As a parent of a 5-year-old, I spend a lot of time planning out activities and trips so my daughter will enjoy herself. The worst vacation is one where she is upset, under-stimulated, or just plain bored. We heard about the Grand Opening of The Great Wolf Lodge over by the Mall of America, and let’s just say we’re glad they are here. They did not disappoint.
For those living under a rock, Great Wolf Lodge is a themed resort, and from the moment we walked in, we felt like we were transported into another world. It is designed to look like a woodsy lodge, complete with a giant fireplace in the Grand Lobby. It was majestic and beautiful, and that was before we’d even laid eyes on the fun features.
You Had me at Wine Time
Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, and Uncles, listen up! They have wine time. As in, a time when Great Wolf Lodge wants you to unwind, with wine. After the kids fall fast asleep they will … wait for it … deliver wine to your room. I know. It’s heaven, yes? Yes. Make sure those kids are asleep by 8 pm because Wine Time starts at 8:00 and ends at 11:00. And enjoy!
A Water Wonderland Across from Mall of America
Great Wolf Lodge is located across the road from Mall of America, at 1700 American Boulevard East, in Bloomington, MN. This puts you right next to all the activities that this area has to offer like The Crayola Experience or Fly Over America.
Let’s not forget the bounty of shopping opportunities in and around the mall. You’ve got an amazing themed water park right in the heart of the action. From a destination standpoint, this has it all – if you decide to leave the resort, that is.
Family Fun With Activities for all Ages
Planning out activities for a group can be kind of tough. My daughter is too old for baby activities, but not always ready to really engage with the more adventurous games that older kids love. Our group included toddlers to teens, plus parents of course.
Great Wolf Lodge offers experiences that are designed specifically for toddlers, from the tyke-friendly pool to storytime, while also catering to thrill-seeking bigger kids, teens, and adults with water slides, a ropes course, and so much more.
Waterpark Passes Given at Check-In
Waterpark passes are included for all guests at the resort. We were each issued a waterproof bracelet at check-in. We were impressed to see that there really was something for everyone in our group. You’ve got a wave pool and surf simulator, water slides, a lazy river for tubing, an activity pool and more. This was the main event, and it was a quality attraction for me as an adult, as well as our group of family friends, with things for all of the kids of various ages to do.
Fort Mackenzie is the anchor attraction, located right in the center of the park. It’s a water fort tree house, complete with stairs, bridges, water guns, cargo nets, Totem Towers slides, and our favorite – a giant bucket that gradually fills then tips over, soaking anyone on the ground nearby.
My daughter was a little scared of water when she was younger, but she’s begun to break her fear through water activity games. This tree house made her little brain explode with joy. There was just enough water for her to choose how and when to interact with the water, and just enough random experience for it to surprise and excite her. Also, Water Fort Treehouse. That name tells you everything you need to know.
Water Activity for Toddlers
The Cub Claw Pool is just for the little kids, with their grownups there to help out, of course. The deepest point of the pool is just 18 inches, and there are tiny slides, ride-ons, sprayers, and even their own big bucket that fills and tips. The littlest members of our pack had a blast splashing away in this toddler water playground.
Water Activities for the Tweens and Adults
Then there are the big pools. Chinook Cove is the big-kid activity pool. There are basketball hoops, water-top obstacles to balance on, and plenty of space to just play around in between trips down the slides. We all had a blast in Slap Tail Pond – the park’s giant wave pool. It’s zero-entry so even the little ones could splash at the “shore,” but the big kids loved the 3-foot waves. Just like at the beach – some of the kids loved trying to jump over or diving under, while I preferred floating in an inner tube.
There’s also Big Foot Pass, which is like a floating obstacle course, which the teens loved. Balance your way across the path of floating logs to the other side. And no water park is complete without a lazy river – the Crooked Creek was the perfect spot to kick back and relax as we floated around the park.
Then there are the more thrilling rides, such as surfing and the water slides. At Wolf Rider Wipeout, I got to learn to surf on 5-foot waves. Okay, fine, I may have wiped out more than I surfed.
On to Alberta Falls, a four-story-tall tube water slide that goes outside and back in again. You can do that one on a solo inner tube or on a tandem one. Otter Run is another fun tube slide, but with no inner tubes, and smaller kids can even do it.
Last but not least, my favorite, River Canyon Run. I think this one is a blast because you can have up to four people in each raft – laughing together as you ride the rapids and whip around the curves of this fun river style ride. But that’s not all – you get to pick from four themes, and then enjoy a light and music show during your ride. I never knew such a thing existed, and of course, we rode it over and over so we could try out all the themes.
All of these waterpark features make for an exciting, fun day, in a warm, indoor park. You can enjoy it all year long. Even on the coldest winter days, it’s still 84 degrees inside. The water park alone would make for a great escape, but there is so much more to do, that you won’t want to spend all your time in the water.
MagiQuest-Where you get to be the Wizard!
Have you or your child ever wanted to be a wizard? Well, you don’t have to be named Harry to be a wizard! MagiQuest is a live-action activity quest that takes you throughout the resort. You’ll start by purchasing a wand that allows you to begin your quest.
You’ll interact with special screens and objects, like a scavenger hunt around the hotel, and cast magical spells. I’ve been to similar type things in the past, and they are always magical. Sorry for the pun. Your video-gaming kids will love it. They’ll be able to befriend mystical creatures along the way, fight battles, and finally advance to Master Magi.
This is something my daughter does at home all the time without any sort of feedback, so having a more physically interactive game was a lot of fun for her. You can keep coming back and doing different quests throughout your stay, as well, or even play at a later date.
These quests take 15-30 minutes to complete and your wand remembers which ones you’ve previously completed. Once I get done with Wizard school, I’m all for diving head first into the next adventure!
Great Wolf Lodge Characters
My daughter doesn’t have to know the characters to get excited about engaging with them. The cast of characters at Great Wolf Lodge are thematically related to the lodge itself and are kid-friendly. There are multiple options for these character interactions, including Storytime, Wake Up With Wiley, and a PJ Party. This is a good mix of social and stimulating activities that I know my daughter would be interested in experiencing.
Interactive Storytime – What a Time to be Alive!
We have more books than anything else I know. My daughter loves to grab a random book and force any nearby adult to read to her. Having a storytime activity each evening made for a fun, peaceful way to wind down from our fun days.
These storytimes are interactive, and they engage you with the Great Wolf Lodge cast of characters while reading a great story. That’s a win-win, even if she decides to run off and play with other kids instead of focusing on the story. It’s a great opportunity for her to engage with something she’s familiar with while out and about.
Lunch Time Lineup and Kids Program
There are numerous activities that are planned each day, all tied in with the fun family-friendly theme of Great Wolf Lodge. They offer times for crafts, balloon animals, face painting, a science show, and even an art class that kids will love.
The Lodge characters are also frequently present, meaning you can find numerous ways for the kids to get to know their new favorite Wolf friends. There are also special times like dance parties and games sprinkled throughout the day for a little extra fun. You can get a schedule from the front desk that will let you know when and where to find these activities during your stay.
Fun Learning and Kids Yoga
Learning is fun! My daughter loved starting her mornings with Wiley and Friends. Your kids can take a yoga class or learn about the wildlife that is represented in the resort. She also loved the Northwoods Friends Show, a fun family show where animatronic characters come to life. There’s even a PJ party each night, making an easy transition from the fun day to bedtime for the little ones.
Practice your Ninja Skills with Their Fun Ropes Course
Like the MagiQuest, this attraction really stood out to me, because it was just a ton of fun. This rope course includes some zip line action, as well as high climbing and bridges to provide an exciting time. Though my daughter isn’t ready for this quite yet, there is also a less-intense climbing area designed for smaller children.
This is the type of attention to detail and family fun that really impresses me about Great Wolf Lodge. They have done all they can to create spaces where the entire family is welcome. Pro tip: don’t forget some comfortable closed-toe shoes if you want to tackle Howlers Peak. Sneakers would be best.
Need a Break from Water? There’s The Great Wolf Adventure Park for that!
There is also a dry adventure park with a ton of awesome things for kids big and small, as well as adults. There is an arcade with more than 100 games, where you can earn points and win prizes. There’s a bowling alley with smaller lanes and balls that are perfect for the little kids. And you’ll love the climbing wall that’s great for all ages. You can even take part in a faux mining experience where you get to dig for gemstones and minerals, which is a great way to teach children about the natural world and American history at the same time.
Themed Rooms Your Kids will all Love
Great rooms beget great trips. On one trip my wife and I took, we thought it would be fine to put our daughter in a travel crib (she was just over 2 at the time) on the other side of the room and she would go to sleep. Sadly, we were wrong. The rooms at Great Wolf Lodge are clearly designed for families and that made this trip so much better.
The standard Bunk Bed suite includes a little alcove for the bunk beds. Some of our friends stayed in one of these, and they loved it. Given our last hotel experience, we went with the Deluxe Family Suite, which includes a living room area and a separate bedroom, which was perfect for us.
There are 13 different room options to choose from, depending on the size of your family or group and the set-up that you prefer. The term “pack” is used, which is pretty cute also. All rooms sleep at least 6 guests, but some suites can accommodate 9 or even 12 – so you’re covered even if you have a large pack. Plus, all rooms include a microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker – great for those families who like to wake up and caffeinate or have a snack before facing other people.
This would be an excellent destination for families that want to travel with one another or those of you with larger families. There is enough space in these rooms to give kids that need to limit stimulation a break, too. No matter which style room you choose, it’s nice to have a cozy den to retreat to. The amount of awesome fun at Great Wolf Lodge is paired nicely with relaxing rooms, and it is good to have lots of options at hand.
After all that Play, Fill up on Their Many Food Options
Taking your family to a resort can be a challenge if you have any concerns about food allergies or behavioral issues related to food. The first thing I noticed is that Great Wolf Lodge has a clear highlight that they do not use peanuts or tree nuts, and they are willing to engage with parents and plan around allergy concerns. This is something simple, but it makes me feel like the staff at Great Wolf Lodge really care.
There are so many restaurants to choose from. The Campfire Kitchen serves up breakfast and dinner buffets with great food for everyone. Even your picky eaters will find something. My kid is a sucker for themed options, so she chose the wolf-shaped waffles for breakfast. At dinner, she was happy with chicken tenders and mac and cheese, while adults piled their plates with roasted chicken, seafood, cobblers, and more.
Northwoods Market sells quick-and-easy foods like salads and sandwiches if you want a quick bite on the go. Or take a break and hit up Hungry As A Wolf for fare like pizza and pasta, as well as more sandwiches and salads. If you’re like me and need some sweet snacks, stop by Dunkin’ Donuts or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop.
There’s also Barnwood Bar, with small plates to share, pizzas, sandwiches, and other casual options, all made from locally sourced fresh ingredients. The menu offers plenty of options for grownups like signature cocktails, craft beers, and wine. Located in the Adventure Park, Outpost Bar serves beers, cocktails, soft drinks, and iced tea.
There are poolside meal locations as well, so you’re never far away from a quick bite to eat. Buckets restaurant offers burgers, hot dogs, and more, and The Watering Hole can serve up soft drinks, tea, and beer for the appetite and thirst you work up in the waterpark.
You can also bring in your own snacks and beverages. Doesn’t every parent know that their child will probably hit a point where they stubbornly demand their favorite food? Bring those surefire favorites along and don’t worry!
Shopping for the Win!
You know what’s worse than having a terrible room set-up during a vacation? Forgetting something you absolutely needed to have a good time. Years ago during a family vacation, I forgot a swimsuit and I spent the first four days having to miss out on any pool time. Thankfully, shops like Paddle Boat Outfitters exist.
This shop inside the Lodge offers all of the accessories you might need at the last minute. They have suits, goggles, flip-flops, and dozens of other swimming related items to make the trip fun, rather than stressful. No matter how well I plan ahead, I am the type of person to forget things I absolutely need. Having a shop like this at the Lodge relieves this worry. When I inevitably forget an essential, I won’t have to go far to make sure I’ve got it.
This isn’t the only shop either. There is the Great Wolf Candy Company, Buckhorn Exchange Gift Shop, and the MagiQuest Marketplace. The latter fulfills another wizard-related fantasy of mine, so I’m going to have to do all I can not drop too much cash in this store.
The MagiQuest Marketplace is where you get your wand and can get a number of wizard-themed clothing items to really get your quest-magic moving. The Creation Station in the Kids Store allows you to create your own stuffed toys, ensuring you continue to remember the trip long after you’ve returned home. I know my daughter has been keeping her new stuffed friend close by ever since we left. There’s also Scoops Boutique – an adorable salon, just for kids.
Parents- Relax With a Drink
Traveling with children can be stressful, regardless of how well-planned everything else is. Great Wolf Lodge provides refreshments for adults, both poolside and in the various restaurants. Of course, if you are staying at the Great Wolf Lodge without any children, you also can just enjoy and relax while partying in the water park.
I had a couple of drinks, but there were a lot of great options for sharing child watching with our friends. That allowed us to balance kid-fun and adult-fun in a really sensible and responsible way. Check out Barnwood, The Watering Hole, and The Outpost if you are looking for a few alcoholic beverages.
There are a lot of great options on the menu. Also, these locations are open to visitors from outside the park, so if you live in the area you can stop by and have a few drinks at other times as well.
Stay on Your Fitness Routine in the Fitness Center
Of course, drinking isn’t the only fun activity for adults. There is also the Iron Horse fitness center. This is great. I’ve been trying hard to stay on my exercise regime and having a fitness center included in the resort meant that I could continue to stay on top of my game. Of course, I had to balance my usual workout with all the water slides, but it was well worth it.
Safety First- Always
There are hundreds of lifeguards employed at Great Wolf Lodge. There were always a few nearby. And they weren’t just sitting around, staring at the pool as I’ve seen at some facilities. I could see that they were assigned to small zones, and they stayed on the move – constantly scanning their area to check for people in need of assistance.
There are signs posted all around with reminders of safety procedures, allergy safety, and an overall focus on creating a fun and safe environment. This is so important to me as a parent. I want to keep my daughter safe and find ways to let her have fun. Life jackets are also readily available and highly encouraged for small children. Great Wolf Lodge provides the right atmosphere for a safe adventure. Again, safety and family care are obviously a serious matter for the staff and that sort of attitude makes me happy as a parent.
What’s Included When you Stay at Great Wolf Lodge in Minneapolis?
We were really excited to learn that we could enter the waterpark starting at 1 pm on the day of arrival, and can stay until closing on the day of our departure. They really want you to make the most of your time. The shows and kid activities are all included for free, as well as the fitness center, and Wi-Fi throughout the resort.
That alone really makes this a great deal for a family getaway, and you’ll walk away happy if you enjoy all of that. But if you want to boost the experience, buy a Paw Pass. With each Paw Pass, you get a MagiQuest game, including your choice of a classic wand, wand topper, or Magi Belt, a Creation Station animal, a Clubhouse Crew Adventure, a cup of candy from the candy shop, swim goggles, a glitter tattoo, a leather wristband, a $5 credit for the arcade, and a dining experience. This is a huge discount from the retail price – 46 percent off.
Great Wolf Lodge offers up to a 30% discount to members of the military (active, retired, and veterans), fire, emergency responders, and police personnel. As a military veteran, I appreciate offers like these. This type of discount goes a long way to show an appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who serve our communities.
I would encourage all veteran families to check out the offers here, as this will be a great bonding experience for you and your family. There is also a homeschool discount, which offers 15 percent off to homeschooling families on weekdays – a great way to get a bargain and avoid the weekend crowds. There are also group rates to make your trip affordable.
Businesses and Corporations – They Have Meeting Accommodations too!
This didn’t apply to me, but as I was planning out my trip, I noticed that Great Wolf Lodge also has facilities for meetings. This would be a fun location to host a low-key family-friendly company meeting or conference.
Felicia, of Twin Cities Road Crew, was scoping it out for a place to hold events and she was really impressed. Felicia said, “This place offers everything under one roof…you are bound to have a memorable family experience.”
You can host meetings during the day and enjoy the water park during the evening, which makes me want to send a copy of my vacation plan to the boss and try to pretend it’s a pitch for our next company outing.
Between all the smiles and laughter from my kids, and even the “Wine Time” (ahem, between 8-11pm), I just can’t wait to go again. It’s truly the best escape from the cold winters here in the cities.
Whether you’re traveling through, visiting family, or live ten minutes away, it’s absolutely worth your vacation time to rent a room at Great Wolf Lodge and stay a while. I expect them to fill up fast this winter, so head on over to their website and secure your room!
You can also call them at 844.561.9653
And remember – it’s fun for all ages, and all interests!
Now go. Run, don’t walk…