If you are a single person or in a relationship and childless, chances are that your next trip to Niagara Falls will entail reservations at one of the casino hotels or perhaps one of the many big and upscale hotels overlooking the action. However, if you’re part of a family with young children, chances are high that you’ll be heading to Great Wolf Lodge.
Located a short drive from the tourist hub of Clifton Hill, the sprawling woodsy lodge is just down the parkway and can’t be mistaken for any other resort considering its log cabin-like exterior, totem poles, and signature wolf paw. Massive bold colour tubing extending through the lodge wall and snaking its way back inside is also a dead giveaway of the waterpark contained within.
The resort is set up to feature all needs under one roof, so it’s possible that your visit to Niagara Falls might never entail the infamous Clifton Hill, especially if your kids have anything to say about it. Various restaurants and snack bars, gift shops, and several activities are all contained within, as is a fitness center and spa, a child-friendly bowling alley, on-site mini-golf, and, of course, the indoor water park set at a constant temperature of 84 degrees. If the assembly of water-based attractions inside the lodge isn’t enough to please you, there’s also a seasonal outdoor pool called Loon Lagoon. Altogether, it’s enough to keep your skin pruned for the duration of your stay.
Room options are varied to suit most every family’s needs, from standard hotel layouts to rooms with fireplaces and whirlpools. Themed suites are also available with separate kids’ quarters built right into the rooms in the form of a little wood cabin or a wolf den. Most of these formats sleep 4 to 6 people. However, if you need a little more space or a little more privacy for family members, premium lodgings feature lofts and separate bedrooms.
We found all lodge facilities to be clean and well-maintained, and the room was certainly spacious and comfortable. Throughout the resort, the décor retained the woodsy theme and was interesting to look at, and the layout made it easy to get around without getting lost.
Nevertheless, there were some downsides, including that the very costly experience (with increases of 40-50% during peak season) is FAR from budget-friendly, thus not exactly as family-friendly as the resort would like you to believe. Access to the pool and waterpark and everything within that area (with the exception of cabana rentals), is included in the price of lodging, as are a few of the kiddie activities, such as the Wolf Walk (essentially an early morning ‘prowl’ around the lobby while learning a few facts about animals) and Story Time (gathering the kids in the lobby once again, this time for a bedtime story). However, in reading this, we’re sure you can understand why these particular activities are free. Meanwhile, all ‘attractions’ as they’re called, such as bowling, mini-golf, and a fantasy-themed digital adventure called MagiQuest, come at an extra, pay-as-you-go charge, with the latter attraction as the most expensive.
The wands required to operate the digital MagiQuest adventure are somewhat customizable and carry a price tag of up to $50 each, depending on your child’s personal taste. So for families with two or more children, this little adventure ends up being more than the cost of a dinner… which, now that we’re on the subject, we recommend that you eat elsewhere. For what you will pay for a slice of pizza and a drink each for four people, you could easily order an entire pizza, likely even two from a reputable restaurant. And if you brave the buffet, which carries a kiddie selection of mac and cheese, fries, mini pizza, etc., be prepared to slap down another $25 per person. For that money, it’s wiser to drive into the heart of Niagara, only 10 minutes away, and dine at Ruby Tuesdays or TGI Fridays.
No doubt the lodge is set up to please the kids, and please it does. Your children will love it, and likely seeing them smile will make you smile, too. That said, there’s also no doubt that the lodge is set up to nickel and dime guests at every turn. But for all the money the lodge takes in, it surprisingly tends to be understaffed, even during peak season.
Given the sold-out status of the resort during our stay, we did not encounter suitable staff to match. The few front desk workers were totally uninspired, giving little more than perfunctory nods of their heads as guests approached the desk. The same was true for workers manning the various on-site food facilities, where long line-ups are frustrating, especially as only pizza and hamburgers are being served, not prime rib dinners.
One last word of warning – the aroma of chlorine permeates the building. It’s completely understandable that chlorine levels need to be high for a waterpark, especially given all of the young children in the water. No one can fault Great Wolf Lodge for taking precautions to keep the water and facilities clean. However, if by chance you are someone who reacts to strong odours, be prepared for the fact that it is robust inside the waterpark. And with entrance doors opening as often as they do, the smell is not contained. It also wafts into the lobby, the restaurants, and gift shops, and down the hallways toward the rooms. Though, by the time you venture into your room, it does indeed disappear.
You might want to consider packing some Visine eye drops for your eyes, in addition to a fully-loaded wallet. But also bring your child-like wonder and energy because if you can overlook the price of the MagiQuest wands and the dry pizza and burgers on the buffet, you’ll likely have a lot of fun.
PROS: Clean and spacious rooms, plenty of amenities all under one roof, themed furnishings and decor are charming, and the waterpark is fun for children and adults alike. Great place for a family getaway.
CONS: Expensive. Should be all-inclusive for the price. The aroma of chlorine is overwhelming. The resort is understaffed.