Winters in Chicago can be long, and my children get so sad when I pack away our swimsuits for the season . . . so this year, we decided not to! We just celebrated our son’s 1st birthday with a mini-vacation to the newly renovated indoor waterpark at Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee. We wanted lots of options for family fun, but to keep it a short drive. Great Wolf Lodge did not disappoint. We are counting the days until we can go back again!
A Trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee, IL
Great Wolf Lodge’s Indoor Waterpark
The waterpark offers various activities for different ages. A smaller enclosed area has two tiny water slides and plenty of water features for the littles to splash around in. A lazy river winds around Fort McKenzie, the water fort treehouse in the middle of the park. Small and large slides, squirters, large and small dumping buckets, and spraying spouts add to the fun. We could have spent all afternoon in this part of the water park.
A wave pool, stories-high tube and raft slides, and a smaller pool with basketball hoops complete the water-filled fun. With a restaurant inside the waterpark, and a few pool-side bars for moms and dads, there’s plenty to do to fill your trip!
Note: there is an outdoor area of the waterpark, but we were there in November and didn’t visit.
Additional Attractions at Great Wolf Lodge
When it’s time for a break from the water, there’s a lot to do for both big and small children. Attractions include an arcade, bowling lanes, mini-golf course, ropes course, climbing wall, “mining” for gold and gems, and MagiQuest adventures.
All of these activities can be purchased either a la carte or as a bundle. Three different “wolf pass” packages are available with various amounts of activities included. Check their website for details, or ask the front desk at check-in. We chose not to do this since our schedule needs to be more flexible with a 1-year-old, but I can definitely see where these packages would be worthwhile.
An important note about these activities: some things are scaled down to make them more appropriate for little guests. The mini golf area was only 9 holes, and relatively obstacle-free compared to most courses. The bowling balls were not regulation size, but were about the size of a bocce ball. This made these activities much more engaging for younger children, but still fun for bigger kids. My kids loved being able to do things by themselves.
We noticed quite a few older children having fun playing MagiQuest, a scavenger hunt that led guests to various treasure chests around the resort. These children seemed to be having a great time carrying wands and looking for clues.
Events and Activities at Great Wolf Lodge
Upon arrival, guests are provided with a schedule of the week. This includes opening and closing times for the waterpark and other special events such as character visits, story times, and even a pajama party.
We took part in the arts and crafts, where my daughters made cute Great Wolf Lodge buttons that they promptly attached to their backpacks when we got home. This gave them a sweet memento to remember our vacation and a much-needed break from the water. The activity changes every day, which is nice if you’re staying for more than one night.
Food and Dining at Great Wolf Lodge
In the resort, there are eight different on-theme restaurants, ranging from breakfast buffets to late-night options. Also available near the lobby are a Dunkin Donuts and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream shop. The pricing for these varies, but we felt it was appropriate for being on-resort. We expected to pay more than the average restaurant, but were happy with the quality of food we ate.
In most rooms, you’ll find a large mini-fridge and coffee maker. Some of the higher-level suites include microwaves as well. Any outside food and drinks are welcome in the resort, but not allowed in the waterpark area. We brought food for breakfast and snacks to help reduce our spending. I’d even recommend bringing food for lunches, too. Our kids are light eaters, but I’d imagine your dining bills would add up quickly if your children are older or have bigger appetites.
Great Wolf Lodge Rooms and Accommodations
Great Wolf Lodge offers various room options, with the maximum number of people allowed is 12. Separate rooms, or just separate sleeping areas are available. We chose to do a Wolf Den Suite, giving our children secluded bunk beds to minimize the sleep disruptions.
Recommended Ages for Great Wolf Lodge
We went on this trip with a 6-, 4- and 1-year old. Our 1-year old splashed around the Cub Paw Pool, our 4-year old braved a few of the slides and lounged in the lazy river, and our 6-year old conquered Fort McKenzie.
All three of our children had a lot of fun, and I would anticipate us having an even better time in years to come. There’s plenty to do both in and outside of the waterpark for all children. I could easily see an 8–10-year-old having a great time in the wave pool or sliding down the stories-high Otter Run slides. The ropes course and climbing wall definitely appeal to the older kids as well.
Best Times to Go
Maximize your fun at Great Wolf Lodge by avoiding the crowds. As you’d expect, it’s quieter during the week. Days-off school can be crowded since they sell both day-passes and over-night visits. We went during the beginning of Thanksgiving week, and it felt busy, but never overly-crowded.
Special Needs Accommodations
The entire waterpark is connected by ramps, making it accessible by wheelchair or stroller. Except for the basketball hoop area, all pools are zero-depth. While in the waterpark, guests hear the constant rush of water, as well as active guests; if you or your children are sensitive to sounds, it can be overstimulating. The lobby is usually quieter for regrouping.
Great Wolf Lodge Deals and Pricing
Pricing varies greatly depending on when you go. Promo codes and discount packages are often available on the Great Wolf Lodge website. We booked through Groupon and saved ourselves quite a bit. Their deal comes and goes, so if you miss it, check back again in a few weeks. Click here to find Great Wolf Lodge Gurnee Groupons.
Interested in more wet-and-wild this winter? Here’s our full list of indoor waterparks in the Chicagoland.