We were graciously gifted a 2 night stay at Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario by my parents for Christmas. We have been actively trying to get rid of much of the “stuff” taking up residence in our home and are loving “experience” gifts as an alternative, to give and to receive. We were booked in from January 4-6 which is decidedly the off-season. The busiest (see: most expensive) times to go are the times when kids are out of school. Summer holidays, Christmas break, March break…The girl at the desk said that one of the best and least busy times to visit is in September. If you are able to swing a stay through the week like we did then you are able to save a bundle.
We arrived on the Monday around 3:00 p.m. Check-in isn’t until 4:00, but you are able to use the water park whatever time you arrive that day. Keep in mind though that if you arrive early you will not have a room to store your stuff. They do rent lockers in the water park for $5/day that you could take advantage of. We were able to get into our room as soon as we checked in. We were given our bracelets. These bracelets are very important. They are your room key, and can contain credit card info for charging services to your room. We thought that it was super cool that they were the room key. Isaac was too excited to even sit down. I love the pure joy that kids feel when they enter a hotel room. Any hotel room. We could be checking into the Bates Motel and he would be just as excited as the Waldorf Astoria. He was in his swimming suit in 5 minutes flat and waiting not so patiently by the door. We still had to get ourselves and Miss Maddie ready. We stayed in a standard room. It was spacious and well-appointed with a kitchenette complete with mini fridge, microwave and bar sink. There was a Queen Size bed and a pull-out sofa which Isaac thought some sort of awesome magic. The bathroom was large and clean. Our room had only a shower, no tub, which proved to be a bit of an issue with the 1 year old, but we managed to get her clean.
And we were off to explore. hpcatrave
The water park is truly incredible. Only those staying in the hotel are permitted access. No day passes. This meant it wasn’t too crowded and the lines, if any, were short. They have life jackets available for everyone at no cost. The towels are available there but you have to put them in the bin before leaving the water park so if you don’t want to walk down the hotel hallways in just your bathing suit, bring your own towels. We chose to forgo renting a locker and left our faith in humanity to not steal our stuff which we left on the lounge chairs. Humanity prevailed.
First the boys headed for the orange and purple slide. They went down this at least 15 times. I got a turn to go with Isaac and it really was fun and fast. Then came the lazy river. I did not care for this as all. It seemed very dangerous with all of the tubes and I saw many people have near-misses when accidentally surfacing under a group of them and struggling to get out from under them to the surface. There were always people kicking our tube as well which was irritating. I was happy to get out of there. The wave pool was a lot of fun. Jumping over and into the waves. There was a kiddie style pool. It was shallow and had 4 slides for the younger set and was very well organized. Isaac liked that he was able to go on these without having to have an adult along. We were able to sit in the pool with Maddie and watch him which was nice. There were also basketball nets in this pool. Across from the kiddie pool there was an enormous bucket that slowly filled with water. When it is full it dumps on the people below. We meant to stand under it but always missed it by a couple seconds and didn’t have the patience to wait for it to refill. There are a few hot tubs. A family one and an adults only one. I took advantage of the adults one for about 15 minutes. It was heaven. The slide that got the most use from our family was the Wooly Mammoth. It’s a climb of around 90 stairs. Once there you jump in a big tube and off you go, sliding and spinning fast down the slide and landing in a pool at the bottom. Despite the climb, Isaac must have gone down this 40 or more times. There is another one beside the Wooly Mammoth called the Niagara Rapids Run which we desperately wanted to try but it requires a minimum of 2 people and since we were the only 2 adults we thought we probably shouldn’t leave a 4 and 1 year old to fend for themselves so mom and dad can go down a water slide. It looks awesome though. I looked around and around and couldn’t find a baby section. There wasn’t anything really for Miss Maddie to do other than sit with us in the kiddie pool. That was a bit of a let down. I think that they should have installed even a small baby splash pad since many of the families there had babies and there isn’t really anything there for them.
There is an arcade in the hotel as well which we had to pass to get to the water park. It was Isaac’s first arcade experience. We aren’t gamers so this was a whole new world for him. A world he never wanted to leave. It’s similar to Chucky Cheese’s in that you play a game and then receive tickets that can be redeemed for merchandise. He ended up with a lot of Tootsie Rolls for loot.
Across from the arcade is a kid spa where they can get manicures and pedicures. It was super adorable. We didn’t take advantage of it because Isaac didn’t want to (surprise surprise) and Maddie is 1. However, when she gets a little older that will be a must do for us.
Both nights we ordered pizza from the restaurant on-site. It was surprisingly good, only around $20 and meant we didn’t need to bundle up and leave the hotel. After everyone was asleep one night I hit up the bakery and indulged in a super sweet treat. Two chocolate chip cookies, sandwiching butter cream icing and covered in sprinkles. It took two days to eat because it was so rich, and oh so good.
We brought a cooler of food and snacks with us from home and drank tap water which really tasted just fine. With the gift we were also given breakfast each morning at the restaurant. It was better than I could have ever imagined. My daughter has a milk protein allergy which can make finding something to eat a challenge. I spoke with the chef and he happily made her her own pancakes with soy milk. The omelet station was a winner. They have all kinds of ingredients to put in the omelet or just get milk-less scrambled eggs and the service was fantastic. The buffet had every food imaginable. Lots of fruit, eggs, ham, pancakes, French toast, waffles, berries…It was around $45 so if you are trying to save money, just bring some cereal and milk from home and chow down in your room. The little coffee shop off the lobby has pretty great coffee.
In the evenings there is story time in the lobby. All of the kids get their jammies on and an entertaining story teller comes out and reads a book. It was sweet, and even though Isaac was a little too wound up to sit and take it all in, the other kids in the room seemed to really enjoy it.
There is a kids club, but we didn’t make use of it because there was a fee for it. It did look like fun though.
The day we were leaving we (along with every guest) were given the option to extend our stay for around $100. We jumped on the opportunity and never looked back.
You could do Great Wolf Lodge on a budget quite easily. We are definitely budget-minded travelers and feel that being able to travel well and frugally is a valuable life skill.
The number one thing to do to save money at the lodge would be to bring your own food and to have the ability to say no and explain why you’re not going to the arcade regularly. You could totally do it for just the cost of the room. That said, we were given a $100 gift certificate along with the stay and it took us all 3.5 days to burn through it. The breakfast was a little pricier than I’d anticipated but other than that the activities and other food were surprisingly well priced. If you are able to do it through the week, and on the off-season it’s really an unbeatable deal for a family getaway to recharge and make happy memories.
Pros: Water park is super fun, clean with short lines, friendly and helpful staff, delicious food and snacks, unbeatable price during off-peak times, kitchenette in rooms helps save money, lots of other activities to do like the spa, arcade, kids club and story time, housekeeping staff are the kindest I’ve encountered
Cons: Pretty pricey during peak season (not unlike other vacation spots), not really anything in the water park for kids 2 and under