Saturday, July 12, 2014

Great Wolf Lodge New England

Last week we visited Great Wolf Lodge New England. My husband and I decided to take the boys on a surprise vacation. Since we had visited the Great Wolf Lodge (GWL) in the Poconos (Pennsylvania) and loved it, we decided to try the brand new GWL in Fitchburg, MA.
   When we pulled up to the lodge, the kids were super excited (once they realized what was going on.)  We parked the car in the lot near the entrance and went to check in. We were a little surprised that there weren't many sidewalks or walkways to cross over the parking lot to the entrance. (You can pull right up to the building if you're getting dropped off.)  The lodge entrance is nice. It's not as open as the Poconos location but it is still cozy and has places to be comfortable and hang out.  It has a few leather chairs and couches as well as a nice fireplace and the GWL Forest Friends Show (animated animals). 
     Check-in was great. Everybody was friendly. Everything was right with our reservation and there were many people checking people in so we didn't have a long wait. We got our wolf ears and paw pass and headed up to our room. (I would definitely recommend the paw pass if you are thinking of doing a lot of the extras at the hotel. We saved a lot of money and it's really convenient) Oh, check-in is at 4 but you can arrive as early as 1 to use the facilities. Our room happened to be open at 1 so they let us into the room earlier than we expected, which was pretty cool.
     Our room was on the 4th floor. The halls were clean. The room was decently a little smaller than the other room we had in PA but it was nice and clean.  The beds were comfortable. We got all unpacked. As I was putting our toiletries in the bathroom, I noticed DIE written in small lettering on the wall in purple sparkly nailpolish. I immediately got a housekeeper outside of the room to show her that we hadn't written it. She said that the room was vacant before us and seemed very embarrassed that nobody had caught it while cleaning. She tried to get it off but it wouldn't come off. She apologized profusely and explained that she would have maintenance take care of it. 
     After that, we decided to go take a look around.  The top floors are all guest rooms. Anything that you want to do is all located spread out on the first floor.   The main lobby is kind of the central area. To the right of the lobby is the fitness area, the bar section of a restaurant, a Dunkin Donuts and a hallway for the MagiQuest game. The Dunkin Donuts is the same as any other Dunkin Donuts. We didn't visit the bar section. The fitness area was a little odd. I was excited that GWL had a place that I could exercise while I was there. My husband pointed out that it was really a strange location for a fitness room. If you are exercising you are enclosed in a room with large windows- which look right into the restaurant. I don't know how appetizing it would be to sit and eat your meal as I sweat it out on the machines right in front of you. No thanks. Needless to say, I skipped the fitness room.  Also off of the lobby is the Lodge Wood Fired Grill. I'll write about this when I talk about breakfast on the last day. The Buckhorn Exchange is a gift shop also located off the lobby.  We didn't get anything here but they had some interesting stuff.
     There is a hallway that attaches to the lobby that leads to all of the other attractions at the lodge. The first thing you come to is the Great Wolf Kids Shop. They sell all kinds of branded GWL stuff, including magnets, stuffed animals, t-shirts, etc. They have many characters associated with the lodge and they are all sold here.  When we went to get David's animal there on the first night, the machine that stuffs the stuffed animals wasn't working so we offered to come back the next day. Everyone who worked here seemed delightful and really friendly to everyone. They would often be standing in the doorway, greeting people as they came by (in a non-annoying way). 
     Next to that was the MagiQuest store. Timmy was already a Master Magi at the Poconos location. The cool thing with MQ is that your wand will work at other locations. We were told Tim's wand might be incompatible with their system so all of his previous progress wouldn't be there but the wand would still work. This was fine with us. We got David a wand and a game using the PawPass. He didn't want to play at first but ended up loving completing quests with dad. 
     If you continue down the hall you reach the Scoops Kids Spa, the arcade, Bear Paws Sweets & Eats, the Hungry As a Wolf pizza place, Lazer Frenzy and Howly Wood XD theater. We didn't do anything at Scoops, though 1) it smelled really yummy and 2) we saw tons of little girls getting pedicures and manicures. There were also a lot of moms running around wearing the tiaras. It seemed like a cute mother-daughter experience. We spent a ton at the arcade. You can get a reloadable arcade card. Most of the games cost 4 paws= $1. One or two cost 2 paws, 1 or 2 cost 8 paws. There were lots of different games from driving games, fishing games, game show type games, claw machines, skeeball, etc. The prizes were good but, like every other arcade, cost a lot of tickets. Timmy liked one of the fishing games best. 
     Hungry As a Wolf was pretty good. We ordered a cheese pizza and a sausage pizza. The boys loved it. I wasn't a huge fan of the sauce but had a few pieces anyway. I also cashed in on the ice cream in the paw pass at Bear Paws. It's Edy's ice cream and you can choose as many toppings as you like. They also sold things like delicious looking candy apples, cupcakes, and some yummy looking fudge. I'm proud to say that I exercised great self-restraint and only got the ice cream. (though I really wanted the fudge) Ironically, I ran into 2 of my 5th grade students here. (An hour and a half away and I still run into students- I don't mind much.)
     We didn't go to the theater or the lazer frenzy. Honestly, the lodge is so packed with things to do that it can be a little overwhelming. We didn't want to push the kids and make them do EVERYTHING, especially if they didn't seem like they really wanted to. 
     Next came the hallway where the water areas are located. They have a staff member who open the doors to the water areas for you, which I first thought was annoying but appreciated later when I was carrying things. There are 2 rooms that are filled with water themed things. On one side there was a water playground (very shallow water- 16" at most) for younger kids (toddler aged I'd say). It  had little water sprayers, a few little slides and other things to play with. Everyone there looked like they were having a blast. In the same room is Slap Tail Pond- the wave pool. The waves are up to 3' and the pool is 5'. It was a little rough but my kids really liked it. I got a little worried about David, who is 46" but he did fine. Oh, and they also had life jackets that you could put the kids in if you wanted to take extra precautions. On the far side of this room were the big water slides. The first, the Wolf Tail, (was scary and I wouldn't go on.. lol) is a ride where 1 rider is enclosed standing up in a tube and then the bottom drops out. No thanks. Timmy loved it. Matt went on too. David was too small. I sat by the exit to this slide for a while and watched people come down. have you ever seen a little kid fall over and lay on the ground wondering if they were hurt until an adult looks over and says "Yeah! You're okay!!!" and the kid runs off laughing? Well, that is how I felt watching all the people come off this slide. "Yeah!" Seriously though, there was this little boy who must've been about 10 who I saw go on this thing at least 20 times. 
     River Canyon Run is a raft ride that up to 6 people can ride on. We went on this as a family a few times. It was fun and not too scary for the younger kids. Unfortunately, the first time we got through the line and got into the raft there was a huge lightning storm (and flash flood warning and a TORNADO!? warning) and they had to close the ride until it passed. The River Canyon Ride was my favorite.
     The last slide in that section was the Howlin' Tornado, which features a 6-story funnel and can have up to 4 riders. David couldn't go on this one so I sat this one out. Tim and Matt loved it. 
     There are lots of chairs to sit in and some tables to eat at as well. Unfortunately, it seemed that many people shove their stuff on the chairs and desert them for the day. Any time we went to either water area we were able to find 1 chair at least. There was a little cabana section in one of the water areas that you could reserve. The other water area had Buckets- a snack place that we didn't check out. Both water areas also have towels to use, life jackets, bathrooms and a place to put your used towels. All of the lifeguards who worked there were personable, polite and fun to be around. 
     When you cross to the other water area you will pass an area for the Glitz tattoos. Tim got a "zen dragon." It was pretty awesome (and on the Paw Pass). The girl working there was really enthusiastic and chatted with Timmy for a while. There is also the Bear Essentials Swim Shop where you can get bathing suits, goggles, and other swim related items. We got a pair of goggles with our paw pass. Again, friendly, knowledgeable staff. 
   The 2nd water area had Fort Mackenzie- another play area that is multiple levels, has many interactive water activities, bridges and a giant bucket that dumps when it's full. It was amusing to watch all the kids experiment around with how the water sprayed, when the barrel would dump and which kid-activated water events would affect other kids. Then there was the lazy river. It was a little compact but we had fun floating around. Next was the Chinook Activity Pool. On one side was a little basketball section that Timmy enjoyed, on the other there was a small obstacle called Big Foot pass where kids try to jump from lily pad to lily pad without falling in. The young kids kind of hopped and the older kids tried to help themselves by pulling themselves along with the overhead netting. 
     Next to that was the hot springs- it's supposed to be an adult only area but kids were in there too. I think this was partially because there is an opening to the outside where you can swim from the hot spring inside to the outside. Which kid would resist that? Outside was a little deck with a spray area and lots of fun things for the younger kids. 
     The water slides inside this are were Otter Run- a normal water slide and Alberta Falls- slides you can ride as a single rider or double. You use tubes for these. Alberta Falls has 2 slides. I think the only difference is that one is light and the other is dark inside. David seemed to enjoy these ones the most. 
    Continuing on- outside the water park and down the hall a bit was the main room for Magi Quest. MagiQuest is an interactive game that you play with a wand. The goal is to become a Master Magi by completing quests and collecting runes. Once you have completed the tasks, you complete 3 adventures to become a master magi. At first I was a little disappointed that most of MQ stuff was in this hallway and the adjacent room but, after remembering trekking up and down different floors to complete quests in the Poconos location, I appreciated being able to find a seat and watch the boys race from one place to another without having to worry. 
     The last room also contained a ton of activities. It had the Howling Timbers Play Park- which were some amusement type rides. They were a little young for our boys. It had the Howl at the Moon Mini Golf, Ten Paw Alley, and the Howler's Peak Ropes Course. Timmy immediately asked to go on the ropes course. Again, the staff was awesome in helping getting the kids all strapped in and managing all the people. David was a little overwhelmed by how high the course was but then we noticed that there was a smaller ropes course, After the initial argument about putting on the harness, he whizzed around the course with no problem. Then he wanted to go on the larger course and did pretty well with that. This is David on the smaller course (with his cute wolf ears on):

   ( A quick note- there are rooms for guests that surround the giant "last room" I just described. I thought "wow, I don't think I'd like staying in a room where there are tons of people are running around all day."  I figured the sound of MQ and the rides would be audible all day. I spoke with a guest and her daughter who said they hadn't noticed any noise at all though. )
      After getting exhausted just exploring, we went back to the lobby for Bingo. The woman who ran Bingo seemed less than enthusiastic. She was the only staff person that I was not impressed with. They had about 20 kids playing and decided to just keep playing 1 game until everyone won. My kids got bored before that happened and asked to leave early. At GWL they tell teach the kids the Great Wolf howl. (Stomp, stomp, clap, clap, howl) They do this on the wolf walk, with the characters, at the forest friends show, etc. It's kind of their thing. So, this woman wanted the kids to howl when someone won Bingo. Instead of saying something like "Hey, we have a really fun tradition here at GWL that when someone wins, we congratulate them by giving a howl" she basically was like "I don't hear anyone howling," "Where's your howl?" "That one wasn't very good." The kids all looked at her like she was crazy because nobody knew what she was talking about- especially the kids who had just checked in that day. 
     Sadly, we went and watched cable after that since we don't have it at home.. yeah, we're sad. 
     Tuesday started with David going and getting his stuffed animal from the kid's store. He chose a dragon and named him Red. He came with a cute GWL bag.
     
  After that, we went and played at the water park for a long time. I was lucky enough to run into my 2 5th grade boys again. Meeting my students while I'm in my bathing suit- new awkward moment. Luckily they didn't gag or run off crying. That would've made things worse. We went on the slides and played a lot in the wave pool. After this came lunch and a lot of Magi Quest.  The lightning storm the day before had messed up many of the MQ things so it was a little aggravating to get to a quest and realize you couldn't complete it because the game was broken. There were all kinds of problems with the wands too. Both boys had to get their wands replaced. Many people were unhappy and I don't necessarily blame them since it costs so much and you invest a ton of time into it. 
    Timmy had been selected for the All-Star team in baseball and we found out after the regular season that there were 2 games scheduled during our vacation dates. The Thursday game was not an issue but Tuesday was little tricky. After some deliberation we decided that it was a commitment we wanted to follow through with so we made the trek back east to attend the game. Unfortunately they didn't play well and lost 11-6. He looked cute in his new uniform though!
   When we got back to the lodge- David begged to go to the arcade so we went and played for a while. We also watched the Forest Friends show. All the little kids were very cute in their pajamas. Timmy enjoyed people watching more than the show. I was surprised at how into it David was.
    Wed was our fullest day. Unfortunately, David woke up exhausted and seemed to not be feeling well. We did Magi Quest for a while and then went to lunch at the Old Mill. The restaurant was pretty and had a place to feed the ducks. They serve corn fritters, rolls and fresh pecan rolls to start. Matt loves pecan rolls, which is part of the reason I suggested this place. David ordered a mini pizza and ate none of it. (It was obvious not that he really was not doing well) Timmy ate a BLT. I ordered a chicken wrap and Matt had a fried haddock sandwich. Only Timmy finished. Matt and I packed ours up to eat later. It was so filling. (Sarah- if you decide to go here, there is a lunch buffet, just look up the times) We decided to go back to the room and give David some rest. I kept him in the room most of the day. Timmy and Matt went swimming. David fell asleep. I read.
     Matt went to CVS to get a thermometer and medicine for David. We had a quick dinner and David wanted to go play a few games so we went to do a few games at the arcade... AGAIN. I admittedly was addicted to one of those coin drop games. I wanted to help earn the tickets for the boys? Then we came back to the room and David fell asleep. Matt also started to feel sick. Oh, on the way down to the arcade, I asked Matt if he would mind if I just checked with the front desk to make sure they had noted the damage in our room so we didn't get charged. I explained the story and the woman at the front desk asked if the boys read it. I told them that they could both read and had read it. She said that they'd like to offer us a free breakfast in response to our inconvenience and unfortunate event. I wasn't complaining but I thanked her and took the coupon for the breakfast.
     On the last day, Matt and David both woke up with temperatures. They had cereal. Timmy and I had a delicious buffet breakfast in the Lodge Wood Fired Grill. They served orange juice and coffee at the table. Timmy had scrambled eggs, sausage (he wasn't sure he liked the sausage), tons of bacon, and fruit- cantaloupe, honeydew melon and one more fruit that I can't remember. I had a spinach and cheese omelette (freshly made by someone at a cooking station), potatoes and onions, and bacon. Everything was delicious. The cook was also making these cute bear paw waffles. I was disappointed that David and Matt couldn't make it but it was nice to have a little alone time with Timmy too. 
     After that, David and Timmy finished the MQ tasks to become Master Magis. David was excited to get his certificate. Timmy had gotten one in PA. When we went to get ours, we were told that they don't have that at this lodge. Another MQ disappointment to be aware of. Both boys went on the ropes course again. Timmy got his zen dragon. Then we packed back in the car to head home to rest and then go to baseball.
     Here are the pros and cons of this lodge:
Cons- I think I would have been fine with this lodge if 1) I hadn't been to a better GWL and 2) I thought that this was a brand new building that had been built. It was a refurbished CoCo Keys so it wasn't a brand new facility built by GWL. If I had known that when I booked I think my expectations would have been lower. Obviously I was turned off by the DIE welcome but that was someone being stupid and not really a lodge issue (other than not seeing it somehow). The problems with MQ were annoying but the staff was trying to accommodate all the requests that people had. Bingo lady. Pack your wallet!
Pros- Tons to do. Nice staff.  I feel like GWL in general tries to make sure all the families feel welcome. The kids had a blast. Early check in option is nice. You can also stay after check out. The time to check out is 11 am but you are welcome to stay and use the activities until 9. The room was nice and comfortable. Lots of places that the kids can play and the parents can watch and enjoy (sometimes from a distance, depending on how old your kids are). It is wonderful to see so many families playing together.

     So, that is the whole vacation. David and Matt are still sick. (I did check to make sure they didn't catch the pneumonia that I had a few weeks ago. Ugh, what a summer)  Timmy won his second game, 10-0. 
  They also won their game today, 7-3- which means that they will probably continue into the championship games. I secretly love watching the kids play. (Except Tuesday, that was painful.)
    Ignore my frizzy hair in this one. I just love the expressions on the kids' faces. 
Have any of you visited any of the other Great Wolf Lodge locations?  I would go back to one in a heartbeat, I just don't know if I'd go back to the MA one as a first choice. 

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