Great Wolf Lodge, or How to Have Fun Even With a Mild Concussion

by Katy on March 28, 2009 · 7 comments

Great Wolf Lodge

Just because your budget is shrinking faster than you can say, “today’s uncertain economic times,” doesn’t mean your vacation has to be downgraded to backyard camping. There are plenty of ways to vacation inexpensively, yet still have fun and get away from it all.

My family of four has a tendency to take the same short vacations over and over again, and we were looking to try something different. The trips to the Oregon coast and Mt. Hood were fun for everyone else, but exhausting for me. Bringing all my own bedding, towels, food and just-in-case-it’s-raining entertainment gets old mighty quickly for this mama.

My sister moved to Seattle a year-and-a-half ago, and I have since driven the freeway between our houses at least a half-dozen times. It is far from an interesting journey, but has a interesting halfway point that is the Great Wolf Lodge. Every time I passed the enticing brightly colored water slides and dramatically large wolf sculptures, I thought to myself, “that looks like fun and isn’t actually that far from the house.”

This year’s Spring break brought the opportunity to put that idea into action.

With reservation number tightly in hand, we drove the hour-and-a-half to the water resort with fun on our minds. My ten and 13-year-old boys were excited to play in the water, and I was simply excited to not have to bring our own bedding and towels.

What can I say? I’m a cheap date!

I did a little research ahead of time, and knew that the on-site food could easily become a major part of the budget. However, I saw that the rooms included a decent sized mini-fridge, as well as a microwave and coffee maker. A trip to the deli to buy a some cold cuts as well as rolls, pretzels, apples, oranges, cookies and tea would preserve our bank account. I knew there was a buffet brunch available, and decided this would be our one splurge.

My heart sank when the view through the great wolves was a mile long check-in line. But we weren’t waiting more than a minute or two before a friendly staff member came up to us offering to give us our wrist bands right away, (which give swim park access) so that we could start enjoying the facilities immediately. The check-in counter was fully staffed, and moved along at a welcome quick pace, so we chose to stick out it. The trays of free chocolate covered marshmallows, homemade fudge and Starbucks drink samplers made this the least complained about line my kids have ever waited in. (Perhaps I should drop a suggestion or two to the folks at the D.M.V.)

Although the official check-in time is 4:00 P.M., you can arrive as early as 1:00 P.M. and start using the water park even if your room isn’t ready yet. We arrived at 2:30 P.M., were checked in by 3:00 P.M., and were up to the suite by 3:15 P.M. Not bad.

Our reservation was for a Family Suite, which included two queen size beds and a fold out couch. A large television offered cable channels, as well as on-demand movies and video games, which cost extra. We abstained from all but the free TV, which my kids were fine with. Other rooms offer separate kid areas with cool woodsy looking bunk beds and TV’s, but we were completely happy with what we had booked.

After a quick unpacking and bed assignment, I fed everyone a quick meal and off we went to the water park.

The pool/ water slide area is huge and includes not only a number of water slides, but also a wave pool, water basketball, a kiddie area, a large hot tub and a watery play structure that features a ginormous bucket of water that dumps its contents every five minutes or so onto the excited screaming masses below.

Quiet it ain’t.

Almost immediately I ran into a woman I work with, as well as a mother from the T-ball team my husband used to coach. (So much for keeping my bulgy bathing suit body private from non-strangers!)

The kids zoomed off in completely opposite directions and quickly found friends to play with. My husband and I parked ourselves in lounge chairs and tried desperately to keep an eye on the boys, which was pretty much an un-doable task. Trying to locate either child proved to be as difficult as that proverbial needle-in-the-haystack.

I did catch up with my ten-year-old at one point and together we rode one of the scary four story water slides. But after that, he only wanted to do it alone. *Sigh*

After a few fun-filled hours, we all tromped back to the room. Food was eaten and Cartoon Network was watched. It was decided that we would play another hour or so in the water before turning in for the night at 9:00 P.M. when the pool closed.

My ten-year-old was meeting up with a friend in the arcade, so I took the teenager to the pool, where he was happy to just bob around in the wave pool. It looked so fun I decided to join him. Grabbing one of the flotation rings, I was just situating myself into one when a wave came up and turned me upside down directly onto the back of my head in the fairly shallow water.


I came up and was immediately dizzy and disoriented. Not so disoriented that I couldn’t read the sign that warned of this exact injury though. I made my son sit with me until the world stopped spinning, and the nausea died down. Luckily, I am a nurse and my husband is a paramedic, so we know the head injury signs to take seriously.

My husband came by soon after to check on us, and we all went back up to the room together.

Although the spinning and nausea had stopped, I still felt like I had been planted on an alien planet without the instruction manual.

I woke the next morning with a horrible headache and neck ache. I sent the men-folk down to the buffet breakfast I had been looking forward to, as the thought of a big meal was too much to envision. I brewed myself a cup of tea and made motions to get our stuff packed up for the 11:00 A.M. check-out. I cursed myself for forgetting Ibuprofen as I stood in the shower, letting the hot water relax my poor neck muscles.

With our belongings in the car and some extra-strength Excedrin purchased in the gift shop, (a gift from me, to me) I staked out a spot in the large lobby with a book and my laptop. My head hurt so much a stranger actually asked me if I was okay . (I was trying really hard to not cry from the pain, and was somewhat losing that battle.) Luckily, the Excedrin kicked in and I was able to pass the day reading and doing a little writing. My husband checked in frequently, and I insisted that I was okay, and that he should continue swimming with the boys.

A nonfat mocha from the at-hand Starbucks helped me feel sane. (My husband gets free Starbucks cards as part of a study his employer is involved with, so we always have a few tucked away.) And the hours passed quickly.

We hit the road a little after 5:00 P.M., and arrived home without incident.

All-in-all a great trip. Yes, the room would have been expensive had it not been comped, (thank you Great Wolf Lodge!) But we would have been able to get two days of great fun for the price of a single night’s lodging. The kids had an unforgettable time, and even my husband enjoyed himself. (He normally hates crowds.) The transportation cost was minimal, and we didn’t have that typical vacation day of travel to recover from.

But it sure would have been a whole lot more fun without a head injury.

Tips for enjoying The Great Wolf Lodge without going broke:

  • Bring at least some of your own food, and save the on-site restaurants for special meals.
  • Know ahead of time that the lodge has many, many different spending opportunities, and budget accordingly. (Such as the $40 Magic Questwand game that most of the children seem to participate in, although we didn’t.)
  • Arrive early and stay late to get the most bang for your buck.
  • Most importantly — stay out of the emergency room! (This tip for the clumsy/ didn’t read the prominently placed warning sign Non-Consumers out there.)

One thing that impressed me about The Great Wolf Lodge was their “Project Green Wolf.” From recycling containers in both the rooms and public areas, to the gift shop clerk who offered to recycle my Excedrine receipt.

On my bedside table was a placard that read:

Great Wolf Lodge is committed to playing a leading role in conserving our planet for future generations by educating and establishing green traditions for both our guests and pack members.

Recirculation is the key to helping us conserve water. Millions of gallons of water are pumped throughout our water park each day. Great Wolf Lodge takes pride in having the best sanitation and filtration system technology, making it possible to recycle most of that water. We like to think of it as sustainable fun.

Many guests are surprised to learn that the hotel portion of our hotel consumed about twice as much water per day as our water park does. Every shower linen change and towel wash adds to the difference. We feel that one of the best opportunities is to reduce our laundry water-usage.


How will you be spending your vacations this year? Will you be vacationing close to home, but maybe splurging on something a little fancier as a result? Please share your frugal vacation ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela March 29, 2009 at 11:57 am


I am so sorry to hear about your accident and hope you’re feeling better.

As far as frugal vacations, if you have kids, I think exactly what you did is perfect. Kids love to be in a hotel, and the swimming pool is the favorite spot, so a hotel with a water park sounds like the best kid’s vacation I can imagine. Camping is always fun and cheap as well, but as you said, that involves a lot of work for mom and dad. My brothers and I marvel at what our parents went through – packing, loading the car, fixing meals, etc. – so that we could have a fun vacation.

If you’re a couple, by far the least expensive vacation my husband and I ever took was to the Maya Riviera in Mexico. It was also one of our favorite trips. I can’t recommend it highly enough- absolutely beautiful beaches, water like the Caribbean for snorkeling, and Mexican food and seafood for meals. Heaven. And even with airfare it was by far the cheapest vacation we ever took. There are state department warnings against traveling to Mexico right now, but that is concentrated near border areas. I’m not kidding- this is cheaper than a driving vacation in your own area. We spent $1200 for two weeks, and that included airfare.


tammy March 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Katy I want to suggest the Starbucks coffee samples and chocolate covered marshmallows and fudge to my local post office. Think they’ll go for it?? HAHAHAHAHA

Katy, take care of your head. As we’ve all been recently reminded, a bump on the head is a dangerous thing.


Jen March 29, 2009 at 5:55 pm

We did this trip almost EXACTLY as you described a few years ago in Kansas City. (I ended up with a horrible sinus infection from getting water up my nose rather than a head injury, though) The kids loved it. I found the noise level and hyper-chlorination a little much to take. There were people in there with tears streaming down their face from the chlorine in the air. But the service was very good. My kids are begging to go back. I would rather go to Mexico like Angela!


Karen March 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

I’m so glad to hear you are okay, Katy. As I read this blog daily I am thinking of you as a friend, even though we’ve not met and I don’t write often.

What we do for vacation things seems easy since we are in a major metro area (Denver). We looked at the tourist guide of “things not to miss” and we listed all of them we hadn’t done (like visiting the mint, touring Coors brewery, etc.) and we pick one at random each time we have a few extra days off and play tourist in our own town.

It’s amazing the many things there are to do that are free if you contact the tourist bureau and check it out.


thenonconsumeradvocate March 29, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Hey everyone,

Thanks for the nice words, I am doing better. I’ve been more tired than usual and did miss a day of work. I upside is the most memorable dreams, although they’re quite weird.

Really? The kid from “High School Musical” as my boyfriend? Really?

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Taleena Koch February 26, 2013 at 9:09 am

I am glad you had a good time even with the head injury. I have been to GWL Grand Mound 4 times and we love it. This last time – not so good. I slipped and fell and destroyed my back, neck, hips, and head. My 1/2 price Groupon turned into an ER visit, follow up doctor visits, and ongoing treatment (for my back and hips). No one at GWL came to my rescue when I was hurt. Another guest had to go get a lifeguard. No one at GWL even bothered to follow up with me later to find out if I was okay, had a concussion, or was even alive. No one at GWL offered to comp my stay. In fact, they wanted my husband to pay a $55 late checkout fee the next day!!! It took an inbox message from me to their facebook page to get any communication out of them at all. The manager did offer up (on his own) finally – a weekend pass. But the astronomical medical bills… Those might be entirely 100% up to me to pay. The jury is still out on that. They’re “investigating.” So… for future guests… make sure you wear some SERIOUSLY NON-SKID shoe type thingies on your feet because falling at GWL makes for a super expensive waterpark visit.


S rader March 6, 2015 at 6:51 pm

I think it’s pretty unfair that you expect to be comped for slipping on a wet surface at a waterpark. That is an expected risk that you assumed when you went IN an indoor waterpark. Getting injured on private property also does not entitle a person to full coverage. Short of signing a waiver before each activity, many posted warning signs and attendants is all a theme park can do. Take responsibility for your own actions, and submit them to your own insurance.


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