Last weekend, we had the immense pleasure of visiting the first Great Wolf Lodge in California at their new Garden Grove location (we even worked with the company and took over their Instagram handle for a day!). The destination is a favorite for many, and we've actually fielded some reader emails in the past asking our thoughts about Great Wolf Lodge as a family vacation – especially for little kids like our own.
The premise of the resort is pretty simple: get a room for the night, and everyone staying there will automatically get access to the water park. Water park passes are not available for purchase by families who aren't staying at the resort, which helps keep the area uncrowded (and relatively free of melting-down children, since they thankfully have a spot to squeeze in a nap). If you've never been, here are some of the must-see sights for little kids.
The splash area. I saw families of all ages playing together nicely in this watery spot filled with spout features, interactive water gears and even small slides! Our kids were in this area for hours before we reluctantly dragged them on to the next thing.
Story time. Every night, kids can cuddle up by the fireplace in the Grand Lobby and enjoy bedtime stories with the wolf pack: Wiley, Violet and Oliver.
Wands. Wands can be purchased on-site to control the extensive MagiQuest game and various interactive elements around the property. My kids were too little to grasp much of the game (which is basically a scavenger hunt with levels and points and varying “portals” to visit) but they did love being able to control statue animals throughout their room and in the dining areas. The best part is that wands can be bought once and brought back again and again to be used with new game purchases.
The rooms. We got a themed Wolf Den suite – which generally runs about $100 extra per night – but seeing the kids' faces light up over the bunk beds makes it well worth it. These suites even come with talking animal figures, light-up areas and other elements that interact with the kids' wands.
Stuffed animal-making. You can fill up an animal and dress them on-site (a la Build-a-Bear). They do cost extra, but they make for a sweet souvenir and they interact with various games around the property and with the Wolf Den suites. These can also be brought back for future visits to help cut costs. I quietly stashed my kids' away as soon as we got home, so I can excitedly unveil their old friends on our next visit…that way, they won't be inclined to ask for another one. Tada, mom of the year!
The arcade. Specifically, the ride-on games. Great Wolf Lodge had all sorts of carousel and virtual reality stuff that our kids loved.
The salon. They have this adorable salon called Scooops that entertains little ones with relaxing ice cream-themed manis and pedis. If your child is one for pampering, they'll love this.
The splash bucket. This giant bucket in the water park fills up and tips all over everyone below. Even if your kids don't want to go under it, it's pretty awesome to sit and watch over and over and over again.
Food. There are SO many options on-site, and every single thing I had was absolutely delicious. The chefs were well-prepared and happy to provide gluten-free options for me. I actually had a chance to speak with the head chef, and I was blown away by his care and concern about family health and allergies – he's gone as far as removing tree nuts across all properties, eliminating most food dyes and preservatives, and even special-ordering french fries made without GMO oil. They have a range of higher-end and casual eateries, with prices to fit any budget. Our kids were especially big fans of the sweets shop, with ice cream and handmade fudge!
Howly Wood XD Theater. This was one of our family's favorite picks. Clamber on up into a moving seat and experience an immersive 4D blaster game! There are different gaming experiences to choose from – we all got to test our aim against a bunch of cowboy robots. Nate won, of course.
A trip to Great Wolf Lodge Southern California isn't cheap, with a room running anywhere from $289-$629 (they do currently offer up to 30% off for military, fire, police and other first responders…MEGA bonus points for that). I personally think the cost and experience is comparable to Disney (they actually have a Disney partnership that can help families experience both back-to-back at a discount). Either one is definitely a “once in awhile” vacation that families save up for as a lifelong memory. I enjoyed that Great Wolf Lodge was big-family-friendly, with tons of space for up to eight people in certain rooms. Those of us with a lot of humans in tow know that it's challenging to find hotels with space for everyone and THEN pay theme park admission on top of that. This keeps it all pretty simple. There are also mini-fridges in the room, so you can bring snacks and keep food costs low by simply grabbing a pizza or burgers at one of the casual dining spots.
If you WANT all the extras, you can buy a “Paw Pass” to help bundle and save some money, but overall you're looking at $75-100 per person if you choose to enjoy most of the add-on experiences. I'd personally buy the wand and stuffed animals the first time, then get each of the kids an arcade pass to enjoy the rides (and little-kid-friendly bowling, even!) during subsequent visits…Paw Points on these cards don't expire, so it's a good idea to buy the bulk passes and bring your cards back again and again. If you can't afford all that additional stuff, just stick to the water park! Even completely on its own, it's worth it for whole-family fun. You can access the park as early as 1pm on your day of check-in, and stay until closing the night of check-out…meaning you can enjoy a whole weekend of memorable family activity for less than $400.