Whenever I reminisce about my past winter vacations, the Great Wolf Lodge Water Park in the Pocono Mountains is one of my first and favorite memories. I visited the resort twice during my lower school years and have fond memories of riding the waterslides with my family, eating takeout food from The Kosher Experience (which was delivered all the way from Teaneck), and meeting up with other friends who were also staying at the resort with their families. Recently, I saw a bargain Groupon deal for a stay at the Great Wolf Lodge, so my wife Ahuva and I decided to spend two days and one night at the hotel with two of our friends, Miriam and Aytan, with each couple in a spacious, comfortable room.
As we drove up to the Great Wolf Lodge Hotel, I was immediately struck by the breathtaking mountains and the hotel itself, an edifice resembling a structure built with Lincoln Logs. The snow-covered roofs and the white blanket of snow on the ground added to the beauty of the scene. On the side of the hotel, I noticed several waterslides that wound around the building like snakes. These slides begin indoors, briefly wrap around the outside, and finally return inside. Each room has a private wooden balcony with chairs and a small table, with stones at the base of the hotel adding to its rustic atmosphere.
After parking our car, the four of us trudged through the snow to get to the grand entrance. At the entrance, packs of wolves are carved onto each of the wooden posts. Inside, the lobby is decorated in a Western cabin style, with a giant stone fireplace, green carpeting with tree images woven into it, and antler decorations hanging from the ceiling. It is a warm and welcoming space.
Upon arrival, we checked in at the reception desk and were given wristbands that were connected to our credit cards. The receptionist told us that we could make purchases by tapping the bands on a scanner, thereby allowing us to leave our wallets in our rooms while still having the liberty of purchasing food and drinks. After checking in, we were also given free Great Wolf Lodge headbands with fuzzy wolf ears on top, which I was excited to wear throughout our stay. To get to our floor, we took a glass elevator that provided a great view of the entire hotel lobby.
Great Wolf Lodge has a policy that allows guests to access the water park at 1 p.m. on their arrival day, a few hours before check-in time. Fortunately, our friends’ room was ready when we got there, so we were all able to bring our luggage to their room. After arriving at our room and dropping off our belongings, we changed into our swimsuits and took the elevator down to the bottom level, where the entrance to the water park is located. We scanned our wristbands to enter and were immediately hit by a warm blast of air from the water park’s 84-degree heating system. In front of us was a huge water play area with water guns, slides, mini buckets that can be used to fill with water and dump on unsuspecting passersby, and a giant bucket with the hotel’s name. This area is called Fort Mackenzie, named after a former U.S. Army post in Sheridan, Wyoming. The screams and laughter we heard from hundreds of people in the water park indicated that we were in for a fun time.
The Great Wolf Lodge Water Park offers over half a dozen large waterslides, as well as several smaller ones. Here are my rankings of the slides, going from least to most favorite:
#6: Totem Towers—Located at the top of Fort Mackenzie splash water park, these two body slides are designed for one person at a time. They have a few large curves as you twist down to the bottom and are great for racing your friends. The slides go pretty slowly and are better for younger riders. Guests under 42 inches must be supervised by an adult.
#5: River Canyon Run—This is a family tube ride that fits up to five people and is fairly calm with some dips and gentle curves. While it was fun because all four of us could ride together, it was a bit too mild for my taste. This slide is best for families with younger children or those seeking a less-intense ride. You must be at least 42 inches tall to ride this slide.
#4: Alberta Falls—These three separate slides go outside and twist back into the resort before a final plunge. The slides are four stories high and can fit up to two people per ride. Two of the slides are completely enclosed and in the dark, while one is half open. I prefer the enclosed ones since I find it more thrilling not knowing which way I will turn next. These slides go fast and are exhilarating. You must be at least 42 inches tall to ride these slides.
# 3: Hydro Plunge—As a kid, this was my favorite ride by far. It’s a water coaster with steep drops, including a 52-foot vertical plunge, and it’s the fastest slide in the water park. While it is still amazing, I was a little disappointed because there were a lot of conveyor belts that slowed me down just as I was starting to enjoy the speed, detracting from the overall experience. The slide holds up to three passengers, which is a plus. I ended up riding it three times during my trip. You must be at least 48 inches tall to ride this water coaster.
# 2: Coyote Cannon—What can I say? I am a sucker for toilet bowl slides! This slide may hold up to two people, but it is actually more fun to ride alone since you pick up more speed. It starts with an enclosed 40-foot drop and then takes you into a water-jet-fueled vortex. My goal each time was to spin around the vortex as many times as possible to extend the ride. Once you fall into the vortex, you get one more drop that takes you to the exit. I loved this slide, and the line was never too long, making it my favorite “bang for my buck” slide. You must be at least 42 inches tall to ride these slides.
# 1: Double Barrel Drop—This was the only slide that scared me a little. The Double Barrel Drop tube has four seats and looks like a plus sign with each seat located across from one another. This slide’s shape reminded me of a tornado, with the barrels having a wide top and getting narrower further down. After the first drop, we reached the first barrel where we went up one side of the slide, flew down as jets pushed us up the other side like a seesaw, and repeated these motions a few times until we were out of the barrel. We continued down the slide, spinning all around in the dark until there was another big drop, and we ended up in another barrel section. This was easily the most thrilling slide for me, and with the added bonus of seating up to four people, it’s a no-brainer as my top choice. You must be at least 48 inches tall to ride this water coaster.
There are also a few kids’ slides on the left side of the waterpark, called The Whooping Hollow. Unfortunately, we were too tall to ride some of these slides and could only ride one of them. This area is great for bringing toddlers who want to go down some fun, small slides. These slides are intended for guests who are less than 52 inches tall.
Besides the water slides, the waterpark offers several other attractions and amenities. There is an obstacle course with two lanes of floating lily pads spaced several feet apart. Aytan and I raced on these by hopping over the lily pads to get to the other side as fast as we could, using an overhead net for support. There is also a lazy river called Crooked Creek which took us on a relaxing voyage around some of the slides. For adults, there is a private hot tub area with several tubs in which to relax. I bought a piña colada at the bar and sipped it slowly, savoring the refreshing flavors, while in the jacuzzi. One of our favorite parts was the Slap Tail Pond wave pool. It is a zero-entry pool and goes up to 5 feet deep. As a child, I remember the wave pool seeming enormous and the waves feeling huge. Now, the pool felt much smaller and the waves weren’t as big, but it was still a lot of fun especially when we let the waves crash into us and swam around in the water.
During our two days there, the lines for the rides were relatively short, and we didn’t have to wait for more than 15 minutes for any ride. Most of the time, we were able to ride right away or within a few minutes. We rode each slide at least twice and tried out all of the different attractions in the waterpark. As our last activity, we all stood under the giant bucket in Fort Mackenzie and got drenched by its sheer power as it dumped nearly 500 gallons of water on us all at once.
On top of the waterpark, the Great Wolf Lodge offers many fun, dry activities for the family. For those seeking some competition, there is an 18-hole glow-in-the-dark mini golf course, an arcade with prizes, and a mini bowling alley. There is also Oliver’s Mining Co., which guides you on a mining excursion and uses a sifting contraption to find and collect cool gems. Next to Oliver’s is a mine-themed mirror maze from which you can try to escape. To its credit, the hotel offers different package deals that allow families to do multiple activities at an affordable price.
One of the highlights of the lodge is the interactive game called MagiQuest. On the bottom level, near the entrance to the waterpark, is a magical gift shop where you can purchase wands, cloaks, and other medieval gear to prepare for your adventure. The wands have scanners inside them which can be used throughout the lodge to make objects move, pop out, and play music. They also allow you to participate in various games and challenges. Since the missions are assigned on each floor, you get the chance to explore the entire lodge and interact with fellow wizards. At night, when the waterpark is closed, people of all ages can be seen running around in pajamas, playing the MagiQuest game. I didn’t personally play MagiQuest, since we were there for only one night, but I enjoyed watching other players fulfilling quests, such as opening treasure chests or battling dragons.
Whether you are bringing a large or small family, there are many different types of rooms available at the Great Wolf Lodge. When I was a child, my family always purchased the Wolf Den Suite, which has separate rooms for parents and kids. The kids’ section has wallpaper that is covered with wood and critters to make it look like a cabin in the woods, and it even has a bunk bed that my brother and I used to share. This time, Ahuva and I stayed in the Family Fireplace Suite, which had two queen-sized beds, a sleeper sofa, and a gas fireplace. The fireplace was great for warming up after a long day at the waterpark and was easy to use - we just had to turn the dial.
What I appreciated the most about the Great Wolf Lodge was the attention to detail that coordinated with the rustic and wolf-theming. In our room, there were paw-shaped soaps, lamps decorated with woodland animals, and a story written out in tiny letters. The carpeting in the hallways even had paws on it. Our room had wooden cabinets, chairs, and a balcony, as well as a fireplace, all adding to its rustic ambiance.
For food during our stay, we brought snacks, peanut butter sandwiches, cereals, and milk which we stored in the room’s fridge, and we boiled hot water for Tradition Instant Noodle Soups that we brought. Over Yeshiva Winter Break, Dougies offers Kosher food delivery for delicious meat meals. At the hotel, we enjoyed ice cream at the Wood’s Ends Creamery parlor, which is certified under OKD. There was also a Dippin’ Dots stand in the waterpark. In the food market on the bottom level, we found a variety of basic items such as cereal, snacks, and drinks.
Here are some tips if you are planning to visit the Great Wolf Lodge:
1) If you enjoy winter activities, consider checking out the options for skiing and snow tubing in the Poconos region.
2) If you have difficulty putting on the wristbands provided at the resort, don’t hesitate to ask an employee for assistance. (We put ours on incorrectly at first and had to get new ones.)
3) Be alert standing near Fort Mackenzie - watch out for kids dumping buckets of water!
4) It is a good idea to bring goggles, especially if you wear contacts. Ahuva regretted not wearing goggles on the first few water slides.
5) To make the most of your visit, try to arrive early and check out late. You can stay at the waterpark until it closes, even after the room’s checkout time.
Overall, we had a wonderful stay at the Great Wolf Lodge. The waterslides were thrilling, the hotel was clean and comfortable, and the staff was friendly. The resort even provided cards for guests to fill out and give shoutouts to particular employees who made their stay better. I also loved that so many guests were wearing PJ’s; it made me feel right at home!
In the cold season, it is nice to take a break and enjoy some warm weather (even if it is artificially created). The Great Wolf Lodge offers a variety of rides and activities, making it a popular choice for Winter Break. I had a great time visiting the resort both as a child and now as an adult, proof that it is suitable for all ages. If you are looking for a quick getaway, I highly recommend checking out the Great Wolf Lodge. I hope to visit again soon!
By Zack Greenberg