Sunday, August 16, 2015

Great Wolf Lodge - Traverse City

Our family took a summer road trip to Traverse City, which is about a four hour drive from Detroit located in the northwest corner of Michigan's lower peninsula (or the top of the pinky finger of the mitten if you use your hand to describe a location in the state like us Michiganders are known to do), to enjoy a few days at the Great Wolf Lodge.  While this resort has a rustic wilderness theme to it we found its amenities and staff service to be first class providing for a comfortable and enjoyable stay.

We reserved a standard room and found it to be very spacious for our family of four and conveniently equipped with a fridge, microwave, coffee maker, pull-out sleeper couch, two queen size beds and a dinner table suitable for our whole family to sit at.  The best part of the room though had to be the mattresses ... they were so comfy!  Seriously, these beds were more comfortable than many I've slept at while staying at some really highly-rated "luxury" hotels. I wasn't expecting this at a family-focused resort and it was a really pleasant surprise.  Throughout our stay I consistently had a great night's sleep thanks to those beds being so comfortable.  My wife and kids even remarked to me about how comfortable the beds were so I know it wasn't just me being tuckered out from all our vacation's activities.

The big highlight of a stay at Great Wolf Lodge is it's indoor water park.  It is filled with a variety of water slides, splash pads, and pools that can provide countless hours of family fun with a variety of features that cater to children of various ages.  The central feature is Fort Mackenzie which a huge interactive tree house located on a splash pad.  Since there is no standing water, there are no age or height restrictions so anyone from a toddler to grandpa can play here.  Fort Mackenzie is full of suspension bridges, swinging cargo net ladders, spray cannons, and water features.  Some of the water features are great for getting yourself wet while others are meant for targeting other people who may be in your proximity.  The biggest, and probably the most popular, part of Fort Mackenzie is a huge bucket located at the top of the tree house that pours down a 1,000 gallons of water every 5 minutes.  Make sure you have your swim suit tied up tight because one unlucky guy standing next to me during one of the downpours had his pulled down to his knees by the water and that was something no one wanted to see.  Ooops...thank goodness that wasn't me!

At the back end of the tree house there are two water slides called the Totem Towers that can be slid down to get back to the ground level.  It is really fun to pair up with someone and race to the bottom.  I had a few races against my son and daughter which I always won ... I think weight played a factor there but hey a win is a win.  A nice thing about these water slides is that you end up in a zero depth chute rather than a pool.  So if you have a child who can't swim they can still have tons of fun playing at the interactive tree house and riding the water slides without the worry of them drowning.  Plus there are a few lifeguards stationed at this attraction too just to be on the safe side.

In addition to the Totem Towers water slides there are also two other ones at the rear of the park.  There is the Alberta Falls which is a four story fast-paced water slide full of twists and turns which you can ride down on a single tube by yourself or on a double tube with a friend or family member.  You have to be 48" tall to ride this by yourself and my kids are 46" so I had to ride down it with them all the time.  It was a really fun ride but after constantly lugging the inner tubes and climbing four stories of stairs for each ride my legs were pretty sore on the car ride home.  I wasn't going to take my iPhone on this ride but here's a video from the resort's website highlight a trip down Alberta Falls:

The other big water slide is the River Canyon Run where you can have up to 3 people jump aboard one huge raft to that hurls its way down a four story curvy chute.  Again the minimum height for this ride is 48" so my wife and I had to ride this with our kids.  Since they were just a smidgen too short the next time we take a vacation to Great Wolf Lodge they should be all set to go on these by themselves. Note too that children shorter than 42" can't ride either the Alberta Falls or River Canyon Run even with an adult accompanying them.

Great Wolf Lodge's lazy river is called the  Crooked Creek and is a 132,000 gallon stream that you can ride a tube around in as it is pushed along a course by a gentle current.  It is about 3 feet deep and they let kids who are too short or may not be comfortable in the water to wear life vests.  My kids really enjoyed the Crooked Creek and spent a lot of time in it, but they didn't want to use the tubes they just wanted to run and swim along with the current.  In fact a lot of the kids there were like that and that must be fine because the life guards didn't seem to be bothered.  I was somewhat disappointed with the Crooked Creek as while it was fine for younger kids, it was very short and seemed squeezed between Fort Mackenzie and the rear water slides so it wasn't very nice for just grabbing a tube and trying to relax on.

There is also an area called Cubs Paw Pool that is meant for children 48" and shorter that features a toddler-friendly pool with zero depth entry and maximum depth of one and a half feet at its deepest level filled with a bunch of spray devices and interactive water toys plus a couple of water slides just for little ones that provide a super safe experience for preschoolers and parents to enjoy together.  If your kids are at an age where they can swim there are a couple of deeper level pools they'll have fun in.  The Big Foot Pass has lily pads that kids must jump across to get from one side to the other.   Note the water is more than four feet deep here and my kids couldn't touch the bottom but they also can swim and had parental supervision.  This was the one area of the water park as a parent I was a little nervous about with my kids because of the depth of the pool versus my kids height and the hectic atmosphere that had numerous kids jumping all about. There is also another pool next to this one filled with basketball hoops and we spent quite a bit of time playing catch and shooting baskets there. Plus there is an outdoor pool with a big splash pad next to it if you want to get some fresh air and sunlight during a visit to this resort during the summer months.

It really does come down to it that this water park is for family's with young children.  My kids loved it and they were still a little too small to fully enjoy it.  If you have children between preschool and middle school age A Geek Daddy gives Great Wolf Lodge a nod of approval for being an incredibly nice family friendly resort that will keep the kids and parents who want to play with them entertained.  On the other hand, it is my impression that teens would get quickly bored and you absolutely wouldn't want to go there for a romantic getaway with your special someone.  The ideal age range for this resort is probably 3 to 10 years old from our experiences and observations.  So Great Wolf Lodge is a great choice for a family vacation when you have young children living in your home and we'll absolutely be going back again with our kids sometime in the future.

In addition to the water park there are a variety of activities you can do at the resort that don't involve getting wet.  The most popular is called MagiQuest.  This is a game where you are provided riddles to answer that with the aid of a magic wand can reward you with runes and gold coins to complete quests.  There are props, animated features, and computerized screens that are activated by waving your wand at them to trigger special effects or to confirm you've found the right location in the riddle you are trying to solve.

Once you've found all the locations hidden in the clues of your quest's riddle there is a stage where you get to interact with a character like a fairy or princess on a large video screen.  Once you've reached the last stage of the last quest there is an intricate video game confrontation you battle out with an impressive dragon simulation that really thrilled the people who got that far ... we didn't make it there ourselves though only reaching some of the middle quests that involved interacting with the princess character to get runes and rewards to help us keep moving forward in the game.

The is a large store at the resort filled with MagiQuest wands, accessories, clothing and gear.  A basic wand and game play package is $30 but with add ons, accessories and multiple children a parent could quickly find themselves spending more than a hundred dollars equipping a family for this experience.  I'd recommend just buying one of the basic wands for $15 and the game access for $15.  A family can have just as much fun playing together with one wand as if you purchased one for everyone.  To be honest it isn't like the game's props and features are that amazing that your kids will be disappointed if they don't have their own wand to trigger the MagiQuest special effects.  The fun in the game is more in enjoying family time together wandering around the resort solving the puzzles to gain runes and gold coins to move forward with new quests. Don't throw away your wand after your trip is over because the next time you visit you can use it again - you just need to pay the $15 fee to activate a new game during your stay.

Additionally, Great Wolf Lodge has some other fun options to entertain kids during their stay.  There is the Howl in One Mini Golf course which has 18 challenging holes filled with tricky shots, giant animals and golf ball eating fish.  The Ten Paw Alley is a hoot with its half-length lanes, built-in bumpers and five-pound balls that lets you bowl without having to change your shoes.  There's a huge arcade that is like Vegas for Kids emitting bright neon lights and exciting sounds filled with games of skill and chance where kids can earn tickets to win prizes.  I wasn't that impressed with the arcade because it wasn't really filled with many games or video simulators but rather was all focused on kids spending money to earn tickets to win trinkets.  There also was a Kids Spa with an ice cream theme where mommies and daughters can spend some girl time together getting Mommy & Me manicures and pedicures.  We spent all our time enjoying the water park, outdoor pool and MagiQuest during our stay and didn't get a chance to try out the mini golf, bowling alley, arcade or the kids spa ourselves.

We did make sure though to take in the Great Clock Tower show which is a performance by animatronic animals and trees that take takes place during the evening in the Grand Lobby.  These "northwoods" themed shows filled with stories and songs featuring Great Wolf Lodge's cast of animal mascots were a great treat during a Michigan "Up North" vacation.

Don't miss the nightly bed time story in the Grand Lobby either where one of the resort's Ambassadors of Fun and either Wiley or Violet the Wolf Kids read the story of how the wood's wild animals came together to create the Great Wolf Lodge.  This is really a nice ending for a fun-filled day.

We really had an enjoyable time and left with plenty of memorable moments to share with friends and family on our return home.  If you are looking for a great spot to go for a family vacation that won't bust your household budget definitely keep Great Wolf Lodge in mind.  If Traverse City might not be a convenient road trip for your family there are 12 other locations spread across the USA and Canada including in Ontario near the scenic Niagara Falls, in Virginia near Colonial Williamsburg, and in Sandusky Ohio near the amazing Cedar Point Amusement Park so you can easily incorporate a Great Wolf Lodge stay within a larger stay to various touristy destinations. For more information, visit

** Our Great Wolf Lodge visit was paid for entirely at our own expense without any special perks or benefits from the resort. Opinions expressed are my own **


  1. Sounds like a nice hotel and water park. I've never been to a Great Wolf Lodge but I've been to Castaway Bay in Sandusky, which is similar.

  2. Sounds wonderful!!! I usually don't visit those type of places because I don't have children, but I know people with children love it!!! Glad you had such a great time.

  3. What a very awesome place to visit and stay. Perfect for the whole family. Your kids do really enjoyed it! It shows at their face!

  4. Looks like a blast. We have been to the Sandusky location a few times. I love seeing the kids smiles.