Catch a wave in the WinterJust after Christmas our family took a trip up IH-35 to Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas (near Dallas and the DFW Airport). We considered several different locations when planning our Winter trip. Great Wolf Lodge appealed to us primarily because we didn’t have to fly to get there and it’s completely family-friendly, which is important to us when traveling with young (read: crazy, wild, full-of energy, only-tiny-reserves-of-patience) kids. Also? Swimming, tubing, and sliding in the winter without having to trek to the Caribbean or Mexico to do it? Perfection.

Here are the five coolest things about visiting this indoor water park in the winter:

1. No sunscreen!
I LOVE the beach. I’m a Parrothead for more than one reason: the sun; the sand; the colorful drinks with cutesy umbrellas; great photo opps with the kids as they splash in the surf; the great beach memories we make. But there is one thing the beach requires that makes me kind of crazy: sunscreen. It’s a necessary evil. But I hate holding down squirming kids to get it on them. I hate that it needs to be reapplied to sweaty, sandy, squirming kids. I hate that each year I have to figure out which sunscreen offers the best protection but also the least harm from chemical exposure. I hate that when we leave the beach for the day we are all sticky and icky and hot. BUT, not at Great Wolf Lodge. An indoor water park means no sunscreen. EVER. Hurrah!

Skip the sunscreen but don’t forget swim shoes, goggles, coverups, and an extra swimsuit for each family member so you can don a dry one each time you hit the park (which you will do several times a day, if your kids have anything to say about it). Great Wolf Lodge does have a swim shop at the entrance to the water park for anything you may have forgotten. We forgot kids’ goggles and bought some there but prices are high ($18 each for kids’ goggles) so save money and remember your swim gear.

wave pool2. Water adventure for all ages
As I mentioned, Great Wolf Lodge was designed with families in mind. From toddlers to teens, from parents to grandparents, there’s a water activity for everyone. They’ve got a toddler splash area (Cub Paw Pool) that includes small, supervised slides and plenty of fun water sprays. The wave pool (Slap Tail Pond) is zero entry and fun for all ages, with made-for-two floats built for catching a wave. The medium-sized slides (at Fort Mackenzie) are for bigger, braver (elementary-aged) kids. And tall, more advanced slides are great for adventurous older kids (and insane adults). In addition to these areas, there are lots more water rides and activities listed on the Great Wolf Lodge Grapevine website. Our kids are four and six and we spent most of our time at the wave pool (although our four-year-old loved the toddler splash area and our six-year-old enjoyed the slides at Fort Mackenzie).

Don’t bring any big pool toys like rafts. They’re provided and are, like the lifejackets, free of charge. Lifeguards are stationed at all of the water rides and activities. And, one more thing: the level of chlorine is high at the indoor water park (as it should be with so many people swimming indoors). We realized we weren’t able to stay in the water park for longer than two hours at a time before the chlorine in the air started to bother our eyes. We took breaks in between swimming sessions and enjoyed the other activities the resort offers (see #5).

water slides3. “Keyless and cashless”
When you check in at Great Wolf Lodge, each family member receives a waterproof wristband that must be worn during your stay. It’s tough to get used to at first, and your kids will complain (greatly, if your kids are remotely like mine), but it gives you entry into all areas of the resort, including the water park (where only resort guests are permitted). The adults’ wristbands are also RFIDs (Radio Frequency Identification Device) which means the key to your room and access to your credit card are always available and at your fingertips (or, wrist, as the case may be). This makes it easy (almost too easy) to buy anything, at any time in the resort. The upside is the ease of keeping up with your key and “cash” when spending most of your time in a bathing suit.

Plan ahead and set limits with your kids on what you’ll spend money on before you roam the resort. There are opportunities to spend money at every turn including a sweets shop, a Pizza Hut, a Crocs shop, an arcade, a gift shop, snack bars, a Build-a-Wolf station (like Build-a-Bear), a kids’ spa called Scoops, restaurants, bars, a Starbucks, and more. And almost every single thing can be purchased with the flick of your wrist. Prevent whining and meltdowns by setting limits up front.

bunk beds4. Themed suites
We stayed in one of Great Wolf Lodge’s themed suites, which provided our little ones with their own area of the room. We opted for the KidKamp suite which separated the kids’ bunk bed (which was a huge hit since we don’t have one at home) and TV area from ours. The themed rooms are cute and they lend a bit of fantasy to what would be an otherwise typical hotel room stay. It was also nice for the kids to have their own place to relax and rest between swimming sessions.

Don’t let the separate sleeping areas fool you. The KidKamp suite is one large room that is divided but still has an open ceiling between the kids’  area and yours. You may not be able to see your kids but you can hear them (and their TV) and your kids can hear you. Our kids loved having their own “room” and the bunk beds they slept in are still a very hot topic of conversation a month later. But if you’re looking for complete parental privacy, it’s not available with the KidsKamp suite. Check out the full list of Great Wolf Lodge suites and room layouts to be sure you get one that suits your needs.

5. Activities, day and night
Great Wolf Lodge has a huge, amazing indoor water park. But they’ve got lots of other activities too. Some are complimentary with your stay while others have an additional cost. Check out the daily Wolf Walk each morning around the resort led by Wiley the Wolf; Storytime in the lobby every night (wear your PJs!); the Great Clock Tower Show with singing animals; MagiQuest, a game your kids can play with stations all around the resort; Scooops spa for manicures, pedicures, and ice cream sundaes; the Cub Club (for arts and crafts); and gr8_space, a gaming area for teenagers.

After I contacted the resort to let them know about our upcoming visit, we were offered two complimentary MagiQuest wands and games for our kids to play (an approximately $62 value – $31 for each child). Here’s a full description of MagiQuest.  At six- and four-years-old, our kids were a little young to truly appreciate the complete MagiQuest competition. But the older kids we saw at the resort (generally ages 10 and up) seemed to love it (there were always kids running around the resort waving their MagiQuest wands, playing the game to earn points). While younger kids may not understand the rules of the game, our kids did have fun waving their wands and watching paintings come to life and treasure chests open. But because they didn’t thoroughly understand the game I was glad we hadn’t paid $60 for them to try it.

Last but not least: Bonus Tips!
Don’t forget to leave the resort occasionally to visit Grapevine, Texas. We enjoyed a few hours at the Grapevine Sea Life Aquarium located in the Grapevine Mills Mall. Check with the resort concierge for discounted aquarium tickets before going. Great Wolf Lodge also offers discounted tickets to the Legoland Discovery Center which is across the mall from the aquarium. And Grapevine’s charming Main Street, which reminded me a lot of Main Street in Boerne, Texas), is fun for a stroll as its lined with cute shops and restaurants.

If you get the chance, venture out to experience the local restaurants and explore the town of Grapevine. We had a scrumptious dinner of crab legs and shrimp at Big Fish Seafood & Grill and a lovely breakfast of French pastries, eggs, and fruit at Main Street Bread Baking Company.

Overall, we had a wonderful family vacation at Great Wolf Lodge. If you’re looking for Winter water fun, check it out and visit our complete set of Flickr photos from our stay at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas.

Disclosure: Great Wolf Lodge provided my family with complimentary MagiQuest games for my children. We paid for our entire stay. I was not asked to photograph or share about our experience. All opinions are my own.