A Great Wolf Lodge vacation is practically a rite of passage for American kids, whether they're growing up in New England, Southern California, or somewhere in between, and a Great Wolf Lodge Groupon can help make that rite a reality. Each resort's pièce de résistance: a massive indoor water park (included in their pricing) that encompasses thrilling water slides, a wave pool, and a four-story treehouse crowned with a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket.
Beyond the water, families will find lots of vacation activities for kids, including arts and crafts and video games. But what's fun for kids can add up for parents, so we've come up with eight tips to help you make the most of your Great Wolf Lodge vacation while sticking to your budget.
Although guest-room check-in is at 4 p.m., you can get into the water park at 1 p.m. on the day you arrive and stay until the water park closes on the day you leave. In other words, you can enjoy 2 full days in the water park for the cost of a 1-night stay. To avoid digging through still-packed suitcases, have kids wear bathing suits on the drive in, and prepare a separate bag of fresh clothes for the drive home.
Lines at the water park tend to be longest in the middle of the day, particularly for the water slides. Tackle as many slides as you can during nonpeak hours to maximize your fun (and minimize your wait).
While the water park is the best reason to stay at Great Wolf Lodge, you might want to de-prune at some point. The lodge offers loads of free activities, including arts and crafts at CubClub on Wheels and nightly story time with costumed characters.
If your kids want to do activities that cost extra—such as MagiQuest, create-your-own stuffed animal Creation Station, and glitter tattooing—consider getting the kids PupPasses or PawPasses to save up to 42% as a package deal.
Each water park has highly trained lifeguards who undergo daily training drills, so older kids can safely set off on their own while you keep an eye on the younger ones. Below, we've listed some of the best activities for each age group, both in and out of the water.
Toddlers: the water slides and gentle sprayers in Whooping Hollow and Cub Paw Pool, and nightly story time with costumed characters
Kids aged 4–12: Fort Mackenzie, a four-story treehouse with a gigantic tipping bucket; and MagiQuest, a live action-adventure game in which kids gear up with a magic wand to complete a scavenger hunt and defeat a dragon
Teens and tweens: the more extreme water slides, such as Howlin' Tornado or Coyote Canyon; and Northern Lights Arcade, which has more than 100 games
Adults: the 21+ hot tub and the poolside bar
You'll find lots of restaurants on the property with different price points, from takeout pizza to sit-down pastas and wood-fired steaks. Though you can't bring food into the water park, each guest room has a microwave and mini fridge, so you can reheat leftovers or bring food from home to help keep costs down.
Book a suite with enclosed bunk beds—a Wolf Den, KidKamp, or KidCabin will do—or a separate loft bedroom so adults can enjoy some quieter time after a long day at the water park.
GWL is not the place to show off a new LBD. A summer-camp vibe reigns here, and you're likely to see folks walking around in pajamas and swimsuit cover-ups. You'll feel out of place if you wear anything fancier.
To make the most of your Great Wolf Lodge vacation, write a list of what you hope to do there before leaving home. You can get the lay of the land on resort's website with 360-degree virtual tours and links to age-appropriate activities. But don't resist if you and the kids just want to play in the water park all day—after all, you're on vacation.
This article was originally published in a different format and has since been updated by our editors.