We recently took our kids to Great Wolf Lodge Concord in NC to celebrate their birthdays (7 years old and 3 years old.) This was our second visit, and it was even more magical than the first. Want to know why? We knew what to expect! With that in mind, we’ve created 15 tips for staying at Great Wolf Lodge in beautiful North Carolina with hopes that it will make your stay (first or tenth!) a phenomenal one!
Maximize your DOLLAR at Great Wolf Lodge
First visit? Get the Wolf Pass!
I know this sounds strange…In the first item under “how to save money” I am telling you to spend an extra $45-99. In the end, it will save you about $35. Great Wolf Lodge Concord is much more than a water park. There are games, crafts, fun eateries and much more. Your kids are going to beg you for it- and rightly so. It’s a ton of fun!
On our first visit we opted for the Wolf Pass. It included a wand and game of MagiQuest, candy, goggles, a photo, arcade money, time in the bowling alley and on the mini golf course, the ropes course and much much more. Whew! See what I mean? Buying in bulk will save you money in the end.
Decide on Extras
If you just can’t swing the Wolf Pass, then have a discussion with you kids before you go about what you will, and will not allow the them to do, or give them a set amount of money to choose their activity. A quick look at the website will give you an idea of the breadth and depth of what is available. Sue’s son was very excited about MagiQuest, and this is probably the best value, as it will take the kids several hours to complete and it can be done over multiple days.
Don’t go Overboard on MagiQuest
Sue’s son loved the MagiQuest game just as much as the water park. However, the MagiQuest shop is another area for restraint. To play this technology based scavenger hunt game, you’ll need to purchase a wand and a game. From what we can tell, there isn’t a difference technology wise in the wands, but different looking wands are different prices. The games have suggested ages, so make sure the game you choose is age appropriate. Wand toppers give you extra powers, but honestly, if it’s your first time playing, you won’t understand the game well enough to take advantage of the extra powers.
Bring your own food.
You don’t want to miss dining at Great Wolf Lodge; the food is great! We loved the omelet station at The Loose Moose Cottage, and the seared tuna at Lodge Wood Fired Grill is delicious! However, if you need to pinch a penny in order to get here, food is where you can do that. Bring a cooler of treats, and utilize the in-room microwave and mini fridge.
Sign up for website promotions.
If you are even thinking about going to GWL, sign up for deals on their website. You’ll get an email notification of special discounts like 20% off your stay through Sept 4th and 25% off a stay in November and December. Don’t like getting all that mail in your inbox? Visit the Great Wolf Lodge website and click on the Special Offers page for the latest discounts.
Visit During Shoulder Season
You’re likely to find the best deals at the Great Wolf Lodge during shoulder season, which is whenever most kids are in school. Take a look at your kids school calendar. If you have some unique days off, that would be an ideal time to save money on your Great Wolf Lodge vacation. If you homeschool your kids, visit on a weekday that isn’t close to any major holidays.
Save with a standard room.
The first time we visited, we opted to pay extra for the themed KidKamp suite. It was pretty spectacular, with a special “kid area” that includes bunk beds and a TV for the kids. But you know what? We were hardly in the room! And when we were, the kids were tuckered out from all the activity of the day. If you can afford it, then go all out! But if you can’t, a family suite has two double beds, a pull-out sofa and room for a blow-up single bed. A friend of mine said it was a bit tight for her family of six, but they did easily fit two cribs in addition to the two queen beds. So if you are pinching pennies to get your kids to Great Wolf Lodge, then opt for the standard room. It’s large and clean, and with SO MUCH to do throughout the resort, the kids will never miss the bunk beds!
Ask for a room upgrade.
Now that you’ve paid for the standard room ask for an upgrade! Let me be honest: I have not done this. As visiting media, this is a no-no. But I have heard from countless friends that it never hurts to ask, especially if you are visiting in the off-season. They each received an upgrade at no additional cost when inquiring about it upon check-in.
Look at Your Confirmation Email
Normally when I see that hotel confirmation come into my email inbox, I just note it’s presence. For the Great Wolf Lodge, you’ll want to open it up. My confirmation email had coupons for purchases at the Great Wolf Lodge Concord. I thought about printing those out and bringing them, but figured I’d just show my phone. In the end, I forgot about those coupons until it was too late. I should have printed them out.
Maximize your TIME at Great Wolf Lodge
Go early; stay late.
While check-in at Great Wolf Lodge Concord is not until 4 p.m., you can get into the water park as early as 1 p.m. Pack a “pool bag” separate from your suitcase, and get to the hotel right after lunch. (PS. You can eat lunch at the hotel before 1 p.m. or visit one of the myriad nearby restaurants.)
Checkout is at 11 a.m., but you are free to stay at the water park for the remainder of the day (or enjoy a NC Day Trip, instead.) We packed our bags in the van, but held on to a backpack filled with dry clothes. When we were ready to head home, we changed in the locker room and made our way to the van.
If you forget a wet bag from home, grab the plastic dry-clean bag from your room in order to store those wet suits. Just be sure to get it in the morning, as your key will no longer work after your 11 a.m. checkout.
Order a Late Checkout.
If you have a large family or young kiddos, trying to juggle an 11 a.m. checkout and enjoy the water park a little longer can be difficult. $50 buys you three additional hours in your Great Wolf Lodge room. This means you can nap the baby while the big kids play, take a lunch break in the room, or just take your time drying off and packing up for the trip home. It isn’t necessary to purchase a late checkout in order to stay at the park longer, but for some families, it eases the pressure.
Avoid the Pool crowds.
When we visited, the Great Wolf Lodge water park was open from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Due to my boys’ undying passion for the water, we were at the water park at promptly 9:01 a.m. each day, and heavily rewarded with a teeny-tiny crowd. The combination of a 9 a.m. lobby show, late risers and families checking out all lead to more time on the slides for you. In fact, until about 10 a.m., we never stood in line for a water slide!
You’ll find the same combination of factors around dinner time. There are lobby shows, hungry families and lingering late-stayers heading home. This means more water time for the kids. Eat a late lunch, then opt for a heavy snack-break during peak times of about 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. This allows the kiddos to play during dinnertime when it is slow. You can always hit the restaurants late at night. I may have ordered room service at 10:45 p.m. for some famished kids who were happy as pie to get 10-15 extra rounds on the water tubes during our normal dinner hours.
Avoid the MagiQuest Crowds
If your kids are like Sue’s and love MagiQuest, then take that afternoon pool break and roam the halls with your wand when everyone else is waiting in line for the water slides. Evenings (when the pool is quieter) the hallways at the Great Wolf Lodge are jammed with kids running around zapping things with their MagiQuest wands.
MagiQuest is also a great activity if you arrive early on your check-in day. Remember check-in isn’t until 4 pm, but you can swim starting at 1 pm, but you can play MagiQuest as early as you like.
Proper attire: Swimsuit and PJs.
Normally this wouldn’t have stood out to me as a time saver, but it truly is. The week before our GWL visit, we were at a hotel with a pool. When it was time to swim, we had to run upstairs and change into suits. Dinnertime? Change again. After dinner? Change again. And if you have ever done the hotel dance with a kid, you know that you could easily spend an 30-45 minutes in the room changing clothes each time! It’s mentally exhausting, and it is one of those sneaky processes that eats away your day.
Enter Great Wolf Lodge: where dining in your swimsuit and cover-up is perfectly acceptable, and roaming the halls in PJs and “bear” feet is the norm. I know the concept is foreign. “Wait, you want me to pull up to the breakfast buffet in my swimsuit?” Yes! Embrace it (and a cute cover up!) And take advantage of those extra HOURS of time you save by not having to visit the room multiple times a day.
Be flexible, but do incorporate a little planning.
It’s vacation. I know you don’t want to be on a stopwatch, but there is a TON of fun at this resort. When you arrive, talk to your kids about what they want to do. Is it water park and only the water park? MagiQuest? Lobby shows? Ropes Course? Arcade time? Spa time? What do you want to do?
After you have narrowed down your list, take a look at the times. The arcade opens at 8 a.m.! You can play a little Skee ball before the water park, without sacrificing pool time. Many of the lobby shows are during “down times” at the water park; decide which is most important to your family. We skipped the lobby shows for more water time, but we didn’t miss the Dance Party, which easily lasted until quiet time, well after the pool was closed. With a little planning upfront, you can maximize your time at those areas of the park that are important to your family.
Maximize your EXPERIENCE at Great Wolf Lodge
Rent a locker at the water park
Because of the RFID wristbands, there wasn’t a need to bring my wallet. Most of the time I didn’t use a locker…no one was interested in stealing my $5 flip flops. But there were a few occasions in which I brought my camera. If you are a photo-holic like myself, you don’t want to miss capturing a few of those ear-to-ear smiles as the kids play in the water park. Bring the camera, and rent a locker. After you snap some shots, toss it in the locker. Another photo hint? Our best photos were the ones we took outside! Don’t miss snapping shots at the outdoor pool and mini golf.
Bring a white noise machine for the evening
If you have little ones or light sleepers, bring a white noise machine from home. This is a hotel for kids, and there will be loud noises, jumping kiddos and lots of (fun) raucous going on late at night and early in the morning. Many travelers will tell you to secure a room on the top floor if possible. We didn’t find that necessary, but we did appreciate the extra white noise drowning out a few screams of excitement coming from the hallway.
Consider the Great Wolf Lodge Packages (again!)
We discussed the Wolf Pack package under Maximize Your Dollar, but I want to also encourage you to look at the other packages available at Great Wolf Lodge Concord. This resort is much more than a water park…there are a TON of fun things to do and experience. Try the Wiley or Violet Story Time Package, Milk and Cookies or the Mommy and Me Pedicure. In addition to having a great time, you will save money by purchasing the package. There are also discount for family dining and kiddo dining, MagiQuest and more.
Explore the area around Great Wolf Lodge
While you could possibly stay all weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, there is plenty to do in the immediate area, too. Try visiting Charlotte Motor Speedway, only a few minutes down the road. Here are three great ways to explore CMS with kids. Just across the street is a great aquarium for kids, SeaLIFE and a go-kart track. There are spectacular restaurants nearby, including Starbucks (yeah!) and Jim-and-Nick’s BBQ, which won awards for best barbecue chain and best pork sandwich. Venture beyond the Lodge for even more fun!
Bring the Birthday Boy or Girl
Our Great Wolf Lodge visits have all corresponded with birthday celebrations. We talked the boys’ Aunt and Uncle into meeting us there the first time, and this second time we just had a small family celebration. If you want to include more family, this is a great place to do it with a larger family room. You can leverage the Birthday Bash or Birthday Fun packages. We brought our own banners and fun from home, though. (Even if you don’t purchase a birthday package, be sure to tell them it’s your kiddos birthday so that they get the birthday ears upon checkin..see ours in the photo below.) We purchased cupcakes and ice cream from Bear Paw Sweets & Treats and brought them back to the room to blow out candles. With the water park, MagiQuest, lobby shows, GWL attractions and the nearby SeaLIFE aquarium, it is the ultimate kid vacation. It’s become an every-other-year tradition for us that the boys look forward to. Maximize their birthday by bringing them to Great Wolf Lodge Concord.
Feel Better About Food Allergies
Although parents who have children with severe allergies still need to be vigilant, Great Wolf Lodge makes a great effort to be an allergen-friendly zone by taking all peanuts and tree nuts out of their dining facilities, and chef’s are always on hand to talk to guests about their families specific dietary needs.
In addition, the GWL is using more organic ingredients. Each Lodge has organic juices, yogurt, and even organic ketchup. They’re working with vendors to create healthier options to enhance the old favorites, including the traditional kids meals. The kids mac ‘n cheese is now a white cheddar to avoid anything with Yellow #5 and chicken fingers are made with all-natural chicken that is antibiotic/steroid free, and breaded with non-GMO rice flour, making them gluten free.
The fryers at Great Wolf Lodge have been changed from vegetable/soy bean oil to a domestic made rice bran oil which is GMO-free. French fries are made with potatoes, and nothing else. Burgers are fresh, all natural beef containing only one ingredient – beef. Hebrew National hot dogs are served because they contain three ingredients, beef, water and salt rather than other brands that contain up to 18 ingredients.
And the Great Wolf Lodge doesn’t up charge for these choices. The meal prices hover above a typical restaurant, but less than Disney.
Looking for more information about food allergies and dining out with food allergies? Here are some resources from reader Jenni Hilton (Thanks Jenni).
Kids with Food Allergies http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/page/welcome.aspx
Disclosure: Thank you to Cabarrus County and GWL for hosting my family and me. We LOVE LOVE LOVE Great Wolf Lodge, and the opinions here are in no way swayed by their graciousness.
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After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.