It’s been a long time coming, really. With chilly winters but an active community, it’s past due for Colorado to offer its own indoor water park.
The Great Wolf Lodge opened the state’s first one earlier this year in Colorado Springs. This marked the 14th Great Wolf Lodge in North America.
It makes planning a family vacation simple. Everything you need is under one roof, so no need to engage in the seat belt battle to get the whole family to a restaurant, where the kids may or may not like the food. No need to strategize an itinerary of entertainment; the lodge offers frequent activities, from craft-making to dance parties to story time.
Not to mention the water park.
Oh yes, the slides.
Almost all of the water activities are appropriate for average kids about first grade and up, but there’s a mini water area with three small slides great for kids of all ages, and the wave pool is built on a gradient, so even toddlers can splash around. (And the waves never get too crazy.)
For added safety, life vests of various sizes are free and easy to come by.
Older and braver kids (and adults) can test their grit on some of the most intense waterslides we’ve ever seen, including a tube where the bottom literally drops out and sends you free-falling straight down. That’s called the Howlin’ Tornado. Then, the multi-person tube rides are great for families who want a thrill together.
Fort Mackenzie, a multi-level treehouse, marks the center of the park. It’s lined with water guns, tipping buckets, slides and all kinds of ways to play in the water.
Other water highlights include a rock climbing wall, water basketball and a mini ninja course to test your kids’ strength and balance. OK, occasionally parents give it a whirl, too.
You truly can spend a full day just in the waterpark and never get bored.
As a bonus, the lodge strategically placed a tiki bar overlooking the wave pool, so tired or overstimulated parents can take a grown-up time-out with a beer or margarita. It’s a full bar, so you can get just about anything, and the prices aren’t massively jacked up, as you might expect in an amusement park.
The water park claims to be heated to 84 degrees at all times, too, which makes you feel like you’re on a tropical vacation, well, with a ceiling.
The lodge makes everything as easy and streamlined as possible. Your credit card is connected to your plastic wristband, which also gets you into the water park area and your hotel room. So you don’t have to worry about hauling around your purse, room key, credit card and ID. You can choose to connect your kids’ wristband to your credit card, too. This can be either super convenient or super dangerous.
More Than Just Water
Inevitably, you’re going to get tired of swimming. Your kids might not, but 12 hours in the pool can make everyone a little hangry and wrinkly-fingered. The lodge offers a variety of food options, even a few healthy options and gluten-free and dairy-free choices for kids with dietary restrictions.
The poolside cafe sells casual, quick grub, like burgers and hot dogs. Bring your own water bottle to save money (and keep hydrated, which is crucial if you’re from below altitude). There’s also a pizza place nearby with gluten-free crust available and pre-made salads.
Near the lobby are the two best sit-down options for a meal. Depending on how hungry your kids are and how quickly they need to eat, you can head to the buffet or to the slightly nicer (but still casual) option next door, Barnwood. Its specialty is “farm-to-fork” food made with local ingredients, set in a hip, modern environment (conveniently stationed right next to the Great Wolf store where you can get stuffed wolves, clothes, trinkets, shoes and all kinds of things you may have forgotten at home).
The buffet doesn’t seem to change up that much from day to day, but that can be beneficial if you have picky eaters who find something they like. The standard kid faves are always in stock. It can be a bit boring for Mom and Dad, which is when the restaurant next door comes in.
For dessert, there’s an ice cream shop and the first-ever Great Wolf Candy Company.
After you’ve done the 10 water slides 10 times in the 50,000-square-foot water park, it’s time to explore the indoor adventure park. For an additional cost, your family can play mini golf, do a ropes course in the rafters, scale a climbing wall, go bowling in a mini alley and play games in the arcade.
Older kids can participate in the interactive MagiQuest game throughout the whole resort, where they hunt for clues and try to solve a live-action role-playing game.
For a calmer option, little princes and princesses can get a mani or pedi or their hair done at the kid spa, Scooops Kid Spa, an ice cream-themed spa. Every service comes standard with a real ice cream treat. Parents can join in, too.
Wrap up the day with story time in the lobby, before heading up to one of the suites. If you’re feeling extra festive, reserve a KidCabin or Wolf Den suite, which are specially themed and decorated rooms that continue the party atmosphere even upstairs. They’re decorated with the wolf theme and have bunk beds for the kids. Some have a separate room for the adults.
Rooms are pretty standard, but the beds are surprisingly comfortable (or maybe that’s just how they feel after eight hours in the wave pool). Request a room with a balcony facing the mountain range. The views are simply stunning and a peaceful escape from the exciting main level.
Is the Great Wolf Lodge Worth the Money?
Great Wolf is a great alternative for Colorado locals who want to take a family vacation but don’t want to drop a couple grand at Disney World. (Great Wolf even has animal characters that walk around and greet the kids.) But during peak days, it can get pretty pricey per night.
A big question among parents is whether it’s worth the price.
Great Wolf rooms come with waterpark passes and access to free events throughout the day.
A day at Water World in Denver can easily cost a family a couple hundred dollars for tickets alone and you don’t get lodging with that, so while Great Wolf isn’t a budget vacation, it’s still comparable.
The food is where Great Wolf adds up, especially if you’re a family of four eating at the buffet three times a day. Rooms do come with a mini fridge and microwave, so one way to save money would be to pack the hotel room with fixings for breakfast and lunch and go to a restaurant only once a day.
Also, if you’re on a budget, plan a visit on slower days or when the lodge offers special discounts, and avoid the add-on activities. There's another large arcade, bowling alley and movie theater within walking distance of the lodge, too, to change up the pace. You can find cheap food deals at the arcade, or just make a short drive to town, where you can find grocery stores and a wide variety of inexpensive restaurants and chains.