Great Wolf Lodge – Massachusetts – Review and Packing List

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The three-day weekend was coming up and my family had no plans.  The week before, we made the last minute decision to check out Massachusetts newest indoor waterpark Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, MA.  I looked around online to find reviews, tips/tricks and packing lists specific to the Massachusetts Great Wolf Lodge – but I didn’t find much.  I thought I would put our immediate thoughts down and our must have packing list.

Review & Tips:

Overall my family of five had a really enjoyable time.  We had a lot of smiles, fun moments and laughter.  It was easy to get to and with the tips we learned through our first stay we would definitely go back again sometime soon.  We definitely did not get the best value for our room.  We booked less than a week in advance over a holiday weekend.  If you are looking for maximum value – go mid-week if you can, try to find deals online (they are running a 20% discount for 2 or more night stays), and book in advance.  If you want to use the water park on the day you are checking out get the late check-out, which lets you stay until 2pm, allowing you to use the park for a half day and still shower/change in your room.  You can only get it gauranteed when you are booking online, but may be able to add it during check-in.  We did not buy any of the entertainment packages online.  If you change your mind, you can buy them when you are there.  We were not sure what kind of activities we would want to do – so didn’t think it was worth it.  The water park, ropes course, bedtime story, character meetings, are all included with no additional charge.

Check-In Early

You are able to check in online by midnight the day before your arrival.  This will save time if you are checking in during the early to mid-afternoon when it is most busy.  There still will be a line to get your wrist bands, and room assignment, but it should be shorter.  We were not organized enough and forgot to check-in online.  You are allowed to check-in starting at 1pm the day of your arrival and then you can begin to use the watermark.  We arrived at 12:15 to try to figure out lunch and to see if we could check in early.  From our experience, the front desk is not strict about 1pm.  We had one family on line in front of us and were able to check in at 12:15 and begin using the water park.  I would strongly recommend getting there well before 1.  While we were checking in, staff members were making free balloon swords in the lobby – which happily kept my three boys balloon sword fighting until we were ready to hit the water park.

If you are interested in eating in the one sit-down restaurant for dinner or for the breakfast buffet now is the time to make a reservation.  My kids love buffets so we got a reservation for 7:30am for the buffet.  I would not do this again – the buffet was nothing great – review of the restaurant is below.

Water park

We put on our bathing suits at home, with warm clothes over them.  I had our pool bag packed with goggles, cover-ups, robes and crocs.  We left our other luggage in the car and were able to go enjoy the water park even though our room wasn’t ready until 4pm.  You can rent a locker if you want to secure your belongings during this time when you do not have access to your room.  The locker rental is $10.  Every guest will get a wristband that you need to enter the water park.  For adults the wristband has a chip in it that acts as your room key and will also have your credit card on it (amazing!).  You can use this credit card to buy food, gifts and even coffee and dunkin donuts.  This is great because it allows you to leave your wallet in your room and bring nothing to the water park.

We all enjoyed the water parks.  There are two separate rooms – across a hallway.  The first one we went to had three different larger water slides – 2 with tubes, 1 without.  You need to be 48″ to ride alone or 42″ with an adult.  An indoor and outdoor hot spring (my favorite!).  A lazy river that you can go in with or without a tube.  A little water ropes course.  An area for water basketball and a huge climbing structure, with smaller slides for younger kids.  The other room also had three water slides.  These were more intense for older kids, with 2 of the 3 having a 48″ minimum height requirement.  One of the water slides, you stand upright in a tube and the floor gives way under your feet!  My 9 year old loved that one.  A wave pool and a shallow pool area with little structures and two little slides.  In each area there are some seats and some tables.  Most of these seemed to be taken.  I only needed 1 or 2 chairs to put our bag and towels on.  In the first room they have a full bar and a fast-food snack area.  Their policy is that you cannot bring coolers into the water park areas or your own food.  I saw plenty of people bringing in snacks and sandwiches.  The staff did not seem to notice or to care.  I think if you are not obviously bringing in a big cooler but bringing some snacks, drinks or sandwiches in your pool bag you will be fine.  They provide towels in both rooms.  The used towels need to stay in the water park so a cover-up or robes for the kids is really useful when walking back to your room since the water park is heated to 84 degrees but the rest of the hotel isn’t.  I felt like the water park areas were clean and the lifeguards were very attentive.  There are free life vests in both rooms for kids to wear if they want to.  This was very helpful for my 4 year old.  While he can swim, it was nice to give him the extra support.  The water is VERY chlorinated.  They recommend taking breaks from the water or rinsing off in the bathroom showers if you have sensitive skin – I would also recommend against shaving your legs the day you’re going (I speak from personal experience!).

Room

We spent two hours at the water park and then my kids were tired.  I got our room assignment, got our luggage from the car and we went to our room.  The layout was perfect for us.  There was a front room with a full size bed and a pull-out couch.  Every room has a mini-fridge and microwave.  We had one bathroom and through the bathroom was another room with a queen size bed.  All the furniture is “lodge” themed with wood log beds and bedside tables.  You can get rooms with little bunk beds which follow the theme more – but none were available for our visit.  Maybe next time?

Back in our room – our one toilet was clogged!  We called the front desk and they had someone fixing it within 5 minutes.  We had some questions as to how clean our room was.  There were some towels hanging on the back of the bathroom door, a hair in the shower.  When we found a drawer full of someone else’s clothes we decided it was time to say something.  A manager came right over to take the clothes and he said he would be talking to someone about the situation immediately.  Within 10 minutes we got a call from a manager who profusely apologized, asked if we wanted housekeeping to come and fix anything and offered to give us 50% off of our room.  While we were not happy with our clogged toilet and that our room wasn’t perfectly clean – we couldn’t have been more pleased with the staff and how fast they fixed our problem.

Dinner and Breakfast Options

The line for the restaurant and even the pizza place in the arcade were long and we were not interested.  We ordered from Uno’s and while my husband was bathing the kids I took a 9 minute drive to pick up pizza’s.  Near this complex is a Boston Market, 5 Guys Burger and a frozen yogurt place.  I picked up our food and our kids ate their deep dish pizza happily while watching a free science show in the lobby.  All the adults around us were asking where we got the yummy food.  This was one of our best decisions.  When I got back – I saw one of the local pizza place delivery cars out front – so that is another option.

Our original plan was to go back to the water park after dinner so it would be less crowded.  We were all water parked out at this point and we knew we had more time to enjoy the next day.  We went into the arcade where the kids got yummy ice cream and purchased some video game tokens for the kids to play.  After they each placed 3 games each – they were done for the night.

We got up early for our breakfast buffet – which in my opinion was not worth it!  There was a fine omelet bar, cold cereal and some hot options – but nothing was great.  The coffee was actually pretty terrible.  Our waiter was very nice and attentive – but it was not worth our time, money or effort.  I decided that I needed better coffee to deal with the rest of the day – and proceeded to wait on a 20+ minute line at the dunkin donuts in the hotel.  Next time – I will get up early and head straight down to dunkin donuts for my coffee.  I will either buy a bunch of donuts and juice for my family there for breakfast – or we could keep cold cereal and milk in our room for breakfast.  I saw some smart guests with starbucks who drove a couple of minutes away for their coffee avoiding the crazy long line.  I went back to the dunkin donuts around 1 to get a coffee for our drive home and there was no line then.  In general, try to bring your food or take the few minute drive rather than wait at the hotel for mediocre food.

MagiQuest

The other big attraction at the lodge is MagiQuest.  It is “an interactive live-action, role playing game where players embark on quests and adventures in an enchanted fantasy world using real magic wands to solve the mysteries of the game.”  You can’t miss the game as you will see kids young and old running around the hotel with wands.  You walk pass the screens of the games as you go around the hotel.  We had thought that with the water park we wouldn’t play the game this trip.  With our newly discounted room we decided to give it a try.  If you are going to play the game – you should start your first day there.  When you purchase the game it is good for 4 consecutive days or for the length of your stay.  You can start and stop as you like.  It serves as a nice break from the other activities in the hotel.  Depending on the other things you want to do during your stay you can look into the packages they offer.  We decided to buy one wand for each of my three boys ($17-$23) you can also buy toppers for the wands for additional money – thankfully I convinced my kids that can be a treat for next time.  Talking to a very nice worker in the MagicQuest store – right off the main lobby – we bought one game ($13.99) for my oldest son’s wand.  The other two wands would still do some “magic” – turn the magic lamp in the store on and make the animals in the lobby wake up.  My oldest son’s wand was the one that we would do the quests with and this turned out to be another good decision – in addition to only paying for one game, the younger ones never quite realized their wands weren’t controlling the game.  Plus, if all three were controlling the game then we would have had to repeat each step three times for it to register on each wand.  You receive a pretty extensive map that helps you on your journey.  There are different 10 different quests you can do – kind of like a scavenger hunt – to collect certain powers that then you use on three different adventures.  There are MagicQuest staff members walking around that can help you when you are confused.  What kid wouldn’t love their own wand?  My three boys all loved it!  I just wished we had started the game on our first day – so we could have used it more.  You get to keep your wands and on your next visit you can just buy the game to start again.  Too bad our progress couldn’t have been saved!

We hit the water park for another 2+ hours.  I made some sandwiches in our room for lunch and I was easily able to bring them into the park.  We had the late check-out so we were able to go back to our room, wash off all the chlorine pack-up and head home.
Packing List:
Pool bag
Pool shoes
Goggles (for kids with sensitive eyes)
Robe or cover up to walk back to the room from the waterpark
Underwater camera
2 bathing suits (so you don’t have to put a wet one back on)
Sneakers (you can only do the rope course if you are wearing sneakers)
Socks
Underwear
2 changes of seasonal clothes
Pajamas
Slippers (if you want to wear to the character story time at night)
Toiletries (the bathrooms are stocked with kid friendly shampoo, conditioner and body soap)
Ziplock bags for wet clothes to bring home
Water bottles
Snacks
Bread and toppings for sandwiches
Cold Cereal
Milk
Paper plates
Paper bowls
Plastic silverware

Birthday Traditions #4 – Bedroom Decorations

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As we finally are arriving at my #2’s birthday followed 1 week later by my #3’s birthday I am continuing with my series on birthday traditions.  So far I have posted about #1 Growth-Chart , #2 Year-End Photo Collages, #3 Photo Cakes and now we have #4 Room Decorations.

This only takes 10 minutes to do and very little money – but the impact is huge.  The night before one of my boys birthdays I blow up a bunch of balloons and throw them on the floor.  I then tape paper streamers from the bedroom door.

When the birthday boy wakes up, right away he has a smile on his face.  He remembers its his special day.  He jumps out of bed, kicks the balloons around, runs through the streamers, picks up the balloons, throws them in the air and it is the start to a great birthday!

The Case for Playdates – pro and con

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Playdates are always a hot topic in my house.  My boys go through stages where they always

Pro

For shy kids it can be important to have friends over in their home to come out of their shell.  It is a good way to make new friends, kids and adults.  It can encourage already established friendships.  It is also a great way for parents to get to know their kids friends.  We can also see how our kids interact with their friends.  It is a nice way to treat/reward kids that does not involve food or presents.  It can cause creative play.  The above picture was taken by #1 at a playdate with two friends where they decided to make a stop-animation movie with legos.

Con

It takes planning!  You can be stuck wiping some random kids tush.  You can deal with rude, disruptive or not pleasant kids.  Your kid can be so excited that he has a friend over that he acts out in an unbearable way (this happens at my house constantly!).  More kids = more mess.  It is important for kids to play with their siblings.  Introducing another kid into the house can cause massive fights between siblings.  Extra driving, extra cooking, extra cleaning!!!

Conclusion:

I take the position of everything in moderation.  My boys get out of school early on Fridays in the winter so we can get ready for shabbat.  They have no after school activities on that day and all homework has to be handed in at school that day.  This is then a good day for playmates.  I can arrange to pick-up friends right from school to avoid extra driving.  These playmates are not making interrupting regular activities.  If the kids are behaving (fingers crossed) I can actually get some housework done.  I don’t go too crazy with playmates on the weekend – I like for the 5 of us to spend quality time together.  Everything in moderation!

NaBloPoMo November 2014

Crafty Tuesday – Pool Noodle Lightsabers

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With a busy life it is hard to find time to get the supplies and motivation for crafts.  I try to gather a bunch of ideas on pinterest and then buy or gather any supplies we would need.  If I already have the idea and supplies – a last minute craft idea becomes easy and fun for all.

My boys love star wars (who doesn’t?) and play fighting.  I came across a lot of ideas for pool noodle lightsabers and we adapted it to fit our supplies and our preferences.

Supplies

1 pool noodle for every two lightsabers

Silver duct tape

Black duct tape

Serrated knife

Scissor

Directions

Use knife to saw each pool noodle in half.  Have your kids decide if they want a traditional lightsaber or a double-sided one.  If they want a traditional use the black and silver duct tape to make any kind of pattern you want on the edge of one of the ends.  It can be one or two strips or more.  As you can see from the pictures, each one of the lightsabers we made are different.  If they want a double-sided lightsaber you put the duct tape in the middle of the noodle instead of the end.

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The great thing about these lightsabers is they make a cool sound when they hit another lightsaber – but they are safe to play with.  My kids have the plastic ones you can buy in a store – but they can really hurt if you “accidentally” hit someone with it.  DSC03289

NaBloPoMo November 2014

Birthday Traditions #1 – Growth Chart

unnamed copyI love family traditions.  I work really hard to create special moments that we can all look forward together to as a family.  I sometimes wonder whether my boys like or enjoy these traditions.  There are times when they refer to one of them with a smile on their face and I know it is worth it.

Two of my three boys birthdays are coming up at the end of the month.  I am beginning to share my favorite birthday traditions in preparation.

Birthday Tradition #1 – Growth Chart

We moved to our current house just before #3 was born.  That spring #1 turned 6 and my husband declared we need to pick a place to record the boys heights.  We picked the interior door of our broom closet.  This works because it is a door located on our main living area.  My boys love to periodically check-in to see how much they have grown and how they are stacking up against their brothers.  My husband also reasons that if we ever move taking a door with us would be easy compared to taking a wall.

On the day of each birthday, at some point during the day, we march over to the door – take the official measurement in pencil – and then go over it with a sharpie.  We draw a line, write the name and the age.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

Getting Culture Into Your Kids

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Once upon a time, before I had kids, my husband and I would spend glorious weekends holed up in our apartment watching entire seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ordering take-out and staying in our pajamas.  They were wonderful times – but we were also missing out on the world and all that our wonderful city of Boston has to offer.  Kids has definitely changed my attitude.  Don’t get me wrong – if anyone wants to babysit some weekend my hubby and I would love to catch up on some episodes of Homeland!  On a regular Saturday during the year, it is so important that we have some sort of activity to get us out of the house and break up the day.  Bonus points if it adds some culture to our lives.

I start looking for my inspiration on bostoncentral.com  It has a great calendar that lists family friendly activities all throughout town.  It usually links to the specific event and provides info like what age the activity is for and how much it costs.

This morning I woke up and realized we had an entire free day today.  I jumped on bostoncentral and found this amazing production the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra was putting on.  An hour before the performance the kids could color, listen to demonstrations and even try out the instruments.  My kids loved the trombone!  We then saw a very professional and engaging performance of Peter and the Wolf.  We were out of the house on a cold November day, spent family time together, and got some culture in all of us!

NaBloPoMo November 2014