Saturday, November 22, 2008

Great Wolf: The Rides

So this was the view outside our Great Wolf Lodge hotel room. The cone-looking thing is the Howlin' Tornado, which I was happy to go on once. It was a wild ride, not unlike what I imagine it must be like to get flushed. You must be 48 inches tall to ride, no exceptions, which makes sense. I felt like I was gonna get tossed off the raft. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I didn't once, just to say I did. But I prefer the slides that just go fast, like the big blue tube. That's the River Canyon Run. The whole family (42 inches and up) climbs in what is essentially a round rubber boat. It's speedy, splashy goodness. Another cool thing: The inflatables for both of these rides take their four-story trip to the top of the slide via a mechanical pulley system, rather than on your back (which is how they do it at Wild Waves in Federal Way). There are two other big slides, basically the blue run (faster) and the green run (twistier) of Alberta Falls. Kids over 42 inches can ride these with an adult, which is neat, but honestly, they're a lot more fun solo.

There are two other slides at Totem Towers. They're not huge, but plenty of fun for kids over 42 inches, and adults. They're part of a structure with a giant bucket on the top, which frequently spills a massive splash you need to watch out for. Kids also love the Chinook Cove rec pool, which has basketball hoops, big floating things you can climb on (snake, beaver, acorn), and a lily pad challenge (I couldn't get across but Eddie could). The wave pool is also fun. It has a funny name, but I don't remember it. Basically, we climbed into these clear plastic single and double inner tubes and rode the waves. An aside: Can I just say that these clear plastic tubes are not super flattering? As if my hips and thighs need to be compressed and magnified for all to see. But I digress. There is also a really nice kiddie area, for the under-48-inch crowd. Our boys enjoyed the slides, little though they were, splashed around with the water sprayers and water dumpers. They also put on their goggles and explored the foot-deep waters.

All in all, I think Great Wolf, with all its newness and Disney-eque cleaning philosophy, spoiled me on Wild Waves, which is older, grimier and not as aggressively kept up.

Friday, November 21, 2008

OMG! Tina Fey Just Described My Relationship Perfectly

OK, so my better half and I were just watching "30 Rock," and Tina Fey, speaking through her character, Liz Lemon, said the following:

"I wish I could start a relationship about 12 years in, when you really don't have to try anymore, when you can just sit around together and goof on TV shows and go to bed without anybody trying any funny business."

And Cheryl and I just looked at each other like we caught someone reading our mail. The truth is, we do try. But there is a lot of goofing on TV shows. And I can't say anything about funny business or she'll kick me, but come on -- we're busy parents. Not exactly the prime "getting some" demo. Or are we the only ones?

Great Wolf: Our Review

So we just got back from Great Wolf Lodge. Bottom line, we loved it and we're planning on going back, probably sometime in early/mid-February. Familiar with GWL? In a nutshell, it's an indoor water-park destination in Grand Mound, WA (insert joke here -- then look at a map and see at it's about 20 minutes south of Olympia). Great Wolf has an impressive array of wet rides, shops, food (buffets as well as quick-serve fare like Pizza Hut pizza) and a bunch of dry activities ranging from arts and crafts to video games. If you've been on a cruise, it feels similar. (We love cruises, just so you know our frame of reference.) Our family is two moms and two 5-year-old boys who are taller than 42 inches and shorter than 48 (more on why that matters below).

Here's some of what we learned, loved and might do differently next time:

How 'bout those wristband/roomkey/chargecards? I love technology. The wristbands in the picture were all we needed to play, eat, get souvenirs and come and go from our rooms. So nice not to worry about losing our room key, credit cards, whatever. I wonder how many cruise ships are doing this? They all should ...

There's a Starbucks. I don't drink coffee, so I don't care, but I know Cheryl found it a welcome sight. In other beverage news, it's a Pepsi place (I'm a Coke products person), but it doesn't really matter as you can bring your own pop and keep it in the fridge in your room.

Themed rooms weren't necessarily worth it for us, but may be for you. So, they've got rooms come with either "kid camp" or "wolf den" setups, which are basically bunk bed alcoves that have themed decor. These look cool. The kids did like them/fear them a little (hey, wolves can be scary). But they weren't worth the extra $50 or whatever a night, at least not for us.

Go at non-peak times!!!!! I can't emphasize this one enough. We were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of our kids' weird half-time/full-day kindergarden setup, which gives every other Friday off. We stayed on a Thursday night, and experienced lines essentially never. We heard tell of lines up to an hour long to ride the slides, and that would have dramatically diminished our experience.

If your kid's not 48 inches tall, it helps if he or she is at least 42 inches tall. There's only one slide the under-48-inch crowd can't go on. If you're under 42, you're pretty much limited to the wave pool and the kiddie area, which is great, but, you know, a kiddie area.

The MagiQuest is worth the money. You'll see lots of people waving wands around and activating talking raccoons and mouthy treasure chests and such. This is MagiQuest. It costs $14.99 to get the wand, which uses infrared beams to work its "magic." The wands are re-usable. Once you have a wand, you need to pay $9.99 to activate it. This lasts four days, but two days can feel like forever when you're a 40-something mom trudging around behind a 5-year-old who keeps saying "I don't want to see the dragon!!!" Even though our guys got a little scared of the whole questing business after a while (especially when we kept getting chided by the Pixie Crystal for failing to accumulate the right stuff), they did enjoy it enough for us to feel like we didn't waste our $. And I can see how they'll enjoy it more when they're not so unnerved by seemingly inanimate objects that light up and start babbling about how they need to do this or that. It's a must for Harry Potter fans, I would think.

Is it expensive? Well, that depends on your perspective. My family probably couldn't have afforded it when I was a kid. But now we're lucky enough to be able to spend $219 a night (special off-day rate), plus a bunch of extra stuff, without too much trouble. We stayed one night and two days, and that was plenty of time for us to feel like we really got away. Also, we ate on site but you don't have to. There are restaurants nearby and you can bring your own food. The buffet dinner was $55 for two adults and two kids and worth it, in my book, with peel 'n' eat shrimp, rock crab and dungeness crab, mussels, clams, clam chowder and a bunch of stuff that wasn't seafood (prime rib, kalua pork, Asian food, lots of kid-friendly fare like pizza and mac 'n' cheese and desserts including the ever-popular worms in dirt, etc.)

Get a Paws Pass, especially if you're a first-timer. So we debated whether or not to spend the $79 per kid for these. But we ended up feeling like it saved us a few bucks and enhanced our experience. We got a wand and game ($25), a pair of custom Crocs + a Jibbitz decoration ($35), a color-your-own T-shirt ($10, I think), a fun shaker drink -- milk or lemonade + syrup ($4), a souvenir soda cup, which the moms took for themselves ($7), a stuffed animal that they stuffed on the spot ($20) and admission to the teen-oriented gr8-space, which we shared with a couple of nice teens we met in the water park ($5). I think that's it. And don't think for a second that I don't think we're ridiculously blessed to be able to afford this kind of thing.

More on the rides coming soon ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My boys' first Star Wars is Clone Wars

I'm not sure how I feel about Clone Wars yet, but I'm glad that my boys have a Star Wars they can watch without panicking (like they did when my resolve melted and I put Episode IV in the DVD player the other night). Seriously, we only got as far as the text crawl and Chas was off and running. Eddie made it to the opening space battle, but he nearly shaking at the thought of seeing Darth Vader. The original Star Wars is a lot to take, I guess.

Anyway, tonight we watched a little bit of the Clone Wars movie, which just became available at Amazon Video On Demand. It makes Eddie nervous ... he wants assurances that everyone will be OK. Chas likes it, and has taken to swinging his pretend lightsaber (he's got "real" toy ones, but they're in the other room). I just find myself trying to remember who the good guys and bad guys are and how they relate to the good and bad guys of the movies I know and love. There is the emperor, who I know is bad. And Obi-wan, who I know is good. But clone troopers? Whatever became of them? Did they become stormtroopers? What of the separatists? Oh, so complicated. And I wouldn't care except that my boys are VERY interested in who's good and who's bad. I tihnk they're really going to flip when they learn the secret of Darth Vader's true identity. Of course, right now they keep thinking the Anakin Skywalker of the Clone Wars is Luke Skywalker. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Finally planning that Great Wolf Lodge trip ...

OK, so it looks like we're finally getting ready to take a trip to Great Wolf Lodge, that indoor waterpark the boys have been raving about since preschool (their little friends went, ya see). Anyway, now that the weather has taken a turn for the crappy, we're getting ready to "take the plunge." Ha. Ha.

Anyway, here's one take on a Great Wolf Lodge. It's not the exact same one as the one close to us (in Grand Mound, south of Olympa), but you get the idea: "Great Wolf Lodge (GWL) is a "first-class, full-service, year-round family destination resort" and touts a vacation there as a "land-cruise." You do not have to leave the facility if you do not want to. The resort offers lodging, a waterpark, restaurants, extra entertainment and other great perks. "

Our debate is one night or two (which translates to two days or three). Basically, a $300+ vacation, or a $500+ vacation. Leaning toward one, but we'll see.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Now THAT'S a cupcake

The boys are suspicious of me because I am not much of a dessert person. But as you can see from Chas' creation, they set the bar high.