Looking for a way to overcome the winter blues, which have come unusually early to our part of the world, we decided to leave the snow, slush and ice behind and pulled the kids out of school for a few days at Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. After all, there’s nothing that flies in the face of snow more than hanging out in a water park all day.
My wife and kids love the water; me not so much. Especially when the water in question has been subjected to the presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of children; many of whom are at the age where any kind of excitement can disrupt the toilet training routine. My wife is all too aware of my hang-ups and went to the trouble of obtaining documentation for me that shows Great Wolf Lodge employs an advanced ozone water treatment system combined with extensive water quality testing. After the better part of two days in the water, I can say that it seemed clean and the only time I encountered an unpleasant chemical-effect (read: excessive chlorine) was when the jets were on in the hot tubs.
There are 11 Great Wolf Lodge locations around the US, plus the one in Canada, and each of them follows the same basic theme: a wilderness-style hotel, complete with log wall treatments, lots of stone and very realistic animatronic animals (including bears, moose, raccoons and wolves), adjoining a massive indoor water park. At eight years old, Natasha is tall enough that she was able to ride the Niagara Rapids Run, a 727-foot water roller coaster featuring an uphill section and 52 foot drop- not bad stats for an indoor attraction. Other highlights were the vortex (think swirling down a giant drain at high speed) and the Wooly Mammoth. I have a notoriously weak stomach and one nausea-inducing trip down the Wooly Mammoth actually did me in for an entire day. Apparently it’s not that bad for most people though, as even toddlers are allowed on it when accompanied by an adult. Generally, the boys and I hung out in the shallower areas and the hot tubs; our favorite was probably the wave pool, which really churned things up for ten minutes at a time. For parents, there is a separate adult hot tub and various shacks around the interior of the park sell frosty beverages (which I felt unable to avail myself of, due to the effects of that wretched Wooly Mammoth). If you want a break from the water, there’s the obligatory arcade -although this is a pretty large one- spa options, and the storytelling sessions for kids in the main lobby proved particularly popular. The animatronic animals were very high quality models and were extremely popular with kids, as well as being favorite backgrounds for staging photos. The rooms themselves continue the wilderness theme and we found them clean, generously sized and well laid out. Even a basic room was equipped with a microwave and fridge, so you can stock up on snacks if you don’t feel like hitting the restaurant for every meal.
Pricing is on the expensive side, but you aren’t paying just for a room, you’re getting a day at the water park as well. We took advantage of one of their special rates, so it was under $150 US for a night and basically two days at the water park for a family of five (your wristband is good for the day following your stay and you can use the change rooms after checkout if you choose to remain and use the park). I can highly recommend the weekday option if you don’t mind taking the kids out of school for a day or two- the water park gets considerably busier on weekends.
Wired: Chipped wrist band will open and pay for anything so you don’t have to lug keys and wallet around the pool with you; for water park fans, there’s enough variety to easily kill several days; well-staffed with life guards; premises are kept spotless; high quality animatronics to entertain the kids.
Tired: We didn’t try all of the options, but found the food to be underwhelming (even by snack bar standards); towels at the water park are plentiful but tiny; wristband access to locks is a neat idea but doesn’t always take into account the ergonomics of larger arms.