The Great Wolf Lodge Experiment


Over fall break, my husband and I ditched the kids and went to Lexington for a weekend at The Gratz Park Inn & Keeneland. I was rewarded for my selfishness with a bout of food poisoning. I thought a winter break jam packed with kid focused activities would redeem me, so we headed to Great Wolf Lodge for a few days. Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water park resort with eleven locations, primarily in the eastern half of the United States. The GWL in Mason, Ohio is a two hour drive from Louisville, so it is the perfect distance for a weekend trip. Many local families we know go on a semi-regular basis.
 
The water park is the star of the show. It's huge, with areas catering to different ages so kids from toddlers to tweens can have fun. The waterslides are the best - even our 3-year-old could ride most of them as long as a parent was with her - and our kids loved them. Kate screeched with terror all the way down then begged to ride again. We also liked the wave pool, but the water was a little cool. Luckily, the "warm springs" family pool is adjacent to it. The water park staff is friendly and helpful and the lifeguards take their job seriously (good thing, since a lot of parents didn't seem to be paying much attention to their brood). The bad about the water park: the chlorine is overwhelming, it's roasting hot, and the towels provided are skimpy. It's also so crowded that it is hard to find chairs on which to leave your belongings (there are lockers, but we didn't bother). President's Day weekend is an especially popular time to go, so perhaps we were just there at a bad time, but I get the feeling that it stays crowded all winter.
 
Aside from the water park, there's an arcade, a pint-sized bowling alley, a kid's spa/ice cream shop combo, an arts and crafts room geared toward younger kids, and MagiQuest, an adventure game where kids run around the resort with wands, searching for treasure. Every night, there's a goodnight show in the lobby featuring a song that ironically features the line "there's nothing to be afraid of here" (the live-action dolls and creatures singing the song are a bit too Chucky-like for my taste, y'all). No wonder my six year old woke up at 7 a.m. on Saturday and immediately started whining that he was bored in our room. The hotel itself is mediocre, as is the food, and both are over-priced given the quality.  Not that kids notice.  According to Robert, this was the "funnest weekend ever".
 
That's more like it.
Great Wolf Lodge is like Las Vegas for little kids, and that's not a compliment. The Lodge and its competitors aren't the problem. We, the consumers, are. The question is why do we demand places like this? I didn't go on a lot of vacations growing up, but what I remember about the ones we took is not a dizzying array of constant entertainment. I remember long drives to my aunt's house in Chicago, where we built model rockets with my cousins and swam in their neighbor's pool. I remember a trip to St. Augustine, Florida (in an RV), where I saw the ocean for the first time and was enthralled with the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. I remember summer treks to Cincinnati, where we we would go to the zoo and then sit in crappy nosebleed seats and watch my dad's beloved Reds play. Bobby and I both have high stress careers and favor vacations in laid back beach towns where we spend our time soaking up local culture, exploring nature, and gorging ourselves on seafood and books. I can't wait to show my kids how "boring" it is to hike to a secluded beach and snorkel with turtles.  That's what vacation should be about.