By Marilyn Busch
“Let’s go to the Great Wolf Lodge for my birthday!” enthused my son as the TV commercial finished. He had seen just thirty seconds of colorful swimsuits, wild wave rides, costumed characters and overwhelmingly cheerful families and man, that boy was hooked. Of course, being the frugal mom that I am, I was a bit wary of the price tag that something with the word “resort” attached to it would be for our family of five.
A getaway weekend was tempting to consider, though. My husband and I had not been on a vacation since the birth of our youngest child six years ago. I determined that we were long overdue for some family fun and I set out to research how we could best explore what Great Wolf Lodge had to offer and still keep it to a reasonable budget.
Located roughly an hour north in Fitchburg MA, The Great Wolf Lodge is a family water park and resort. Upon first glance at their booking site (www.greatwolf.com), I was fearful that they would be too far out of budget. On average, suites started at $249 a night and went upwards of $549 for larger themed rooms, but all included a mini-fridge, microwave, coffeemaker and 32-inch TVs in each sleeping area.
I felt much more hopeful after checking out the variety of room specials that they offer, the best of which is the “Early Saver” promotion, giving you up to 50% off when you book at least 60 days in advance. Our boys are young (ages 6, 8 and 10), so we knew a themed suite and bunk beds would be extra-fun for them.
The resort seems to offer something for everyone and my sons spent the time leading up to our planned getaway making a “to-do” list – wave pools, laser tag, mini-golf, bowling, arcade games, 4D movies and more. These are all available within the resort, under the same roof as the water slides, multiple restaurants and (thankfully) a Dunkin’ Donuts.
The drive up to Fitchburg was scenic and the boys were literally counting the seconds until we drove up hill to the hotel. I was pleasantly surprised at the resort’s “curb-appeal” featuring an impeccably landscaped lawn and a giant stone wolf welcoming us. The lobby was impressive as well with an oversized stone fireplace and stage areas for the character themed shows performed daily.
It was obvious from the get go that the resort staff were helpful and more importantly, used to dealing with children. Check-in was a breeze, with the staff processing our reservation quickly and with a smile (especially impressive since my children were literally climbing the walls to see their room.)
Our suite was located at the opposite end of the resort, on the second floor, overlooking the “Howlin’ Timbers Play Park” featuring a rock wall, rides and games and an intimidating ropes course stretching over the park area. Once inside our suite, the noise level was surprisingly low and the boys were thrilled with their bunk beds in their very own wolf den. This was definitely not a hotel designed to impress the adults with thread counts, HD televisions or sateen duvets, but it was solid, definitely clean, and family-friendly.
We immediately donned our swim suits and went down to the water parks which were bustling, but not overcrowded. The youngest was happy to spend time in the areas set up with slides and water sprays, while the older two immediately went in for the giant wave pool. While I was watching the boys at all times, I was happy to see quite a number of life guards stationed at each area as well. With the two water parks located right across a short hall from each other, we would pop back and forth when the boys would get bored. While the deepest part of the more advanced areas is not more than 5 feet deep, there were life jackets available for non-swimmers.
And what about those “thrilling” water slides that the resort also offers, you may ask. Well, I can only share the experience of going down the giant hi-speed funnel named the “Howlin’ Tornado.” The name should have been a tip-off to the impact the ride has on a raft built for four. This water slide was super-fast and came with more than a few twists and turns before the final six-story drop into the giant tornado shaped tunnel. While the boys were eager to go again, I was only able to stop my heart from pounding after about an hour of “Mom needs to sit down” time.
All in all, the resort offered many surprises (absolutely thrilling water slides among them) ranging from lively costumed entertainment, free kid’s activities, a yummy all-you-can-eat dinner buffet, plenty of activities for all ages – and most impressive – the lack of any recognizable “kid” noise nightly from 11:00 pm-9:00am. I would highly recommend checking out their online specials and be wary of adding too many packages or game passes to keep your base costs low. We stocked our room’s mini-fridge full of sodas, hot dogs, microwave popcorn and treats so that we could save on vending machine prices and happily the resort supplies all the towels you need for the water park and the room.
The final verdict from my husband and I was that Great Wolf New England far exceeded our expectations in regard to value, cleanliness, quality and variety of things to do. Needless to say, our boys had the time of their lives and have already requested a return trip!