Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark Resort is Awash in Family Fun
If you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing vacation, it’s a good bet that Great Wolf Lodge is not for you.
But if your idea of family fun includes howling with delight on huge waterslides, boogie boarding on a surf simulator and floating in a wave pool or lazy river – and then drying off for glow-in-the-dark mini golf, arcade games and more – you’ll want to check out the Garden Grove addition to this popular chain of indoor waterpark resorts.
Having heard great reviews from friends and family on the East Coast, we were anxious to check out Great Wolf’s first California outpost, the 13th in the chain when it opened last year. My family, with kids ages 13 and 10, visited over our recent spring break.
Located less than five miles from Disneyland, the resort is quickly becoming a popular add-on for those traveling to Southern California theme parks (we headed down after a day at Universal Studios Hollywood). But we also met plenty of locals who were taking advantage of the indoor water fun before warmer weather hit. The resort provides a free shuttle to Disneyland by reservation.
Great Wolf’s Lodge’s centerpiece is the 105,000-square-foot waterpark, which is visible outside the hotel thanks to the red-and-yellow funnel of its signature six-story Howlin’ Tornado waterslide. The waterpark, kept at 84 degrees, is free and exclusive to guests in one of the hotel’s 600-plus rooms, all of whom receive cute wolf-ear headbands and RFID wristbands that double as room keys and provide waterpark access.
Among the waterpark’s more adventurous slides are the Howlin’ Tornado, which provides an adrenaline rush for up to four raft riders, and the Wolf’s Tail, a tube slide in which the floor drops out into a 20-foot free fall. My family also loved racing each other on the milder Mountain Edge Raceway on toboggan-style foam mats.
Before you climb the steps and wait in line for the larger slides – especially if you’re lugging a raft or mat – make sure to check the height restrictions noted at the bottom. Riders must be 42 or 48 inches to ride some slides.
But there’s lots of fun for smaller kids, too, including the Fort Mackenize water-play structure with smaller slides and a 1,000-gallon dump bucket, and the zero-entry Cub Paw Pool with a two-foot “deep end.” There are also the surf simulator, lazy river, wave pool and more, plus an outdoor activity pool for warm days, with basketball hoops, splash features and its own dump bucket. Life jackets are available and are recommended for children under 48 inches.
There’s enough of a range for all ages, and relatives have found Great Wolf Lodge to be a good spot for family reunions with kids ranging from tots to teens.
The fun doesn’t have to stop once you’re completely waterlogged. Towel off to check out a variety of family-friendly entertainment from a PJ dance party with costumed characters to a small Chuck E. Cheese’s-style arcade.
Several activities, including character appearances, face painting and crafts, are free, but there are lots of others – the arcade, mini golf and bowling, an ice cream-themed kids’ spa, build-your-own stuffed animal and an in-house digital scavenger hunt called MagiQuest – that cost extra and can add up quickly. If your kids want to try these, consider buying a Paw, Pup or Wolf Pass, which include activities, merchandise and food at a discounted rate.
The resort has plenty of family-friendly eating options, including both a full-service and buffet restaurant, plus several fast food options including pizza, ice cream, a Dunkin’ Donuts with a great variety of breakfast sandwiches, a waterpark snack bar and a poolside grill and full bar.
Not surprisingly, rooms cater to families, with some two-room suites sleeping up to eight people. Some special themed suites include bunk beds or built-in “KidCabin” sleeping areas. Rates start at $249 per night.
Like most resorts that cater to families, Great Wolf can be busy during school holidays. If you can find an off-time to visit, especially mid-week during a non-holiday time, you may spare yourself waiting in long lines in the waterpark or Dunkin’ Donuts. But the resort also hosts special events during holiday seasons, including Spring-a-Palooza, Howl-O-Ween in October and Snowland during the winter.
For more information and deals, visit www.greatwolf.com/southern-california. You can also sign up for email alerts for hotel specials.
Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.
What’s New at Other Theme Parks
Planning to venture south? Check out what’s new at other Southern California theme park resorts popular with families.
• Disney California Adventure Park kicked off its Summer of Heroes with the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission BREAKOUT!, the revamped and rebranded Tower of Terror, on May 27. The ride features six different randomized scenarios, along with vintage pop tunes, based on the popular films. Other attractions and entertainment include superhero photo ops, a Guardians of the Galaxy DanceOff and the Avengers Training Initiative. The Summer of Heroes runs through Sept. 10.
• In Disneyland, the Main Street Electrical Parade returned to its birthplace in January for a limited engagement. It is scheduled to run through Aug. 20.
• Longtime favorite Autopia is also sporting a new look, with a humanoid robot and bird pal in new scenes, joining the new fuel-efficient Honda cars that were added in 2016.
• Still under construction is the new Star Wars-themed land, scheduled to open in 2019. But the Disneyland Railroad, Mark Twain Riverboat and Sailing Ship Columbia, Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island and Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes were all scheduled to reopen this summer, along with the return of the nighttime show Fantasmic.
• Space Mountain returned to its classic look – after having been remade as Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain – on June 1 to celebrate the ride’s 40th anniversary. A new Tomorrowland Skyline Lounge opened May 26 for nighttime snacking and fireworks viewing from 8-10 p.m. The cost is $45 per person and reservations are recommended.
Universal Studios Hollywood
• Universal Studios in June unveiled the latest addition to its popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a nighttime light spectacle that paints Hogwarts Castle in images from its four houses – Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin – with musical accompaniment arranged by composer John Williams, based on his original scores from the movies. A similar light show played at the land’s grand opening last year, and a holiday version will be unveiled this winter. The other major change to the Wizarding World has been the replacement of the 3D glasses in the land’s signature ride – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – with upgraded, faster film projections that Universal calls “4K-HD.” Buy tickets online to take advantage of one-hour early entry into the Wizarding World.
• DreamWorks characters, including those from Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and Trolls, will be on hand in the park this summer, in advance of the opening of a new DreamWorks Theater attraction opening in 2018.
• Starting in September, as part of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, brave guests will be able to walk through the Overlook Hotel in a maze which brings the horror classic The Shining to life. The installation joins the permanent walk-through maze based on the hit zombie TV series The Walking Dead, which opened last summer.
• New businesses also have opened in the adjacent CityWalk shopping and dining area, including Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and an outpost of Portland’s popular Voodoo Doughnuts. In addition, CityWalk’s movie theater has undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation.
•This spring, the Carlsbad theme park devoted to all things LEGO added to its six-year-old Star Wars miniland with six scenes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, complete with lights, sounds and animation.
• Also this spring, the park’s adjacent LEGOLAND Hotel added 18 rooms and two suites based on the popular LEGO NINJAGO characters. Each room includes 11 NINJAGO models, plus kids’ sleeping areas themed as dragons’ caves. There are also pirate, adventure, kingdom and LEGO Friends-themed rooms.
• The resort broke ground on a second hotel, which is castle-themed, this winter. The hotel will have knight, princess and wizard rooms, plus a slide in the lobby. It is slated to open in Spring 2018.