Thursday, March 19, 2009

Great Wolf Resort: Where to Begin?

I'm pretty sure if Great Wolf Resort wasn't designed by kids, they must have had a bunch on their planning committee. This place oozes kid-fun from every pillar, post and beam.

The Drive

Mapquest declared the drive would be 3 hours and 46 minutes without traffic, that was about 10 minutes too short if you didn't count our 2 stops. We had a modest 45 minute wait at the border (would have been 30 if we had picked the right lineup) where we surrendered contraband grapes. We made a quick driver-switch and restroom break around halfway point, but otherwise kept the van moving and pointed south (we offered trips for the kids to stretch their legs etc. but they declined).

We weren't sure how the kid would tolerate the trip - well J boy. S is a good sport about traveling when there is a hotel at the end of the rainbow. We talked all week about how it is a 6 hour drive (one school day, for J's benefit) and how we all needed to be patient and not ask "are we there yet?". We had lunch, snacks and entertainment items. Notably a barely-been-used DVD played was mounted and ready to go.

The kids watched a double feature in the back seat and apart from regular "how much longer?" from J Boy, who needs a tangible measure of our progress, we were pretty pleased. To be fair, they (and we) were pretty excited and it's not easy to sit in your chair when your excited and genetically programmed to wiggle all the time.

Then I committed The Unpardonable Sin of car travel.

"How much longer?", J requested an update.

"One hour and fifteen minutes".

The words were barely out of my mouth when Husband tensely correctly my mistake "Mommy means two hours and fifteen minutes!"

Apparently such mistakes are not to be tolerated in the confines of a minivan. There are no parental do-overs for trip time estimates. J extracted his pound of flesh by telling us he was refusing to eat or pee for the rest of the day.

If he had just meted out his punishment, we might have been willing to take it like good parental soldiers. But he had to remind us in not-the-pleasantest-of-voices every 7 seconds of his refusal to eat or pee. Add to that he was hungry and "J boy" and "hungry" are words best not uttered in the same breath unless separated by the word "not".

Fortunately, he did eventually recover and ate half of our lunch bag.

Our Arrival

I had rather foolishly thought that since Washington State was not having their spring break, that it would not be that busy. Somehow, I reasoned that I would be the only person clever enough in the province of BC to figure this out. A few days earlier, I begin to allow that a few other BC families might just make the 3 hour 46 minute drive.

I was right. My first impression is a parking lot FULL of BC license plates.

We arrived well before the 4 pm check-in time as we are allowed into the water park. Yes, the indoor water park is the main attraction of this hotel. As expected our room was not ready so we grabbed our suits and headed to water heaven.

We should have perhaps figured that entering an 84 degree biosphere would have been better done without our jackets. I think the park designers may have been able to figure out a way for the change rooms to have been closer than a mile to the entrance. After divining where to pay for a locker ($5 plus deposit for the day) we entered the tiny, wet and unappealing change rooms. I hate this place already.

The Pools

These people do it right. The sizable shallow kiddy area was entertainment enough for S. She barely left except to go to the hot tub and occasionally the wave pool. It took her a day to gather up her courage to to take the small purple slide, but once she did she could not be stopped. She logged many hours on the seadoo spraying water at her fellow travellers. What's not to love? I mean where else can you pull a string and squirt water out the mouth of a fish?

For the intermediate pool people, they have Fort Mackenzie a four story tree house that has water squirting out of it at random moments. On top is a 1000 gallon bucket that dumps its payload every few minutes. There are also 2 intermediate slides, which J could take on his own.

The wave pool was popular with most on single or double inner tubes (provided for free). J loved to ride a tube or dive into the waves. S mostly wanted to jump over the water where the water at her ankles. As long as she was having fun, we were happy to oblige.

The real bonanza in this place are the BIG slides. There are four accessed by stairs. The lower two, Alberta Fall, are 4 stories high and require single or double inner tubes. J might have been tall enough to go on his own (48 inches - see below) but he always went with us. This started at 4 stories and winded down at a fast but fun pace into a 3 foot pool at the bottom.

The real trip makers here are the raft slides. The first, River Canyon Run, is billed as a family ride (must be 42 inches) and can accommodate up to 5. J went with either Husband or I and it is a 6 story ride down of fun. The raft turns and twists and you can expect some spray, a tiny bit of airtime and a soft landing into 18 inches of water.

The grandaddy of all slides is the Howling Tornado (or Hurricane as J calls it). This ride starts with a steep decline followed by a 6 foot drop and finally into a 30 foot funnel where you slide back and forth before entered the final fast slide down to the 18 inch deep landing.

We initially told J he could not do this as he didn't make the 48 inch height requirement by 1/4 of an inch. But we soon realized that he has no fear of slides and has a need for speed. So we did what all parents should do: we taught him to cheat. We taught him how to stand tall but stretching out his neck (which by the way cause him to bug his eyes out). I also back-combed his hair with my fingers each time up on the stairs and he passed the measurement each time.

I wish I had a Mommy-cam to record the look of pure joy in the eyes of my first born. And that was just in the lineup. "Remember, you have to hang on tight, Mommy!" "Did you know there is a SIX foot drop??" "Are you scared Mommy?"


What else do you do when you're taking a break from the pools? Well as soon as you walk in the door of Great Wolf lodge you see kids shaking brown wands at chests, pictures and monitors.

They are all playing Magiquest. The wands are quite high tech and part of an interactive game that takes place on 5 floors of the hotel. There are monitors where one waves the wand and you pick one of 12 Quests to start. Once you've advanced you can play the 3 adventures. The Magi will direct you to your mission. The parents are not left out, they are all carrying around tiny little manuals trying to figure out where the Man in the Stump lives, or on what floor they saw the Book of Secrets.

So after having climbed the equivalent of 30 or 40 flights of stairs in the pools to get to the fun slides, one can now continue to climb stairs up to the 5th floor trying to find all of the Pixie's Crystals only to realize that the last one is in the lobby.

Playing is not cheap. The game is $10. The wand is $15. If you want a light up topper, to really make the wand look cool it's another $15. Ribbons are $3 each and I didn't even check how much the wand holsters were. Or the costumes, shields or swords.

We opted to get just one wand and played the game as a family and there was no way I would even consider a $15 light up topper. Many families each had a kid with a gussied up wand playing their own games. So if you want to, you can spend the price of a TV on this game.

The good news is that the game last 4 to 8 hours. We completed the entire thing in 5-6 hours. The ONLY way we completed was at times asking for help from other parents who were slightly ahead of us in the game (they will also help you in the MagiQuest store, if you ask). Much of it is quite doable. In fact we only needed help once on the Quests and that was early on and we weren't sufficiently observant to notice the gigantic "PIXIE'S PERCH" sign mounted on the 2nd floor.

The adventures are hard and requires interaction with a gigantic screen and you have to know what to do when and in what order. There was always a lineup so you had one chance and then to the back of the line. Husband or I took the final turns. I don't think even our tech savvy J Boy could have done what was required in the right order and the the perfect timing required .

Well worth the $25. Oh and we kicked some MagiQuest butt. See our score ... our wand is Drago!

The Room

We opted to get a Kids' Cabin room. This is basically a regular room with kids' bunk beds built in and a wall decorated to make it look like the kids have their own little cabin. They have their own flat screen TV and a window from the lower bunk (their "climbing wall"). I think it was worth it as they could climb their wall and we could at least be one level removed from their excited tones. And excited tones they had. The downside of being at coolest-place-on-planet, is that they are kind of excited to be there. A lot.

They have Nintendo controllers attacked to both TVs which drove us crazy as J wanted to play. None of us know how to work those crazy controllers so we had to endure a fair bit of whining on this issue. We did relent and gave them $5 of tokens each at the arcade. I am quite anti-arcade, but they had quite a few games the kids could do and loved, like the roller coaster simulator (see photo).

The room has a microwave and mini fridge and we ate all our meals in the room with food we brought. We did require purloined plastic utensils from restaurants and drank our wine from Styrofoam coffee cups. We're nothing if not resourceful.

What about the Parents?

There are 2 things that are for the parents. One, free WiFi in the rooms. Since Husband has his laptop and I had my iTouch, it was what we spent our meager down time from the pool and MagiQuest.

The other is Starbucks. Right there in the lobby. You saw more than a few parents with one hand on the MagiQuest manual trying to figure out who Stumpy was and in the other a Venti Americano.

They do have a spa and a gym. But who has time for the spa when you have a dragon to slay or a Howling Tornado to conquer. And who needs a gym when you've climbed the equivalent of the CN Tower (or Space Needle).

The Final Verdict

No surprise to anyone who has read this far (congratulations by the way if you haven't nodded off), but we had a great time and will certainly go back. We thought 2 nights was a good amount of time to adequately enjoy the pools and MagiQuest.

There is never a moment when we had to think what you're going to do next with the kids. It was eat, swim, MagiQuest. Repeat. At the end of one day, J Boy actually sat in the elevator to rest as he could no longer stand from floor 2 to 7. This is quite something for the Energizer Bunny of 7 year olds.

While we were initially put off by all the extras they try to sell you (well, sell your kids because when they see them they want them), we only spent money on MagiQuest, the arcade tokens and ice cream sundaes one night for a treat. And Starbucks, of course.

We didn't pay for any of the crafts at the Cub Club, we opted not to get a stuff animal (think Build a Bear) and we didn't acquire or decorate Crocs. So I think we made out alright.

The wrist bands doubles as your room key and can be used to charge things to your room, so it is nice not to have bring a wallet.

Although the place was swarming with BC spring breaking families, the lineups at the pool were not bad. Only the Tornado had consistent lineups. We avoided when it was long so usually only waited about 10 minutes. Other lines were shorter and sometimes none. We were told the hotel was at 75% of capacity. It was a little crowded doing MagiQuest at times. But never enough to stop us.

We had plenty of the most important thing: quality family time.

And a quiet trip home.

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