Great Wolf Bacchanal

I recently posted about my family trip to New York, then Boston. I glossed over the middle part, where we spent two nights, and a very full day in between, at the Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. There are many Great Wolf Lodges throughout this country, but this was the first one we ventured into. I assume many of them are similar. Once you find a business model where parents shovel money toward a bottomless pit for ten minutes worth of child engagement at a time, why bother switching it up? Just ask Disney.

The Great Wolf Lodges combine water slides and a ropes course, with an arcade and a scavenger hunt. Throw in a buffet and a Build-a-Bear with exclusive content, and it’s like a childhood Mardi Gras. You’re just as likely to send you home with rashes in uncomfortable spots. 

Water Slides

The thing they’re probably most known for is the ginormous water park smack dab in the middle of the hotel. Daughter’s finally to the point where we feel she can exit the pool after finishing a water slide. Still not sure I’d be comfortable with the types where they plunge her into the pool at the end, but if the slide comes out at the same level as the pool, such that her momentum is already heading toward the exit, she’ll be fine. Fortunately, a park that caters to five-to-ten-year-olds isn’t gonna have much of the former. In fact, the only slides that ended in anything other than a splash pad were tube rides. 

Not that getting out of an innertube is easy at my age. But the park ain’t catering to me. The only part of the parents’ bodies they give a shit about are our wallets.

While the wave pool and lazy river (more of a stream) are more meh than wow, the slides are legit. Two of them drop the entire four stories of the hotel. As a bonus, you don’t even have to lug the tube up to the top. They have a conveyor belt elevator for that. 

Unfortunately, you still gotta get your own ass up there. No conveyor belt for the humans. The look of pain and exhaustion on the adults at the top of this torture device spoke volumes. We all needed a breather and maybe a calf massage. 

Even worse, I wasn’t wearing my Fitbit. I must’ve missed out on fifty floors that day.

And now my kid wants to plummet all the way down and then hike right the fuck back up. Forget the massage, how about a margarita bar up here? They’ve got lifeguards down there who can get her out of the family tube that probably flipped over on her fifty pounds, and I’ll be waiting for her when she gets back up here. With a salt rim.  

Unfortunately, the booze is at the bottom, so I might as well ride down with her. 

I just gotta grab my gas mask first.

The chlorine level in the air is, after all, enough to kill any random waterborne or airborne pathogen. Or any stray boche soldiers out in No Man’s Land. 

Holy crap! 

Fortunately the waterslide area is closed off from the rest of the lodge, cause man, it hits you as soon as you open the door to the water park. The air is THICK with chemicals. But at least down by the chaise lounges, it’s technically indoors and climate controlled. The tubes, on the other hand, go outside, where you’re now ensconced in a thick plastic tube that’s baking in the sun, heating the chlorine inside into a substance that’s been banned since the Treaty of Versailles. 

Chemical weapons aren’t the only war crimes being committed in the water park. Their drink policy is also a Geneva Code violation. 

For lunch on Water Slide Day, we opted for the food stand instead of returning to Lodge Proper for a wedge salad. The “burgers” were meh, but the cheese curds were good. Then again, I’m not from Wisconsin, so I probably wouldn’t know the difference between a good or bad cheese curd. Are there really gradations of deep-fried dairy?

We also bought a round of drinks, each of which was a maybe 10 oz. cup to access one of those “add your own flavor” Coke machines are growing ubiquitous. Heck, we even have a movie theater nearby that uses them, which is saying a lot, because movie theaters usually don’t let you pour your own drinks lest you break their golden ratio of nine parts ice to one part soda. I usually love these machines, because Coke Zero tastes a hell of a lot better with a bit o’ raspberry and lime, something I never would’ve guessed four years ago.

This particular drink machine seemed defective at first. It kept telling us we were using the wrong cup, which I wouldn’t think is something a non-sentient machine can determine. The employee exchanged our cups and then it worked fine. Although it still oddly had different fruit flavors available or unavailable for different drinks. For instance, raspberry ginger ale was shadowed as “temporarily out,” but raspberry Coke Zero was available. Isn’t it the same flavored syrup being added to either drink?

But that was nothing compared to what happened when I went up for a refill. I got maybe two ounces in the bottom of the cup before I got a similar error message about the wrong cup. But this message was slightly different, in that it acknowledged the cup was correct but it had already been used. Holy shit! They’re tracking refills now? And even worse, they’re not giving you ANY! Because what was in the bottom of my cup was pretty much what was missing from the top of the last one after you account for bubbles subsiding. 

Then there’s the unsettling addendum to this thought: my first cup had already been used. By someone else. Not sure if there’s enough chlorine to wash that taste out of my brain. Good thing I can go to the bar. At least I know ahead of time I’ll have to pay for my second glass of beer. And, again, it’s a glass that’s SUPPOSED to be reusable.

I ended up having that wedge salad for dinner. It was pretty disappointing for a wedge salad. They chopped up the wedge. It’s supposed to be a ginormous wedge. Hence the name. And if I had to guess, they used ranch over bleu cheese crumbles instead of actual bleu cheese dressing. And that was in the “restaurant” portion, not the snack bar or buffet portion. We had buffet for breakfast the next morning, finishing the hat trick of disappointment. 

Not overly surprising for a place that caters to kids. In keeping with that theme, the Dunkin’ Donuts was meh. I’ve tried Dunkin’ on many occasions, and I don’t think I can ever get more than a meh out of it. Not really sure the appeal. I’ll take Starbucks any day over bitter coffee and mediocre donuts.

MagiQuest and the Rest

Food aside, the Great Wolf Lodge experience was solid. Daughter wants to climb any and everything she comes across these days. It must be a thing for kids her age, because the Lodge was prepared with both a rock climbing wall and ropes course. I figured she’d only want to do the rock climbing wall once, so I was going to buy her an unlimited on the ropes with one or two runs on the rock wall, when they told me that if I bought unlimited on both, it was only an extra four dollars. Why the hell not? I wonder if it’s always four dollars more than whatever it is you’re about to buy.

Hey, give me a beer for $10. 

How about a beer with unlimited rock climbs for $14?

Sold!

Those courses were nice because I didn’t have to follow her around. And, legitimately, there’s a beer barn and tables right there. I can look up into the air and give Daughter a thumbs up that she thinks is because she made it across the rope bridge, but in reality is my signal for one more blueberry ale. 

Unfortunately, the game that occupied most of her time required a tad more movement from the parentage. In a direction away from the beer. At least at first.

Magiquest is a scavenger hunt of the entire property. Kids are given a laser tag magic wand that, when aimed at various places around the resort, causes them to light up or animate or say something. Treasure chests that open up, paintings on the wall that change when activated, random stars in the ceiling that you don’t even notice until they light up. At first it’s unnerving when you’re just walking around the resort only to hear random sparkling with an ethereal, “You’ve already completed this task.”

There are maybe thirty total targets throughout the resort. Some of them give you virtual gold pieces, many are used in different quests as the player “levels up.” The first quests were for the fairy princess, then the goblin king, and finally the dragon. While the princess missions only required Daughter to pick up three “items” (at completely opposite ends of the resort), by the time she was constructing her weapons to defeat the dragon, each quest took six or seven steps. And to defeat the dragon, you have to make four or five of these weapons. But by then, Daughter knew precisely where to go. The “portal” (basically a mounted Android tablet) showed her a crown and a rose and a star, and she’s off running around the hotel because she knows precisely where the crown, rose, and star are. All on opposite ends of the place. 

Even better, Wife and I could just sit there as she ran back and forth, checking in with us to excitedly tell us how close she was to the dragon. 

Did I mention there was a brewery? I call that a win. 

I’ll even overlook the whole war crimes thing.

But not the one drink policy.

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