“You can do it honey,” I reassure my husband, Jason.
“I don’t think I can,” he says, staring at the fluorescent wristband he’s just been asked to affix to his person in honour of our virgin voyage to Great Wolf Lodge.
“Everybody does it eventually honey. It’s like Disneyland. It’s not an option.”
There was a time in my life when the thought of locking myself up at a massive waterpark complex complete with animatronic animals, people eating hot dogs by the pool and something terrifying called “a family dance party” would have sent me running for the nearest cabana boy in South Beach. But now, with a seemingly never-ending winter, and a two-year-old who needs to be entertained all weekend long (why, oh why, isn’t daycare open on Sundays?!), I find myself gazing longingly at the Great Wolf posters in the subway and thinking: “Calgon, take me away.” Which is how we end up — like everyone eventually does — at Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Great Wolf, it’s a family-fixated waterpark resort with a woodsy, faux-wolfy theme with locations across Canada and the United States. The door even howls when you enter (as you remember your chic, non-howly honeymoon). But your kids, well, they’re in heaven from the get-go.
“Bear!” screams my two-year-old, Ben, gleefully, running immediately to the large animatronic bear in the lobby and trying to hug it. We only manage to peel him off with promises of swimming and ice cream, both of which can be found in abundance. (We end up having to barricade the door to our room with chairs so Ben doesn’t go visit his friend Bear in the middle of the night. Lesson learned: When there’s a talking bear involved, a two-year-old will figure out how to unlock a door for the first time.)
Of course a good friend of mine also happens to be at Great Wolf this weekend. It’s just like when we used to bump into each other at the same late-night parties! But this time we’re bringing puddle jumpers and our “Silhouette Solutions” bathing suits. I also run into a colleague, a university acquaintance and a neighbour within the first 10 minutes.
“Bear, moose, bear, moose,” Ben lists off the animals on our bathroom wallpaper. Even this is thrilling to him. But nothing really compares to the massive, indoor waterpark where families marinate away their days. (Mantra: please don’t pee in the pool, please don’t pee in the pool.) While the super-crazy slides are off-limits to kids’ Ben’s age (not that he doesn’t valiantly try many, many times to convince the lifeguards otherwise), we eventually have to drag him away, lips blue, from the splash pad, wave pool and “lazy river” family boat ride that he happily rotates between. There is also one family slide that we went down on a raft, and Mommy screamed. But IT WAS JUST FOR EFFECT.
Later, Jason corrupts Ben with many visits to the arcade, Ben tries to steal the largest stuffed animals possible from the gift shop and makes some groundbreaking outsider art at the “Cub Club.” Every night all the little animals — I mean, blessed children — gather in their pyjamas in the lobby for story time. But the real highlight, according to my bad-ass kid, was the Family Dance Party. How do you say: “Ben went ape shit” in wolf? Because I have never seen a two-year-old clear a dance floor with his killer moves like this. Ladies from Detroit were backing up to make sure John Travolta could fully express himself. Best night of his life.
As we drive away from our maiden visit, Jason makes a sheepish confession.
“I’d go back.”
Leah’s tips for surviving Great Wolf Lodge
- Bring a bottle opener or you will be treated to the sight of your husband opening the fancy craft beers he brought by repeatedly smashing them against the edge of a table in your room.
- Bring a corkscrew for the wine you brought (see: repeatedly smashing, above).
- Bring food. You can easily save money by bagel-ing it up in your room for breakfast and bringing your own snacks. Don’t forget some cutlery however.
- Stake out your spot at the waterpark first thing in the morning and don’t give it up, like, ever. It’s a wolf-eat-wolf world out there.
- If you’re close-by, a one-night stay is probably all you need for a fun, mini-getaway. You can start using the facilities at 1 p.m. the day you’re checking in (even if your room isn’t ready until 4) and can continue using them until 9 p.m. the next night.
- After the kid has finally gone to sleep, don’t try and talk your husband into some “special Mommy and Daddy time.” Because he will barely be able to lift his chlorine-logged head from the couch, and will just meekly say: “Daddy’s too tired. Maybe tomorrow?”