It's hard to decide what to do first at Great Wolf Lodge: get wet, or hunt dragons.
Should we ride the surf in the wave pool, then run over to the water park's fort and wait for the giant bucket to tip and send close to one thousand gallons (3,785 litres) of water cascading down onto our heads? Then climb the stairs and ride a four-person inflated raft through the scream-inducing "Howlin' Tornado," an enormous water ride that spins you around an enormous funnel with a nine-metre drop, an experience that's like swirling down a drain and riding a roller coaster in one?
Or perhaps we should buy a magic wand and set out on MagiQuest, an electronic scavenger hunt in which you flick the wand to open chests of gold, illuminate secret messages in paintings on the walls, and animate talking creatures who give clues about where to race off to next. After deciphering all the riddle clues, armed with the "runes" we've collected, we'll face down the fire-breathing dragon that appears on a wall-sized monitor in a room painted and decorated to look like a gem-strewn cave.
Decisions, decisions. Fortunately, we had time to do both.
Located about an hour south of Seattle, Great Wolf Lodge is one of a chain of 11 resorts spread across the U.S. and Canada. Great Wolf's 398 non-smoking rooms (some of them with theme decor) make it a busy place, especially during spring break. Chad Pearson, director of sales and marketing, estimates that between 200,000 and 300,000 people visit the lodge each year.
With its faux log cabin decor, animated animals, daily singalongs and storytimes, Great Wolf Lodge is a kid-focused vacation destination. There's really no reason to leave the hotel. Younger kids can tie-dye Tshirts, create a customized stuffed animal, and drool over the candy, fudge and ice cream stands. Older kids can feed tokens into the arcade room games or hang out in gr8_space, a tween and teen version of a nightclub. For adults, there's a spa that's the perfect place to unwind with a massage, facial or body treatment, after a day of chasing after the kids.
Great Wolf is built around a 5,200square-metre water park, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. It features the wave pool, a 12-level "tree fort" with two tube slides and spray features, a toddler pool with stationary "jet skis" and slides to play on and various tube slides and rides, including the signature Howlin' Tornado-close to 1.3 million litres of water in all.
Cody Butcher, director of aquatics, oversees a staff of more than 100 life guards. He takes pride in the filtration and UV treatment systems, which allow the water park to use less chlorine. The water is 28 Celsius, the air a balmy 29 to 30 C, which means you won't be shivering, once you're wet.
While the water park is the lodge's main draw, the MagiQuest game, developed by Creative Kingdoms, is a close second. Each game takes five to six hours to complete, and spans 10 "quests" (four-or five-part scavenger hunts, with riddle clues) and three more complex "adventures" that require some puzzle solving and additional steps to complete.
The game is spread out across the hotel lobby and sections of the second through fifth floors. Although the quests are given in the form of short videos (via display screens mounted inside false trees), MagiQuest isn't a game for couch potatoes. A single quest can send kids charging up and down the "secret staircase" several times before it's complete. Moms and dads helping out with the quest won't even need to visit the fitness room, after that workout.
Each MagiQuest game costs $12.99 US, and the wands needed to play the game range from $15.99 to $21.99 US, including a basic "topper," the knob that contains the battery. Flashier toppers shaped like dragons, crystals and unicorns, cost extra, as does a "compass" that activates additional quests in the game.
Games are saved on a server, so if the little ones are a bit rough with the wand, all is not lost. The wand, explains retail director Jon Town, is like a television remote; it sends out a signal that's picked up by a sensor in whatever it's pointed at. A flick of the wand makes a connection inside the wand, sending out a signal to activate a sensor embedded in the painting, statue or treasure chest that contains the next item or clue you need to collect.
While the majority of those racing through the halls, wands in hand, are kids, adults also enjoy the game, which can be played on a drop-in basis without having to stay at the lodge. Some people even show up in costume.
"The game just keeps you going," said Town. "The parents are the ones who say, 'We need to finish this quest!' It's a game that gets parents to interact with their kids in a fun environment."
My nine-year-old son agreed. His verdict on Great Wolf Lodge: "I could live at this place forever!"
For information on Great Wolf Lodge, visit greatwolf.com.