It’s finally time for the ultimate first-timers guide to Great Wolf Lodge visits. We’ve rounded up our tips and experiences and everything you need to know to plan a trip to Great Wolf Lodge. (Yep. We’re still daydreaming of our return.) As I mentioned in this post, I’m updating previous Great Wolf Lodge articles and sharing them here. I’d love to know if you have anything to add, or how your next visit goes! 😊
(By the way – none of this is sponsored. Long, long ago, we utilized friends and family discounts for our first Great Wolf Lodge stays (which got us hooked!). We were also hosted once for a day visit. The rest of the visits have been completely on our own, as are any planned for the future, and I’ve never been paid directly for any article or social coverage. Just to get all of that out of the way up front 🙃)
What (where?!) is Great Wolf Lodge?
Great Wolf Lodge now has EIGHTEEN waterpark hotel locations around the US and Canada. In addition to the indoor waterpark that made them famous, there are many other attractions and activities available during your stay — so much that it can be overwhelming to plan your first visit.
There are many rooms at Great Wolf Lodge that you would describe as “typical” hotel rooms. In addition to these, though, are a variety of suite options – each has its own charm.
Themed Family Suites
The most fun for families are definitely the themed suites. These include the Wolf Den, KidKamp, and KidCabin suites. Bunk beds, a themed kids area, and even a kids-only television make these the most requested in our family. They do come at a cost though, so we donʼt always end up in one of these.
The kind of room we use most when we travel with extended family members is the Loft Fireplace Suite. With two stories and two bathrooms, itʼs easy for multiple people to share a room without tripping over one another. This is a great option for grandparents to travel with kids and grandkids, or for two families to split the cost of a stay! Many of the suites sleep up to 8 adults.
Does it matter which room we pick?
The prices of each room type vary greatly, but I have to say that weʼve felt each one was worth the cost. We usually choose our room type first based on availability of deals and sales, then based on how much we actually plan to be in the room during a particular stay. We love that there are so many options!
Attractions and Activities at Great Wolf Lodge
Indoor Water Park
Itʼs always 84°F in the Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Waterpark, and there are activities for all ages and thrill levels. The Cincinnati/Mason location has 17 water features, including play areas for toddlers, family tube slides, a water coaster, a wave pool, and so much more. Unlike most water parks weʼve visited, only two attractions have a height requirement of 48”. Many allow guests 42” and taller to ride, and some family-friendly rides have no height requirement at all. There are slides and attractions to ride alone, some to ride with a partner, and some that seat up to five or six at a time!
Outdoor Pool & Play Area
Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, Great Wolf Lodge also offers an outdoor pool. In addition to the swimming pool, the outdoor play area at our local Great Wolf property even has an additional toddler splash area and a small obstacle course of sorts.
Interactive Quest Games: MagiQuest, ShadowQuest, and Compass Quest
MagiQuest and ShadowQuest are interactive adventures that take place throughout the lodge. Guests can purchase a wand and game play (for the duration of your stay); wands activate a variety of portals and scavenger hunt type quests.
CompassQuest continues with a similar adventure in a group format. Where MagiQuest and ShadowQuest missions can take as little as 15 minutes (or as long as your entire stay, if you choose to play multiple quests), CompassQuest adventures last 4-6 hours each.
We haven’t yet experienced CompassQuest, but LOVE doing MagiQuest. We have even visited a dedicated MagiQuest location on a recent visit to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Keep your wand somewhere handy between trips. A new game play has to be purchased each time you visit a MagiQuest location, but the progress is stored and tied to your wand. Just as a heads up, since we learned the hard way – progress is saved on a location-by-location basis. A ton of achievements at our local Great Wolf Lodge meant nothing in Tennessee.
Northern Lights Arcade – and Ten Paw (Mini) Bowling!
The Northern Lights arcade has lots of fun games, and is open 24 hours (as long as you load a Paw Points arcade card during redemption hours). On most of our visits we don’t visit the arcade, but itʼs an especially great option for people like our family who wake up before anything else opens.
Located inside of the Northern Lights Arcade (at some locations), Ten Paw Bowling is an adorable version of bowling with tiny lanes and small, 5-pound balls. We’ve done it a few times, and have fun each time. At just $5 at our location (at the time of posting) – and just a short time commitment per game – itʼs a great way to spend some time out of the water.
Howl-at-the-Moon Glow Mini Golf
Some Great Wolf Lodge locations have an indoor miniature golf course with super cute glow-in-the-dark scenes. Itʼs not the most elaborate putt-putt golf course weʼve seen, but itʼs inexpensive and lots of fun. Like Ten Paw Bowling, itʼs definitely a fun way to do something different for an hour or so.
Creation Station & Clubhouse Crew
Creation Station is much like Build-a-Bear; guests choose their favorite Great Wolf Kids character and bring it to life! There are even outfits for them, though admittedly we thought the selection was pretty small. Thankfully, some of your kiddosʼ favorite bear clothes fit these characters as well.
With the purchase of a Creation Station character, you can also participate in the Clubhouse Crew interactive game. Throughout the hotel there are kiosks that are activated by a sensor inside the plush character. You can help solve a mystery… and there are often additional holiday-themed activities! We have only done this a couple of times, but especially enjoyed the winter version!
Cub Club Activities
When our Great Wolf Lodge first opened, there was a kids club area very similar to a Community Hall at a Disney Vacation Club location. Families could come in and do a variety of crafts and activities, some for a small additional fee.
Our location no longer has the Cub Club, but you will often find complimentary Cub Club activities (such as crafts, coloring pages, and games) at specified times and locations in the resort. We have occasionally seen options such as decorating a pillowcase, creating a picture frame, or coloring a t-shirt, that require an additional fee; most of the Cub Club fun is totally free, though!
Storytime & Additional Great Wolf Lodge Lobby Activities
Great Wolf Lodge has no shortage of free activities to keep the kids (and kids at heart) busy! Activities vary depending on location and season, but there is always something going on. Some things happen on virtually every visit, including games (such as Bingo or matching games), The Great Clock Tower Show, PJ Storytime, dance parties, educational “Wolf Walks”, character meet and greets, and more!
Upon check in, you’ll receive papers that detail the kinds of activities happening throughout the resort during your stay. There is always plenty to do, though we have noticed that the number of activities offered often increases significantly during the weekends. During the winter Snowland event, some favorites include Cookies with Mrs. Claus, Face Painting, a Snow ʼN Glow Dance Party, and – depending on your location – perhaps even carriage rides or visits with Santa!
Tips for Booking Your First Stay at Great Wolf Lodge – and Saving Money!
- Once youʼve booked your Great Wolf Lodge stay, take a look at the events calendar for your location. There are so many activities from which to choose, but will your family just prefer to stay in the waterpark from open to close?
- Similarly, find out which attractions interest your family most and fit in your stay. Will you play mini golf or go bowling? Are you going to load money on a pass for the arcade? Will you buy a wand and participate in the MagiQuest interactive games? Those can be very fun, but consider the length of your trip. It doesnʼt necessarily make sense to spend a premium on a hotel that includes a water park if you wonʼt be using it – or contrarily, to justify the cost based on additional activities that are available, if you wonʼt be participating.
- Plan your visit with the super useful Great Wolf Lodge website. Select your specific location to access the events calendar, height requirements, specials and packages. You can even a planning guide based on your childʼs age and interests!
- Maximize your time at the Lodge by arriving the morning of your first day, even though you room may not be ready for some time. You can’t enter the waterpark until 1pm on that first day, but this is often the best time to experience some of the other Great Wolf Lodge offerings.
- Plan to stay until everything closes on the last day of your reservation, if possible. Youʼll have to vacate your room at check-out time, but you donʼt have to stop playing! You can enter the waterpark the entire next day, as well as enjoy any of the other amenities. This (in addition to living close, of course) is what allows us to stay just one night most of the time – but enjoy two days of fun!
- If you are going to opt for some of the paid attractions, be sure to look at the Paw Pass, Pup Pass, and Wolf Pass options. These pre-paid packages provide substantial discounts on some of the things you might pay for anyway. We have found that on subsequent visits they do not often make sense for us, but on trips when we would perhaps stay an extra night or already planned on purchasing a souvenir or something anyway, we always consider them.
Dining at Great Wolf Lodge
The on-site dining options are quite good, and reasonably priced when compared to some vacation resort destinations. What is available at each Great Wolf location may vary, but you will likely find the following from which to choose during your stay:
Lodge Wood-Fired Grill
This signature sit-down restaurant is right off the lobby. On the menu are wood-fired steaks, seafood, and ribs. Itʼs a nice dining option, while still offering a very kid-friendly menu and atmosphere. Like most pub style dining, there are often even happy hour and late night specials for extra savings. You can order for dine-in or take out.
Hungry As a Wolf
Hungry as a Wolf serves pizza, pasta, salads and subs. We often order pizza from our room when we check in on our first day, pick it up after we unpack, and eat a quick lunch so we can hit the waterpark.
Buckets Incredible Cravigns is located inside the waterpark. Buckets serves hamburgers, hot dogs, soft pretzels, chicken strips, and other family favorites. OUR favorite, though, is definitely “The Tipping Bucket”! This speciality ice cream treat isn’t quite the same as a Kitchen Sink Sundae from Walt Disney World’s Beaches and Cream, but it’s yummy – and tons of fun. It’s SO much ice cream though, since the entire bucket is filled with soft serve… so bring your appetite (or a few extra family members)!
Our Buckets location recently got Coca-Cola Freestyle machines too, so we didn’t have to wait in line for a refill or go out to Hungry As A Wolf to use the machine outside the waterpark!
Loose Moose Cottage
Depending on the Great Wolf Lodge location, you may find a buffet restaurant off the lobby called Loose Moose Cottage. When we first started visiting the Cincinnati/Mason location, Loose Moose had dinner and breakfast specials. On our list visit, however, it was only open during breakfast hours. Weʼve enjoyed it for both meals, though, and it may be an option for one or both on your stay.
Bear Paw – Sweet Eats and Treats
Bear Paw serves house-made fudge, baked goods, and other delicious sweets. Ours even has hand-scooped ice cream in about a dozen flavors!
Grizzly Rob’s / Grizzly Jack’s
Grizzly Robʼs is the bar located inside the waterpark at the Mason, Ohio location. Iʼve seen Grizzly Jackʼs mentioned at a variety of locations, which leads me to believe there may be other bar keepers at different locations 😉 Just know this – you wonʼt have to leave the waterpark if you need a drink refill.
Dunkin Donuts and other Local Options
Most locations have a chain bakery/coffee shop. At ours, the Dunkin Donuts even offers a refillable mug option for coffee drinkers. Your mileage may vary, but you might find a few options at your location that we do not have.
Wine Down Service
A relatively new service, we think this is a great treat on occasional visits! Once the kids are finally asleep, you can have a bottle of wine and a treat from a special Wine Down Menu delivered to your room at a specified time. We had a red wine and chocolate truffles, but there are also non-alcoholic and savory treats to choose from! I will add that it seems each location handles this a bit differently. A friend of mine had a beautifully presented Wine Down service, while ours was brought in a plastic to-go container with far less elaborate presentation. It was still tasty and a pretty good value, just realize your experience may vary.
Tips for Dining at Great Wolf Lodge – and Saving Money (Again!)
- Consider bringing your own meals to save time and money. Each Great Wolf Lodge room has a mini fridge and a microwave, and many suites have full dining areas. Itʼs absolutely possible to eat in your room and not spend any additional money on food, drinks, or snacks.
- Alternatively, get food delivered or purchase take-out from a nearby restaurant. Most Great Wolf Lodge properties are in areas that are already popular for tourists. This generally means youʼll find a number of fast food or local restaurants where you can eat, either taking a quick trip off site or bringing food back to your suite. Weʼve never had so much as a glance when bringing in or ordering food from outside the hotel. You can’t bring outside food into the waterpark, but otherwise it’s not a problem at all.
- Take a good look at the refillable mug program for your stay! Dependent on location, you’re likely to find Coca-Cola Freestyle Machines throughout the resort for easy refills throughout the length of your stay. They even have unlimited Icee options!
- If you do decide to check out the restaurants and snack options at the Lodge, check for package deals after youʼve booked your stay. Just as with the activity options, there are usually Dining Package options that are excellent bargains. Some examples of these that we’ve seen include vouchers for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each person in your party (more than $75 value per person) for just $40/day. Even purchasing a voucher for single meals ahead of your stay will save you money versus purchasing them onsite; this is especially true with the buffet breakfasts.
Allergy Awareness at Great Wolf Lodge
From the Great Wolf Lodge website: “At Great Wolf Lodge, our chefs are passionate about preparing culinary options to accommodate the food allergies and dietary restrictions of our guests. We are more than happy to assist with your dietary needs, and encourage you to speak directly with our chef so your meal can be prepared safely.” They go on to say they do not use or serve any peanut or peanut-based foods in any of the Great Wolf branded restaurants, to avoid a common allergen from the outset!
If you have allergy concerns, take a look at this page of the Great Wolf Lodge site. It’s specific to the Cincinnati/Mason location, but is incredibly easy to find for each location – which is especially helpful if you’d like to have a contact for your location before (and while) planning your stay.
Celebrating Holidays, Birthdays, and other Seasonal Events with Great Wolf Lodge
I’ve got an entire article already written on the specialty events at Great Wolf Lodge. You should definitely check it out to see if something extra fun is happening during your visit – or, even better, to choose the perfect time of year for your family to visit!
At a glance, here are some of the things covered. With such exciting new offerings last summer as the Summer Camp-In, it’s clear Great Wolf Lodge doesn’t plan on stopping any of these fun, extra events any time soon!
- Howl-O-Ween: during the autumn months, Great Wolf Lodge offers “Spooktacular Story Time”, Monster Bash dance parties, and the incredible “Trick or Treat Trail” – all included with your stay.
- Snowland: Snowland was happening the first time we visited Great Wolf Lodge, and holds a special place in our hearts. In addition to a stunningly beautiful lobby overlay and snow in the lobby, tons of holiday events are offered throughout the lodge.
- Summer Camp-In: New in 2019, this is one we’ve yet to experience. It sounds like a blast, though! Families can earn badges for special activities, and then end their camp days with barbecues and campfire sing-a-longs!
- Great Wolf Lodge offers a variety of ways to celebrate birthdays, including room decorations and a cake for your stay or full birthday party packages.
Shopping Opportunities at Great Wolf Lodge
There are lots of shopping options inside each Great Wolf Lodge location:
Buckhorn Exchange Shop offers souvenir merchandise, apparel, the Character Creation station, books, gifts, and more.
MagiQuest Marketplace is where youʼll find wands, wand toppers, costumes, and other accessories for MagiQuest, ShadowQuest, and CompassQuest.
Bear Essentials Swim Shop carries swimsuits, cover-ups, sunscreen, goggles, and anything else you might need for your waterpark visit.
Great Wolf Candy Company has dozens of options of bulk candy.
Elements Spa & Iron horse Fitness Center are available to all guests who need a little pampering or are hoping to stay on track with a workout during the visit.
Scoops Kidsʼ Spa is a spa exclusively for kids – and almost all of the services are ice cream themed!
The Great Wolf Kids Store has Great Wolf Kids character merchandise.
Build-a-Bear Workshop and other stores are popping up in some locations, as well. You can find all of the shopping information specific to your location on the Great Wolf website!
Great Wolf Lodge Shopping Tips
- Make a list of things you may want to pack – especially if youʼre traveling at off-peak times. While there are shops on-site that provide just about everything you need, youʼll pay a premium for items you forget to pack. For example, we paid nearly double for a small pack of swim diapers when my son was little. They weren’t reallyavailable in stores during the winter anyway, but we could’ve saved money by ordering online in advance.
- EDITORS NOTE: The following information may not be accurate. I can’t currently find the Great Wolf Lodge online store site, which makes me believe it’s no longer an option. I have a message out to try and figure this out. 🙂
Whether as a way to break the news of a Great Wolf Lodge visit, or a way to increase excitement while waiting for your stay to arrive, consider buying some GWL merchandise from the online store. A plush Great Wolf Kids friend, tee shirt, or wolf ears may be just the thing to get your little cubs super excited.
Frequently Asked Questions for Planning a Great Wolf Lodge Visit
If you have specific questions about things like lockers, life jackets, reservation process, COVID-19 concerns, and more, I have an entire article on things you’ll want to know when planning your first visit. Check that out here, and the Great Wolf Lodge FAQ page here. Happy Planning!
Each of our Great Wolf Lodge experiences has been different, but SO much fun. We talk about going back all the time, and can’t wait for next time we can get back. I’d love to hear about your experiences… and which Great Wolf Lodge location you think we should visit next!