Nothing puts a damper on a weekend getaway more than bad weather. At Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos, families can enjoy an indoor water park that is a balmy 84 degrees every day, even in the middle of winter. Who needs to fly to the Caribbean?
We visited Great Wolf Lodge for a two-night stay in early spring with our two boys, ages 2 and 5, and we soaked up just about all the fun this popular family resort has to offer.
There's plenty of room for little kids to splash around in the Cub Paw Pool.
The Water Park
The huge and simply fantastic water park caters to all ages. We visited it three times during our stay. There are waterslides that range from 1-foot-long slides for toddlers to the Double-Barrel Drop for those 48 inches and taller. You can ride down the lazy river on an inner tube or sit in the hot tub (there is a family-friendly one and an adult-only one). And there's an activity pool with floating islands that you can play on or even hop across from one side of the pool to the other (with the help of a rope system).
My 5-year-old stuck to the four slides in the Whooping Hollow area, which is geared toward the "under 52 inches" set, and he had a blast (I did, too). The kiddie area has knee-deep water and a huge tree house play-structure with spouting water, dumping buckets, and basketball nets. My son loved riding the gentle waves in the wave pool and splashing in the shallow water on the pool's edge. We did not hit the big slides during this trip, but I think we'll be ready to give them a try next time. Even so, there was more than enough to keep us happily entertained.
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Create your own furry friend at the Creation Station. Photo by the author.
There is a lot to do at Great Wolf Lodge besides the water park. The Cub Club is for younger children who need a break from the water park area and offers crafts and activities. It proved to be the perfect respite for our easily over-stimulated 2-year-old. There were low tables and chairs where little ones could color and make crafts, and in the same room was the Creation Station, where kids can make and outfit their own stuffed animal ($29.99 each).
Other indoor attractions include an arcade with games including skee-ball and air hockey, as well as small rides for tots. There's a kid-friendly bowling alley with half-length lanes and five-pound balls ($6 per game), and a nine-hole, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course featuring black light–illuminated nature scenes and forest creatures ($7 per person, per game). I worried that my 2-year-old might find it frightening, but both he and his big brother were enchanted.
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Use your magic wand to unlock clues in MagiQuest. Photo by the author.
Aside from the water park, my 5-year-old's favorite part of our Great Wolf stay was MagiQuest, which is a virtual adventure game that involves using a magic wand to unlock various clues around the resort. All through the halls, kids dashed around, waving their wands at treasure boxes, glowing crystals, talking pictures, and screens featuring fairies, bears, and dragons. Like the arcade, bowling, and mini-golf, MagiQuest has an additional fee—it's $15.99–$23.99 for a wand (more if you want to buy a special topper), and it's $14.99 to play.
Relax after a long day of water play at the Scooops Kids spa.
Kids who want some pampering can head to Scooops Kids spa for an ice cream–themed mani-pedi, and there's even a spa for adults (which I looked at longingly but did not try). Some other attractions we didn't get to on this trip include the outdoor ropes course, which has a special section for little kids ($12.99 for the main course; $9.99 for kids under 48 inches); and the Howly Wood XD movie theater, which features motion-enhanced chairs and other special effects ($7 per movie).
Put on your jammies and head down to the lobby for a nightly storytime with Wiley Wolf and friends.
All of these activities can add up, but there are plenty of other things happening throughout the day that don't have an extra fee. The main lobby is always bustling with events: There's morning yoga and a morning Wolf Walk, during which kids learn about forest animals; and the animatronic animals in the lobby's forest come to life twice a day for singing and storytelling. Throughout the day, there are dance parties, games, balloon animals, and face painting, and there's a nightly storytime during which kids gather in their jammies and wolf ears to hear a bedtime tale and meet Wiley the Wolf and his friends.
If all of this nonstop fun sounds tiring, it is—for kids and adults. Moms and dads who find themselves wanting a kid-free break are out of luck for now; but Great Wolf management told me that they have plans to offer babysitting in the future.
Great Wolf includes standard and themed suites, like the Wolf Den (above) and KidCabin.
We stayed in a standard family suite, which has two queen beds and a semi-private living area with a pull-out sofa. It's the most basic room offering, but it was spacious and clean, and charmingly decorated with forest-themed wallpaper and artwork; and we enjoyed our little balcony. The bathroom is small, but who really wants to take a long bath after a day at the water park? (My kid, it turns out.) Other options include themed suites like the Wolf Den, which has an enclosed kids' sleeping area with bunk beds and a TV; and the apartment-like premium suites, with features like a breakfast bar and a separate master bedroom.
Food & Drinks
I'd heard mixed reviews about the food before going to Great Wolf, and I was pleasantly surprised by the offerings, particularly at the buffet-style restaurant on the main level. The dinner selection included a salad bar, pasta station, and lots of veggies (which the kids passed up in favor of plain spaghetti, naturally), along with fish and a variety of meats. There was plenty of kid-friendly fare like chicken nuggets and pizza, too. The restaurant costs about $25 per adult and $12 per child for dinner.
Cheaper eats include a pizza place and fast food stands in the water park (yes, you can eat in the water park!) that are in the $4–$10 per item range. There is also an ice cream/cake shop and the obligatory Starbucks. You can also bring your own food and drinks, as the hotel rooms have a small fridge and microwave. A bonus is that alcoholic drinks are sold on the premises (there's even a bar in the water park). My husband and I didn't drink a whole lot during our stay, but I very much enjoyed the mango-lemonade vodka I ordered at the end of day two. Speaking of drinks, Great Wolf is launching a "Wine Down Service," in which wine and snacks are delivered to your hotel room after the kids are asleep. They'll even text instead of knocking to avoid waking the children. This service will be available in the Virginia and Texas markets this summer, with plans to expand to additional resorts later this year—so stay tuned.
Cleanliness & Safety
I was highly impressed by the safety at Great Wolf Lodge. There are life vests available in every imaginable size, and nearly every young child was wearing one. Each water area had at least two lifeguards who were really on their toes, watching everyone in the water. The waterslides also were well supervised. As for cleanliness, considering that this is a water park, it was pretty good. The bathrooms in the water park were not perfect, but every time we went in there was someone cleaning. Despite the fact that food is allowed in the water park, the floors and water seemed pretty clean (and of course well chlorinated).
Getting There & Cost
Great Wolf Lodge is located in Pocono Mountains, PA, about an hour and 15 minutes from Manhattan. The hotel and water park is fairly pricey, in the area of $500 a night during the weekend for a family of four during peak season, with cheaper deals during the week or off-season like summer and early fall. You cannot use the water park unless you are an overnight guest. It may seem like a lot of money for one night, but you do get two days at the water park. You can arrive as early as 1pm the day you check in and stay in the water park until it closes at 8pm on the day you check out. Two days of fantastic water fun and perfect weather for the cost of one night’s stay makes it all worth while!
Top photo: Coyote Cannon. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the resort.