I’ll start out by saying that this post is not sponsored by the Great Wolf Lodge.* We have been four times and friends/family/coworkers/etc. always ask about it. I have mostly good things to say – the place is super fun – but I always add one big caveat . . . it is expensive. If you don’t plan ahead, this place will drain every spare cent from your bank account. Be prepared to amputate a limb on the way in.**
It doesn’t have to be that way though. If you pay attention to my tried-and-true tips, you can keep your costs at a minimum and still have a great time.
I’m writing this from my experience staying at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas. The rooms and amenities are pretty much identical, but there are some differences and extra activities vary so check your location for specific information.
1) Book smart.
A quick look online*** shows rooms at Great Wolf Grapevine currently ranging $200-$400 weekday and $400-$500 weekend. Last minute spring break is not a good time to plan an impromptu trip to this kind of resort. Instead, book early and look for special deals (the website nearly always has some sort of promotion going on if you are booking more than one night). Great Wolf pops up on Groupon all of the time. These deals don’t always save you that much on the nightly rate (we used one this time and saved about 20%), but they include things like food and activity credits. Also, it is very important to remember that your nightly rate includes waterpark passes. For a family of four, I would say that probably works out to about $100 of your rate (I didn’t do any real calculations here, just thought about tickets I’ve purchased to similar things). This brings us to number 2.
2) Use the waterpark.
You have access to the waterpark from the time you check in through the day you check out (you can and are encouraged to continue to access the waterpark after standard checkout time). Do not book a room at Great Wolf unless you plan to spend at least 75% of your time at the waterpark. Just the waterpark, not activities that cost extra. Personally, we usually spend at least 85% of our time on-site to get our money’s worth. This is not the kind of place to stay if you plan to spend a couple of hours swimming and the rest of the time out-and-about doing traditional vacation stuff. If that is what you are interested in, find a hotel with an awesome pool and do Great Wolf some other time. Seriously.
3) Plan your food.
Okay, now we are getting in to the more important money saving tips. Great Wolf has a number of snack bars and restaurants on-site of various prices and cuisine. Think about what you want to eat and plan accordingly. For example, they have a tasty (and fully-stocked) buffet at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You probably don’t need to visit the buffet at each meal, especially if you are going to be swimming all day long. Maybe hit it up for morning fuel and do a cheaper snack bar option for lunch. Or pick up a $15 pizza for dinner (also on-site). You have a refrigerator and microwave in your hotel room – use this! Bring your own breakfast items, snacks, and drinks. You can’t always take these things into the activities, but since you room is only a short walk away they are always available. And while a lot of the food is priced like traditional restaurants, the more snacky items and drinks have your typical resort mark-up. This is what you want to supplement with your own supplies. I grabbed two bananas and apples on the way out of the breakfast buffet for mid-morning snacks. Worked perfectly and it was healthy! Mom win!
4) Don’t attach your kid’s band to your credit card.
One of the really nice things about Great Wolf is the wristband you get at check in. These are your “tickets” to the waterpark, but can also be your room key and credit card. We usually do room key/credit card for the adults, room key for the daughter, and just the regular band for the little man. This means you don’t have to take anything down to the waterpark except yourself; everything you need is on your wrist.
Now, you might think it will save you a lot of time by putting some money on your kid’s band, but I disagree. Let’s think about this scenario: You give little Johnny $20 for souvenirs and snacks. He immediately buys a $12 giant icee. It comes in a cup that gets free refills, so he argues that it will be a good deal (but are you really going to let him drink a bucket of soda with every meal?). Then he buys ice cream and a bag of chips. We know how kids are, so this all happens in the first two hours. Suddenly it is lunchtime and you head to the buffet. Little Johnny isn’t hungry though, so he just picks at his food. Then 2pm rolls around. Little Johnny is starving, but doesn’t have any money left and you have to pay out-of-pocket. See? Just don’t do it. Stay in charge or you could blow all of that money-saving planning.
5) Don’t do the extra activities unless you are staying for more than two nights.
Let’s be honest here – the other activities in the hotel, especially various Quest games, is simply a way to get the kids out of your hair for a little bit and burn off the sugar they have been consuming. With the questing game, you have to purchase a wand (reusable, but who is really going to remember to bring that back next time?) and pay for the game. Do you really need to pay for a couple of hours of silence if you are only staying for a short time? If you are staying longer however, buy that game, push the kids out of the hotel room, and put your feet up. You deserve that!
Just staying for a night or two? Explore some of the more cost-effective options. At Grapevine, the ropes course is a great option if your kid needs more than the waterpark. For $10 they can visit it as many times as they want and – bonus! – get to burn off energy while they climb.
*Email me, Great Wolf Lodge! I’ll gladly try and report back on all of your services. ☺
**Because it costs an arm and a leg . . . get it?
***Last week when I wrote this.