note: I was given complementary passes for food, accommodations and other activities to attend the grand opening event at Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, MA. But all opinions are my own.
We had seen the commercials for a long time: Great Wolf Lodge was coming to the New England area! My kids – avid water park fans but haters of bugs and heat – were so intrigued by the idea of an indoor water park that when we were offered the chance to be there on opening day, we couldn’t say no. Even though it was on a school night.
We prepped for the trip the way we do with most new places. I spent a lot of time with the boys on The Great Wolf Lodge website so not only did we know what would be there, we knew what rides and activities were going to be appropriate for their skill level and height. They had pictures of the rooms online as well and we “walked” through the park, learning about each of the rides and requirements. We created our own social story so there would be no surprises.
We arrived in the evening around dinner time and it was a little late for us to use the water park that night. There was no disappointment, however, since there was still plenty to do:
In the Howlin’ Timbers part of the park, there is a nine hole indoor golf course. It was perfect for Howie and Lewis. They had a blast playing the course.
There is also a giant arcade area near the restaurants and lobby. Not surprisingly, this is where my kids wanted to stay the longest. Like many arcades these days, the games are paid for on a pre-paid card so there’s no fumbling with money or tokens for each game. I was amazed at how quiet the arcade was. Usually arcades are not only my kids’ sensory overload nightmare, but mine as well. The Great Wolf Arcade was quiet and calm. So we were able to stay and play for a long time.
Alongside the arcade is a pizza place and ice cream shop. We opted for pizza to go and brought it back up to our room. I have to tell you – I have incredibly picky pizza eaters. The “Hungry As A Wolf” pizza passed the test from all three of them. That’s almost unheard of in our house.
We were given a KidCabin Suite in the newest part of the resort, overlooking the Howlin’ Timbers play area. The room was one queen bed plus a fold out couch and then a separate area with a bunk bed and day bed. My kids settled into their own special area, which also has its own TV. They were in heaven.
At the risk of TMI, this was the first time in our vacations as a family that Tim and I shared a bed at a hotel. And the kids actually stayed in their beds. That doesn’t even happen at home.
The kids had the buffet breakfast at the Lodge Wood Fire Grill restaurant in the morning. Here’s where they were annoyed at me for taking a picture before they could eat:
There’s also a Dunkin Donuts on the premises for breakfast, lunch, dinner and whenever you need it. Because this is Massachusetts and there needs to be one on every corner. Thank goodness.
We hurried back to the hotel room to change into our swim clothes. And off we went.
The water park area of the resort is split into two sides. Great Wolf took over an existing water park area so one side is where the original park had their waterslides and the other side is all new. It seem to cut down on the crowds and confusion and it wasn’t so overwhelming. It also made it easier to find each other as Tim and I played “divide and conquer” with the kids. He did the bigger slides with Gerry and Howie and I spent most of my time with Lewis in the Tadpole Pond area.
In all, my family tried out every ride at the water park. Gerry’s favorite was the Howlin’ Tornado:
That was the view of the Howlin’ Tornado from our hotel room. Through the rain. That’s right – it poured the whole day we were there. Did we care? Nope.
Howie’s favorite was Alberta Falls – the dark tunnel side. It may or may not be because Tim told him it was like they were getting flushed down a toilet.
And Lewis was incredibly happy to stay at the little kid area. And I was incredibly happy to have him stay here. I actually sat down. At a water park. It was a miracle.
Life jackets are provided for all ages and all sizes at the park but we opted to bring our own. Considering the fact that I brought three suits for each kid because I didn’t know what would fit or feel right for them in the moment, the more familiar we are with something, the better it is. Our own life jackets bring that sensory comfort level.
Speaking of sensory issues, I kept checking in with Howie about how he was doing and feeling along the way. The water park was not crowded but it was very echoey and I was worried that he would be on noise overload. He kept telling me he was fine. The only thing that seemed to bother him were the smells in the area near our hotel room. Everything was new : paint, carpet, beds. Those smells were slightly overpowering. But there was no heavy chlorine smell in the park and no overly bright lights. Every half hour or so, there was an alarm that went off at the wave pool. But that was it. All of the places where I expected that he would have a hard time, he did great. All of the kids did great. I was amazed.
We had a late check out of 2pm, so we stayed at the water park area until about 1:30. We changed quickly in the hotel room and checked out.
Our water park passes were good though until the park closed that night. There are lockers and changing rooms if we wanted to stay. We chose to check out the other parts of the Howlin’ Timbers Play Park instead.
The ropes course is included with the water park passes. So we had to try that. And by”we” I mean everyone else in my family that is not me:
I was super impressed by the staff at Great Wolf and how attentive they were. When the line to go on the ropes course got long, two other staff members appeared out of nowhere to assist on the course. The staff all seemed to be local as well, as indicated by their town on their name tags. I love the boost to the local Worcester County economy with that.
After the kids were off the ropes course, they played two games of bowling each. No rental shoes needed. And bumpers for the kids so no gutter balls. This was a big hit with my guys. It was also not noisy at all like many bowling alleys. Again that made it so much easier to stay and play.
There were several things that we didn’t get too because we just ran out of time and energy. There’s a whole MagiQuest game and movie theater that we didn’t even attempt. It looked like fun but we had to save something for next time. There’s also a kid spa and a story time that we skipped. My kids aren’t fans of people in costumes so we stayed away from those areas.
Because I am always looking through my special needs parenting glasses, there are a few things that stood out to me at the park. First – it was very quiet. Many areas were carpeted so there wasn’t a lot of noise bouncing off the floor and walls. The lighting was also natural light in many places in the park. The arcade was calm and quieter than most arcades I’ve been in. There was also a variety of food choices on the menus for the restaurants so there seemed to be something for everyone. We did bring a lot of our own food but every room has a decent sized fridge and microwave so that wasn’t an issue at all.
Now we were there for the grand opening and it wasn’t very crowded. We’ll have to go back to see if all these things stay the same when the resort is full.
I also liked that everything was on their website so we could preview it ahead of time, even the room layouts. That was huge in making sure my kids knew everything before we left. We aren’t the “surprise! Here we are!” kind of family.
There are definitely some things to know before you go. You can’t purchase day passes only to the resort so you have to stay overnight. The water park passes are included as part of the hotel room, as is the ropes course. While there, I was thinking how wonderful it would be to have our kids’ home therapists with us to help with turn taking, peer interactions, and meals, yet I didn’t actually want to pay for a hotel room for them. Considering the number of special needs families who may need to bring a babysitter/therapist/teacher along to help out, I did ask if you can purchase additional day passes though for people joining your party who are not staying over. The answer was yes to that. Definitely ask when you make the reservation to see how many day passes you are allowed to have.
Your room key is a chip in the water park bracelet so there’s no possibility of losing your keys (or having them stolen) while swimming and you can choose whose bracelets are activated as keys. We did have to warn the kids that they would need to wear the bracelets all the time as this is usually a sensory issues for all of my kids.
When we got home. the kids were asking when we were going to go again.
This mini-vacation came exactly at the right time for our family. We needed a stress free time away from the house where we could just relax and be ourselves.
We got that at Great Wolf Lodge.
I know we will be back very soon.
All I ever wanted
Had to get away…” – Vacation by The Go-Gos