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Published: December 28th 2008
I decided at the last minute to take the kids somewhere fun during the Christmas vacation. Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Canada is an indoor water park about 30 minutes from our house but we've never been there before. Lots of kids from my area talk about visiting Splash Lagoon with their families, which is also a waterpark a little further away in Erie, PA. Ever the budget traveler, I decided we'd go to the cheaper of the two and I'm so happy that it turned out to be Great Wolf Lodge.
I'm on the mailing list for Splash Lagoon and even though they sent me a flyer with special rates, I didn't find them to be cheaper than Great Wolf Lodge. The first thing GWL had going in its favor was the exchange rate. Unlike this summer, the American dollar is doing well in Canada right now. Secondly, I was able to call the lodge and ask them if they had any discounts for locals. Since I'm so close, I thought it was worth asking about. The discount code for people in my area is BUFLOCAL and the discount code for local Canadians is NALOCAL. They do ask
for ID when you check in, so I wouldn't use those codes if you're not from the area.
Even the local discount code wasn't better than the rate I got on the website www.ratestogo.com. Our room was $199 Canadian for the day after Christmas (a Friday). What's even better is, when we got there, we were upgraded from a standard room to a Kids Kabin room. Our children had their own room with their own tv and bunk beds. We checked in at around 5:00 pm due to my husband's work schedule, but I've read online that people sometimes show up as early as 1:00 for their 4pm check in. They check in and swim until their room is ready. I will try that next time we go. Visitors are allowed to use the resort the day they arrive and the day they leave. Check out was 11am on Saturday, but we stayed on property until 2:30.
I've heard Great Wolf Lodge compared to the resorts at Disney World and at first I was a little skeptical about that. We've been to Disney several times and have never found a place to be as high quality, child centered
as they were. I can officially say, I've found a very, very, close second. GWL is a franchise, so I can't speak to all locations, but the Niagara Falls resort blew my mind.
First of all, the place was immaculately maintained. I didn't see any signs of wear and tear anywhere on the property. Secondly, the customer service I experienced from everyone I spoke to was very Disney-esque. Everywhere we went people were telling us to "Have a Great Wolf day!" The employees who worked with in the Cub Club children's program were outstanding at their jobs, friendly and helpful. Even though the resort was near capacity, they never let a crack show in their Great Wolf personas.
The theming of Great Wolf Lodge is also very similar in quality to Disney. They took a page right out of the Disney playbook when they decorated the foyer of the lodge with animated animals, talking trees and a large rock shaped wolf with glowing eyes. In the evenings, the children all gather in their pj's in front of the animated characters to watch a little show and hear a story.
The resort is themed like a rustic cabin
in the woods and they spared no expense in details. I went during the Christmas season which means the resort was exceptionally beautiful with all the added holiday decorations around. In addition to an enormous Christmas tree and hundreds of lights, there was an elaborate gingerbread house in the foyer made from real cookies (I touched it to see for sure).
There are plenty of things to do at the Lodge, but the indoor water park is the main attraction. I found my children to be the perfect age for this park. They could participate in all the activities and the depth of the water was not a concern for me. I looked around and the average water depth was about 4 feet in most areas. It never felt crowded in the water park to us, even though we knew it was a busy weekend for the resort. We swam Friday during the dinner hour (6-7:30) and first thing in the morning on Saturday (9-10:30) so maybe that had something to do with it.
In addition to the water park, there was a large arcade (which occupied my boys for about an hour), a spa for adults and
Having fun on a hay ride
My youngest son got a five o'clock shadow painted on his face in the Cub Club right before the hay ride.
a separate one for little girls (which we didn't try), and a kids club area where children can play games, get their faces painted and do arts and crafts. We also found a few other interesting things to do on property. Clydesdale horses took us on a hay ride around the lodge, and we ran into someone doing science experiments for children on the third floor lobby.
Great Wolf Lodge offers something that will make budget travelers like myself very happy...they have fridges and microwaves in every room and you can bring food from home to make if you want. I took advantage of this and brought leftovers from Christmas dinner with us, but we also splurged a little and ate at the buffet restaurant on Saturday for a late breakfast.
I have read reviews that the food was overpriced and bad at Great Wolf Lodge. Well, breakfast wasn't cheap (14.99/adults, 7.99/child, Canadian funds) but I didn't think the food was as bad as I'd read. We enjoyed our meal, again to make comparisons to Disney...I thought the GWL breakfast was very similar to the breakfast buffets we had at WDW. We are not a family of "foodies" though, so other families might have more discriminating palates.
Overall, we had a great time. My son asked me if I could buy this place so he could live there. Maybe in another life when I'm filthy rich. In the meantime, we'll be on the lookout for another bargain rate so we can get back there again.
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