Fort Mackenzie, a prominent feature in the 105,000-square-foot waterpark // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
Feature image (above): The new property is located about 4 miles from Disneyland Resort. // // © 2016 Great Wolf Lodge
In February, beloved family resort brand Great Wolf Lodge opened its first California property in Garden Grove, Calif. Located on Harbor Boulevard approximately 4 miles from Disneyland Resort, the indoor waterpark hotel is the only one of its kind in the Golden State, and its wild slides, lazy river and other on-site entertainment options stand to make a splash with groups visiting the area.
“We believe that Great Wolf Lodge Garden Grove is a great addition to all that Southern California has to offer,” said general manager Phillip Cunningham, who helped opened multiple Great Wolf locations prior to moving to Garden Grove. He spoke to a room full of media at a recent on-site familiarization event.
While attending the trip with my own family, I came to agree with Cunningham. On numerous occasions throughout my stay, I couldn’t help but think of the resort as a Las Vegas-style property designed specifically for little ones, with so many things to see and do under one roof. Following are some key details to know before tackling this bustling playground of a hotel.
Moms, dads and grandparents will surely spend the better part of their time in the 105,000-square-foot waterpark, the largest the brand has ever built. Guests enter via Bear Essentials Swim Shop — a handy store if you’ve somehow forgotten your suit, goggles or cover-up — and are greeted by 84-degree air and the sound of rolling waves, splashing and laughter. Access is limited to overnight resort guests (park entrance is included in the room rate), so families can rest assured that the venue won’t get overcrowded.
The park is home to more than a dozen indoor attractions, plus a pool with fountains and basketball hoops outside. Little ones will love Cub Paw Pool and Whooping Hollow, where slides cater to riders 48 inches tall and under and water features lightly spritz guests. Crooked Creek, a curling lazy river dotted with inner tubes, is a blast for visitors of all ages. More fast-and-furious options include Howlin’ Tornado, a six-story funnel slide; Mountain Edge Raceway, a four-story waterslide with bodysurfing mats that allow riders to race one another; Wolf Rider Wipeout, a double indoor surf simulator; and Slap Tail Pond, a pool with waves that reach up to 3 feet high.
There’s also the eye-catching Fort Mackenzie, a multilevel water fort with suspension bridges, treetop slides and spray stations. This is where you’ll spy the park’s signature tipping bucket, which dumps 1,000 gallons of water every four minutes. An audible buzzer warns everyone below before the deluge happens. Also notable: The water in the park is constantly being filtered and recirculated, an important fact considering California’s drought.
Fish Out of Water
The fun doesn’t end after families are waterlogged and pruney, of course. Depending on your interests, there are plenty of on-site activities to enjoy — no car ride or long walk required. On the waterpark level, kids can try their hand at mini-bowling at Ten Paw Alley; play mini-golf at Howl at the Moon Glow Golf; or get a manicure at Scooops Kid Spa, an adorable setting where treatments are ice-cream-themed, lotions smell like chocolate and strawberry, and the whole experience ends with an actual ice-cream treat.
Two signature entertainment options guests should pencil in are MagiQuest and the nightly Story Time. The first gets kids thinking like true adventurers, using a programmed magic wand to virtually battle dragons and hunt for treasure on quests around the property. Story Time is a great way to close a busy day. It begins with the Forest Friends Show, where animatronic characters come to life in the Grand Lobby. After that, mascots Wiley Wolf and Violet Wolf make an appearance, and a staffer reads a storybook to the crowd. Yoga sessions, dance parties and craft events are other choices guests will find on their Lodge Life activity guide.
Feeding the Family
Chris Hammond, corporate director of food and beverages for Great Wolf Lodge, is serious about providing quality food and diverse dining options for guests. There’s typical kiddie fare at waterpark snack shop Buckets Incredible Craveables, sure — think hot dogs, French fries and fruit smoothies — but it’s also relatively easy to make healthier choices. At buffet-style restaurant Loose Moose Family Kitchen, soups, salads, prime cuts of meat and veggies abound. Or guests can head to a la carte venue Lodge Wood Fired Grill for fresh-caught fish or a steak. There’s also a pizza parlor, an ice cream shop, a poolside bar and grill and an on-site Dunkin’ Donuts. Expect a line at the latter bright and early.
There are 603 suites at Great Wolf Lodge Garden Grove, some of which are the largest offered in the area. Family favorites are undoubtedly the Wolf Den and KidCabin suites, both of which have bunk beds in a private, themed sleeping area, allowing the kids and the adults to have their own spaces for playing and sleeping. Multigenerational groups can opt for suites that sleep up to eight visitors and have second bedrooms and bathrooms. All offer appropriate pine furnishings and adorable bear decor. Prices begin at $249 per night for standard suites and $349 per night for themed accommodations.