We were supposed to go to Disneyland for a short three-day get away for my birthday. However, we had to cancel that trip one week before our departure date due to a family emergency. As we figured out how to handle the family situation and things stabilized, I decided I still wanted to have fun on my birthday, just closer to home. So, I booked one night/two days at the Great Wolfe Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington. It was the Hayden Party of 3: My two teen-aged boys (13 & 14) and myself on this trip. We had plenty of time to explore the Lodge, eat at some restaurants and enjoy the water park.
These are my first impressions of the Lodge, activities and general vibe of the place, as I have never been there before. To be clear, I am NOT getting any kick backs or commission for this review. I am not in anyway connected to The Great Wolf Lodge or any of its partners or affiliates. This is just a helpful blog for inquiring minds that want to know, like I did.
I rate all of my travel experiences on a school grading scale: A+ being exceptional, down to an F, which mans this institution needs serious improvements.
Overall Grade: A
When we checked in, I was told that the hotel was at 60% capacity due to COVID, so we were able to enjoy shorter wait times, great parking, and a standard room, which we scheduled one week before we arrived.
When we were driving up to the Lodge, I have to say it was impressive. This resort is half-way between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. It is in a small Pacific Northwest town, but not off the beaten path; it is literally right off of I-5, the main Interstate highway on the West Coast. You can see the huge water slide “Howlin’ Tornado” from the highway. We also took a pit stop at the Centrailia Outlet stores a few miles down the road to the South, so that was also an added plus.
I was pleasantly surprised by the vibe at the lodge. Let’s be clear, I kept reminding myself that there was a world wide health pandemic happening, but I genuinely felt safe. I will have another blog/vlog regarding the COVID safety measures the Lodge implemented. But overall, the feel of the lodge, the theming, the amenities, the activities and the food were on par with expectations.
It is not cheap to spend a few days at a Resort with a water park, I’m not even going to sugar coat it. We were able to get a 30% discount and still ended up paying $230 a night, add in taxes and resort fees ($60) and you’re looking at $300 for one night. Of course, they up-sale you, even online while you are checking in, too. So, if you add anything (like a Wolf Pass), you start with a $400 bill before your vacation even begins, for only one night. YIKES!
However, you can access the water park at 1:00 pm on the day of check-in and stay until park close (8:00 pm) on day of check-out, which is a huge benefit. If you want to optimize your spend, then plan for two full days to get the most bang for your buck. So the per night dollar amount hurts slightly less when you add all that you are paying for.
Check-in Process Grade: B+
I attempted to check in on the app, however, since I decided to change from a debit card to a credit card at the last minute, they I kinda broke the system. The app didn’t work for me. But I called the resort and they were great. They explained the check-in process, which by the way is to leave your kids in the car so there are less people in the lobby. This not only made check-in a breeze, but gave me peace of mind, knowing they had the best interest of my family in mind.
The gal at check-in also asked me if we were celebrating anything. When I told her I was celebrating my birthday, she promptly gave me a birthday button. It was a nice touch.
While you are checking, they will try to up-sell you on some of the amenities. I upgraded from a Paw Pass to a Wolf Pass- $20 for each pass upgrade for an additional $49 on the bill (with tax). A choice I was willing to make. I was already thinking of doing it anyway and the gal at the front desk was very informative, but not pushy which is very important to me.
You need to also know that while you are doing these Pass activities with your kids, they again try to up sell you to the next level. This is not the sleazy “cruise ship spa” type of up-sell though, there’s no pressure. They offer the information, and if you say no thanks, conversation is over. I can guess if you had younger kids, they may beg for some of those items (clothes for the stuffed animal, more candy etc). I went with teen-aged boys, so if I wasn’t willing to shell out more money, I just gave them “the look” and they knew what the deal was.
Great Wolf Lodge App/Website/WIFI Grade: C+
They have an app that has special discount codes and coupons. Advice here is to stick to the budget, but look for deals on the app.
The app would be great if it actually worked. It didn’t for me in the areas I needed it to: for pre-check in, for example. So, I ended up checking in at the front desk. However, once checked in, it’s great for reminders of activities, menus, and some discounts. For those purposes, I recommend downloading the app prior to your arrival to use on-site.
The website is better for research and pre-arrival information. I ended up using the website before and after our stay for more details. If you’d like to avoid aggravation, I suggest sticking to the website.
The WIFI was a little spotty. There were times when it was sluggish. Not a huge deal by any means, just annoying. First world problems, right?
Theme of Lodge: A+
I absolutely LOVED the theming. It’s like an old cabin in the woods with Forrest animals and the like. Log tables, benches and beds throughout. It is consistent and charming. Sconces, lighting, art work and rugs were all appropriately themed. And how fitting that it’s in the Pacific Northwest, so when you look outside, those beautiful Douglas Fir Trees match the theming inside!
Service and Staff Grade: B
Every staff member we encountered was pleasant and competent. If they were in training, their name tag noted that they were in training. However, this score could jump exponentially higher if staff were trained on the “little details”. For example, if someone is wearing a Birthday button (especially children) acknowledge it, preferably before they mention it themselves. I was wearing a birthday button and mentioned to the staff member that it was my birthday. She was quick to offer me a birthday button, until I told her I was already wearing one. It made me feel like she never even saw me. Not good in a service role. That little extra something could have make a huge difference.
Also, the connection between staff for lost and found was clunky. I lost my favorite Disney Food and Wine zip-up hoodie at the water park. I went to the front desk to inquire after the water Park had closed, they didn’t have it at the front desk, so they told me to check first thing in the morning at the water park. I did as instructed and went to the water park lost and found the very next day and the hoodie wasn’t there. They told me to check the front desk. I did this back and forth twice, desperate to find my beloved hoodie. Wouldn’t it be easier for staff to communicate with each other with technology (aka phone) rather than have the guests running all over the resort? As I was checking out, I inquired again, one last time and the gal told me to submit a claim online. Again, just a slight detail that could have made the guest experience a wee bit better. I did submit the claim. I have received two text messages about my claim since. Hopefully, some good Samaritan with a conscious turned it in. Fingers Crossed.
Special activities Grade: A
Due to the COVID, the hotel was at 60% capacity. My boys were able to complete and obtain almost everything on their Wolf Pass (five separate activates and 6 special items throughout the Lodge) the very first day! We rode all of the big slides at the water park multiple times, and had a blast! I will be doing a separate blog/vlog on the Wolf Pass.
The arcade “Northern Lights Arcade” was empty, we walked right into Howl at the Mood Glow Golf (in-door mini-golf), MagiQuest, Oliver’s mine, Build a Beat and the Candy Shop.
By the way, as stated before, you have access to the Lodge (water park and all) at 1:00 pm on day of check-in! And on you day of check out until the water park closes, which at the time of publication is 8:00 pm. So you can leverage your time at the resort. Just be careful to stick to your budget because everything costs money.
Overall First Impression Grade: A
I had a great time spending my birthday at Great Wolf Lodge; My boys also had fun and it appeared that all the families we saw were having a good time.
Million Dollar Question: Is it worth it?!
You bet! My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner when my kids were younger and my whole family was together.
My advice: If you have ever thought about going to Great Wolf Lodge and you were on the fence or thought it was too much money: Do it now before time slips away and leaves you wishing you had taken the time and spent the money!