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    Great Wolf Lodge: our latest trip

    March 30th, 2016

    I’m not one to mix reviews on this blog, since so much of my focus is to preserve this in our family books, but since we’re one of the first NorCal families to make our way down there and my friends have asked for reviews I’m doing this in a more review-y format.

    The kids had fun. It’s something they want to do again. That matters.

    From an adult perspective, I’m straddling the line between “I had fun” and “What the hell?” I’m going to lean the “I had fun” route, but here’s how YOU can make sure you join the fun camp: it’s all about expectation setting. My general note is that you should expect for this to NOT be a budget vacation, and you should expect to that activities take time and you should prepare to wait around.

    S got a stomach bug on this vacation. Again! If you’re counting, we’re 2 for 2 now with SoCal family trips and S picking up something on the way. We’ve joked that he’s simply allergic to being there. Who knows. I’m sure he can give you his own review of the amenities of being tied to a bathroom, but the summary from his side would likely be “GWL needs better toilet paper”.

    Rooms

    Some pluses: rooms have free Wifi (priorities… you know?), a fridge (no freezer though!) and a microwave. It’s a place built around family vacations so you are surrounded by other families and the rooms felt generally sound-proof. I didn’t hear other showers, toilets, feet running around or kids yelling at 6am in the morning.

    Room access was interesting. Our wrist tags had embedded chips in them, and when you rubbed your wrist against the door reader, your door would unlock. Very cool from the perspective of not needing to carry a key card with you (kind of hard to keep one in a lady’s swim suit), …. BUT you literally had to get your wrist on it. Not awesome when you have both hands busy carrying something else.

    Food

    Food. Food was good (except for their pizza — I thought the pizza was not good). But expensive. And the wait were so bad. We didn’t make a reservation on their main Grill. The wait was 45 min for a 2-top table, and a full hour for a 4-top. I got S2 squared away with some pizza back in the room, and then G and I went down to the grill. I was initially thinking we’d leave the hotel, but then when I started considering getting to the car, finding a place, it would be 45 min anyway… we stayed. I kind of regret it. The wait staff was nice, but the wait to get our food was also rediculous. We were seated at 7:50pm. We didn’t get our food until close to 9. It wasn’t even that busy at that time. This kid is usually asleep by then! The waitress joked around that they were growing the food they were serving us.
    There ARE restaurant options outside of the hotel and driving to/back isn’t bad. Most of them are chains (Red Robyn, Outback, etc.), but if you’re into Asian cuisine it’s totally your place, because most of the non-chain options were Asian fare.

    Other Amenities

    Target is a hop away. You could probably walk there if you needed to. Good stop for snacks, and other forgotten/non-packed items. Like Pepto-bismol.

    Water Park

    The water park is redonculous. Here are two (crummy) photos captured from the main lobby.

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    (not pictured : the waves in the wave pool)

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    In honesty, these photos don’t do the place justice, because they don’t capture how big it is. You don’t see (well) the boogie board area. Not illustrated at all is the adventure pool, or the outdoor pool, or the impressive water slides. Again: this place is huge! Maybe look at the tiny little adults for size reference. I didn’t bring any electronic equipment in there, so this is the best you’ll get. I took a lot of mental snap-shots though.

    S2’s favorite spot was the wave pool. He could probably spend all his time there and be happy. Mental Snapshot 1: sitting, potty-style on each of the fountain heads. He ran from one to the next squatting on it. I’m starting to think this kid would enjoy a bidet. Second mental snapshot: laying down in the water with his hands behind his head just floating in the wave pool as it pushed him around.

    The kids liked the lazy river a bunch. After my 3rd go around on it, I was getting bored, but they liked chasing each other in it (they refused the rafts and swam it instead) and trying to hit up every splash zone in it. My job was to bob for a kid once in a while if I didn’t see them pop above water as the current dragged them on.

    MY favorite part was the water slides. Coyote Cannon and the Alberta Falls (blue line) are a must! As the theme of the review goes: the lines are long, so each 1 min thrill ride was preceded by a good, long, 20 min wait (at least). The resort tries to be really inclusive of all ages. As such, very few rides are restricted for older kids/adults. You are measured by height upon entry and then issued a wrist-band. Only 2 slides require you to be 48″ in height. So of course, the lines for those lines were significantly shorter, since most of the attendees included families with kids below that height. The lines for the slides make NO SENSE on your first go-round. You really kind of need a guide. You walk up to them and there are signs telling you of the attractions, but no association of which ride corresponds to which tube. You climb the stairs and then see some arrows pointing you to each ride. You are then assigned a paw color (per ride) that you should stick with. Good luck remembering which ride you wanted so you can figure out which color you need to stick by. You’d think that the colors on the paw correspond with the color of the tube. But, no: no such luck!¬†On our first go, I took the advice of a dad who lead us to the shortest line, only for me to discover all the way on the top that our kids were of course not tall enough for that one, and we were now stuck. Luckily a mom alone with a single kid took pity on us and told us we could join her raft, which thankfully allowed up to 5 people. It was perfect! To boot it was a good first ride to go with the kids.
    The next day, it was just S2 and I doing the slides, and armed with a bit more knowledge, I paid better attention, so was able to maneuver this area of the park a little better.

    There are two sad things about the waterpark:
    1) while the water is warmed to 84 degrees, it’s only 84 degrees, so within 2 hours you are seeing your kids teeth chattering and their lips turn an interesting shade of purple. G asked to leave because he was cold. He actually didn’t want to go back the second day because he didn’t want to be that cold again. There IS a way to combat this, if you don’t mind being a little environmentally non-friendly: extra towels. I had a strategy, where whenever we would move from one section of the water park to another, I would grab another towel for each of us and dry us off on the way.
    Tip. Start with the big water slides first, before you even get wet. That way, you’re still feeling warm from the humidity of the park, and being in line for awhile won’t bother you as much.

    2) no where to put your stuff. I mean it. ALL THE CHAIRS ARE TAKEN. I’m pretty sure some families walked in at 9am when the water area opened up, camped out a set of chair, leaving behind a towel/anything to claim it and then walked off for the rest of the day until they decided to come back. It wasn’t as big of a deal for me with my boys, because they’re energizer bunnies and wouldn’t sit anyway, but for a family with a smaller kid that needs the rest/place to warm up, this would be a major PITA. Finding a place for a stroller, accordingly is also hard — if you were lucky enough to find a spot AND were lucky enough to find a spot where a stroller would go by, you should play the lottery.
    The one bonus to NOT having a place to park our stuff is that it gave me flexibility to hang a dry towel right next to the exit of whatever area we were in, so we can quickly dry off.

    Other Activities

    So… what do you do at a resort that’s all about a water park when you’re done with your 2 hours of swimming for the day/morning? Good news is that GWL jas a bunch of activities for that too. You don’t have to hang out in your room. They have a bowling area, put put golf, arcade, build-a-bear-like thing, and an immersive role-playing game/treasure hunt called MagiilQuest. There’s also free story-time (in the evenings), dance party, craft area, chess zone. Some things have assigned times, so you gotta hunt them out.

    Guess what our kids pleaded for? If you guessed MagiQuest you’d be right. I blame my love of Harry Potter and our ongoing reading for the past few months. S2 saw the wands wondering around him, and the moment he saw a kid unlock a chest by waving his wand at it, the kid lost his mind. I really thought this game could be a 30 min reprieve from boredom. Fast forward to the next day and what felt like 8 hours of running around the hotel later we actually completed a quest. To be honest, the game IS fun, but… BUT after the 7th time (of what felt like hundreds) of taking the elevators up and down the building to get the next rune, or moss, or what-not my feet were just no longer happy. Bring comfy, well supportive shoes. I was wearing comfortable shoes, but not comfortable enough to be walking/standing all day in them. Ow! The game CAN be played by younger toddlers, but you will need to assist and be prepared to do some of the challenges on their behalf (like taking care of the Goblin King). If you have a kid that reads on their own AND you feel comfortable letting loose in the hotel on their own, you don’t have to supervise. Enjoy the free babysitting! If you don’t — well, get ready for the adventure. Bring drinks! Man, I wish I thought of that. Spiked, preferably.
    Ok, so speaking of the Goblin King battle — we spent over an hour on this part alone. It’s a team effort. One person needs to flick their wand, while the other interacts with the computer. It was maddening. There were 4 families around us that were all stuck, so imagine the line of 10+ kids trying to win this level, each taking a turn, failing and getting to the back of the line. We bonded. We celebrated our victories. We were jealous of those that got it before us.
    Oh — I’d like to thank the little, snotty 8-yr old that convinced S2 that you could only win the Goblin King battle if you dished out $15 for a special wand topper. I spent $70+ on the game/wands to begin with, didn’t really need him helping my kids have reason to ask for more money to be spent. I didn’t cave. We won the battle. Better still, G (with the help of two older girls) won the final Dragon battle the first time, with no special topper to be had. Does the topper help? Probably. Do you need it? NO!!! Partner up with people that have done it before and can get you out fast. Or, go back to the store and ask one of the people behind the counter for help. If they’re not busy, they’ll actually go with you to the spot and guide you through it.
    Personal tip : for each rune you need to get, and each creature you were supposed to befriend/conquer you have to go to just about every floor where the game is played (there are 5 in total). Start from the 6th floor, and work your way down. Usually the last “guardian” you’re supposed to turn your stuff in and then get your next assignment is in one of the two lobby floors, so working down is the way to go. Take photos w/ your mobile phone of each thing you need for easier recollection.
    Second personal tip: Cover the tip of your wand whenever you walk by a “portal” kiosk. If you don’t, and have a sensitive wand it will go off. Then the next person that comes up to the kiosk will see your profile, and if they don’t know what they’re doing they’ll erase your progress. So huzzah for that awesome UI feature. Not!!! And yes, it happened to us. The day after we won the Goblin King. Luckily at that time we were pros and got the battle right away.

    G loved playing the game. He was excited about it, and was really invested. He has asked that we go for a full week next time so he can do the next 2 quests. We played a bit more after check-out because we were so close to being done, and he just really wanted to see it through. S2 was over it, and was kind of done after Goblin.

    Summary

    Would it be a trip I would do again? Yes. I’d prefer to go with another family, though. In ideally 2 more years. Then we can hang out with the kids, or let them loose and everyone can have fun.

    The hotel is also a 7 min drive to Disneyland. It’s on the same road. Given the cost of a hotel on the Disney property, this is comperable, and walking to the park aside, I can see a family staying at GWL, doing their 2 hours in the waterpark and then the rest at Disney park. Can’t be sure, but S thinks he saw a shuttle from GWL to Disney.

    Oh — I almost forgot, a proud parenting moment for me: I lost a kid! Yep. First time this has ACTUALLY happened. Luckily it was G, and he had the sense to go up to the room. When you’re soloing it with 2 kids, that walk at different pace, and one is just tired of all the walking, this happened. They did OK enough for the most part staying together, but man this was rough. It was just what I needed after being cranky, tired and hungry myself. I was SO mad. Thankful he was OK. Happy he was easily recovered (by the time I had noticed he was MIA, he was already knocking on our hotel door), but SO not what I needed.

    Now onto the photos.

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    How do you eat a cinnamon roll?

    March 6th, 2016

      
    Cinnamon rolls are a big hit around here as you might imagine, and I’ve discovered each of us eats it differently.

    I start from the outside in.

    S goes side to side

    S2 goes from the inside out.

    G? He eats off all the frosting covered bits and then goes from the outside in.

    Yeah, we’re all snowflakes apparently.