After a crazy few months, we decided a winter getaway was in order! We surprised our just-about-to-be-nine-year-old adventurer with a few days at Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington, Minnesota.
We had been hearing all about Great Wolf Lodge from friends who took their little boy and loved it, so we were eager to check it out! While many of the reviews point to how insanely busy the Lodge can get, we visited mid-week while school was in session, so avoided most of that chaos. Most. We checked out on Saturday morning, so we got a taste of what can be typical. Let’s just say we probably wouldn’t be the family visiting on a weekend.
A quick note for those who have visited other Great Wolf Lodges — the Bloomington location seems to be a “mini” version of the resort, with a number of features offered at other resorts not available. If you have favorites, be sure to do your homework before visiting. Opened in 2017, this location is one of 18 across the country.
One more note — we aren’t really the target market for this kind of place, so hopefully we don’t come across as too negative. It was a mixed bag for us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun place! Check out our conclusion for more on who might most enjoy a visit here.
The Great Wolf Lodge website is easy to navigate, and includes lots of special offers and packages.
There are a variety of room options from small to huge, and while I wouldn’t advocate for this, some families would find it interesting to note there is an option to spread out the purchase over monthly payments.
Several upgrades are available at the time of booking. I recommend a quick Google search to learn more about the options before choosing if you have never been before! There are some fun ones, like milk and cookies delivered at bed time by one of the Great Wolf Lodge characters, and a grown up version that includes a bottle of wine and a cheese tray. If you are visiting for a special occasion, check out and pre-book the options for Birthday Parties and other celebrations.
Dining Packages are a simple way to control costs and know what you are signing up for in advance (check out the section below on Food for more thoughts). This is also where we purchased our Wolf Pass — check out the Activities section below to learn more about that.
Check-in was smooth and easy. Everyone received wristbands to get into the waterpark, with the adult bands doubling as room keys (and allowing us to make room charges).
The convenience of having your room key on your wristband was great, and it’s nice not to have to keep track of a room key. With that said, this setup is probably fine if you are traveling with little kids, but not being able to give our nine-year-old a room key to run up to the room was a pain a few times. She is a responsible, well-traveled kid who has stayed in plenty of hotels, and I would prefer an option to give her a key, as well. At least ask who should have keys?
There was no line when we checked in mid-week, but when we left on Saturday, the lobby was pretty packed and the line to check in was out the door. Great Wolf Lodge allows you to check in early to access the waterpark before your room is ready to check in, so that means mornings are busy, busy, busy at the front desk.
On a side note – We learned later that all kids are supposed to receive wolf ears at check-in and we didn’t receive a pair, which resulted in Bria asking about other kids having them (they were indeed everywhere). If you don’t receive them, you may want to ask!
The rooms were designed for kids and families, which is a much appreciated touch. Our room had a good amount of space to spread out and make ourselves at home. We had a fun set of bunk beds – a definite hit. It all had that sleep-away camp feel without the dirt. Each night, Bria curled up in the top bunk (of course!) with her blanket, flashlight, and story book to read tales of the lodge.
(For bigger families, they also offer rooms with kids cabins, which expand on this idea with a whole little cabin inside the hotel room. Super fun!)
The beds were comfortable, though I would encourage them to add king sized beds to the offerings for those families that all seem to end up in the same bed by the end of the night, anyway. (Based on our experience with other hotels in the area, this may be a Minneapolis-area market thing.)
Our family splurged on a water park “picture window” room, which was actually a sliding glass patio door with a small balcony, large enough to hold two chairs. We were on the second floor, and Bria enjoyed being able to see out over the pool area and scope it out. Plus it was nice to have the space to relax after swimming.
A Splash in the Waterpark
Speaking of swimming, the big draw here is, of course, the indoor waterpark!
As I said above, guests are allowed to visit the waterpark for the full day of check-in, as well as until close on the day you check-out.
I actually ended up not getting in the water at all, as a bout of pneumonia decided to catch up with me while we were in Minneapolis, but Justin and Bria enjoyed the facilities for a couple of hours while I went out to find a clinic.
The lifeguards were extremely attentive, lending a peace of mind that means a lot to us as parents.
The slides were exciting and kid-friendly, but there was little for the 12 and over crowd, including no hot tub. The FlowRider surf simulator is a draw (we have one at our local rec center, so our kids are pros), and the wave pool served as gathering place for the older kids.
Bria found herself wishing for “in between” slides like those available at other parks, but maybe expansions are in the future for this location.
For the parents of little ones, though, the options were perfect. The zero-entry pools and tiny slides looked like a lot of fun for tots. Life jackets and puddle jumpers are available.
Super Fun Activities
The activities is where you can really see that Great Wolf Lodge knows their stuff. While there are free offerings, such as story time and interactive lobby shows, there is also lots that is an add on. Prices add up quickly, so we definitely recommend getting a pass.
We got the Wolf Pass, though the Paw Pass was probably a better fit. (Check out the list of activities included in each pass here. Our friend told us to go with the Wolf Pass if we thought she would enjoy the ropes course more than once, which was very good advice. In the end, she didn’t do the ropes course at all.)
The MagiQuest scavenger hunt was a huge favorite. After acquiring a wand at the MagiQuest store, your kiddos move throughout the resort to find clues, using a fun magic wand to interact with stations throughout the property.
Bria love, love, loved this, and spent hours running around the resort, playing this seriously immersive game (think geocaching or Pokemon Go). It was a great way to get into an activity as a family, plus it really kept her engaged right up until bedtime.
The pass included lots of other fun activities, too. We had fun in the arcade, checked out the climbing wall, and found the pint-size lanes of Ten Paw Bowling are great for all ages. The Oliver’s Mining Co. experience was also neat, giving kids a chance to go panning for gems in the water near the ropes course.
If you have been to other locations, be sure to check out the offerings before hitting the Minneapolis location, because it is much smaller than many, and does not offer golf or a spa, among other things.
Food and Drinks
The Wolf Pass included a trip through the candy store and a scoop of ice cream, so there was plenty of junk food to be had, but what about when it came time for meals?
We planned to eat dinner a little later on the night we arrived to give us time to get the lay of the land and scope out all of the activities, but Campfire Kitchen, the main restaurant in the resort, closed earlier than the schedule said it would. This left us without much option, so we ended up having dinner upstairs at Hungry Like a Wolf, the pizza/pasta/wings place.
While the pizza place was not the ideal choice for the gluten free among us (Justin was diagnosed last year with Celiac disease), they did have a couple of salads on the menu. Bria and I ate some wings and cheese bread, and I grabbed one of their refillable soda cups to save money on drinks throughout our stay.
The second night we chose to eat off-site. The central location definitely made the lack of food options easier to swallow.
Luckily Campfire Kitchen was open the next morning, and the breakfast buffet was a nice spread, with a diverse array of items. There was something for everyone, and it was a nice way to start the day.
Dunkin Donuts is also an option for breakfast, possibly the only non-airport location in a few states! Bria and I opted for that on the morning of check-out and were pleased with how quickly they moved through the large line.
Buckets Incredible Craveables offered lunch within the waterpark, including standard items like burgers, chicken strips, and nachos, but check out the note below for a much better plan for those who like to plan ahead.
Or Bring Your Own!
I read after our trip that you can bring your own food into the waterpark. Good choice! A trip to the grocery store would have been a very smart idea for us. This is an awesome options for offering healthy snacks, meeting the needs of those with food allergies, as well as saving money.
For the adults in the group – this also appeared to apply to adult beverages. There are two bars located within the resort, but we also saw empty cases of beer outside several rooms on Saturday morning, clearly left behind by some money savvy travelers.
After the Visit
The day after we went home, we received an email from the night auditor stating we checked out three towels and didn’t return them. This $45 charge for towels was super annoying on a few levels, not the least of which was, as you may have noticed above, only two of us used the waterpark.
Her email seemed to provide solutions, though, so I responded back less than 12 hours later and let her know how many towels we had checked out and where we had returned them (at the counter inside the park).
Two weeks later when I received a request to leave a review email , I had not heard back about the towel charge (which remained on my credit card). I responded to the original email, again pointing out that the charge was in error and asking that it be removed. In addition, I replied to the request for the survey giving them an opportunity to remedy the situation before I left a review that reflected the poor response.
I didn’t receive a response (in fact the reply to the survey bounced), so a week later I tried calling. The system placed me on hold for 26 minutes, at which time I finally gave up. As of this writing it has been more than a month, and the charge to our card remains. I am quite disappointed in that level of service, and I know from a search of reviews that we are far from the only ones having trouble with this process. Hopefully they heed the feedback and make some changes to how towel charges are handled.
OK, Great Wolf Lodge lovers, I know I’m about to get some comments about our less than stellar review, so I want to say one more thing (in case you are still reading).
I understand completely why you love it (especially the larger versions of the resort in other locations). This isn’t really our kind of spot, but we aren’t the target market!!!
If you have little kids and are looking for a weekend away, and you like to stay in a place that caters to your every need so you never need to bundle the kids into car seats, I would definitely recommend checking it out. You will probably love it, and create awesome memories with your kids, which is what matters the most! (Just be sure to keep an eye on those credit card charges, and if there is an option for a towel receipt, be sure to take advantage of it.)