We were fortunate to be able to spend our Spring Break in Niagara Falls at the Great Wolf Lodge. For those of you who have not been introduced to this ingenious family destination, it's truly a site to behold! The moment you drive around the bend the sheer size of it is overwhelming! Imagine a mountain ski lodge...on steroids. We were surprised to realize the Lincoln Log-esque structure was exactly like the Poconos location we had stayed at two years prior.
Crossing the border was pretty hassle free. Two weeks before we left, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for an enhanced driver's license. It required three documents and cost approximately $45. It arrived a few days before we left. (Nothing like cutting it close!) My husband still had a valid passport and all the children needed for birth certificates (with raised seals). Tolls were less than $5 and the drive was only about 90 minutes from where we live in Rochester, NY!
Checking in could not have been easier. We had booked the room online, following the recommendation for the number of people in our party. There are numerous photos with great description of each room to help you decide. Even though there was a three hour check in window, ours was available immediately. (If you happen to arrive prior to your room bring ready, you still have full access to the waterpark! Pre-plan for a delay, pack a small bag of swim items just in case you need to wait for your room! That eliminates the need to angrily search through luggage in your car!) A few quick questions and some techie- superhero wristbands later (just scan it for room access and ANY purchases), and we were off to explore our new digs for the week!
The rooms are incredibly spacious! Despite all the hub bub from the lobby and waterpark, the two wings housing all the rooms are fairly soundproof. Another Insider tip: you can make a special request online for your room. We suggest the farthest available from the elevator, also top floor! Yes, there is a hike but when you're ready to finally crash after an exciting day, you will be thankful for very little traffic passing by your door.
Each room comes equipped with a microwave and refrigerator. Even though there are a number of restaurants and food options available in both the hotel and water park, bringing your own snacks will definitely save you money. We bring items for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Cheese sticks, yogurt, granola bars, crackers, chips and salsa, instant oatmeal packets, fruit, beer and/or wine, bottled water. There's is a coffee maker in your room, bring your own milk or creamer if interested. There are also no utensils so if you need to cut apples or eat cereal with a spoon, be sure to pack those as well. You are not permitted to bring outside food into the water park area, however, you are encouraged to bring it into your room!
Food options inside the hotel range from pizza and hot dog bar, fresh salads and sandwiches to a buffet style restaurant and ice cream parlor. (Anything sold within the lodge can be eaten in the water park.) We thought the price for a large pizza was very reasonable at less than $20.00, so we got that for lunch a couple times and ate it poolside.
We tried to eat outside of the hotel at local restaurants for dinner. In the Poconos, we were pleasantly surprised! Chain restaurants such as Texas Roadhouse and Red Robin were around, many offering "kids eat free" nights. The Lodge concierge was gracious enough to offer us a list of local options. It was very affordable for our large family! Niagara Falls was a different experience. Maybe it was the exchange rate, maybe it was the tourist area, but eating out was much more expensive than anticipated. We ate at a T.G.I.Friday's the first night. Both the service and food were subpar, at best. Parking is limited and pricey!
The next day we went to Perkins for brunch. Service was much better and we were thankful to fill up on a decent meal! That night we decided to surprise the kids with a dinner at Rainforest Cafe. There is not one close to us in Rochester so this was the first time they had ever been. It was a site for everyone, adults included! Animatronic jungle creatures came to life, fish tanks filled with colorful species surrounded us. There was a starry night sky on the ceiling and every half-hour a rain storm swept through the restaurant, causing lights to flicker and thunder to boom!
We took a small break in the late afternoon to explore downown and the Falls. It was grey and rainy our whole trip, so we didn't stay out too long. It was nostalgic for both Matt & I to share the experience with the boys. We both recalled our childhood trips and rides on the Maid of the Mist. I was shocked to see that Antica Pizza (a favorite eatery I'd visit with friends in highshool) was still there, bigger and better than ever. We pointed out the casino Matt and I went to when we were just dating. We still laugh about him losing the $80 we won in a slot machine...he didn't realize "credits" were dollars.
Lastly, the reason for choosing Great Wolf Lodge for your holiday... THE WATER PARK! It's like seeing a dinosaur in Jurassic Park for the first time, you are overcome with excitement. Trying to take it all in at once just causes you to stop in your tracks. 85° wraps around you like a warm blanket while the scent of chlorine permeates the air. Time seems to have slowed down.
One of the ever friendly staff members measures your kids for height. If they are taller than 48", you're in luck! Pull up a seat at the bar, tell them to check in every 20 minutes and let the relaxing begin! Our four children are of varying ages and heights. Each received a different colored wrist band indicating what they were and weren't allowed to go on. Some required an adult to be present if you weren't tall enough, others did not. We needed to split up our time and location between the big boys (aka: water slides & pool) and little boys (splash pond and mini slides).
Matt & I didn't get nearly as much time together on the slides as we would've liked, but that's the price of having children, I suppose!
Tables, chairs and even private cabanas are set up all over the facility. The early riser grabs the best location, for sure, so don't dawdle! The doors open promptly at 9am.
Don't think you'll be able to handle water life for 12 hours straight? No worries! There's a great arcade complete with bowling alley, spa & nail salon, as well as interactive magical scavenger hunt for children of most ages! That is truly something to see! Picking out a wand in the large "Trading Post" is an experience right from the pages of a Harry Potter book! Once the wand is activated, you can roam every nook and cranny of the lodge with your mini wizards, helping fairies or looking for treasure.
During the week the waterpark area is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. On weekends it's open until 9 p.m. As the night winds down, they have scheduled activities for the younger children including a story hour and pajama dance party! Our first stay in the Poconos, I could not convince my kids to go but this time around, the younger ones were more adventurous. My three-year-old even volunteered to help out with the story, much to my surprise and delight! They sang along to current hits (that I only know the words to thanks to Kidz Bop CDs) and jumped up to pop bubbles falling from the rafters.
All in all, it was a wildly successful holiday! We had a fantastic time and are already planning our next trip to Great Wolf Lodge! The only big decision we have is which location we will go to. My vote is heading back towards the Poconos. Once you have done the tourist-y bit around Niagara Falls, I think the lower meal cost outweighs the extra drive time. (Perhaps if it were just a quick overnight, we would cross the border again!) Either way, once inside...it's a dreamland! I can't wait to hear how your trip turns out and hope our tips help to make your vacation as wonderful as ours was.