Thursday, January 22, 2009

Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg

Tuesday was YB's 5th birthday. He was born at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA. I was actually born at the same hospital, but in the older pink buildings that have since been torn down. Last year I wrote a Happy Birthday post for him with a collection of some of my favorite YB pictures.

In honor of YB's birthday, we went down to Williamsburg, VA, and met up with our old friends and neighbors from Hawaii. Their two boys, Z & C, are the same ages as our boys, and our boys were devastated when they transferred to Norfolk. YB has continued to talk about his friend C ever since we parted ways back in September 2007.

We stayed at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg and had a great time. (Aside: This is actually the second time we've been to a Great Wolf Lodge. The first time was when we stopped at Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City on our way across country.)

Reunion at the Great Wolf Lodge

In case you're not familiar with the Great Wolf Lodge, it's a hotel built around a ginormous INDOOR waterpark.

Obligatory Blunoz Self-Portrait

Many hotels in vacation spots will have a weather report posted in the elevator. I really liked the top line of the weather report in the GWL elevator:

Instead of room keys, they issue these waterproof bracelets with an RFID chip to open the door to your room.

If you stay one night at the GWL, then you get admission to the water park for both the day before and the day after your night's stay. So we went and played in the water park on Sunday, stayed the night, then played in the water park again on Monday.

ES and I enjoyed going down the super-fast double-tube slides like this one:

Yellow Slide forward view:

Yellow slide rear-view:

YB didn't work up the courage to go on the super-fast slides with us. Even so, I think YB enjoyed his birthday weekend...

YB in the little kid's section

YB in the lazy river

The camera wasn't the only one with a dead battery at the end of day two.

YB chose Foreign Residence of Tasty Flatbreads for his birthday lunch.

Other pointers if you are headed for the GWL:

- Attire: Apparently I missed the memo on this one. It seems all anybody else packed for their kids were swimming suits and pajamas. All the kids in the water park were wearing swimming suits (no surprise there). All the kids in the restaurant at dinner were wearing pajamas. After I stopped to think about it, it made sense to me. Spend the day in the water park, go to your room and shower / bath / get cleaned up, put the kids in their pajamas, eat dinner, put the kids to bed. Why wear another outfit just for dinner, eh?

- Food: If you eat in the restaurant, stick to the buffet. If you decide to order something off the menu, be prepared to wait a LONG time. We got there at 6:30. They told us it'd be 20 minutes for a table for 8. We were seated at 7:09. Those of us eating off the buffet commenced stuffing our faces at 7:10. The three orders of food that went with the waitress to the kitchen were not delivered until 7:52. I think they had to go hire a chef, go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients, go to Walmart to buy the pots and pans... Like I said, just eat the buffet.

- Timing: If you have a choice, I recommend going on a weekday for less crowds and shorter lines for the waterslides. Our visit was over MLK Jr. weekend. The lines for the four-person slides (the tornado and the canyon) seemed to take between 20-30 minutes, and the ride lasts about 20-30 seconds (totally NOT worth it - we did each once and didn't bother going back). The lines for the single and double tube slides actually moved pretty quick. I don't think we ever waited more than like 5 or 10 minutes for one of those slides.

- MagiQuest: Not all of the fun things to do at GWL are in the water park. There's a video arcade, there's a big animatronic show around the clock tower in the lobby, there's story time by the fireplace after dinner, and there's MagiQuest.

There are two increments to your investment in this adventure.

First, if you go into the MagiQuest shop, you can buy the base-model, simple magic wand for $14.99.

The Mark 1 Mod 0 Magic Wand

Warning: The MagiQuest shop has all sorts of trinkets and merchandising to further drain your wallet. You might want to just go in and buy the wand(s) for your kid(s) without them so he/she/they don't go nuts wanting to buy capes and amulets and wand-holsters and fancy wand-toppers and wand-chains and higher-end wands. Whoa, I just had a flashback to RIMPAC.

With this basic wand, there are lots of things you can do around the first floor of the hotel. Wherever you see a Q symbol painted on something, if you wave your magic wand at it, you will cause something to happen. For example, you can turn the lights on...

YB turns the lights on with his wand.

The second increment of this adventure costs another $10 to register for the actual adventure quest. On the second and third floor of the hotel are four corridors of things like treasure chests, spell books, crystals, paintings, and other artifacts. There are actually several quests you can do. The first simple one to get you into the game is the quest for the Lightning Rune. You have to find a suit of armor, a shield, and a sword, then you have to go talk to a gargoyle to get your Lightning Rune.

The suit of armor in the first quest.

So you search the hallways of the hotel until you find each item and wave your magic wand at it. It'll light up and play a sound telling you that you found it.

Lesson Learned / A Word of Advice: Overall, I think it's a pretty fun game. However (comma) we paid to register each of the four magic wands for all four boys in our group, and that was a mistake. In hindsight, if I could turn the clock back and have a "do-over," then I would have only paid the extra $10 to register ONE wand as our "team" wand.

By registering all four wands, we all went around together finding all the things, and we had to stand there as each child waved his magic wand and waited for the artifact to light up and play the sound effect, etc, etc. Rotate children, NEXT! Wave the magic wand, wait for it to do light and sound effects again. Rotate children, NEXT! Wave the magic wand, wait for it to do light and sound effects again. Rotate children, NEXT!

That may not be so bad you say. Well, it got pretty frustrating when we got to the gargoyle and it wouldn't give the birthday boy the Lightning Rune because it said he didn't find all the artifacts. So the other three boys took off on the next quest while I went and back-tracked with YB to retouch the first artifacts.

It would have been a lot easier and quicker if we just had one registered team wand (or maybe one registered wand per family - one for our two boys and one for their two boys). OR, I guess the alternative would have been a little more parental QA on the tapping of each magic wand to make sure each one registered at each step.

Update 01/26/10: In case you were wondering, can you reuse the wand / use it when you go back to Great Wolf Lodge another time? Yes, you can. However, when you pay that $10 registration fee, it only lasts for a certain number of days. If you go back a year later, then you'll be able to reuse the wand, and it'll work for the lights and animals on the first floor, but you'll have to pay $10 to register it again to play the MagiQuest game on the second and third floors.


Hilary said...

Happy Birthday to YB. It sounds and looks like a great way to celebrate. Loved the videos of the slide and the self-portraits. Just a totally enjoyable post.

C said...

Awesome! Happy birthday, YB!

J120 Bowman said...

Been there done that at GWL. We waited until the 10th birthday because we could then let them run around sans parent.

The best thing??? My wife takes our boys (10 and 8) and their friends (we let them invite two) down to the waterpark while I unpack. I get down there and holy cow, but she's sitting there with two ice cold beers! Where did you get those from? They had a cabana there so the parents can get loaded while the kids run around like maniacs. Truly heaven!

One other thing of note. These places make it very easy to rack up a huge bill. They let you sign for everything (like beer, dinner, gift shop, etc.) and charge it to your room. Be prepared for sticker shock if you aren't paying attention!

pdxboxer said...

Ah, YB is getting so grown up. I miss him and hope to see him soon.

Thanks for the great GWL recap. Dave got me a gift card and Dan and I are going to take Jaydan. I'd already read about MagicQuest. There's no chance I'll get out of fewer than two wands. Hearing that they have accessories concerns me further, as Dan is an 8 year-old trapped in a 25 year-old body. I can only imagine him walking out of the GWL in full attire and riding home that way. lol

Love and miss you all!

Pam said...

Thx for the beautiful review of your GWL visit. I found it very helpful. We are celebrated my daughter's Bday there in a few days for the second time. She wants to do MagicQuest as we didn't last year. Thx for the hints on avoiding the store with the kids.