choose the Premium Level suites. Really.
The discount offers one low rate (ours was $120 a night) for a room that would have regularly cost us $380. That’s more than two thirds off the regular price.
Plus, the themed suites may look cute, but they are small. Everyone is on top of each other the. Whole. Time. The Premium suites offer plenty of privacy with their private bedrooms and baths.
The Short of It:
- In-house options are decent but pricey
- Check the immediate area for restaurant options
- You can save money by bringing your own food
The Long Version:
If you want to eat at the resort, prepare to spend money.
Great Wolf Lodge offers a variety of in-house options:
- The Loose Moose Bar and Grill (family buffet: $22/adult; $9/child, age three and up)
- Hungry as a Wolf (food court-esque cafe with pizza, fries, subs, etc. Large pizza is $17)
- Buckets Incredible Craveables (concession stand inside the water park; my Greek salad and hummus cost $22)
- Dunkin’ Donuts (inside the Lobby; good for an endless coffee cup and breakfast items on the go. Priced slightly higher than a stand-alone Dunkin’)
- Bear Paw Sweets and Eats (food court-esque sweet shop with ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, and fudge)
Convenience is the main draw for the in-house options. I had no intention of getting back in the car the first night we arrived, so we ate at the Loose Moose and swallowed the cost.
The Loose Moose is a large buffet with several stations, from fried foods and kid-friendly favorites to soup, salad, carving stations, fresh bread, Asian and Italian bars, and desserts. The food is decent, and I would probably eat there again if it weren’t for the price.
You will save quite a bit of money if you are willing to leave the resort, so check the surrounding area for restaurants. At the Williamsburg, VA, location, there is an IHOP, a Walmart, a Chik-fil-a, and a famous Barbecue place – Pierce’s – just down the road.
For the super thrifty, consider bringing all your food with you. We brought breakfast, lunch, and snack items; friends of ours bring pre-cooked pasta dishes, etc., for dinner and microwave them in-room.
The Short of It:
- Super attentive lifeguards
- Plenty of fun for all ages
The Long Version:
The Water Park is the jewel in Great Wolf’s crown. When you first enter the park, you’ll notice an information and towel kiosk right up front (bring your own towels: Great Wolf’s are skimpy). You’ll also find the concession stand, Buckets, the waterpark gift shop, and the locker rooms close to the front entrance. The water park itself boasts six slides, a wave pool, two hot tubs, a surfing simulator, a little tyke area, a lazy river, and a lagoon-type pool with basketball hoops and lily pad water crossing. (If you visit during the summer, there’s also an outdoor pool area with additional slides. We went in February, so this was closed).
Fort Mackenzie is the indoor water playground. It’s a good place to get really wet, as they have fountains, buckets, and sprayers throughout the structure. There are two water slides at the top which can be accessed via rope ladders (not super comfortable on the feet) or stairs on the structure itself.
Alberta Falls offers two slides. Grab a single or double inflatable raft at the bottom of the stairs, then slide down super fast twists and turns. If you’re looking for added adventure, pick up a slideboard instead of a raft. This ultrafast, surfboard-inspired craft turns the slide into an interactive game that tracks your best moves.
River Canyon Run
River Canyon Run is built for families. The raft seats five, winding you in and out of the resort through an enclosed structure.
The Howling Tornado flings your raft into a giant, funnel-shaped structure. Your raft winds its way around and down the funnel, then sends you down a steep slide into the waterpark. It’s a popular ride, so the lines are long.
Wolf Rider Wipeout
This is a surfing simulator. We were unable to try it out because it was broken during our stay.
Slap Tail Pond
Slap Tail Pond is the water park’s wave pool. The waves run for about five minutes at a time, followed by a five minute period of calm water. The depth goes from zero to five feet, and a lifeguard is stationed at each side of the pool.
The water park boasts two hot tubs – one for families and one for adults only. They are located above the wave pool.
This is a small indoor pool area with a max depth of four feet. You can play basketball at one end, swim around in the middle, or try your luck at Big Foot Pass (a giant lily pad crossing)on the other end of the pool.
Whooping Hollow is tons of fun for littles. It boasts two small slides, a splash pad, and several water play structures. Keep in mind that adults aren’t allowed to go down these slides. Your little people will need to be comfortable going on their own.
Crooked Creek is Great Wolf Lodge’s lazy river. It’s great in theory, but during peak times it feels more like a crowded water walkway than anything else. Go at off-peak times (early morning, lunch, evening) so you’ll have a better chance of floating through without a crowd.
Each attraction has at least two lifeguards. Slides have guards at the top and bottom; larger pools have guards on each side. Great Wolf Lodge has an award-winning lifeguard training program, and it was easy to see why. Unlike most the lifeguards at most swimming pools, the Great Wolf Lodge guards are constantly on the move. They pace the edge like agitated tigers, waiting to pounce on swimmers in distress.
Dramatic, I know. But when it comes to keeping my kids safe, I’ll take pacing tigers over sunbathing hippos any day.
Additional Attractions and Activities
The short of it:
- Great Wolf Lodge offers additional paid attractions and free activities
- Be sure to make sure the Paw Pass options will work for you before purchasing
The Long Version:
We had a blast at the water park, but our kids also enjoyed some of the additional activities offered by the resort. The hospitality staff offers free activities throughout the day, including
- face painting
- craft opportunities
- dance parties
- morning nature walks
- evening dance parties
- evening story time with animatronic characters
There are also several paid attractions:
- Ten Pin Bowling ($5/game)
- A super flashy arcade (AKA meltdown city if you have a sensory kid)
- Adult and Child salon services
- 3D Movie with mechanical seats (didn’t look into it, so I’m not sure on the price)
- Minigolf ($5/game, if I remember correctly)
- Climbing Wall (roughly $12/climb, if I remember correctly)
- Build-Your-Own Stuffed Animal (cost varies depending upon selection)
- MagiQuest ($20 for the wand; $15-$20 per game)
Be sure to check out the Paw Pass options, which allows you to buy a package of attraction tickets and activities for one person in your family. Packages start at $45.
If you are not a fan of Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy-type games, this activity is probably not for you. We are comfortable with fantasy role play to a degree, so long as our children understand it’s not real. Some of the boss battles can be intense, so keep that in mind if you have sensitive or small kiddos.
MagiQuest is an altered-reality, immersive video quest which leads participants on a resort-wide scavenger hunt. And when I say resort-wide, I mean it – we must have walked at least five miles during our stay, climbing four flights of stairs and running hallways in search of various items.
Your quest begins at the MagiQuest store:
- Pick out a wand (prices start around $17)
- Pick out an optional topper (we skipped this; prices start around $20)
- Pick a Magi name and purchase your MagiQuest game ($20)
Once your wand is activated, visit a MagiQuest kiosk to begin your adventure. Your activated wand will interact with and turn on various items around the Lodge, from animatronic animals to portraits and treasure chests. When you reach the end of each mission, your wand will help you fight and defeat the end bosses.
A few tips:
- Wands can be fudgy. You’ll have to experiment with the appropriate angle as you check in at kiosks and activate various items
- Boss battles require practice and skill, so don’t be discouraged if you fail the first few times. There is a pattern of wand movements and button presses you’ll need to decipher
- Keep your wand. If you ever return to Great Wolf Lodge, you’ll only need to purchase the game again
From the Grand Lobby to the waterpark and everywhere in between, the potential for overstimulation is high. Schedule sensory breaks and downtime to minimize meltdowns.
The place is big, and kids get separated from their families. While the staff is fantastic at helping wayward littles find their parents, signage around the resort recommends setting check-in intervals in which you regroup every 15 to 30 minutes. In the waterpark, consider using zone defense: we split up along age lines, and Dan and I traded off hanging with F in the little tyke areas.
The Great Gift Shop Gamble
There are at least three gift shops.
The Loose Moose provides allergy-friendly meals upon request.
We loved our stay at Great Wolf Lodge, and I hope we’ll get to go again someday. If you’re curious to learn more about the homeschool discount rate, give your closest location a call and inquire. Then check back in and let me know about your trip! I’d love to hear all about it.