Great Wolf Lodge, Poconos, Pennsylvania
Cozy Room at Great Wolf Lodge
Peek-a-Boo at Great Wolf Lodge
Relaxing After a Long Day of Play at Great Wolf Lodge
Waterslide Tunnel Fun at Great Wolf Lodge
Great Wolf Lodge Lobby Decorated for the Holiday Season, Photo Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

This Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark hotel within a quick drive of New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia is a refreshing, weather-proof getaway year round.

Great Wolf Resorts is a Midwestern company known for building indoor waterparks within driving distance of major metropolitain areas. Typically, the locale offers a variety of recreation and shopping options, but not so much as to detract from the resort’s on-site activities and restaurants. This formula was replicated in 2005, with great success, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Within a few hours’ drive of New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston is an easy, weather-proof vacation that’s toddler- to teen-friendly.

The Great Wolf Lodge Poconos is a cookie-cutter version of other Great Wolf resorts — but what a wonderful cookie. Urban families will be delighted with the Canadian North Woods decor: elk antler chandeliers and life-size replicas of timber wolves. On the sloped log roof shading the reception area, near a pile of fishing gear, is a skunk that has slipped its trap. By the front door, a black bear greets arrivals.

While it could never be mistaken for New York Chic, the resort is so sincerely playful that even black-clad toddlers and their au pairs will have fun while world-weary mom and dad relax.

However, Great Wolf Poconos is not about supervised childcare, as most things kids do are with their parents. MagiQuest, a interactive video game in which “magic” wands charged with smart chips are used to activate light fixtures, treasure chests and other resort furniture to gain points, is especially popular. Once the kids check out the dragon lair on the 4th floor, they can see what challenges they’ll face if they plunk down their money for this run-around video game, and mom and dad can see how far they’ll have to walk.

Another signature Great Wolf activity is the Story Time, in which children and adults gather at night to to listen to stories in their pajamas. Storytime takes place at the lobby’s enormous cuckoo clock, and though it doesn’t “cuckoo,” the stately animatronic trees, smiling animals and a young boy do sing together. These themes and stories change seasonally. (Warning: Story Time can get crowded, so show up early if you want a seat up close.)

Take Us to the Water

Of course, the draw is the 90-foot-tall, climate-controlled, 79,000-square-foot playground with one million gallons of 84°F water pumping through. There are hoses, waterguns and a huge dump bucket, lots of big slides, and a water rollercoaster where rafts are hauled on a seemingly liquid conveyor belt. There’s a large wave pool for swimmers, a lazy river for single or double float potatoes, a four-foot-deep pool where gymnasts can balance between an overhead rope structure and sculpted lily pads (not as easy as it looks!), a raucous pool for teen basketball players, and dry benches for spectators.

Certified lifeguards and attendants are positioned at every attraction regardless of the number of hotel guests; all staff undergo background checks and have EMT training available. Don’t worry — young guests get extra attention. Toddlers have a 12″ zero entry pool with a tiny slide, little sprays of water and rope railings. (Discreet signs remind parents to use swim diapers and they’re sold on property, but enforcement and accident monitoring is left to the pool attendants.) Older kids will want to try Slideboarding, the new interactive video game waterslide. Hop on a board and zoom down a chute while scoring points along the way. Families are encouraged to play together and all waterpark-goers under 14 must be accompanied by an adult; complimentary lifejackets are mandatory for those under 48″ using the wavepool.

More Non-Water Fun

At some point during your visit to Great Wolf Lodge, you will need to dry off and amuse waterlogged kids.  There are lots of fun activities to engage the whole family once you’re out of your swimsuits.  Downstairs on the lower level, you’ll find several spots to lure you in.  The Cub Club activity room is monitored by pack memebers, but asks ages 13 and under to participate with a guardian, hopefully working together on the range of available make-and-take projects, or sampling the board games.  In the Northern Lights Arcade you can pay to play standard arcade favorites to win tickets redeemable for gifts (a huge kid-pleaser).  Kids and parent alike can enjoy a manicure at the ice cream-themed Scoops Spa.  The small Aveda concept spa and fitness rooms are off-limits to children, so parents use the “Trading Spouses” technique to enjoy them.

Other indoor activities include the Ten Paw Bowling Alley and Howl at the Moon Glow Golf.  Weather permitting, you may want to test your skills at the Howlers Peak Ropes Course.  Be warned, your kids will probably find this way more fun than you do.  Nearby, and less heart-racing, is the Raccoon Lagoon Play Park, where you can play giant checkers or Jenga, and roast marshmallows at a fire pit. 

Great Wolf Room Types for Every Lifestyle

The “all-suite” Poconos Great Wolf Lodge has several ingenious room designs comprised of partitions; most of the 400 rooms have a separate themed sleeping area for kids with bunks and its own TV/VCR/video game setup. The Kids Cabin suite sleeps 7 family members: 3 inside the “log cabin” walls in a bunk and lower single, and just outside, a queen bed for the grown ups, while the Majestic Bear Suite sleeps 8 (with the privacy of a separate bedroom). Other variations are the family of 4 style Wolf Den and KidKamp.

The spacious Loft Fireplace suites sleep 8 and are popular with teens because there’s a queen bed and half-bath in an upstairs loft and two queens and a sofabed downstairs. Each room includes a balcony or patio and is well furnished, with a fireplace, work desk, two TVs, coffeemaker and minibar; note only a few larger suites have private bedrooms.

If you’re traveling during the winter holidays, consider booking a Snowland Suite.  For an additional small fee, the resort will deck your room out in garlands, fairy lights, and a snowflake-covered tree.  Each night, a costumed character will deliver milk and cookies to your door.  A cozy throw blanket and storybook are yours to take home.

Parents of infants and toddlers will be thrilled by the new “Diaper Den” program, which equips the rooms with Diaper Genie.  All rooms come equipeed with a microwave and mini-fridge.

A note on dining at the lodge: Until recently, Great Wolf had a reputation as being a fun place with not-so-great food.  But, the resort’s Head Chef, Chris Hammond, has worked hard to improve the fare, and the new-and-improved buffet-themed Loose Moose Family Kitchen will please all.  Fussy kids can eat healthy chicken tenders with tater tots, while their diet-conscious parents can enjoy roast chicken, seasonal vegetables and impressive salad bars.  There are also reasonably-priced snackbars inside the waterpark, a pizzeria that will deliver to your room, and a Starbucks. 

Photos Courtesy of Chad Hunt

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