04 January 2013

10 Tips to Save Money at the Great Wolf Lodge

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.

Image source

 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.

Image Source

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.)

Image Source

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. 

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

*contains affiliate links


  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!

    2. we did the same thing. we bought the older girls the wands and a "special" star wand for the youngest (just under 3). She thought her wand did the same stuff as the other ones :)

  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.

    1. I love that idea - totally hadn't thought of it! Thanks for sharing! :)

  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

  5. I found that their online deals had most saturdays as blackout days. So I contacted their online customer service people. They couldn't get me the online deal because the day we were going to arrive is a blackout date, but he found me a new deal that would make our sunday stay 20% off. Every little bit helps. If you can't find a deal that will help you, ask. It can't hurt.

    1. They often beat the online prices when you call, don't they! I always forget that tip - thanks for sharing! :)

  6. I have actually read a lot of your blog posts in the last hour. I really enjoy what you are doing here. (And as a writer of fantasy novels, I'm enjoying looking at different aspects of that when you go through them in blog post). And truly, I love world-culture building.

  7. We make stuff for walking tacos for dinner it's perfect for the microwave and fridge. Cereal and milk for breakfast or pastries and juice. Then then we buy crustables pb&j's and drinks to pack for poolside activities. We just got back from our 9th visit and our guys are teens now, so they cost more, but with the savings on the food by not eating there, we are able to go bowling $5 per person per game, and gave them $20 each for the arcade, they were happy with that. Our stay was Dec 23rd-24th it was almost $100 cheaper than the two days around it, so click on the price timetable and look for those cheaper dates. The place wasn't that busy either, and the lines were short. Years ago we knew this was a place we'd be back to so we purchased wands and the next visit was a fancy topper and they bring them each time and play it for hours so I feel they were a wise investment at the time :) Thanks for your blog, I enjoy it.

    1. I would have expected Dec 23rd to be expensive - thanks for the tip, Natalie! You sound like a pro! :)

  8. Great post. I found out that traveling in a midweek saves a lot of money on a lot from air-travel to hotel prices.Thanks for sharing!

  9. Keep your wands and arcade cards in a safe place for your next trip. Also, bottled water costs a fortune so bring your own. The tap water at the Virginia location is not very good. (I'm picky though.) They usually provide shampoos and body washes. Bring your own air bed for the smaller guests. Or a pad for the pull-out couch. Extra sheets too. We always bring our own breakfast, eat lunch inside the water area and then go to local restaurants for dinner.

  10. planning to visit GWL soon for the first time and we're not planning on getting the buffet meal. just want to ask if they have bowls, plates, spoons, cups, in the room in case we want to bring cereals and other food inside. it seems that frank pizzeria is the nearest local budget resto. are there others that you recommend?

    What is the earliest time you can use their facilities?

  11. If you book online well in advance, go back and periodically check if room rates may have changed. I booked about 2 weeks ago , and when I checked the website and selected the same options, the price was approximately $70.00 lower. I simply called the reservations number and explained. The very helpful agent explained that the last night of the room (Friday) had went from $219 to $149. She updated my reservation and sent me anew confirmation at the reduced amount!

  12. Wolf Lodge is very interesting but it was too expensive and after reading this article I think I've got idea how can I save money .
    thank you so much for excellent article

  13. We booked our stay for sunday-monday. For a family of 6 we could not beat the price for 2 days at a water park and a nights stay. Shortly after we got there we decided we were going to bite the bullet and extend our stay. For a standard room the extended stay rate was just $99. We were very pleased with that. Also 12.99 for a souvenir cup may seem like a lot but since we were there for 3 days 2 nights we def got our moneys worth out of that, especially on the icee refills in the water park. In the end we realized we should have bought 2 and had 2 kids share a cup instead of 4 share 1 cup....would have cut down on a lot of crying and whining lol

  14. Hi! I'm not entirely sure about the American facilities, but in the resort in Niagara Falls, they offer a special meal deal. They only advertise it at the front desk though, but it saves MASSIVE amounts of money. I believe that it costs 20ish CAD for children and 30ish CAD for adults. You get these little pieces of card for each member of the family and you just tear the card that has your corresponding meal and bring it to the order station. With these vouchers, You get an all you can eat dinner at the buffet with one *NON ALCOHOLIC* drink (you have to pay full price for alcohol). For lunch, you have a choice between a sandwich and soda plus a little thing of potato salad or coleslaw, or a piece of pizza with soda and a snack size bag of potato chips, or i believe a certain meal (chicken strips, hot dog etc.) with fries and a soda (choose one option). For breakfast again you get a drink and all you can eat buffet. Saves a lot, but again i only know it to be at the Niagara Falls location :)

  15. If you eat dinner at about 4 the park is dead at 5:30-7


We love hearing from you! If you have a moment, leaving a comment would make our day.