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Not So Great Wolf Lodge

Eric and I had only been married a year or two when we took a summer vacation to Wisconsin. It was the Fourth of July weekend and Eric had been talking about how great the “waterpark city” of Wisconsin Dells was. It’s wasn’t an incredibly long trip, maybe 4 hours I think, from Racine so we visited. We had planned on camping, but when we got there, it was busier than we expected and the campground that Eric was familiar with was sold-out. Once we knew that we weren’t going to be staying at the “perfect” campground, we looked for hotels. One of the first ones we checked out was Great Wolf Lodge. Eric said that it was incredibly cool because everything was done in theme and there was a huge indoor waterpark. Coming from California, the idea of an INDOOR waterpark could only mean one thing: SMALL!!! So I wasn’t interested and though there was availability at an exorbitant rate, we chose instead to drive to a less popular campsite and stick to the original idea. We enjoyed our time; the camping was pleasant and I found out that in Wisconsin, an indoor waterpark is a great idea, since it rained that weekend. We still had a good time, but there has always been this desire in Eric to stay at a Great Wolf Lodge.

Fast forward several years, and two kids later and Eric got word that a Great Wolf Lodge was opening in Washington! He was so excited about it-sure that it would just be this master success. It did come in, and we are staying there right now, but I’m not convinced that it’s claims to “great-ness” are so accurate. Eric was still so desperate to go that we decided to give it a shot the week before Memorial Day Weekend. Knowing that facilities are best tested during the busiest times but allowing for a new staff, we decided to go during the week. We saved on the rates and avoided the crowds. The indoor waterpark closes an hour earlier during the week, but it’s nine o’clock closing was past our children’s bedtime anyway.

We booked a “medium-scale” room- it is called the “Kid’s Kabin” suite and is really designed for a family with young children. The kids have a small room (with no door and two windows) that has a bunk-bed and an extra bed. The walls are all set up to look like a little cabin in the woods and the design is really charming. The characters (a squirrel and other forest creatures) are cartoon-like without being cartoon images in that they maintain most authentic qualities without being scary. Outside the kid’s room is the other part of the room which holds a queen bed (it feels smaller than that), a pull-out couch and a fireplace. The walls are painted a nice warm brown but are sparse, with only two relatively small pictures. There is a large TV, but it is placed awkwardly on a granite countertop that provides a poor view from the bed and even worse from the couch. There is no cable TV, what you want is what you are willing to pay for, and for the low-low price of $11.99 you can “rent” a movie that is still in theaters, though it is not a new release. For varying lesser prices you can purchase movies that are a bit older. You can also rent TV programs: we rented Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the kids each night for $2.99 each. Pathetic! The gas fireplace has a timer on it so that while it is on you hear the constant ticking of an egg timer, waiting to stop- it kills whatever mood you were trying to accomplish, unless you are able to drown it out with a movie or TV show that you will have to crane your head to see. On the whole though, I have found the hotel room to be adequate. The shower water got hot almost immediately and there was a rip-cord that you could string up in the bathroom to dry swimwear. The room had a full size ironing board, coffee-pot and coffee, microwave and refrigerator. Did I mention that we had a balcony?

As for the general facility, I can say with complete sincerity that it is well done. The decoration is themed to the hilt, you can stop wolves in this hotel almost as frequently as you can find “Mouse Ears” at a Disney theme park. These creatures look quite authentic and are usually set up in some sort of “scape” to create a home for the them and atmosphere for the guest. The lobby is a large two-story affair with large rustic couches centered on checkers board coffee tables. When we checked in, they gave each of us a red wristband. In both mine and Eric was placed a microchip. Fabulous invention! The wristband is entry to the waterpark, your room key, and it is linked to your account so that, should you be in the arcade and wanting to play a few games, you can zap your wristband and you have just put $20.00 cash onto your room. We have charged every meal this way, along with plenty of snacks, spa service, pool-side lockers and gifts. It alleviates the need for the guest to carry around a wallet and also enables a person to spontaneously purchase whatever his heart desires only to hear about it at check-out. What a great benefit to the hotel and truly, it really is nice for the guest too except for the fact that you are stuck with this wristband for the duration of your trip and if you are not a person naturally disciplined in your spending habits, not even having to whip out a credit card will do tragic things for your bill. It is completely optional to using it to charge things, but the option is always there. Having the wristband is not an option as it acts as your room key and allows entry into the waterpark, but if you don’t allow yourself to ever use it otherwise, you should escape unscathed.

We ate every meal on the property for a few reasons, the first of which is probably the most important to note. There is no where else to eat. The hotel sits in what will probably be completely developed in 10 years, maybe less, but for now, your only other dining options are McDonald’s and Dairy Queen. There is plenty of land open for development and every reason to expect a number of restaurants to go into the area, but at present, there is nothing without a drive. This is a huge shame because the food is not spectacular and while adequate, is not dazzling my tastebuds or pleasing my pocket. The food is significantly overpriced as is the norm with resorts, but the quality is not up to par. The service we received in the Camp Critter Bar & Grill was short if not rude. I don’t think our waitress knew how to smile, if she did, no demonstration was made. Children’s meals ranged from $5.95 for a plate of spaghetti to $7.95 for some of the other choices. The average adult entree ranged from the $9.95 plain burger to upwards of $20. The following day, we chose to eat in the Loose Moose Cottage which was significantly better in service and selection. While the price was still expensive, young children eat free so it cost our family less and we ate more. The items are your standard breakfast and dinner choices. They are closed for lunch but there are two other lunch choices near the water park.

As for the waterpark, Bear Track Landing is a 60,000 square foot indoor waterpark. They have four waterslides, a wavepool, a play-pool with floating basketball hoots, floating snakes, and a leap-pad run, Fort McKenzie, a 4-story water fort, with a 1,000 gallon bucket of water that dumps down on unsuspecting (and some eagerly waiting) swimmers every few minutes. It is quite a rush and a lot of roar. There is also a small-child play area where the water gets no deeper than 18 inches. Noah was able to walk through it and it came up to his waist. They have spray toys and a small climbing structure with a water slide (think playground slide with water running down) that the kids enjoyed along with a slightly larger slide that my kids were too chicken to attempt. In a cute homage to the great bucket, there is a rascally raccoon that dumps a smaller bucket (maybe 200 gallons) onto the little heads. One of my favorite features is the mild alarm that sounds before the raccoon spills his bucket allowing aware parents to remove their children from the deluge in time. It isn’t loud enough or sharp enough to bother even if you are standing or sitting nearby for a long length of time, just enough to alert you of the significant splash coming. Well done. The lifeguards seemed mostly attentive and professional, watching and looking and there are free life-jackets for children. My children weren’t interested and they truly weren’t needed in the kiddie pool, but when we travelled into the deeper pools, they wore them. After only a few minutes letting your reserve fall away and you began to feel like a kid again, a feeling I relished since I had not been looking forward to having to don a bathing suit. On that note, it seemed that most people (if not all) were there to have a good time and were not worried about appearances. Even at my weight, I didn’t feel overly self-conscious about my body or my suit, except that it is cut rather low, so getting out of deep water was a little concerning, but had nothing whatsoever to do with the other people. Since it is indoors (and heated) you don’t have to worry about the weather or the sunburns. However, when you first walk it, the room seems almost too warm, but after a few minutes it begins to feel chilly. I am sure that it would cost them oodles to raise the temperature a degree or two, but it would be appreciated. They do provide towels, but the ask you to not remove them from the water park. I would recommend bringing your own towels or planning to change in the changing rooms (they even have showers) because exiting the waterpark makes for some very cold children. Even still, my children managed fine without extra towels or added clothing (we were too cheap to pay $5 for a locker)

Today I had my appointments at the Elements Spa. Once you walk through the doors that lead you to the spa, you are in a different world where everything is in low light and there is relaxing music playing. The double doors open to a small store sells Aveda Elements products. I walked to the counter to check in and they had me sit in a cozy room painted a dark shade of brown with a large chair, loveseat, and chaise lounge in it. There were two dim lights and attractive but minimalist artwork on the walls. The only connection I saw to Great Wolf Lodge was the Wolf Almanac sitting in the book rack next to the end table. There were no glossy magazines. The receptionist handed me a clipboard with an information sheet on it asking me various things today, like the way my skin felt and my anxiety level. They asked me to disclose relevant injuries or conditions and sign a waiver. The lady offered me a choice of tea or water. I asked for water and was surprised to find cucumber water. It was room temperature and though many people have commented on the refreshing taste of cucumber water, I was not wholly impressed. I drank some of it to help calm my nerves. I had scheduled a Foot Reflexology and Caribbean Manicure and Pedicure. First was the Reflexology and Heather took me back to another sparsely decorated room, this one with a massage table centered on an angle, covered with sheets and a brown blanket. First, she had me sit on a stool and soak my feet in a warm tub of water. She tested three different aromatherapy blends until I settled on the third one. It was a mix of Peppermint, Eucalyptus, and Orange and smelled both invigorating and relaxing, if that’s possible. After a brief foot scrub, I climbed into the “bed” and under the covers. Heather came back into the room and I laid back onto a pillow before she put an eye cover on me. It was warm and heavy and helped me relax even more. Starting with my left foot, she wrapped it in a hot towel scented with the aromatherapy blend I chose before beginning her massage. It was at times relaxing and painful but as I lay there letting my mind wander, my other foot began to feel pain. It wasn’t until she finished my first foot and moved on to the second that I was completely relaxed. The manicure and pedicure were nice, but not as fancy as I had hoped. If I go back again, I would purchase the Foot Reflexology and on a recommend, a Facial. I think that is what I will use as part of my incentive to lose weight. Going to a spa is a luxury I can’t afford, especially if it’s going to be a frequent thing but it may be what I need to get moving. [Of course, as I am writing this, I have just finished a bag of Fritos chips and am munching on a Snickers bar while drinking a sugar-packed soda.]

On the whole if I had to characterize this hotel in one sentence, I would say that it is a pleasant break from mundane life and while it’s resort aspects are not fully executed to high standards, they are adequate for the average vacationer and enjoyable for children of all ages, even the grown-up ones.

Love, Kristi

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