Great Wolf LodgeFamily vacations are fun and what childhood memories are made of. But let’s be honest, it is hard to do a family vacation on the cheap. Factor in accommodation, meals and entertainment and the bank account takes a hit. I’m always on the lookout for a family vacation that packs on the fun but doesn’t wallop the cheque book. While at first glance Great Wolf Lodge in the US might not seem like the most frugal of holiday decisions when the Canadian dollar hovers at the 80 cent mark, the bang for your buck is terrific. I’ve got a few helpful tips to help you stretch your family-vacation-dollars.

Before you book your vacation check out Groupon. The coupon site frequently offers discounts for mid-week stays at Great Wolf Lodge. A few days prior to your visit Great Wolf Lodge sends you an email which includes a link to a number of coupons for use during your stay. Print them out and maximize your dollars on food and souvenir purchases.

As we all know, gas in the US is infinitely cheaper than in Canada. We always love to fill up as soon as we cross the border. Word of advice, don’t head down to Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington State on a Friday afternoon. We wasted a whole lot of gas sitting in a traffic jam that stretched north of Seattle to south of Olympia. My sanity was saved by the onboard entertainment system in the Buick Enclave. The kids loved the treat of  movies in the car!

In addition to avoiding the traffic another reason for heading out early is that you can access the ridiculously amazing waterslides starting at 1pm on the day of your check-in. You also get to use the waterslides until 9pm on the night of your check out. You get two days of fun for only one night’s accommodation!

Great Wolf Lodge #1Great Wolf Lodge offers a wide variety of entertainment for families. The waterslides must be experienced. I honestly don’t know whether the kids or my husband and I had more fun. We were all huge fans of Alberta Falls; a slide for singles or pairs. I will never forgot the laughter erupting out of my four year old each and every time we flew down the slide.

I think there are two approaches to the non-waterpark activities available at Great Wolf Lodge: manage the expectations of your kids before you arrive, or purchase a Paw Pass and hold onto your sanity. The Paw Pass is one of three combo packages available to visitors. The passes group together experiences – over and above the waterslides – into a manageable price. Your hotel accommodation includes access to the waterslides but everything else is extra. The Paw Pass provided alternate activities to occupy the kids while the swimsuits dried and our fingers stopped resembling prunes.

MagiQuestThe best perk of the Paw Pass is the magic wand and access to the MagiQuest game. I can’t say enough wonderful things about MagiQuest. There are roughly 10 quests and in each quest there are 6 or so “items” that must be found with the kid’s magic wand. The best part, the “items” are spread over the hotels 5 floors and a number of them are in the stairwells. If somehow your child is not tired from the waterslides, they are guaranteed to be exhausted flying up and down the staircases.

Other add-ons included in the Paw Pass (at Grand Mound) are: an ice cream treat from Bear Paw Sweets & Treats; a sparkle tattoo; a stuffie from The Great Wolf Kids’ Store; a pass through the Great Forest Challenge as well as swim googles and a 12oz candy cup.

Mini golf and the rope course are not included in the Paw Pass. That being said, the Paw Pass plus the waterslides kept our family fully occupied for 3 days.

Toddler FriendlyAll of the hotel rooms include a mini fridge and microwave. While there are numerous food options on site, we found bringing food for breakfast kept our costs down. We also brought snacky items to prevent the growing children from eating us into bankruptcy. A meal deal worth checking out is the Hungry As A Wolf pizza restaurant. The pizza was approximately $16 and easily fed all 4 of us.

We also headed off-site and found 2 restaurants within a 7 minute drive which I highly recommend. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch at La Tarasca (Mexican food) for under $40 for the 4 of us. A place I must return to is Boccata (Italian food) which, again, we were able to have dinner for under $40 for all four of us.

Frustratingly, the US dollar is working against us Canadians, but have a look at this great post full of ideas on how to stretch our loonies a little bit further.

Using all of these tips and suggestions should help make a family trip to the Great Wolf Lodge a little kinder to the pocket book. Without a doubt, Great Wolf Lodge is a fantastic family holiday! Our kids have, honestly, asked every day “when are we going back to Great Wolf Lodge?” I better start saving my pennies!