10 Tips to Save Money at the Great Wolf Lodge

Friday, January 4

by Ed and Robin

If you live somewhere where snow happens, January marks the start of the time of the year when it can seem less than charming.  In the run-up to Christmas, snow is new and novel and it seems festive and appropriate.  Over the next 3 months, it begins the long process of wearing out its welcome.

You know where snow seems charming again?  When you are standing inside a giant, windowed atrium full of pools, fountains, sprayers and - of course - water slides. 

We've found that winter is a great time to visit Great Wolf Lodge for a tropical-like vacation, at a fraction of the cost.  Sunny winter getaways are not in everyone's budget.  But, a well planned trip to a water park-hotel can be a family and budget-friendly substitute.

One of our favourite Great Wolf Lodge memories is standing with the kids at a small water slide and looking outside as the snow swirled and drifted up against the windows.  It was parka weather outside, but we were in our bathing suits.  We were sticking it to winter.

Great Wolf Lodge, for the uninitiated, is a themed hotel and waterpark resort chain that specializes in family vacations.  As the name implies, they are into the backwoods-y theme.  Your bedposts, the couch in your room, heck pretty much everything in the place will be carved out of logs or be speckled with beavers.  The lobby is floor to ceiling log-cabin-and-animatronic-wild-animals.  Just go with it.  (The kids will love it, even if your sense of clichè is overwhelmed.)

Beyond the theme, you will find onsite dining, rooms to accommodate almost any family size, an arcade, possibly a bowling alley and, guaranteed, a mammoth indoor water park with slides and activities for ages ranging from two to teens and beyond.  You can spend your whole stay there and never need, or want, to leave.With careful planning, you can make this holiday an affordable one. 

Keep reading for our 10 tips on how to make the Great Wolf Lodge stay more affordable!

10 Tips to Save Money 
at the Great Wolf Lodge

1.  If possible, book a weeknight.  If you must book a weekend, avoid holidays.
  •  Weekends/holidays can get crazy busy and they are much more expensive.  Double the drawbacks.  
  •  If you can swing a day or two off work, weekdays are a lot cheaper.  If you can't pull two days in the week, try doing a Sunday night stay and play all day Monday; only one day off work and we've seen smaller crowds this way, too.

  2.  Book one night, but play for two days.
  •  You can start your water play even before you check in.  The change rooms are available early.  Find out when your GWL let's you start playing and plan to arrive then.  Wait until your room is ready and you're missing out on hours of fun.
  • Access to the park continues after you check out.  That's right, you can pretty much spend two full days at the park on only one night's stay.  We have never managed to pull this off (our kids are usually too tired to go much beyond lunch of the second day).  If your kids are older, you can totally max out your stay.

 3.  Theme rooms are fun, but is the extra cost necessary?
  • We get the most basic room, as a rule.  Visiting a hotel is amusing enough for our kids.  Staying at a hotel with a giant water park inside it absolutely amazes them.  Why gild the lily?  Do we really need to have a little log cabin inside our room?
  • For additional costs, you can add fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, bunk beds or a giant suite that might sleep two families.  Search carefully when booking and you may find that during certain times you can upgrade from the basic room to one of these fancy ones for little (or no) additional cost.  Otherwise, consider passing on these.

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 4.  The add-on's are fun, but costly.  The basic night's stay really is enough.
  • The food was awesome the one time we did the buffet.  But, it cost 50% of the night's stay!  
  • We've heard great things about their in-hotel adventures too, but most aren't free, so read-up on what is offered when you are booking and steel your willpower to say no to what you know you don't want.

5.  Take advantage of the in-room fridge and microwave.  
  • These are in every room, so you don't need to upgrade.  Pack fruit, juice, milk, cereal, snacks and bring some easy to microwave meals to have in your room.  The dining facilities are NOT frugal, so plan your meals with this in mind.  
  • If nothing else, bring enough so that you can do two meals in your room.  Consider jetting to a nearby restaurant for a meal or two.  This will keep the cost of your stay down tremendously.

6.  Pack snacks for the daytime.
  • There are acres of things to do, so you don't want to be trekking back to your room for granola bars or water and you DEFINITELY don't want to buy snacks/lunch inside the water park area.  Monopoly pricing abounds.

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7. Start your day early.
  • Even busy days start out light - get to the doors when they open and you'll have the run of the place for likely an hour or so.  
  • Go for the waterslides first - those lines get stinkin' long!  After that, there are plenty of activities that don't have lineups.

8.  Bring other stuff to do "In Room".  
  • The arcade, etc will all roll up your bill with "token based fun".  Even renting an in-room movie would be cheaper.  
  • Better yet - if you have a laptop or portable DVD player - bring that along!  If you are visiting at the same time as another family, you could put all the kids in one room for a movie party.
  • Spending the day frolicking at the water park is exhausting, so don't worry so much about the evening's entertainment.  Believe us, you'll ALL want to go to bed early. 

9.  Use caution with your wristband.
  •  This is your park pass, your digital key to using the provided lockers and a host of other things. It includes - wait for it - a virtual payment tool.  At our last visit, vending machines could even be operated by scanning it.  This is convenient "so you don't have to bring your wallet to the park and risk getting it wet".  Like most things in life, you pay for this convenience.
  • We have yet to let the kids know their bands could work to buy things.  Some things are better left unsaid.

 10.  The Bedtime Story is charming, and there's no extra cost.  
  • Skip the movie and go to the lobby.  Your little kids (along with a bunch of other pajama-clad youngsters) will be treated to a live and animatronic bedtime story.  Our kids loved it!   Arrive early for the best seating. (And brace yourself, there will be pushy adults who take choice seating from the kids.  Take deep cleansing breaths.)

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Our kids really dig it, but we have only gone on alternating years.  We feel like the place would lose some of it's magic for them with too frequent visits or more than a one night stay. 

Currently, there are super deals for the Great Wolf Lodge through Groupon.   Some of the largest rooms are almost half price.  Now could be a more affordable time for your family to give the Great Wolf Lodge a try.   

Do you have tips that work for you at Great Wolf Lodge (or a similar hotel/waterpark)?

(Psst - be sure to enter our first giveaway - for a Cuisinart Griddler!  The winner will be drawn on January 8th, 2013.  Click here to enter.)

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  1. I was never too attracted to GWL before- mainly deterred by cost BUT now you've piqued my interest since I, too, am no longer enamoured by the snow and could use a nice family, winter diversion.
    For all the winter-busting reasons you've mentioned, you should also check out Scandinave Spa in Collingwood, ON (adults only, though) if you could wing some time off work mid-week and have parents or other family members to mind the kids. It is amazing, relaxing, restorative. Unwind Wednesday ($38 per person) is a good deal for all-day access- the spa has hot baths, cold plunge pool, waterfall, steam room, sauna & relaxation areas around a fire pit- all outside in full view of the blue mountains in a forest setting. It was amazing- it can be enjoyed anytime of year but I visited late fall with cool temps & autumn colour. I think it would be spectacular in the winter. There are also 2 locations in Quebec and 1 in BC.
    Now off to see about GWL- I guess the groupon only covers US locations but will have to look for an ontario deal. Thanks for the info

    1. Wow - I think you've sold me on the spa, cred! Sounds wonderful. Ed and I are great believers in grown-up getaways - we'll add this to our list!

      GWL seems so expensive when you think of it just as a hotel. But, if you think of it as a hotel, plus 2 days of water park passes for the whole family - it feels more reasonable.

      That stinks that the Groupon isn't good for Ontario - boo.

  2. We just returned from GWL and my boys loved it (they are 3 and 6). We did a lot of this things you mentioned. A few things I would add:

    1) On location, pizza is an affordable dinner option. We spent $20 for pizza and salad - not bad. Like you, we packed breakfast food - no need to spend $50 on breakfast for 4!

    2) We did indulge in MagiQuest for my older son and I think it was worth the $35. He LOVED it and it was something he could do whenever we had some downtime. It wouldn't be worth the price for a younger child who wouldn't really understand the game. I met a mom who had picked up a $10 toy in the gift shop - wand with flashing paw on top - and let her 3 year old think he was playing alongside his brother. Clever!

    3) Our younger son wanted "something special" like his brother. $25 for a make-your-own stuffed animal seemed steep, but he found a stuffed dragon in the MagiQuest shop for $9. Happy camper. :)

    4) In addition to the story time, other free events include a "nature walk" around the lobby, face painting, trivia/bingo, and visits with the mascots. All good filler activities for young kids!

    As you said, the add-ons aren't cheap and they aren't really necessary, but at the same time they can be a lot of fun - so my suggestion is to pick wisely and "bargain hunt" within the resort. For a one night stay the Paw Pass and other discount passes really aren't worth it or necessary. I called in advance and priced out the pass vs. purchasing activities individually, so we could make an informed choice when we arrived.

    1. What a great idea for the faux-preschooler-MagiQuest wand! Thanks so much for visiting a sharing all your great GWL tips, Ellie!

  3. My husband was able to borrow magiquest wands from some coworkers, the kids loved the game and didn't mind at all giving the wands back. That saved us quite a bit and didn't contribute to the overflowing toy bin. We loved GWL and plan to return soon.

  4. We love going here and take our own snacks too... Here are some coupons for the Niagara Falls location http://www.greatwolf.com/niagara/coupons


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