Splashing Around at the Great Wolf Lodge

Indoor waterpark resorts surge in popularity\\n

By Kara Williams

When Elizabeth Womack of Mansfield, Texas, learned about the brand-new Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark resort opening in nearby Grapevine last December, she thought it sounded like an ideal spot for a multi-generational getaway. After all, what child wouldn’t love splashing around in a 80,000-square-foot waterpark complete with thrilling rides, toddler slides, a huge wave pool, winding lazy river and water sprays? Then there’s the resort’s 100-game arcade; hotel-wide, interactive scavenger hunt; kid-friendly restaurants and faux-log bunk beds just for pint-sized guests.

And what grandparent wouldn’t love watching all the vacation antics?

Indeed, the Womack family, which includes Elizabeth’s husband, three children ages 5, 10, and 13, and mother-in-law, Kathleen, all said they had a ball. “It’s a great set-up,” says Kathleen Womack, 66, who donned a swimsuit to play on the mini slides with her granddaughter. “It’s all right here, and the whole family can be entertained with something for everybody.”

“Our overall experience has been great,” says Elizabeth Womack. “The food is good, the prices are reasonable, the waterpark is the perfect temperature, and we didn’t have to put on sunscreen once!”

Waterpark Industry Booming

No sunblock required, the ability to frolic in water year-round, and the ease of descending from a hotel room directly to all the aquatic action are among the reasons why indoor waterpark resorts are so appealing to families. And hoteliers have certainly taken notice: hotels with waterparks are the fastest growing segment of the entire waterpark industry. Thirty-three such resorts opened in 2007, and 55 are on track to debut in 2008, bringing the total number of indoor waterpark resorts across the United States to nearly 300.

The concept originated at hotels in the northern Midwest U.S., particularly in Wisconsin, in an effort to lure visitors in non-summer months. Now indoor waterparks are popping up throughout the country, from New Jersey to New Mexico, Tennessee to Texas.

The Great Wolf Lodge’s Grapevine location near the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is the latest in the company’s portfolio of waterpark resorts. Its eleventh is set to open in Grand Mound, Wash., in late March, 2008.

Family-Friendly Fun

While the size of the resorts and the water-play areas differ at each Great Wolf Lodge location, the basic amenities remain the same. Use of the waterpark is included in the room rate, and restricted to registered guests. Families can choose from various suite configurations, including accommodations with a separate bunk-bed sleeping area for kids.

Restaurant menus appeal to picky palates. In Grapevine, where my family of four stayed for three nights last December, we all enjoyed the à la carte menu at the Camp Critter Bar & Grille. For dinner, the kids chose from items like buttered noodles, quesadillas, grilled cheese and burgers, while my husband and I dined on such entrées as Cowboy Cut Ribeye, Ginger-Lime Chicken Stir Fry and Gulf Snapper with Texas Pecans. The “Want S’more Fondue” campfire-on-the-table dessert was a big hit one night.

At the buffet-style Loose Moose Cottage, a separate station is set up at youngsters’ height, with small trays, plastic bowls and kid-friendly cuisine. My children, ages 5 and 7, loved being able to help themselves at breakfast, selecting M&M pancakes, cereal, and fresh fruit.

Two thoughtful touches for families: The Camp Critter restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, but they’ll put you on a waitlist and give you a beeper that works throughout the hotel. Also, you can embed your room key into the wristband you’re required to wear to gain entry to the waterpark. No need to ask, “Who’s got the key card?” every time you leave the room. My children loved being able to click open our room door with a flash of their wrists.

When You Get Waterlogged

Besides the mammoth water-play area, which is heavily staffed by lifeguards and where the water is constantly filtered, families can choose from a number of other hotel activities. MagiQuest is a live video game of sorts, where you purchase a wand and a “quest” to explore the eight-story hotel and interact with fairies, dragons, princesses and wild animals, collecting important “runes” along the way.

Older kids can hang out in the GR8 Space Teen Center, which is a comfortable spot to check email by day and a teen-only dance club by night. Elements Spa offers pampering massages, facials and body treatments for adults, and the adjacent Scoops Kid Spa is for little ladies, with sweet-smelling “gummy worm manicures”  and “chocolate brownie pedicures.".

Fee-based crafty activities at Cub Club include painting sun catchers, decorating tote bags and making pillows. Interactive sing-alongs take place at the Great Clock Tower in the lobby several times daily, and guests are encouraged to wear their pajamas and slippers for storytime each evening.

Top 10 Indoor Waterparks

Indoor waterparks can be found throughout North America. Consider these top 10, all of which offer day passes, subject to availability:

Castaway Bay, Sandusky, Ohio
Stay at this Cedar Fair hotel, and you can enter Cedar Point amusement park an hour before the public.

Kalahari Resort, Sandusky, Ohio
A recent renovation at these African-themed accommodations brought the size of its waterpark up to a whopping 173,000 square feet.

Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
This sprawling resort in the “waterpark capital of the world” has three distinct indoor water-play areas: Klondike Kavern, Wild West and Wild WaterDome.

World Waterpark at West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, Canada
In addition to a five-acre waterpark, the shopping mall has an amusement park, mini-golf courses, bowling alley, video-game arcade and ice-skating rink — all indoors!

CoCo Key at Sheraton Ferncroft Resort, Danvers, Mass.
One of eight CoCo Key waterparks in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, the Boston-area location has 65,000 square feet of water-play space.

Water Park of America, Bloomington, Minn.
Adjacent to the massive Mall of America and connected to a Radisson Hotel, this waterpark boasts a family raft ride that’s 10 stories tall and more than a mile long.

Silver Rapids at Silver Mountain Resort, Kellogg, Idaho
Need a break from schussing the slopes or biking singletrack? Head indoors to surf on the FlowRider or relax on the lazy river at this mountain resort’s waterpark, scheduled to open by June, 2008.

Schlitterbahn Waterpark, Galveston Island, Texas
The German-themed Wasserfest is a convertible waterpark; roofs and walls slide open on warm, summer days.

Splash Lagoon, Erie, Pa.
Three hotels — Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn and Residence Inn by Marriott — are adjacent to this 65,000-square-foot waterpark, with more budget accommodations nearby.

Wild Bear Falls at Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort, Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Staking its claim as the “largest in the South” is this indoor waterpark that has a retractable roof and wrap-around mezzanine level for a bird’s eye view of the aquatic fun.

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