For years, my kids watched the commercials for Great Wolf Lodge, the indoor waterpark and resort. They saw kids smiling while careening down water slides, enjoying oodles of fun activities and the occasional drenching from the large water bucket. As the picture faded into the next advertisement, my kids would always beg, “Can we go there? Pleeeeeeease?”
The answer was always no, largely because of cost. Several years ago, I had checked the website in a quick search and saw what a two-night stay would be, plus additional add-ons. It was too much for us. But that didn’t mean that I had taken it off my wish list.
This year, I decided to get serious about my hidden goal of getting my family to the Williamsburg, Virginia location. Tons of my friends had taken their kids. Why couldn’t we?
While looking over the lodge’s website, I noticed an “Early Saver” option: If you sign up to receive emails and book 60 days or more in advance, you get 40 percent off your stay. Say what? Sign me up right now!
(Tip: If your dream destination has a similar offer, but you are worried you will miss the time period, because, you know, you’ve got kids, set a reminder on your phone.)
The lodge has other deals, so check out their “Special Offers” section to see if any work for you and your family. I also have friends who got great Groupon deals for stays over winter months.
When I knew what our family wanted, I started playing around with dates in late August, thanks to the extra-long summer this year. I noticed that if you stay during the week, it is way cheaper than during the weekend, which is of course true for most hotels/resorts. I settled on a Wednesday and picked a one-night stay.
Then I got to the add-on page and had a little freak out. There are so many possibilities and they all bear a cost. Did we want a late check out? Would the kids want to do MagiQuest? How about mini golf? I called my sister, who had been to another location several times, in a panic. “Which ones do I have to add?” I asked. Her reply: “You don’t have to do any of it.”
Quite frankly, she was right. If you just book the room, your stay also includes access to the 79,000-square-foot water park with multiple slides, a lazy river, a four-story tree house fort and a wave and kiddie pool area. (And that’s just indoors. There is also a pool outside, during warm months.) The resort also features multiple activities for kids, story time, character appearances and a show in the lobby. The water park alone was enough to keep my kids’ attention, so we didn’t add anything.
Here’s how to maximize your time: The water park opens to checked-in guests at 1 p.m. But you are allowed to be in the water park until closing on the day you check out. So we went on Wednesday and had park access on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, even though we only booked one night.
One thing you should know before you go is that life jackets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. We got into the park around 2 p.m. and I didn’t see any available ones. Thankfully we brought our own. You might want to pack any you have as well.
While the water park is the centerpiece for the resort, Great Wolf also hosts seasonal celebrations including Snowland, where the facility turns into a winter wonderland; Howl-O-Ween, with trick-or-treat trails; and Spring-a-Palooza, featuring bubble dance parties.
Another way we were able to save is by bringing some food with us. My kids can be picky eaters, especially when it comes to breakfast items, so I packed some cereal, granola bars, juice and milk, which they ate in the room. There are some great on-site eateries like Hungry as a Wolf with pizza and pasta, Loose Moose Bar & Grill, offering buffet options, and Dunkin’ Donuts for those coffee and breakfast cravings. We did eat dinner on-site, which satisfied our depleted stomachs after a full day of water park shenanigans.
All in all, we had a great and – equally important – affordable vacation.
Each month Gina Gallucci-White will write about the life hacks every parent needs. Do you have an idea for her to write about, a topic for which you would like some know-how or a shortcut you can recommend? Email our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.