The Great Wolf Lodge Mason (Cincinnati) location is one of our family’s favorite staycation destinations. We are getting incredibly stir crazy stuck at home during this COVID19 mess, so we’ve rekindled our goal to visit ALL the Great Wolf Lodge locations someday. If you can’t travel, daydreaming about travel has to help… right? What about your family? Is Great Wolf Lodge worth a visit?
Why Great Wolf Lodge?
When my girls were younger, I was on the board of a “mothers of twins” group. A fellow board member worked at the then relatively new Great Wolf Lodge in Mason/Cincinnati, and invited us to check out some of the seasonal activities that guests could experience without booking a stay. I have such precious memories of walking in and being caught off guard by the beautiful, towering lobby (quite reminiscent of Walt Disney WOrld’s Wilderness Lodge or Animal Kingdom Lodge), seeing it snow in said lobby, and watching my toddlers dance along with an adorable audio-animatronic show. (We won’t talk about whether the show could use an update… it still inspires plenty of nostalgia, at least for me. :)) This was the beginning of what is now more than a decade long love affair with the beautifully-themed waterpark resort chain – and we hadn’t even experienced the waterpark or stayed overnight at the resort.
Since then, we have stayed. Many times. We’re fortunate enough to live just a few minutes away from the Mason location, so we try to keep an eye out for great sales, and go as often as we can squeeze in a visit. We’ve discovered that there’s honestly so much to do, every visit has been a different experience. Similar to our love for and experience with Disney destinations, we’ve sort of become the go-to family when friends have questions about a visit to Great Wolf Lodge. I once wrote a guide to visiting when I was writing for another publication, but it’s time I updated it and shared it here… especially as our Great Wolf Withdrawal grows!
RELATED: What Really Happens During a Great Wolf Lodge Stay (video)
Your Great Wolf Lodge Questions Answered
The Great Wolf site, of course, has an FAQ page of its own. You should absolutely head there when planning your visit, as the answers can change based on season, location, and now especially with a global pandemic threatening to change all of our “normal” to something new.
A note on travel in a post-COVID world:
While sparked by a COVID19 quarantine stir crazy, I’m not going to debate here whether or not it’s wise to travel, go to a waterpark, etc. The CDC has made a statement on the safety of pools and hot tubs. We are admittedly not as alarmed as many about the current virus… but will also likely bring disinfectant wipes the next several times we stay at a hotel, and do a quick wipe down of surfaces ourselves (regardless of how much we trust the housekeeping staff.)
This is the reality that has been true since long before coronavirus was in our vocabulary and will be true long after: you have to make an informed decision for your family about, well, everything. :))
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
Can I Visit Great Wolf Lodge without Booking a Stay?
This is one of the first questions that came to mind when we saw this cool new waterpark resort being built so close to home. The short answer is yes, you can visit. For things like Snowland, you’re welcome to pop in and check it out. In fact, I’m fairly certain any location would give you a tour of what they have to offer if you just wanted to check it out before committing.
The real question people usually want to know though, when asking this, is whether they use the waterpark without an overnight stay. For many, many years, the answer to this question basically, “no.” For the most part, only overnight guests got wristbands that allowed access to the waterpark. Even at this time there would, of course, be exceptions such as birthday party guests or additional day guests added onto an overnight reservation (such as Grandma and Grandpa coming to swim with the family one day, but not wanting to stay at the resort for the length of the reservation).
Starting last year, however, Great Wolf Lodge resorts began offering day passes – dependent on availability. In order to check the availability of day passes, you’ll head to this page. Enter the date you’re hoping to visit, and purchase passes accordingly.
I’ll be honest, I was disappointed when I found out the company began offering day passes. I totally get it from a business standpoint, and I truly am happy more people would get into the resorts and get to experience them. I just worry a bit that the waterpark (and resort as a whole) will be overcrowded; to be clear, I’ve yet to see this being a problem – and have hope that the company will continue to keep guest satisfaction in mind when determining availability. A stay at Great Wolf Lodge isn’t often cheap, so I imagine they’ll be cognizant of any potential decrease in value for guests.
Is Great Wolf Lodge Super Crowded in the Summer or During Holidays?
Like any travel destination, Great Wolf Lodge is going to see fluctuation in number of guests based on season and/or day of the week. Weekends are going to be more crowded than weekdays. When Kings Island is open, the Great Wolf Lodge in walking distance is undoubtedly going to be a hotter destination than in the middle of January.
That said, our experience with the use of the waterpark, etc being limited to overnight guests has done an excellent job of preventing overcrowding and long lines. It remains to be seen how the allowance of day guests will change that, but we have spent a night or two there since the introduction of day passes and haven’t yet noticed any difference. We have been in different months of the year, including both off-peak times and busy pool holidays such as Memorial Day weekend. Certainly some stays came with longer lines for the most popular slides while others didn’t, but I’ve never once felt like the public areas or pools were overly crowded or the lines too long.
Is there really something for everyone?
For our family, Great Wolf Lodge (Mason only, thus far…) has provided equally wonderfully for trips with just the kids and me as it has for multi-generational trips. We have a friend who has an annual trip with classmates and their families. I feel like there’s a great balance of activities for all ages and preferences. If you like to ride a water coaster, you’re covered. If you’d prefer to sit in a lounge chair with a drink, you’re covered. There are splash zones, zero entry pools and slides for guests ranging from infants to adults – and that’s just in the waterpark. At our local Great Wolf Lodge location, there are also family tube slides with no height requirement, water basketball “courts”, and even an obstacle course of sorts.
Outside of the waterpark, there are at least half a dozen other activities to appeal to members of your traveling party. Many are complimentary, such as crafts, story time, kids yoga, and family games. Some are even educational… but you don’t have to use that as a selling point with your kids 😉 Some of the activities require an additional fee, such as MagiQuest, bowling, mini golf, etc. Eventually, I’ll work on updating my “Ultimate Guide to Great Wolf Lodge” with more of those fun details!
What’s NOT Included with a Stay at Great Wolf Lodge?
When you book a stay, you’ll receive wristbands good for admission to the waterpark from 1pm on the first day of your reservation until everything closes on your departure day. As I mentioned, there are tons of activities and holiday/seasonal offerings that are include with your stay.
Depending on which Great Wolf Lodge location you’re visiting, however, you’ll come across a number of other things that require an additional cost. And I’ll warn you in advance, they’re pretty much all great at calling to kids and kids-at-heart…
Each location has a number of on-property restaurants. Several have mini golf and what I have recently learned is considered “duck pin bowling”, but what we’ve always just called “mini bowling”. You’ll also find an arcade and a few interactive quest games throughout the resort.
RELATED: Why Your Family Should Plan a Visit to Pigeon Forge (home of an awesome, dedicate MagiQuest location!)
Having experienced pretty much all of the offerings in our Northern Cincinnati Great Wolf Lodge (Mason) location, I have to admit… they’re all super fun – and reasonably priced, especially if planned for in advance. We have had even more visits where we do none of the additional activities, and still have a great time. In fact, since most of our stays are only one night – or two if we’re lucky – we hardly have much time for these extra things even though they’re tempting!
As with many travel planning opportunities, I suggest you begin your planning by looking at the Great Wolf Lodge location you’ll be visiting to see what they have to offer. Decide where you’d like to spend – or not spend – your money, preferably before you set foot in the hotel.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
We have really enjoyed visiting Great Wolf Lodge at different times of year. I’d have to say our favorite time though, personally, is between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m a sucker for anything Christmas anyway, and Great Wolf transforms already beautiful resorts into winter wonderlands. They also have a ton of “Snowland” activities, additional lobby shows, and – as mentioned – it snows inside!
Near Halloween and Easter, many Great Wolf Lodge locations have activities such as a Peeps hunt and a “trick-or-treat trail” throughout the public areas of the resort. On New Years Eve, our location offers a beautiful dinner buffet and family-friendly countdown celebrations.
The one thing that may have given Christmastime a run for its money for us, had we had a chance to experience it, was the Summer Camp-In that Great Wolf Lodge introduced last year. The Summer Camp-In boasted barbecue cook outs, campfire sing-a-longs, numerous camp-related badges for families to earn, special character interactions, and more. I’m bummed we couldn’t fit it into our plans last year, and hope to see it return for 2020 so we can check it out!
Be sure to keep an eye on the website for any special celebrations or events that might be going on during your visit. Even if you aren’t going during a holiday, you’ll still have a blast. In warmer months, you’ll also be able to play and swim outside and experience additional summer-time attractions. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a bad time to visit!
RELATED: Holidays at Great Wolf Lodge
Pro tip: The Great Wolf Lodge email newsletter is one of few I still happily get in my inbox. Several times each year they’ll offer great sales, even for peak times such as Memorial Day weekend and Christmas.
Do I Need to Bring Anything with Me, Like Beach Towels or Life Jackets?
Great Wolf Lodge provides towels in the waterpark area, but has recently implemented a “check in/out” system to make sure they are returned rather than strewn about the resort. So while you’re covered (no pun intended!) in the pool areas, you may want to bring towels or bathing suit covers (plus flip flops!) for the walk to and from your room and in other public spaces.
Pool toys, inflatables, and rafts are not permitted inside the waterparks. Coolers are allowed in the resort, but not inside the waterpark. Keep in mind that each guest room has a mini-fridge, so a cooler might not be necessary at all.
Life jackets and puddle jumpers – and plenty of them! – are provided free of charge from infant to adult sizes.
Will My Kids Be Safe?
Everyone under 18 should be supervised at all times in the waterpark and during other hotel activities. That said, it’s totally understandable that you can’t be right next to each of your kids at all times. In our experience, there are more lifeguards at Great Wolf Lodge than I’ve seen anywhere similar. The staff has always been extremely friendly and helpful.
While the waterpark is “huge” and tons of fun, it’s not so big that you can’t position yourself in a place to see most of it. As my kids have gotten older, we just make very specific plans about checking in at a specified location between activities.
Do you have any other questions about a visit to Great Wolf Lodge? Especially until I can get my other articles updated, I’d love to answer them if I can! Just shoot me a message or comment below, or visit on Facebook and join in the discussion there.
In the meantime, check out a video of some of our favorite activities, events, and memories from Great Wolf Lodge – Mason/Cincinnati!