Guests say they love Great Wolf Lodge, despite the expenses

SLIP SLIDIN’ Great Wolf Lodge’s water park is expensive because it’s only open to hotel guests, but visitors say that keeps it safer and cuts out the long lines like those at other amusement parks. 

The Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove is huge—with nine stories, 603 rooms, a full water park, seven restaurants, an arcade, shops, animatronics and a hotel-wide interaction action-adventure video game.
Parents said that enough hotel security and lifeguards means they can take their eyes off the kids, while they gulp craft draft beers and margaritas. Guests interviewed at the Great Wolf Lodge said the perks were worth the cost of as much as $400 a day, and they could stay comfortably for days without leaving the building.
“It’s a place where the kids can be safe but where we can have some fun too,” said Sherri Fife, a Los Angeles area real estate professional who with her husband Lane, their daughter and one of her friends, drove 67 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Garden Grove for the weekend.
The water at the hotel’s slides is bathwater warm and the air is 84 degrees. The slides, tide pool, stand up surfing zone and three-story water park fun fort, known as Mt. Mackenzie, stands as a watery, goofy, citadel in the center. The floors are even squishy, giving the pavement a bouncy, soft to the touch grounding.
Joan Ward, from Costa Mesa a grandmother who along with her husband, Andrew, daughter-in-law Laurel, and three grandchildren, were at Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove in July for a homeschooling convention and for her, the experience was well worth the price. To her the staff was pleasant, the facilities were accommodating to families, allowing for guests to bring in outside food. Most importantly, her grandkids had a great time.
“The lifeguards constantly have their eyes on what’s going on in the water; I felt it was very safe,” said Joan Ward, whose grandchildren are 15, 11 and seven years old. “They didn’t get bored at all; they loved it. They were there five days and they were at the water park almost the entire time.”
The check-in time is designed to maximize the water park experience. When hotel guests check in, they can store their luggage in lockers and use the water park while their room is being prepared. After an 11 a.m. check out check-out, guests can use the water park until it closes at 9 p.m.
“I didn’t know what to expect when they came to Orange County,” said Laurel Ward. “When we did finally go we thought it was amazing. It’s an incredibly well thought out facility for families. There are touches that really moved me as a mom that told me they understood what I wanted to do when I brought my husband and three kids. It’s not a very cheap place, but it’s a very nice place.”
Guests get wristbands that serve as entry keys to rooms and the water park. Only hotel guests can use the water park. Great Wolf Lodge Director of Development Bryson Heezen said allowing only hotel guests to use the water park keeps the area secure from unknown people and also keeps lines to a minimum, maximizing the water park experience for paying customers.
“It was very convenient and with having kids, you don’t need to worry if they lose their room key,” Joan Ward said. The wristbands can also be used to buy food in the water park.
For another guest, Joe McMillan, a 42-year-old father of three from Santa Clarita, the hotel’s cost and security adds some peace of mind for him as his kids can enjoy the park on their own.
“I would never leave my kids unattended at Magic Mountain,” he said. “It’s a higher class of people here. Everybody is respectful, clean and it’s very nice.”
The Great Wolf Lodge is designed to be upscale with room prices ranging from $200 to $1,200, depending on the type of room and the season. One of them is the Wolf’s Den Kid’s Cabin, designed like a colorful wolf’s den, with a television and a bunk bed with painted cartoon woodland creatures and forest scenes on me twilight earthtone hues on the walls.
“The rooms are a little expensive but it compares with that kind of genre, just like going to Disneyland or another theme park,” Laurel Ward said.
There are bars and restaurants for adults and plenty of attractions for kids including an arcade, a Scoops Kids Spa, a glow in the dark putt-putt golf course and a shoot em’ up theater/ride video game with 3D effects and rocking theater seats. One of the most engrossing kid’s activities is the MagiQuest game. For $20, kids can buy a wand that interacts with 40 game stations throughout the hotel, where kids embark on a magical journey to defeat a cartoon dragon.
“At any moment they would go back,” Laurel Ward said of her kid’s enthusiasm for Great Wolf Lodge. “My husband loves it too. He loves the water but hates the sun. It’s one of his favorite places. He loves the slides.”
So, with the cost and the travel time that many families make to go to Great Wolf, usually from one to four hours, is it worth it?
“It’s the only place they want to go,” said Pam, a mom from Culver City. “We’ve been here 11 times in the last 18 months. This is the third birthday we’ve had here.”