I grew up in Southern California, so the idea of indoor pools was completely alien. When the weather’s always perfect, why wouldn’t you want to hang out at the beach or poolside in someone’s backyard? The rest of the nation doesn’t have the luxury of such weather, however, and as I traveled more – and lived in Indiana and Colorado – I learned about this white stuff popularly known as snow, about days colder than 65F and about the sublime joy of a big indoor pool on a cold day. By necessity, hotels are designed differently when there are pool areas involved, and my first memory of a hotel built around its pool was a Holiday Inn in Nebraska many, many years ago.
The Great Wolf Lodge takes this concept to its logical extreme, with an entire waterpark grafted onto a family friendly luxury hotel. Completely indoors, the chain clearly focuses on those regions of the country where it’s a great benefit to be inside much of the year: The U.S. Midwest. The latest Lodge to open is just down the highway from me in Colorado Springs, about 45min south of Denver. They offered to host a visit and so my girls (A-, 21, and K-, 14) and I hopped in the car and headed down without much clue about what we were going to experience. Was it just for little kids? Was there anything other than water slides?
Turned out to be ridiculously fun and we’re all three ready to go back!
The Lodge is actually reminiscent of a cruise ship with cabin decks and a main entertainment area. In addition to its own eating areas, there are also both a Dunkin’ Donuts and Ben & Jerry’s located in the Lodge. Dangerous, I say! Walk past the eateries, the dazzle tattoo stand and Scoops kids spa and you’re in a huge activities area that featured a miniature golf course in the middle, a ropes course above and even a mining area where you can sluice gems out of a tray of dirt (which is a lot more fun than it sounds).
Along one side is Ten Paw bowling, which was an interesting hybrid of bowling and skee-ball, as you can see in this action shot of me getting the lowest score of the three of us:
It’s not a traditional bowling ball, it’s more like the ball you’d use in Bocce, which makes it fun, easy and super accessible for even the littlest ones. No uncomfortable bowling shoes required either, which was another plus!
Adjacent to the Ten Paw bowling is a traditional video game arcade, Northern Lights Arcade, if your kids prefer that sort of action (or you do) including a really cool curved air hockey table unlike anything I’ve seen before. The sleeper hit that we almost skipped, however, was MagiQuest. It’s ridiculously cool and easy to become obsessed with the game: MagiQuest is an interactive puzzle adventure game that is spread throughout the entire Great Wolf Lodge.
Here are my girls getting set up with their customized magic wands at the MagiQuest store:
Essential infrared flashlights with unique ID signatures, the wands let you go on a quest to find clues and collect gems, flowers and crystals to unlock secret levels and proceed through multiple game levels and quests. We played for a few hours (I am not exaggerating! It takes a while to figure out what the heck’s going on…) and barely finished up the Pixie Quest, the easiest of the four quests in the program. Most of the families playing the game were younger than mine, so we kept asking little ones for tips and hints on what we sought. You have to imagine a huge space where parents are walking through, fairly clueless, and little kids are zooming about, pointing wands here and there, trying to unlock game clues. Quite entertaining and super fun for the little ones!
Truth be told, both of my girls had a lot of fun with MagiQuest, though it was the younger gal who headed back down one evening to try and unlock a few more clues while I read my book and put my feet up in our room.
And speaking of hotel rooms, they were a bit austere, but roomy and quite comfortable:
Truth is, we didn’t spend much time in the hotel room, exactly as you’d imagine in a place oriented around family activities. For dinner one evening, we tried out the upscale Barnwood restaurant and found the food delicious.
And my girls? They wouldn’t put their wands down, as you can see:
Then there was the pool and water slide area, where we spent a lot of our time too.
Here’s the play area, suitable for all ages:
You can get a sense of how big the interior space really is in the photo above. The fire marshal sign indicated that max capacity was over 1,500 people. That would be a pretty packed space, but there were hundreds of people when we were there and we were still able to get a table to ourselves and do everything we wanted. I’m not much of a waterslide person but both girls said that they were fantastic, including one that’s so complex that it actually takes you outside the building before you swoosh back in and plunge into a pool. You can’t miss the exterior portion, even if you’re just driving past on the highway:
Surprisingly, there’s no regular pool or hot tub for parents who want to relax while their children are going nutto in all the kid areas. They do have a terrific wave pool, however, which proved much fun.
True confession: It took me a while to realize that when you hear the howl of the wolf throughout the area, it’s because the wave machine is about to turn on. It was always followed by the roar of enthusiastic young swimmers rushing to jump in for the waves:
It’s not being at the ocean in Southern California, but it’s also free of jellyfish, seaweed, riptides and boomboxes, and of course you don’t have to worry about sunscreen or sunburn because it’s all indoors. Handy!
One really cool thing that Great Wolf Lodge does to make life easy is to give everyone an RFID wrist band. It’s your room key, it can be used to gain access to the pool area, and can also be used to purchase food and products throughout the complex:
Upon checkin you can decide which of the wrist bands support transactions too, so your 5yo can’t run wild buying tons of candy (yes, they have a candy store there too) or soda and snacks without asking permission.
I recommend that you get an inclusive activity pass for your kids (and possibly yourself too): the Paw Pass offers many of the best activities, but it’s the Wolf Pass that’s the star of the show and includes a MagiQuest game and wand, a make-your-own stuffed animal (I got a wolf that I’ve named Wolfenstein), Ten Paw bowling, tokens for the video arcade, the ropes course, climbing wall, and much more. $99 sounds like a lot, but it’s multiple days worth of activities, all in one neat punch card.
This is definitely a destination weekend adventure for families with a price to match. Room and pool area access costs $149/night per person, though they have lots of promotional pricing alternatives. Easy to manage is a 25% discount for two night or longer stays, but you can also get a 50% discount if you can book a few months in advance and – something I endorse – a 30% discount any time for active military and service personnel. Located across the highway from the beautiful U.S. Air Force Academy, there were a lot of military families at the Lodge with little ones, having a day or two off.
I have to be candid: I was expecting to say that the Great Wolf Lodge is really aimed at families with young children and that 6-10 is the ideal age, but the more we played the mini bowling, MagiQuest and other activities, the more we laughed and had a great time. Definitely go with kids, but it’s really quite fun and I would encourage parents to also get Paw Passes or Wolf Passes so you can participate with your children, not just watch from the sidelines.
We’ll definitely head back. I mean, heck, we still have to finish up our own MagiQuest adventure and have three magic wands sitting, ready to be re-activated. 🙂
Disclosure: Great Wolf Lodge paid for our lodging, activity passes and meal at the Barnwood restaurant in return for this writeup and review. All told, a package value of approximately $850.00. Which was darn nice of them!