Great Wolf Lodge For First-Timers

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, people standing and indoorThere are certain rights of passage that you go through as a parent: Your first holiday with kids, your first vacation with kids, your first bout of sickness with kids. Each is momentous in it’s own way, and each has its own challenges.

As a mom living in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to add to my list of parenting rights of passage an overnight trip to the mecca of family getaways: Great Wolf Lodge (Hereto referred to as GWL for the sake of blogging brevity). I have been aware of this milestone for quite some time–for several years we would drive right past the gargantuan Hotel/Resort/Water-Themepark just off the shoulder of I-5 every time we drove from California up to visit our family in Washington—but we had never taken the plunge. I knew it would be exciting (for the kids) and expensive (for the parents) but I really didn’t know quite what to expect.

Last week we finally had a good enough excuse to book ourselves a stay GWL. Jacob had broken his arm on the second day of school and his cast (that couldn’t get wet for 8 weeks) finally came off. That paired with no-school and no-work days for Thanksgiving (and a great deal on our stay for going mid-week) combined to make it the perfect getaway timing for our family.

This was our first stay at GWL and, while I know that there are still a lot of intricacies to maximizing your time/money I could still learn, I did come away with a few tips for those of you who are considering your own maiden voyage.

  1. Timing, timing, timing!
    GWL, like all resorts, bases their pricing on peak travel times and filling their hotel to capacity. Basic supply and demand. For GWL, this means you can pay anywhere from about $150 per night all the way up to over $1000 for ONE STINKING NIGHT. That’s a pretty big range! If you’re like me and you see the $899 per night price tag pop up and you feel like you’re going to faint, maybe consider going at a different time. Like a Tuesday in the middle of January. Sure, it may not be ideal timing, but think of how many extra goodies at GWL you could spend your additional $600 on (and, trust me, there are a LOT of extra goodies to spend your money on) if you go off-peak!

    There are also several ways to score a “deal” on a stay at GWL. You can check the “Deals” tab on their website, sign up for their mailing list and get deals emailed to you, look for vouchers on Groupon (they come up a few times a year), or use your PTA membership for a discount. Any way you cut it, this won’t be a cheap stay, but at least you can take some of the sting out of your final bill.

  2. Choosing a Room
    There are several types of rooms to choose from. We opted for a middle-of-the-road suite that had 1 set of bunk beds, a twin bed, a Queen bed, and a pull-out couch. The kids’ area of the room (bunk bed + twin bed) was separated by a half-wall from the “adult” portion of the room (queen bed + pull-out couch)–in theory this is nice, but everyone can still see and hear everyone else. My kids are weird sleepers and I don’t like being anywhere near them at night time, so maybe next time I’ll just book them a room down the hall with a grandparent so I can sleep in peace ūüôā

    When you book your GWL stay online you have the option of (generally) choosing your room location. The main things to consider for a room location are mobility and noise. By mobility I’m referring to how mobile you are and how easy it is to access the things you want to do. GWL is HUGE and if you get a room at the far end of a corridor (as we did) you could spend 10 minutes just walking to the lobby (and that’s if your kids are actually cooperating and walking at a normal human pace, not the sloth-like crawl that they get into when they’re tired/hungry/unwilling participants in the labor of movement).¬† By noise I’m referring to the fact that you’re literally in a hotel run over by packs of exuberant children. That being said, if you can, I would opt for a room on the 1st floor (lobby, Starbucks, restaurants, and gift shop are on this floor) or the 2nd floor (arcade, spa, ice cream shop, and pool entrance are on this floor). I would also request a room that is at least 5 doors down from any stairway or elevator…I honestly don’t know how the people sleeping right next to a constant slamming door full of screaming children survived the night. 

  3. The Magical Bracelet
    When you check in to GWL you get a pair of wolf ears for each of your “pups”, a map of the resort, an activity schedule, an ID wristband for each guest…and no room key. You see, the magical (adult) wristbands that they give you at check-in are actually your key to everything. They are your room key. They are your credit card. They are your admission ticket to the water park. Everything. You just scan your wrist and you’re good to go–no keys or wallets to schlep around. I loved this concept.¬† My dear husband, however, was paranoid as anything that somebody was going to chop off his hand when we weren’t looking and start charging massive amounts of ice cream to our room without our consent. I guess just don’t lose your wrist, and you’ll¬† be fine.
  4. So Many Extra Goodies To Spend Your Money On
    From the arcade to the mini golf to the high ropes course to the on-site Build-a-Bear to gem mining to a kiddie-spa there is an abundance of “extras” you can add to your (already pricey) GWL stay.¬† They do sell combo packages (starting at about $35) that give you access to some of the extra activities, so that could be a good option if you plan on doing several activities during your stay. Do your research ahead of time and decide the types of activities or a price limit you’re willing to spend on extras. Then–and this is important–try to set your kids’ expectations for what you will/not be doing once you arrive. Meltdowns over alluring arcade games and adorable stuffies are still sure to arise, but at least you gave everyone fair warning.
  5. Speaking of Extras…MagiQuest
    I had done my due diligence in researching the many extra activities of GWL and I determined that we would allow our children to play the much-lauded MagiQuest game (along with $10 of spending money per kid that they could waste however they wanted). The only thing I knew about the MagiQuest game was that my kids would 100% beg me to play it, and that there were wands involved. I also found out that I could borrow the wands from friends before we left so I wouldn’t have to buy them.

    So, feeling quite proud of my forward-thinking, I borrowed three wands assuming our MagiQuest adventure would now be a bonus freebie. I talked it up like crazy because I had thought ahead and borrowed the wands. Big mistake. Turns out, even after you buy the wands (for the bargain price of about $40 PER WAND) you still have to pay $15 per wand to play the game. And, since I’d already talked up the dang wands so much I pretty much had to cough up the money to activate them. Two out of my 3 kids played with their now-activated wands for a few microseconds before they decided the game was too boring/confusing, and the third kid would only play with my direct supervision and participation (which basically defeats the purpose of a kids’ game, in my opinion). Some kids love the game, and maybe yours will, too…but next time I’m saving my money and using it to buy an extra Mai Tai at story time.

  6. They Have MaiTais at Story Time
    Just thought I’d throw that little tidbit out there. They also have poolside margaritas. And they’ll bring you wine and a cheese board to your room. Nothing says good ol’ fashioned family fun like a bunch of parents cutting loose among a sea of children and animatronic wild animals.
  7. Dining Options
    As far as I know, every room at GWL is equipped with a microwave and mini fridge. This means you can bring basically all of the kid food groups (salty snacks, sugary treats, unhealthily-quick breakfasts, processed junk) along with you. Bringing some of your own food along could save you a bundle (the buffet breakfast was $18 per adult).

    There are several on-site dining options that allow you to eat “out” while still in your bathing suit and/or pajamas: a buffet restaurant, a sit-down bar and grill, a pizzeria (takeaway only), a poolside burger shack, and even a Starbucks. There is also a Dippin’ dots and a “bakery” (you can buy stale donuts and cupcakes, but I can guarantee nothing is actually baked there). The food is so-so quality and a bit on the spendy side, but nothing outrageous. And, while nobody’s giving our Michelin Stars to The Wolf any time soon, I thought the food was fine (and my kids loved that we got pizza for dinner AND burgers for lunch, all in the same weekend!).
    If you want to put on real clothes and shoes, you can even venture off-site. Within a 5-minute drive there are several fast food restaurants, a Mexican restaurant, and a couple of coffee shops.

  8. The Waterpark
    The main draw of GWL is its massive indoor waterpark. We’re talking: kiddie splash pool, wave pool, family play pool, hot tubs, and waterslides galore. All indoors and heated to a balmy 85 degrees year-round. They’re also quite generous with size requirements. I was worried that my kids wouldn’t be big enough to go on most of the water features and I’d have to quell in-water meltdowns, but that wasn’t the case. Hannah (age 3) was able to do the kiddie pool, the huge climbing structure/medium-sized water slides, the wave pool, the family pool, and the hot tubs. Jacob (age 7) was able to do literally everything (including the massive hurricane slide that I wouldn’t even go on).

    You may want to bring your own flip-flops and towels and/or robes to wear while you walk from your room to the pool–the hallways and lobby are definitely not as warm as the waterpark. Pool towels are provided at the pool, but you have to check them out and there is a fee if you don’t return them.

    The water is quite chlorinated (For obvious reasons–just imagine what happens in a pool full of over 1,000 children…). Wear swimsuits that you don’t mind getting ruined by chemicals, and definitely bring goggles if you have sensitive eyes. You may also want to bring water bottles and a few snacks to get you through the long swim sessions (Just sneak them in under your towels, because the official rule is “No outside food or beverage” poolside).

  9. Included Activities
    GWL offers a number of free (!) activities for their guests including crafts, evening story time, the “clock tower show” (creepy animatronic animals singing weird songs), a nighttime pajama dance party, and early morning (9:00 AM) family yoga. My kids were so-so interested in the activities, but it’s nice to have options.
  10. How Long To Stay
    Now, this is open to interpretation…or your idea of how much insanity you’re willing to suffer through for your childrens’ joy. We stayed for one night, which was plenty for us. You are able to start using the waterpark and activities at 1:00 on your day of arrival until 8:00PM the day you check out. That means in our “1 day” we got two very full days of activity and one sleepless night. Some people like to go for a few days so they can experience all that The Wolf has to offer, so it’s your call.

The final verdict: I’m glad we went! It’s a long drive, and it’s expensive, and it’s utterly exhausting…but it was absolutely worth it all. Our kids were in paradise and the smiles on their faces and the memories we made together were priceless. We’ll definitely be back again some day…after we recover from our first trip.

My American Mother’s Day in Ireland

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As an American living in Ireland, I often find myself stuck in the middle of two cultures: do I continue to act American or try to assimilate with the Irish? This conflict has become most apparent during holidays where I have my own cultural traditions that I want to keep alive even though I’m living abroad. It came up at¬†Thanksgiving¬†(which, obviously, is not even celebrated in Ireland) and¬†Christmas¬†and¬†Easter. I did not, however, expect my “cultural expectations” to come into play for holidays like Mother’s Day. I have never even have given Mother’s Day much thought until we moved here–that is, until I realized how important it really was to me.

You see, Mother’s Day¬†is¬†celebrated in Ireland–just on a totally different day than American Mother’s Day. In Ireland, Mothering Sunday occurs on the 4th Sunday of lent, which happened to be March 30th this year. It was 6 weeks before the day that I, the American, expected Mother’s Day to fall on. My mom wasn’t celebrating it yet and it ¬†just didn’t feel right. Also, March 30th happens to also be Jon’s birthday, and I didn’t want to steal his thunder. So, we kind of just let Irish Mother’s Day quietly pass us by (even though David made me a cute card at school and we got beautiful flowers at church) and decided to wait until May to celebrate our “official” Mother’s Day.

Yesterday was American Mother’s Day, and we decided it was finally time to celebrate me. Well, more accurately, I decided it was time to celebrate me and I told Jon and the boys my expectations. They did not disappoint.

My Mother’s Day weekend started with a fun date with my big boy David on Thursday afternoon. We went to¬†Peppa’s Big Splash, a play based on the popular British cartoon Peppa Pig (one of David’s favorites). The play was at the Cork Opera House, making this David’s first official viewing of live theater. It was a great experience–there was lots of noise, jumping around, glow sticks, ice cream and even squirt guns involved in the show. All of the characters were these huge puppets that the puppeteers danced and sang with all over the stage. I’m fairly certain that the average age of the audience was 3 years, and they did a great job catering to their patrons.

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On Saturday we spent the whole day together as a family–this was kind of a big deal, because it’s been about a month since we’ve all been together for a whole day with all of the travel we’ve been doing lately. David has been begging us to take him swimming lately, so we started the morning at a wonderful pool across the city in Churchfield. It had a lap pool and a kids pool that had a playhouse in the middle of it with a slide. David was in heaven.

leisureworld-churchfield-pool

Jacob was actually a bit terrified of the water for the first half of our swimming session (I guess it’s been too long since we’ve been in a pool!), but once we got him sitting in a baby flotation device he calmed right down. There was also a really cool tunnel slide that wrapped all the way around the building that Jon and I (ahem…the kids…) thoroughly enjoyed.¬†The best part of¬†swimming in Ireland, however, has to be the swim caps. All swimmers are required to wear swimming caps at all times. Yes, even babies.

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After swimming we were famished, so we drove into the city center for lunch. We went to our favorite go-to “restaurant”: Mc.’y D’s. Before you judge, though, you should know that the McDonalds’ in Ireland are a bit classier than in The States. They will do things like seat you at a table and take your order from the table (you know, like you’re really at a restaurant) and make your kids balloon animals while they’re waiting for their cheeseburgers to come out of the microwave. It’s an¬†experience. After lunch we walked around town for awhile and did a bit of shopping. We also stopped for some delicious gelato before heading back home for afternoon naps.

On Sunday (Mother’s Day) I got the best gifts ever: sleep and kisses from my boys. I told Jon that my only request for Mother’s Day was that he let me stay in bed for as long as I darn well pleased. It was almost 10:00 by the time I peeled myself away from my pillow to get ready for church. When I got downstairs Jon made me breakfast while I read the cards that the boys had made for me. It was then that I discovered I would be getting another Best Gift Ever: a massage and relaxation day at a spa. I’m already feeling more relaxed just thinking about it!

The rest of our day was spent going to church, calling our moms in America, and lounging around at home. Jon made us a feast for dinner: gourmet burgers, bacon-roasted asparagus, balsamic potato wedges and cheesecake. I didn’t even take a photo of the food because we devoured it all so quickly. It was all delicious and lovingly prepared–the perfect end to a memorable weekend.

Thank you for parenting with me and loving me so well, Jon. And thank you for letting me be your mommy, David and Jacob. I have the best job in the world, and I even get a whole day every year to remember that. Well, unless you’re living in Ireland. Then you get TWO whole days!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing moms out there–the world would not be the same without you!

 

Stay-cation

As I mentioned earlier, Jon had a crazy month of work in December. He was gone traveling for a good portion of it and, the days he was in this country, they had him working up to 20 hours a day. So he needed a break. We ALL needed a break.

On New Year’s Eve we got the best gift ever: Jon’s company gave him the week off. Since the time off came as a surprise, we had no plans for our time together. There are a lot of things close to home that I’ve been wanting to do with Jon and the kids but because of our crazy schedules have just never done. This was going to be our week to do them all. Bring on the stay-cation.

With bedtimes starting at 7:00 in our house, it’s hard to do many of the traditional New Year’s Eve shenanigans. We decided to just go out for dinner with the kids and be home in time for a peaceful night at home ringing in 2013. Dinner turned out to be amazing. Our friends Scott and Alison were driving home from Mt. Baker and passed through our neighborhood right as we were heading out to the restaurant. They decided to join us for dinner and we had a great time catching up with them (and, as an added bonus, I think our kids’ dinnertime behavior provided these newlyweds with some adequate birth control). Dinner was actually quite wonderful–good friends and good food. Then, to top off the night, the restaurant had a raffle for free dinner right as we were about to leave. And guess who won? Us! Free food for our whole table. Not a bad way to send off 2012!

The next morning was New Year’s Day. It was clear and sunny when we woke up, so we decided to do something outside. We drove down to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and got there right as they were opening. It was a great day at the zoo–no crowds (probably in part because it was 28 degrees out there), lots of animals were out to entertain us and David had a great time running through all of the paths and pointing out his favorite animals.

Me and David with the elephant sculpture.
Me and David with the elephant sculpture.
Well, hello, peacock.
Well, hello, peacock.
Jacob enjoyed his time at the zoo.
Jacob enjoyed his time at the zoo.
Touring.
Touring.

On Wednesday we went to the new Lynnwood Recreation Center for some swimming. They have a great pool (actually, they have THREE pools), a kids play area with splash toys, water slides, a lazy river and hot tubs. David had fun playing in the water until he got cold and retreated to the hot tub. This was Jacob’s first trip to the pool, and he seemed to enjoy all of it just fine. I’m so glad Jon was with me because there’s NO WAY I could ever take both boys to the pool by myself unless they were both strong swimmers. We did havea lot of fun there, though, and we’ll definitely be going back.

Pool time!
Pool time!
Jacob after his first pool swim
Jacob after his first pool swim

On Thursday we went to Normandy Park to visit Jon’s grandma for her 90th birthday. We didn’t get to make it down the day before on her actual birthday because¬†I got locked out of the house. It was great to spend some one-on-one time with Great-Grandma Doreen at her house. She LOVES the boys, so her greatest gift was just getting to see them.

Great Granny Doreen with her David

Great Granny Doreen with her David

On Friday morning we went to the mall to do a little shopping. Jon and I both needed warm winter coats and we found just what we were looking for at REI (mine was even on clearance for 60% off–CHA-CHING!).

My mom and sister came up on Friday night to babysit the boys so that Jon and I could have a night out (Thanks, Mom and Jess!). We had a perfect date in downtown Seattle. We went to a trendy little place called BOKA for a happy hour dinner: a nice juicy burger for Jon and Vietnamese short ribs for me. We had a bit of time after dinner so we headed over to Westlake Center to grab a quick dessert. Then we went to our favorite spa, Ummelina, for hot stone massages. Everything was just wonderful, and I was so happy to get to spend some special time with Jon.

Me and my date enjoying a night out on the town!
Me and my date enjoying a night out on the town!

We decided to drive over to Leavenworth for the weekend to visit Jon’s parents. For those of you who don’t know about Leavenworth, it’s this quirky little town East of the mountains. It’s a Bavarian town, kind of a “little Germany”, surrounded by mountains and snowy in the winter. We had a fun time sledding, checking out the sights in town, visiting with Grammy and Grandpa Pete,¬†and watching the herds of deer that come to their house to graze. It really was the perfect way to end our little stay-cation!

Bota enjoying the snow
Bota enjoying the snow
David playing with Grammy's "yarn balls"
David playing with Grammy’s “yarn balls”
Leavenworth
Leavenworth
Playing pool at Grammy and Grandpa Pete's house
Playing pool at Grammy and Grandpa Pete’s house

Jacob testing out the sled

Jacob testing out the sled

Driving home through Steven's Pass

Driving home through Steven’s Pass

Today is my first day of “back to reality” with Jon back at work. It’s been a long time since I’ve had some of my usual activities like Stroller Strides and BSF, though, so I’m actually pretty happy to be getting back into our routine. I probably won’t be blogging as often now that I’m home alone with the boys during the day again, but I’ll try to get at least one post per week up for you guys. ¬†Until next time!