Great Wolf Lodge (GWL) in Niagara Falls, Ontario embodies the effectiveness of word-of-mouth advertising. While the television commercials tantalize, while the resort itself beckons from the highway, while the website works its wonders, nothing pulls people in like testimonials from friends who have been there and done that. When someone you know and trust raves about something, you just have to see it for yourself.
When you visit GWL, they work hard to ensure that you come away with wonderful memories, glowing reports, and a desire to visit them again. As one person told me, “We’ve racked up a lot of frequent-flyer miles there.” He also repeated what became a constant refrain whenever I told someone we were going: “You will love it there.” Indeed, the hype was so great that I began to worry the reality wasn’t going to live up to the reputation. What I found was that we loved it there, and, while it wasn’t perfect, it was wonderful.
Wolves, Trees, and Bears, Oh My
Your wilderness lodge adventure begins the moment you enter the resort and step into the lobby, where the howling of wolves and the hustle and bustle of hotel guests going about their vacation business greet you. It can be overwhelming for a very young child who is sensitive to loud noises or perhaps tired and cranky from a long car ride. But the kindness of the staff, the sight of other kids enjoying themselves, and the splendour of the place eventually draw even timid children out of their shells.
The lobby is the central hub where they hold a variety of activities and events that families can enjoy. The highlight for most children is Story Time in the lobby’s Grand Living Room. Encouraged to attend in pyjamas, children listen to bedtime stories told by staff members, and enhanced by the talking moose, bear, tree, and other animatronic creatures.
The daily Wolf Walk starts in the lobby in the mornings. The Wolf Walk nature hike takes participants for a stroll around the Grand Living Room, teaching about the animals in the Northwood. The animals in the lobby also put on the Great Forest Friends Show every morning. When they aren’t participating in the show, the animals interact with children, activating when the kids approach and place a hand on the handprint in front of the animal.
100,000 Square Foot Water Park Complex
The highlight of a trip to Great Wolf Lodge is typically the water park. Boasting a summer-like constant temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit, a four-story interactive tree house, more than a dozen water slides, three hot tubs, multiple pools, including a wave pool, and indoor and outdoor water attractions, you can spend an entire day in the water park and still not get through it all. But they do make it easy for you to spend the day there without once having to leave the park.
One of the best things about Great Wolf Lodge is that they have eliminated the worries and hassles typically associated with visiting a pool. If you’ve ever had to worry about swimming without losing your room key, you will appreciate the Great Wolf Lodge system.
When checking into the resort, each guest receives a wristband to wear for the duration of his/her stay. The wristbands are Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs) that allow keyless entry into your hotel room and cashless purchases that can be charged to your room. When you are in the water park, you can then use your wristband to reserve a locker, purchase incidentals from the Swim Shop, and buy food and drinks from the snack bars located inside the park.
The water park also has showers and washroom facilities, provides towels, and has plenty of lounge chairs to accommodate those who are not frolicking in the water. Everything is clean and it is obvious that they make safety a priority. There are lifeguards everywhere, and their attentiveness is evident. When someone ignores the rules, a lifeguard steps up to remind him or her to play safe. However, great lifeguards don’t replace responsible parents, and parents are expected to look after their young children.
If you do need a break, Great Wolf Lodge accommodates with No Parents Allowed programs, though not at the water park.
Cub Club and No Parents Allowed Programs, Mini Golf Course and Arcade
The Cub Club provides a quiet, daycare-like setting where parents can take young children for crafts and play. Here you are able to purchase babysitting, which can be either in-room or in the Cub Club. They also have a pyjama party every evening, where there are no parents allowed. For a fee, your child can attend the story time in the lobby, do crafts, and colour a souvenir pillowcase. They provide snacks, and parents get two-and-a-half hours of free time to themselves.
Weather permitting, you may want to play mini golf at Wacky Wilderness Mini Golf. While it’s not something you want to do with a toddler in tow, you might be able to drag the kids out of the water park long enough to play. Its fun, and gets you out into the sunshine, which can be a precious commodity in Ontario at certain times of the year.
The Northern Lights Arcade provides plenty of amusement. Kids can play games, collect tickets and, when they have collected enough tickets, they can claim prizes. The staff at the arcade make sure that your kids come away happy. According to Jennifer Fasciano, who visited GWL with her husband and three children around Easter 2012, “The guy was great behind the counter because he let all three kids get a prize when we were short a few tickets.”
The live-action adventure game, MagiQuest, leads you on a treasure hunt through different areas of the hotel where you complete quests and go on adventures. Kids who know how to read benefit from it the most, but even younger children will enjoy waving the magic wand to activate crystals and other items and perform magic. Our granddaughter, however, was not one of those kids. When she got wind that there was a dragon to fight at the end, she became terrified of the whole game, and we were not able to play it with her. However, we did take advantage of the babysitting at the Cub Club and went on a quest ourselves.
Exploring the various floors of the hotel where the MagiQuest game was set up was fun, and solving the puzzles was entertaining. It also gave us some exercise, as we used the stairs to go between floors since it was faster than waiting for an elevator. But not everyone chooses that option, and that can be a nuisance for guests not playing the game. Fasciano explains, “The elevators took longer than usual because more people were using them to go up and down on them for one floor for the MagiQuest. The stairs should have been used in that case.”
Elements and Scoops
Fear may have prevented our granddaughter from going on a quest, but there was nothing scary about Scoops Kid Spa, and she had a wonderful experience there. Little girls will love playing pampered princess while receiving manicures and pedicures with an ice-cream theme. The kids sit on banana split thrones while receiving their spa treatment, and Scoops has birthday party packages that include ice-cream cones and tiaras.
The Elements Spa is a retreat for grown-ups, though in our case, we did not take advantage of the services. The spa looks beautiful, however, and the treatments offered include massages, including therapeutic massage by a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT). They also offer salon services, body therapies, skin care, and glows and scrubs. Men can also benefit from these services, so this may be another occasion for mom and dad to take advantage of the babysitting at the Cub Club.
Where to Eat at Great Wolf Lodge
Great Wolf Lodge has a variety of places where you can buy meals and snacks. The Antler Shanty has a breakfast and dinner buffet, and there are snack bars in the water park and in various locations near the water park. Northwoods Pizza Company will even deliver pizzas to your room. The Bear Claw Cafe has ice cream, pastries, coffee and tea, and much more. If you are hungry, you will find something to curb it at any number of places.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase all your food at the resort, then you can always bring food with you. The rooms are equipped with bar fridges, microwaves, sinks, and coffee makers. We brought a cooler with cheese, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, and items that are easily portable to make healthy meals and snacks. We brought bottles of water, and non-perishable food items as well.
We did our shopping at our local health food store before leaving for our vacation, and that allowed us to only pay for the odd meal out to treat ourselves. Buying a brunch is much less expensive than buying dinner out, and if you prefer organic, bringing your own ensures you can have the healthiest choices available.
Great Wolf Lodge provides entertainment, comfort, cleanliness, and freedom from stress. Staff were attentive, friendly and appeared to genuinely want to help. When asked whether she had any complaints, Fasciano mentions that when they went, a requested crib was not in the room when they arrived. When a staff member was informed, a crib was immediately brought up. She continues, “They are usually really good with any issues you have. I am amazed at how many people they have on staff at GWL.”
If you are looking for a one-stop family vacation where you can do it all, then you should consider Great Wolf Lodge. You can spend one night and take advantage of the water park for two days, or you can stay longer, and check out the local sights as well. Make sure you take advantage of special offers that you can receive by becoming a member of the website. It can save you a lot of money on rooms, meals, and entertainment. But be warned: once you are there, you will find it difficult to leave.
Image: Great Wolf Lodge, Niagara Falls, Ontario — Courtesy of Bob Tobin
Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute advice from your physician or health-care professional. Before beginning any health or diet program, consult your physician.