Great Wolf Lodge: A Family Weekend Getaway

Writer Lisa Link recaps her family's recent weekend getaway at Illinois' newest water park

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It's summer in my household, and that means we need something to do. The hurried pace of the school year is behind us. Yearbooks have been signed and backpacks are cleaned out. Hectic days are finally taking a backseat to the sweet summer doldrums. You can only relax so much, though, so in late June we headed out for a family trip to Illinois’ brand-new Great Wolf Lodge

Conveniently located in suburban Gurnee, making it an ideal family weekend getaway near Chicago, Great Wolf Lodge is the latest addition to an already leisure-packed triumvirate of fun that includes Six Flags Great America & Hurricane Harbor and Gurnee Mills mall. The wholly renovated and expanded Great Wolf Lodge stands in the footprint of the former KeyLime Cove resort. But the experience is entirely new.

Movin’ on up... North

With a handful of visits to KeyLime Cove under our belts, my family and I were quite familiar with the resort.  But when Great Wolf says “completely renovated and expanded,” they mean it.  Upon entering the airy yet cozy Northwoods-decorated Grand Lobby, we didn’t see any signs of the pineapples and toucans that decorated its predecessor. Just beyond the sleek check-in desk (where your pack can pick-up wolf ears), visitors can “paws” to explore the Lodge and its midway, which features an impressive fireplace along with charming gift shops.

Wiley's Water Park

Dash to splash!

An 80,000-foot woodland wonderland awaits visitors at Wiley’s Water Park.  If you look really closely, you could make a few connections to the previous park, but not many.  My family can't get enough of the water, and at Great Wolf Lodge we met our aqueous match.

Fort Mackenzie is the park’s crown jewel, beckoning the little ones (and some not-so-little ones) to climb this tree fort of water-filled fun.  Decked out with slides, sprays and a labyrinth of twists and turns, it only gets better—and wetter—every four minutes when a giant bucket splashes 1,000 gallons of water on the people below.  The Cub Paw Pool is an adorable option for little ones, with appropriately sized slides and water features.

Ride the tide in the Slap Tail Pond wave pool.  The massive zero-depth pool provides roaring waves every five minutes.  While awaiting the whitecaps, my family played (and posed!) in the glass-like waters.

The new raft rides, River Canyon Run and Double Whirlwind, were the biggest hits with my wolfpack.  The milder of the two thrill rides, River Canyon Run, offered plenty of twists, turns and dips.  Double Whirlwind — with its two vortexes — made for a wilder and wetter ride. 

Other attractions to whet your appetite for fun: Travel over to Chinook Cove to take a shot at water basketball.  Take a break from the bubbles of the faster-paced attractions and head to Crooked Creek lazy river to glide on a gentle current.  Coyote Canyon takes you on a plunge with a 40-foot drop down an exciting water vortex.

Dining at Great Wolf Lodge

Feeling a little peckish?

There are countless family-friendly dining options throughout the resort. From the convenient Dunkin’ Donuts and quick-grab Ben and Jerry’s to the locally-sourced (and gorgeous) Barnwood and more, there's no need to step off premises to nosh.  Buckets serves up delicious burgers and treats for the hungriest member of your pack poolside, so no need to even don a coverup to grab some grub.  Pizza and pasta-lovers can head to Hungry as a Wolf.

In the mood for Mexican?  Mosey to Timbers Tacos for the best of Tex-Mex fare.  Bonus:  This clever counter looks as if it’s serving out of the side of a bus!

And for our friends with food sensitivities, Great Wolf Lodge does not use or serve peanut or tree nut products.  Kudos for keeping kids safe and bellies full!

Games at Great Wolf Lodge

MagiQuest, Mining, and More

There is a lot to do at Great Wolf Lodge.  And I mean a lot.  In addition to the waterpark, there’s plenty of complimentary fun such as character interactions, crafts, games, and dance parties.  In the Adventure Park, attractions include rock climbing, glow golf, and our favorites — bowling and an awesome ropes course — will round-out your already action-packed stay.

Not to be missed: MagiQuest, a live-action fantasy game that takes participants on an enchanted journey of discovery around the resort, is a must for little wizards looking to grab a wand and go! 

Where to Stay at Great Wolf Lodge

Out like a (Northern) light

It’s not a stretch to imagine that you are on an upscale expedition at Great Wolf Lodge.  More than 400 standard, themed, and premium suites are designed to accommodate parties of all sizes, interests and budgets.

Our den was well-appointed and generous, providing plenty of room for all the baggage accompanying our family, and we enjoyed the delightful on-theme touches like rustic light fixtures and paw-print soaps. The highlight was a kids’ nook decked out with bunkbeds and a television of their own.

A Howling Good Time

At the end of our stay we left exhausted, waterlogged and happy.  And before a seatbelt was buckled, my husband and I heard the declarations of a memorable vacation: “When are we going back?”

Great Wolf Lodge is a big-time travel party pleaser.  They know kids, families and fun, and elevated the water park experience far beyond what we could have hoped.  And at every turn, pack members reinforced a commitment to high quality service that has become synonymous with Great Wolf Lodge. 

My favorite feature was Brinley, our virtual personal assistant at Great Wolf Lodge.  He swiftly answered our questions — and even handled checkout — all via text.  His cheery disposition and can-do attitude was delightful, leaving us with no need to call the front desk. 

I’ll be the first to raise a paw in support of another family adventure to the Northwoods in Gurnee!

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