Great Wolf Lodge invited us for a visit a couple weeks ago, but Nate got called into work at the last minute. I was momentarily panicked about being alone at this epic indoor waterpark with four little kids, but I realized that the situation was more or less the same as usual. Once you find yourself outnumbered as a parent in a big family, it's chaotic fun no matter what the specific balance is! I rolled with it, and soon realized that Great Wolf Lodge had a TON of cool things specifically catering to big families like our own.
We've been to Great Wolf Lodge quite a few times now and have enjoyed their seasonal celebrations and entertainment for kids both young and old. It's a phenomenal place to keep a big crew busy – but it does require some planning to take advantage of all there is to see and do!
Note that the links below direct to the Anaheim location since that's the one we're most familiar with, but we've been to the Texas location and everything was very similar. You can search on their general site for specific details and Great Wolf Lodge tips for each property.
Helpful Great Wolf Lodge Tips for a BIG Crew
Research your room options
As a family of six, Nate and the boys and I have encountered many hotels who can't accommodate all of us in a single room. So I have to start by GUSHING over the rooms at Great Wolf Lodge! Room capacity at Great Wolf Lodge is excellent, with most easily fitting 6 people and many fitting 8. Water park access is included for everyone staying in the room.
The catch here is that you can not have water park visitors who push you beyond your room capacity limits. In order to keep the water park uncrowded, Great Wolf Lodge doesn't sell day passes or give extra wristbands to friends of guests. That being said, we've booked a room for a capacity of 8 and checked-in with friends up to that maximum number, then enjoyed the water park with them all day and sent them off without actually having them stay overnight. Be forewarned that the wristbands are standard plastic-clasp bracelets that need to be cut off after use, so it's not realistic to swap friends in-and-out for anyone who MAY be contemplating that!
The video up top shows the room that we typically book for our immediate family of 6, with two beds and a pull-out sofa. It runs between $200-400-ish per night. Prices vary dramatically by date, and you can save a ton with multi-night deals or early booking discounts. Also, if you're a first responder or military (or have a kind aunt or uncle who wants to tag along and show their badge at check-in) the Heroes Program lets you save 30% off the best available rates all year long.
Have a Plan of Attack for the Water Park
The thought of combining lots of kids with lots of water can be scary. Rest assured that there are a PLETHORA of lifeguards on duty at Great Wolf Lodge. It almost seems excessive. And they are impeccably trained. That being said, don't do anything dumb. I still supervise all of my children at all times, even though the oldest is a pretty proficient swimmer. Since there was only one adult (me!) with our group this time, that meant we all had to find activities to do together instead of dividing-and-conquering. Areas that are enjoyable for the WHOLE family include Fort Mackenzie when you first walk in, Crooked Creek lazy river behind that, and Big Foot Pass and Chinook Cove towards the wall on the left. Also fun for little ones are Cub Paw Pool, Whooping Hollow and Raccoon Lagoon, but kids actually have to be under 52″ to play in there so that knocked us out of participation with a tall elementary schooler.
I made a point to avoid the wave pool (“Slap Tail Pond”) since my 3-year-old likes to dash away in large areas, and we steered clear of the more advanced slides toward the back where the baby and toddler didn't meet the height requirement.
There are tons of chairs where you can plop your stuff. If you're managing a baby, one of my biggest Great Wolf Lodge tips is to bring a stroller into the water park. There's lots of open space to put it, and I've never had one stolen here. A water sling helps if you plan on carrying baby around in the water. There are also lockers that you can pay for in the gift shop on the way in, and I highly recommend bringing extra clothes so you can dry off and go play in the arcade area on the same floor without going all the way up to the room and back down. It's quite a hike!
Know your Activity and Player Limits
Speaking of the arcade space, there is a TON of stuff to do outside of the water park. I definitely recommend Ten Paw Alley, where your kids can participate in the cutest little game of mini-bowling. There's technically a 6-person lane limit, but we swiped our Paw Points card just twice and split up into two “teams” playing 10 frames. I can't imagine if each kid tried to play a full game! The way we arranged it – with the big boys collectively playing against me and the toddler – each of us got five frames apiece. That equates to ten ball rolls, which was MORE than enough to wear my little dudes out.
The adjacent Howly Wood XD Theater has 8 seats, and a little viewing area outside for people who aren't brave enough to go in. Lazer Frenzy and Howl at the Moon Glow Golf are similar experiences that are great for big groups of all ages.
Other activities in this area include stuffed animal making at Creation Station and Clubhouse Crew, wand creation and MagiQuest games, glitter tattoos and leather bracelet-making near the water park entrance, Scooops Kid Spa and Northern Lights Arcade. All of those are fun depending on your family's abilities and personalities, but those activities CAN be challenging to juggle when your kids like to go a bunch of different directions. I may or may not have totally lost the 3-year-old in the arcade. That place is big!
Paw Passes can be split among kids
We like to get a Paw Pass – a flat-rate package option that includes a BUNCH of the add-on activities for a reduced price. We don't always get one for every kid, though. We're fortunate to have been here enough times to know that each of our four children likes different things on the Paw Pass (plus, we're able to bring back our old characters and wands and pay a bit to reactivate them with new games). This time around, the oldest kid got a new wand topper, the second-oldest wanted a glitter tattoo and leather bracelet, the preschooler decided to make a stuffed animal at Creation Station, the baby messed around with the goggles and they all played a few arcade games and split the cup of candy. It was the perfect amount of entertainment for everyone!
Think through your meals
Dining options on-site are varied from high-end eats to casual fare. Smaller families seem to enjoy a sit-down meal at Lodge Wood Fired Grill and poolside eats at Buckets or Grizzly Jacks, but we usually grab pizza and a salad at Hungry as a Wolf by the arcade to feed our big, non-stop crew. It's really nice to have an in-room fridge and microwave for leftovers!
No matter what, don't miss the Character Breakfast Buffet at The Loose Moose Cottage for phenomenal eats and some one-on-one table time with Wiley and his pack. If you have allergies in the family, the staff there is incredibly helpful. They always have the chef prepare gluten-free options for me. Water park hours don't usually start until mid-morning, but breakfast open bright and early so that's where you'll want to head first! Then, work off some of those calories with fun, scheduled morning activities.
Peep the planner, yo!
The lobby and other areas throughout Great Wolf Lodge are always bustling with activity – and most of it is free. Make sure to check out the schedule to take advantage of things like crafts and pajama parties. They often have cool seasonal events, too, like Spring-A-Palooza, Halloween festivities and decorating fares for the winter holidays. These are really good ways to get younger kids involved in the fun since they can't do as much of the game and water park stuff as the older ones.
Maximize your time
Room check-in is at 4pm daily, but you can actually arrive early and play in the water park starting at 1pm. Check-out is 11am, but you can stay until the water park closes and you can actually pay extra to get a 2pm late checkout from your room. That means you get two long days of play when you book one night! With a large family and a crazy assortment of schedules, it's always helpful for us to have a big window in which Nate or another relative can arrive late or leave early to help lend a hand. Parking is charged to the room via the wristband key fob. We've gone offsite and back on and had Nate arrive late with a second car without being charged an additional parking fee, so it appears that payment is a flat rate for in-and-out privileges (FWIW, though, I've never mentioned a second vehicle to the front desk…).
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Maybe combine it with a Disneyland trip?
Packing up and traveling with a big family can be challenging. If you're like us, you want to maximize the effort and keep the momentum going! The Great Wolf Lodge deal page has some really awesome arrangements with Disneyland, located just 3 miles away. You can book a combo package and get discounted Disney tickets, free shuttle rides, early Magic Hour entrance to the park, and more – all without having to switch hotels mid-vacation.
Have you been to Great Wolf Lodge? Got any great tips for a big family?