You know David Hopkins. He’s the writer who does a semi-regular cartoon for us (with illustrator Paul Milligan) called Souvenir of Dallas. Well, the two spent some time out at the Great Wolf Lodge for a cartoon that will run in the April issue of our “print product.” Meantime, here’s David’s report:
The Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine had its grand opening January 10. My 3-year-old daughter Kennedy and I were able stay at the new resort this past weekend [ed: the room was comped, though David paid for all “incidentals,” as you shall see]. We made some observations, which might be useful to future guests.
First and most important, we both loved the indoor water park. It’s impressive. And well heated, thank God. 84 degrees year round. Eleven water slides and seven pool areas — my daughter liked the wave pool (Slaptail Pond) and the river (Crooked Creek) the most. The park pumps, treats, and re-circulates all its water; so green-minded citizens can enjoy the water park guilt free.
From a parent’s perspective, the park looks about as safe as you could hope for one to be. I have many traumatic memories of nearly drowning at Wet’n’Wild-now-Hurrican-Harbor’s wave pool. And every Summer, seeing some idiotic kid get care-flighted away, because he or she dove head first into the pool that slopes to the deep end. Eventually, Wet’n’Wild cemented over that death trap. In contrast, Great Lodge seems delightfully death trap free. Plus, there’s no shortage of life preservers or certified high school-aged lifeguards.
Their commitment to safety did bother me in one regard: No lap riding down even the smallest slides. Come on. I saw so many parents get reprimanded by the teenage lifeguards on this issue. My daughter being too scared to go by herself meant no slides, period. We did go down the large blue slide, since we could sit in a large tube together. It may have been a little much for a three year old. I asked Kennedy, “Did you have fun?” “Yes.” “Do you want to ride it again?” A look of panic: “No!”
Second, my daughter loved our room. We stayed in the Kid’s Cabin Suite. If you’re going to stay here, I recommend this as your first option. The parent gets a queen-sized bed (standard hotel comfort level) and the kids get a miniature log cabin with a flat-screen TV. There are only three beds in the log cabin, so if you have more than three kids — double up, rotate each night, or pit them against each other to see who gets the best beds.
I dug the resort’s plastic bracelet that doubled as a room key. This meant I didn’t have to carry a key around at the water park. I like the idea of a bracelet with special powers.
Speaking of special powers, I need to mention the wands. I can’t decide if this is the best thing about the resort or the worst. Either way, parents need to be warned. The wands are part of the MagiQuest interactive fantasy game, which Great Wolf Lodge integrated into their resort. Players use the wand, searching throughout the resort to trigger power crystals, treasure chests, and other objects to gain points and power. Think of it as a more sophisticated scavenger hunt. The basic wand is $14.99, but at the store you can purchase accessories. The wand topper will be an additional $13.99. Most kids won’t stand for the wand without the topper. Kennedy wasn’t old enough to understand the game, and even she wanted the topper. After all, it had a pink diamond. (Boy-friendly toppers are available.)
What’s most surprising is the $9.99 to play the game. According to the person behind the counter, you can’t trigger the items without ordering the game. All my daughter wanted was to make the power crystals change colors. I may not understand the economics behind it, but I can’t imagine how it would cost $9.99 to keep this game running. That brings the total, with tax, to $42.19, which is more expensive than junior admission to Six Flags. Good news is you can reuse the wand, if you plan to visit Great Wolf again.
The game will keep most kids entertained the entire weekend. If you don’t mind them wandering the resort, you just bought yourself a weekend of peace. If you can’t stand the idea of letting them out of your sight, you just bought yourself a weekend of wandering the resort with your son or daughter.
Third, Kennedy loved the food, especially the french fries shaped like smiley faces. If you can turn any food item into a smiley, my daughter will eat it, preferably with ketchup. The buffet-styled restaurant specialized in kid-friendly “brown foods,” e.g. nuggets, fries, pizza, corny dogs, chips, mashed potatoes. The adult options were a little bland for my tastes. I tried to sample a bit of everything, and the pot roast won.
The most common complaint I heard when interviewing other guests was with the elevators. During the busiest times of the day, there was a bottleneck at the resort’s four elevators. I’m sure they did the math with the ratio of guests to elevators. However, parents tend to carry more luggage than the average hotel guest. With an additional 203 suites planned for December 2008, I hope more elevators are part of the expansion.
My daughter’s only concern was with the excessive use of wolf imagery. Her disposition toward wolves is skeptical at best. After all, a pack of wolves attack Belle in Beauty and the Beast. A ravenous wolf tries to kill the three pigs. And another wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma. I tried to explain that wolves are good and noble creatures, but Kennedy’s wolf-prejudice remains. She doesn’t trust them.
In the end, this resort offers a well-heated water park in the middle of January for an ideal weekend family trip, our feelings about wolves and wands notwithstanding. — David Hopkins