There comes a time in a parent’s life when your kid has a classmate who goes to Great Wolf Lodge and then your kid asks when you’re going to go. And you can put it off as much as possible, but like an epic trek to Disney World, you’ll probably end up going to Great Wolf Lodge at least once. And for that time in your life, I’ve compiled Great Wolf Lodge tips to make it as easy, and as affordable, as possible.
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What’s the deal with Great Wolf Lodge?
For the uninitiated, Great Wolf Lodge is a woodlands themed resort with 17 locations that packs everything into one place so theoretically, you wouldn’t have to leave for anything. You’ve got your room, indoor waterpark, restaurants, candy shop, arcade, etc. Ask a friend about it, and she’ll either groan or tell you “Great Wolf Lodge? The kids liked it.”
Why a groan? It’s expensive. Why just say “The kids liked it”? Because it caters to them, caters to making memories as a family. It does not cater to you and your preference of peace, quiet, and sunshine.
Like Disney, people have come up with all sorts of hacks to save money at Great Wolf Lodge, though. And isn’t saving money fun? It is for me. And, they’ve come up with ways to make it a little more enjoyable for you, the grown-up, as well.
The Great Wolf Lodge resorts nearest to Omaha are located in Kansas City, Kan. (near Kansas Speedway), and Bloomington, Minn. (near Mall of America).
But first: Great Wolf Lodge has some free things
Before diving into the all the great tips and travel hacks, I should point out that YES, there are some free things at Great Wolf Lodge. Enjoy free:
- Free parking
- Free Wifi
- Free lobby activities, including morning yoga, character meet & greets, bingo, and sometimes seasonal activities. We went in March, so they had spring crafts.
- Free wolf ears (just ask for them in the gift shop)
See? It’s not all a money grab.
A first-timer’s tips (it’s me, I’m the first-timer)
Before I share all the fantastic tips from readers, I’ll share a few things I learned during my first stay.
- Unless you have a large family, the more expensive themed rooms aren’t necessary. I booked a Kid’s Cabin with a Groupon deal. The room included a queen bed, a bunk bed with two singles and a single bed, as well as a pull-out couch, plus waterpark passes for seven. It was SO EXPENSIVE, even with the Groupon deal. We’re a family of four and didn’t need all those beds, and only needed four passes. The cute cabin theme isn’t worth the higher price. The kids’ beds were essentially gym mats on a bed frame.
- That said, I did love having a balcony that came with our Kid’s Cabin. It was an unusually warm day in March and it felt like an escape to sit outside after the noise and crowd of the waterpark.
- A tip for the Kansas City location: If you’re looking for restaurants outside of the typical chains, try El Toro Loco near Great Wolf Lodge. I found it through Visit KCK’s Taco Trail app. There are some pretty authentic taquerias found on the app further east of Legends. The complimentary chips and salsa are fantastic.
- A lot of parents recommended getting pizza, and while we were in Kansas City, we opted to get pizza to-go from Pizza Stop. It was pretty good and I recommend the KC BBQ Chicken Pizza. There are pizza chains restaurants closer to GWL, too.
Since most of my readers are Midwestern, they have their opinions about KC verses Minnesota.
- “Check Minneapolis location I found it much cheaper than KC and apparently it is bigger, as well.” – Karen B and Shawn P.
- “Certain locations (not KC) have a Dunkin’ Donuts and they normally have a reusable cup deal with free refills…All the locations are different and have different activities around them, so we always plan something to do one day outside of great wolf to get out of the water.” – Amanda S.
- “You can swim before check ins and after you check out- so just bring a backpack with a change of clothes…. Bring an extra swimsuit so kids can change if you go to dinner or something and return to swim (wet swimsuits are a pain & cold!).” – Kylie M.
- “If your kids are little, bring life jackets or puddle jumpers.” – Kayla H.
- “If I were to go back, I would bring water shoes.” – Shelby L.
- “If you have little ones, I’d suggest bringing a few water toys for them. My kids don’t like the buckets dumping on them so we spent most of our time in the pool with the small slides and the “gutters”. I wish i would have had a couple of buckets for my youngest to play with in the water since she wasn’t too fond of the slides.” – Emily C.
- “Bring your swim bag with immediate pool stuff. I checked in at 10 a.m. the morning we arrived. Our room wasn’t ready, but we could use the pool. It was a closer drive for us, so we had the kiddos wear their suits in the car. We left suitcases and overnight stuff in the car and just hopped right in the pool.
- Bright swimsuits that you can pick out of a crowd. At one point my son “got away” and I had to find him in the sea of people. Swim shirts/ rash guards if your kiddos will wear them- they make those in neon colors!!… Robes! It’s a chilly blast to walk through the lobby to the pool— more so when you’re wet and coming back from the pool!…Bring more than 1 swim suit! When you come back to your room and take them off, it’s so hard to get a cold, wet suit back on a kid!!” – Lindsay M.
- “Pack a snack bag with drinks!” – Morgan E.
A few rules and details about GWL waterparks:
- While there are lifeguards, kids need to be supervised by someone who is at least 14 years old.
- The KCK Great Wolf Lodge waterpark had kid-size life vests available for guests.
- “The paw passes are worth it.” – Karen B.
- “They have tons of free activities for kids. We normally get wolf passes, so our kids have other things to do than just the water park and it’s the best deal if you are doing the extras like magiquest, candy shop, ice cream, etc.” – Amanda S.
- “We did the pup passes for our kids (5 and 2 at the time of visit) and they enjoyed it. It had ice cream, candy and build a bear included (maybe one more thing?)” – Emily C.
- “Skip the magiquest.” – Charlie B., which stirred up a lot of responses and likes. Others say it depends on the location. “The magiquest in Kansas City is very dated but my 4 and 6 year olds still love it. The Magiquest in Colorado Springs and Minneapolis are much newer and have better functionality.” – Michael C.
- “You can borrow magiquest wands from a friend and just have them activated for the game. My boys love to play. If your kids are younger, you can activate the wand for free and it will make things “come alive” when you point it at the item.” – Amanda S.
What’s a Paw Pass?
Good question. Great Wolf Lodge offers a couple different combo packages for attractions, and Paw Pass is one of them. If you plan on doing all of the included attractions, you’ll save a few dollars. There’s one for small children (the Pup Pass). Paw Pass is the mid-range package for kids and teens, and covers most things. The biggies is the Wolf Pass, which includes stuff like a cup of candy and a scoop of ice cream.
It’s not a good deal if you don’t do all the things included, though, so plan things out ahead of time. It may cost less to purchase a la carte.
Tips for bringing older kids
- “Last time our 8 year olds really enjoyed the wand game. It’s a good break from swimming.” – Amy M. (Kim’s note: The “wand game” is MagiQuest)
- “Paw passes can be enjoyed if you have older kids. The MagiQuest gives something to do inside instead of leaving.” – Brandon T.
- “My husband usually gets the breakfast passes for us online because I think it’s cheaper. And then we take some fruit and drinks up to our room later for snacks. Bring a cooler for water and snacks at the Waterpark.” – Megan S.
- “Get the breakfast dining plan.” – JoLynn P.
- “They usually have a fridge and a microwave. Last time I made a big batch of spaghetti and threw it all together in a few containers to fit in the fridge so we had a few meals of that. Bring paper bowls and instant oatmeal or bagels and cream cheese. Or whatever can be reheated for easy meals. You’ll save a ton of money vs eating every meal in their food spots.” – Carol H.
- “One of the restaurants has family pasta meals that are pretty good and reasonably priced. We always bring the stuff to make sandwiches in the room for lunch.” – Kayla H.
- “If you are going to KC then i would skip out on their food and eat at the outlet mall. We didn’t care for the food and the wait times were super long.” – Emily C.
- “I packed a cooler with lunch and breakfast items. It gave us a reason to “take a break”. It also allows us to relax a little in the morning with cartoons and tv while we eat.” – Lindsay M.
- “Leave for lunch’s and dinners. Food in sight isn’t worth the money. For same price you can get some good KC BBQ, grab drinks from target (right up the street) you can sneak them in with you.” – Noah H.
- “Eating at the restaurant on site is REALLY expensive, not worth the price. Take a cooler with drinks and snacks, etc. Eat off site elsewhere.” – Shannon H.
Saving money & avoiding crowds
- “We absolutely love it. We always try to stay during the week rather than on weekends.” – Kayla H.
- “Watch for Groupon deals!!” – Lori T.
- “On 8/9 every year they have a $89. Covers the cost of pool admission and room.” – Nicole B.
- “We love Great Wolf Lodge! If you want to save money do the stuff you’ve already paid for, water park and free activities like the pajama dance party and story time…First couple times that’s what we did-no extras…We skip buying their swim extras, the salon and any gift shop stuff.” – Amy M.
- “Staying at a different hotel and getting day passes is what I did…saved me money especially going on Christmas day 😉 I wish I stayed at GWL but honestly it would cost me over 1000 for one night.” – Karen H.
- “I only go when there is really good deals ($80 a night) and usually Monday/Thursday. Kansas City is pretty outdated, but I love the Minneapolis or Gurnee location. Buy the souvenir cup and bring snacks!!” – Amber D.
- “We normally try to go during the week and book 90 days in advance to get the best deals and skip the crowds.” – Amanda S.
About using Groupon for Great Wolf Lodge
I’ve learned that third party deal sites aren’t always worth the savings, so use at your own risk. And READ THE FINE PRINT.
Inevitably, your reservation will not be transfer to the hotel correctly (as was my case). And if you need to reschedule, LOL…Good luck. We had a once-in-a-century blizzard hit, and nearly had to just eat the loss of our Groupon. But, after persistently calling, emailing, and DMing for about five hours, Groupon agreed to the extenuating circumstances and offered us Groupon Bucks to use at a later date.
If I were to ever return to Great Wolf Lodge, I’d book directly through Great Wolf Lodge. Check the deals page on the location you plan on visiting before booking. A quick check while writing this revealed promo codes for up to 50% off stays!
How to make the most of it… for the adults
- “Step out of the area occasionally and get fresh air, the chlorine will get to you!” – Lesli B.
- “If you drink, bring your own alcohol.” – Megan S.
- “My favorite thing in KC that others didn’t have is the adults only hot tub area. Nice to get away from the littles and just sit and relax (while the other parent watches the littles).” – Brandon T.
- “There’s a huge outlet mall and lots of restaurants nearby.” – Michael M.
Your turn: What are your tips for Great Wolf Lodge vacations?