Our Visit to Great Wolf Lodge - Fitchburg, MA
As I posted and promised on Facebook, (follow me @yourwishtravelco on IG), here is my review and some extra information on our New Year's Eve weekend at the Great Wolf Lodge - New England. Just to warn everyone - I write the same exact way as I speak and since it's a blog post and I'm not a journalist, I'm sure there will be some grammar mistakes. My apologies, in advance. Please, don't hold it against me. :)
About a week before New Year's we decided to get away for a few days, but stay semi-close to home. Great Wolf Lodge was the perfect destination for us. Now, which resort should we go to, was the question - the one in the Poconos or Massachusetts. After comparing the room rates, we opted for GWL New England and so very happy we did. We had been to the one in the Poconos about 8 1/2 years ago with a two year old boy we were fostering and found the pool to not be so "toddler friendly," which was disappointing, so I was initially worried about taking our now two year old, for this reason. This wasn't the case for GWL New England.
Let me start by letting you know we checked in on December 30th and stayed until January 1st, 2018 - during the busiest week of the year. The resort was at full capacity! Even so, check in was pretty smooth, although the girl at the front desk seemed like she was still in training, so I was listening to everything the representative to her left was telling her guest, because it was filled with much more details. Upon check in, you get these cool room key activating, food and gift purchasing bracelets that also allow you to get into the pool areas. It's kind of like Disney's bracelets - the parents get the gold bracelets and can open the room door or purchase items on it and the kids get the silver bracelets and cannot do any of those things. You also receive a lovely wine menu, (see pics for examples), along with your activity sheets that outlines hour by hour all of the activities that are happening in a given day/day by day with a map of the resort - all super helpful for your stay.
Now, when you first walk into the lobby, it's exactly what one would expect from GWL - very rustic, large, warm feel to it, (besides the doors opening and shutting in 8 degree weather outside!), but very nice. As you head to your left towards the elevators there's a cool little wine bar set up. You can grab a glass and head to your room. Hundreds of kids, yes, please!
We arrived much later than expected, due to snow the entire way, but normally, if you would like, you can come and enjoy the resort and pool starting at 1pm, but check in is officially at 4pm. If your room is ready earlier, they will most certainly get you in your room as soon as possible.
GWL New England seemed to have different packages when I booked online, so I thought it would be cute for our boys, Jaxon age 4 and Carter age 2, to have the Snowflake Package, which included a white lit up Christmas tree, fresh baked cookies and milk each night, a Snowflake book and blanket and it was actually the same cost as the regular rate, so completely worth it. When we opened the room door we walked into a dim room with just the Christmas tree lit and it was super cute. The boys expression was the best and worth it all.
Our room had snow flakes hanging from the ceilings, too. We were pleasantly surprised. I was also happy to see that the room seemed pretty well kept up, considering young kids were in and out of here every single day of the year. Our rug towards the door needed a little tlc, but I definitely expected worse. The bathroom was very clean and so was the room. They even had a garbage AND recycle bin, which I loved. We didn't hear much of anything from either room on each side of us, which was nice. Another nice surprise was on the first night when our cookies were delivered, (they send up cookies for the adults too, YUM), Violet, one of the characters of GWL dropped off the cookies and we got to take a picture as a family, in front of the Christmas tree, in our room and received a free photo. (They came to visit at 9:45pm, because we weren't in our room at 9pm, hence the PJ's). Jaxon and Carter loved every second and still look at the picture each day and reminisce about our stay.
So, our room category was the "standard" room, because we needed two queen beds, where as the higher level rooms only offered bunk beds, which I knew my kids wouldn't be crazy about. The resort offers bed rails, if available, as well as pack and plays, if you need them. Our sofa also turned into a sofa-bed. I would say our room was a little bigger than the average hotel room. For just the four of us, we had plenty of room. I think even if you had 5 people, you would still fit comfortably. One thing I was disappointed in was the lack of children's channels/movies available on the TV. While we were not in our room much, when we were and needed some down time, it would have been nice to have, for the kids.
Let's rewind a little bit and talk about after check in. We got into our room, threw on our bathing suits and hit the water park! This is sort of the big difference I remember between the Poconos and New England GWL. Poconos only offered one water park, while New England's had two totally separate sides and I learned why during my tour with the general manager.
To get to everything in the resort is pretty fool proof - there's only one main direction to go in. From the elevator you just start walking straight through the lobby and continue on and hit a nice, decent size arcade that we spent about 2 hours in later on that day.
Keep going through the arcade and you run into one water park on the left and the other on the right. On our first day we started on the right side. When I first walked in I thought it was a little chilly. I definitely thought it would have been warmer. Then, I stepped in the water and was like, "what in the world?" The water was also chilly. The boys played for a little bit, but everything seemed to be a little
too big for them and more of the bigger kids were running around. So, we went to the next section of the pool where you could grab a tube and go down the lazy river, which was pretty cool. In that same pool were about three or four basketball nets that everyone was playing on; we had fun at this pool. I definitely think this side of the water park is for a little bit older kids, maybe 5 and up and not so much for toddlers. Toddlers will just get pushed around on this side.
We didn't know it yet, but if you went up a little further to the left there was a hot tub and to the right of walking in was a nice little bar and fast food type of restaurant. All conveniently located in front of the main pool, so you can watch your kids while you hang out. For the pool areas - I thought the pools and walking areas seemed pretty clean, especially for all the people that go in and out of there. You see employee's literally everywhere, which was nice. The pool water didn't have too much chlorine, where you feel like you're choking on it, either. I think we stayed about 45 minutes on this side and the boys lips were blue. We just couldn't warm up, no matter what we did, so we got dried up, went to the room to change and headed down to the awesome arcade. I found out during my tour why that side was chillier than usual - two days prior to our arrival, one of the very large heaters wasn't working properly, on top of it it was during some of the coldest days we had this winter. Henry Tessman, the general manager, added an extra heater to try to keep the temperature up, but it wasn't keeping up with what it would or should have been.
Since it was getting a little late now and we wanted to watch the "Story Time" show in the lobby, (Story Time occurs twice a day with mechanical characters of GWL telling a story to the kids. Then, a character comes out to read a giant book or rather stands next to an employee that reads the book, then you get to meet the character and take pictures). This was the 8pm Story Time and most of the kids were in their PJ's. After Story Time was the dance party with a very good DJ. All the kids and parents went crazy dancing, while a woman that worked with GWL used one of their bubble wands to create continual bubbles for the kids. A huge hit and genius idea to get parents to buy one. All the sudden, while we're dancing, it starts to snow inside! I have to say, it was pretty neat.
Here's a little video clip of the dance party and lobby:
After the dance party they played the Minions movie on the big screen TV above the fire place in the lobby. This place was non stop! They had something going on every hour. We watched a little bit of the movie, but we were exhausted and went to bed!
The next day, we woke up nice and late, opted for the breakfast buffet at The Lodge Restaurant, ($15 adults, I think it was $8 for kids and 3 and under are free). It was a nice buffet with a great selection, they even had someone making customized omelettes and I thought it was worth the money. The lodge also has a Dunkin Donuts, for all you DD lovers, next to the bar/restaurant, but be ware, they are ALWAYS packed and some of the workers are a little slow or maybe I'm just spoiled and used to fast paced Fairfield County, but it definitely holds up the line. If you wanted, GWL offers meal packages that you can purchase ahead of time and save a little bit of money. You can check it out on their website.
Next, we tried the left water park side and it was so much warmer... thank goodness. It also had a great pool that only went to a foot andhalf deep and was perfect for toddlers; well, perfect for my boys learning to swim. There were floatie's available, which was nice, too.
There were four toddler slides that are perfect size, so we were finally able to kind of sit back and let the boys play without having to worry too much. There were plenty of tables and chairs and even during the busiest week of the year we had no problem finding a place to set up camp for a few hours. When you entered the pool it had a beach entrance with a bunch of water toys and as you went down to the other end you had four slides.
Two orange slides that were a little higher than the blue ones, but still perfect for toddlers to do on their own. Did I mention it was warmer? A lot warmer, so at least I got to experience what the normal water and air temperature would be when everything is working properly. It was actually very comfortable.
Next to the toddler pool was a huge and very cool wave pool. The waves got pretty big and came every ten minutes for a duration of ten minutes and kept switching on and off to give people a little break.
We had a lot of fun jumping the waves together. Then, next to the wave pool, you could grab a tube and head up to the some of the tunnels offered. There were more on the other side of the water park, too. We didn't experience these, because our kids were too little, but they definitely look fun!
Finally, it's 11am on 12/31 and time for my tour, which I was very excited about and it ended up being super helpful in learning about the GWL NE's history. Without the tour I definitely would have missed out on some very cool things. Henry Tessman, the general manager of this great lodge, (no pun intended), took time out of his very busy day, probably his busiest being New Year's Eve, and I was very appreciative. I think every 20 steps we took a guest was asking him a question. What was nice to see from a travel advisor's perspective was the number of employee's that went out of their way to say hi to Mr. Tessman and with a smile and you could see Mr. Tessman doing the same thing throughout the tour. For me, I could see that the people working there were proud and happy to be doing so, which all shines through from management and down the line. This is important for me, because if the employee's are happy to be there, then I know when I send clients here that they will be treated well and that's very welcoming and reassuring.
During my tour, I learned that this lodge used to be Cocoa Keys, then it was a Sheraton, until GWL bought them out four years ago and put a ton of money into renovating this place to become a Great Wolf Lodge. The water park on the right side, (the side for older kids), was the section from Cocoa Keys and it had undergone major renovations to make it what it is today. Then, the water park on the left, (for the younger kids and wave pool), was completely added on and basically brand new.
Mr. Tessman and I walked through the arcade, which I was very familiar
with already and showed me in the back where they offered pizzas, subs and salads and then next to it was "Scoops," where you could have in-house fudge, very large cookies, cupcakes, cotton candy and of course, ice cream. They're hoping to get a Ben & Jerry's in there soon.
Here's Carter above eating some pizza and Jaxon to the left spotting a topping he wants on his ice cream...gummy bears.
As we walked through, I learned that GWL holds a lot of events here for corporate meetings/events, birthday parties and surprisingly they're pretty busy with weddings, too. They definitely have the room for it with several large conference rooms that open up to one huge ballroom.
The last part of our tour was in the "Howlin Park," which is an indoor park with everything else you can think of; miniature golf, a miniature carnival ride that goes straight up and then drops you down, bowling, but more like a video game with three throws, three different rock climbing options and difficulties, two rope obstacles - one high in the air and more challenging for the older kids and one lower to the ground for the younger kids, air hockey, a mining experience, a carousel and a few other things. The Howlin Park is also where Mr. Tessman and I would meet Mike, my husband, with the boys for the "noon" New Year's Eve celebration with the balloons dropping from the ceiling, apple cider champagne, noise thingies and necklaces that were all provided by the lodge. They had two balloon dropping sessions, the one at noon on 12/31, so the little kids that wouldn't make it to midnight could experience it and then the one at midnight in the lobby. I was relieved that they provided two experiences, so I didn't feel the pressure of keeping the kids up late. Here's some pictures of Howlin Park and the early New Year's Eve celebration.
After the fun celebration, Mr. Tessman showed me some of the bigger rooms that GWL offers. They have rooms that could fit up to 10 people. In some of the rooms the main bedroom would be closed off with a door, then another room with an open doorway with different configuration of beds and then another room with bunk beds. If you have a bunch of friends and family that want to all stay together, this would work. It might be a little chaotic, depending on the kids ages, but could work well.
Above is an example of one of the bigger rooms. Two larger rooms, (some have doors to close off), and then the bunk rooms.
Mr. Tessman wanted my boys to experience some of the other things that I hadn't thought of or knew much about and kindly gave each of our kids a "Paw Pass." I didn't know much about them, except from the
little bit I read online, but to be able to experience one of the passes made a huge difference and I would recommend trying. There are three different kinds of passes, depending on the age of your child. These passes save you money on attractions and experiences, should you do them separately. The first and least expensive is the "Pup Pass," for $47.99pp and saves you up to 29% off what the retail price of $64.55 would be. This pass is for the littler ones. The second pass is the "Paw Pass," which is the one we were able to experience, which goes for $74.99pp and saves you 36% off the retail pricing of each experience totaling $114.92 and was actually perfect the boys, but also good for a little older kids, too. The third and last pass is the "Wolf Pass," for $99.99 and saves you 35% off the retail pricing of $151.92. The Wolf Pass is definitely for those that are older. You can check out each pass and what they include on the GWL website- https://www.greatwolf.com/new-england/deals/packages
With the Paw Pass, Jaxon and Carter each got to eperience:
- One MagiQuest game
- Choice of classic or color wand, standard topper or Magi belt
- One Creation Station animal (outfit not included)
- One Clubhouse Crew Adventure
- One Glitz Glitter Tattoo
- One 12 oz. candy cup
- One pair of Great Wolf Lodge goggles
- One Oliver's Mining Co. experience
- One Leather Treaty wristband
I have to admit having the Paw Pass was AWESOME! It kept us busy for a long time. The MagiQuest game overall is for older kids and will definitely keep them busy for a good 4+ hours trying to unlock all of the scenarios to finally defeat the dragon. For the younger kids, like mine, it was just cool for them to have their own wand and make what seems like magical things happen throughout the lodge. For example, Jaxon spotted the big stars in the ceiling walking to Howlin Park. He pointed the wand up at the star and it lit up with a little ring....who knew! You could point the wand at other things around the lodge for the game to make something move or talk or allowed you to complete for the game. Each wand is linked through their computer system with your name and team name. This way, if you don't finish the game during your visit you can come back and continue right where you left off. You can also point the wands at some cute, faux animals in the lobby to make them move. The wands make decent swords too, although I don't recommend this.
The Creation Station Animal is the same concept as Build a Bear, (pictures in the the slideshow below). My kids opted for the dragon. Each animal has a chip inside that GWL also links with your child's name, because you can go around yet again and make very cool and almost magical things happen throughout the lodge with your stuffed animal.
The Glitter Tattoo was much better than I initially anticipated. They're bigger and prettier than what I imagined - again pics below in the slideshow. They also last a really long time. Just don't go in the chlorine with them on, because they'll come right off. Tip - save this one for before you leave the lodge.
The Mining Experience was very cute. Each child pics a bag of sand that has "gems" or special stones inside. You take your bag and dump it into a sifter. Run it through the muddy looking water to sift out the sand and pebbles to discover neat gems. You'll also get a sheet with the pictures and names of all the gems, so you can learn about them. Very cute. The kids still have the stones and enjoy playing with them.
Here's a slideshow of some pictures from using our fun Paw Pass. Thank you, Mr. Tessman! They loved every second.
After doing majority of the Paw Pass, it was time for dinner and then get ready for the New Year's Eve entertainment to begin! Much to our surprise, when we went up to our room to get ready for the night, we had our cookies, yum, and a bag full of New Year's goodies - hats, leis, noise makers, apple cider champagne and glasses! We were all set to celebrate. To start off there were the steel drums in the lobby, which made you feel like you were in the Caribbean....think Bob Marley. After the steel drums, started the dance party from 10pm - midnight. We made it to about 10:30pm, then Carter was getting a little wobbly. And no, we didn't make it to midnight. We were all shot from a long, busy filled day and were asleep by 11.
Steel Drums - sorry a little shaky - I was dancing, too. Carter was noticeably tired.
In conclusion, we had a great time at GWL New England and I do believe it is worth the money for all of the fun and memories, even during the busiest and priciest time of year. The people were so friendly, everyone was in a great mood and there are endless things to do. I didn't even get to mention the lazer tag, Scoops Spa, art classes, balloon animals, daily kids yoga followed by trail walks and more!
In my opinion, I don't think one night is long enough to take advantage of everything, unless you have older kids that only want to do the arcade, water park and Howlin Park. Then, it might be perfect, but for us we felt 2 nights or even 3 nights would have been good. Then, you don't feel like to have to rush and get everything in on time, especially when your kids still take a nap. On the day you check out, which is at 11am, you're more than welcome to stay and swim or take advantage of anything else in the lodge until 9pm that same day, which is really nice.
During my tour, I asked Mr. Tessman what he thought the sweet spot would be for age range and he said 3 - 13 yrs. I think from what I saw and after running into an old friend that was also there with her much older kids and from what she said, I would say the best ages would be from 2 - 11 or 12, depending on the child. Here's why - there's more complimentary things to do for those ages, 2 - 11, that they would actually still be interested in doing, such as story time, animal balloons, art classes, trail walks, etc. And while there's a ton for older kids to do, it seems like it would come at an additional cost, which is fine, as long as you're aware of that.
I also asked Mr. Tessman if they offered day passes to the park for non guests and they do not. If you're not staying at the lodge you can actually do everything within, except the water parks. You can only visit the water parks with a bracelet on and you only get one of those by staying in a room. By doing this eliminates the water parks getting over crowded and abused and I, for one, was thankful.
For me, the one drawback were the amount of doors opening and shutting throughout the resort, especially because it was so incredibly cold this particular weekend. You couldn't really walk around in your bathing suit or flip flops without freezing; at least I couldn't. At night it wasn't so bad, because nobody was really going in or out.
We will definitely will be back again, maybe even during another holiday. They did such a great job of setting up the lodge and making it feel like a celebration was about to happen and all of the goodies they give you and events they have throughout. It was really fun and a special way for us to celebrate as a family. The only thing missing was the rest of my friends and family, but maybe another year we'll all go together.
There is so much more to do that I didn't even touch on like lazer tag, Scoops Spa for the kids only, yoga class in the morning followed by a trail walk, the