Friday, November 28, 2014

Bob Dunning: Blame the kids for all the fun we’re having


From page A2 | August 13, 2014 |

GRAND MOUND, Wash. — Left to my own devices, I’m certain I’d never visit a water slide park, no matter how grand or unique. And for sure I’d never spend good money to stay at a “resort hotel” whose main claim to fame was a massive indoor water park.

Having kids, of course, causes parents to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, which explains why six members of our family have spent the better part of two days at a place called Great Wolf Lodge.

In short, Great Wolf is indeed a “resort hotel” whose main claim to fame is, well, a massive indoor water park.

While there are several Great Wolf Lodges scattered around the country, this one is along Interstate 5 about halfway between Portland and Seattle.

You truly can’t miss it, given that several of the many water slides jut so far out from the main building that you swear they’re hovering directly over the interstate.

Truth to be told, there’s a lot more to Great Wolf than the state-of-the-art water park, with numerous activities throughout the day for toddlers all the way through the early teenage years.

The water park, of course, is for all ages, with rides and wave pools and the like that are just plain fun, all the way to steep and twisting slides that are nothing short of terrifying.

Water and I have never been friends. This is due in no small part to the fact God did not bless me with a swimmer’s body. When I take my shirt off in public, people generally exit the pool with great alarm and head straight for the changing room.

For unexplained reasons, all that worry about body image faded away for me at Great Wolf, perhaps because just about everyone looks bad in swim trunks these days.

The great part here is there’s an awful lot of subtle exercise taking place along with all this fun. Although I didn’t count them, I figure you’re required to climb 50 or 60 steps to reach the high launching platform for the Howling Tornado, a trek each of us must have made at least 20 times a day. Plus those long walks to the snack bar when you finally need to replenish the calories you spent while climbing.

One of the blessings of Great Wolf is that lines for all the water slides are always at a minimum. Unlike Disneyland and other attractions that pack people in and make you wait all day for a single ride, Great Wolf limits water park admission to those folks staying in the hotel. And there are so many different activities within the hotel and the park that no single attraction produces even a modest wait time.

Although, like most hotels, you can’t check in before 4 p.m., you’re allowed to begin using the water park at noon on the day of your arrival. Check-out the next morning is 11 a.m., but again, you’re encouraged to stick around and use the water park a second day all the way up to its 9 p.m. closing time. It’s the kind of “two-fer” I’ve never before seen a serious resort offer.

Clearly, someone somewhere spent enough time tweaking the numbers to be certain that all hotel guests will have a superb experience. Even if they don’t look good with their shirts off.

Even more impressive is the fact every attraction within the water park, from the tall and twisting slides to the separate toddler area, is crawling with fully trained and extremely attentive lifeguards. At one point I counted eight lifeguards at the wave pool alone.

And these are not lifeguards sitting in tall chairs flirting with their friends, but active lifeguards, constantly on their feet walking the perimeter of the various pools, scouring the water for anyone displaying even a hint of trouble.

And while as parents we will always keep a close eye when our kids are anywhere near water, it is comforting to know just how high a priority Great Wolf places on the safety of its guests.

The rooms at the lodge are spacious and include a number of “theme” suites that add to the fun. The food in the four or five restaurants is very good and the surrounding countryside is gorgeous if you’re in need of a drive outside the facility.

I’m generally not fond of places that try to deliver so much and frequently fall short, and I’m ashamed to stay I couldn’t find a single failure in the entire system, right down to the kind and well trained staff.

Will we be back? In a heartbeat.

— Reach Bob Dunning at





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