Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Vander Waals Go to Cincinnati {Great Wolf Lodge}

{We were on vacation from Monday, July 7 - Sunday, July 13.}
I had high hopes and anticipation as we planned and prepared for our summer vacation…and it wasn’t {obviously} because of our destination.  Cincinnati?!?  Wow.  You guys are wild!
Why so excited?  This was, what I considered, our very first family vacation.  Just us, together, all week long.  We have vacationed before; I’ve shared many trips here on our blog.  Brad and I have traveled together, the two of us, and we’ve taken the boys on trips here and there - but all of those trips are either just a long (or short) weekend away OR it’s just us together for a couple days before we meet up with either one of our extended families.  And those are all well and good and fun and worthwhile…but I was craving something that was just for us.  A time to create memories that, ideally, our kids will cherish for years to come.
And I hope it is something we continue to do for many summers to come.
So, why Cincinnati?  A couple of reasons: 1) it’s far enough away that we feel like we’re actually going somewhere but not so far we’re spending endless amounts of time feeling trapped in the van with three small children; and 2) there are a lot of options for activities for kids and families.  And, I suppose, because neither Brad nor I had ever been there before.  Good enough!
When we asked the boys what they wanted to do on their summer vacation, the only thing on their list was going to a water park.  Drew picked up on the idea somewhere (likely his buddies at school) and was convinced he wanted to go to one, which is ironic because the kid fears pools and swimming and, welp, any kind of water that isn’t in the bathtub, and Reed jumped on the bandwagon, too (rightfully so as he’s the exact opposite of Drew and loves the water).  They had both heard about and seen commercials for Great Wolf Lodge, so they were very much wanting to go there for their summer vacation.
Isn’t it great when things come together just so?
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We were fortunate enough to find that there is a GWL about 30 minutes north of Cincinnati, so we scheduled our first night stay with them.  {In hindsight, we weren’t sure if it was better to begin our trip here, or if we should have ended it here.  On the one hand, the boys are getting exactly what they want right away - so much excitement and fun and yay!  We didn’t have to hear the whining of“when are we going to the water park???” all week long.  On the other hand, absolutely nothing else was as good as (in their opinion) the water park for the remainder of the trip.  Tough call.}
In any event, we started our trip there.  And it was awesome!  Definitely a highlight for all of us, for sure.
With our one night reservation at the Lodge, we were allowed to enjoy the water park from our check-in time on Monday afternoon until the water park closed at 10pm Tuesday evening.  We were able to check-in at 3pm, and we were unloaded and changed and into the water park by 3:45.  We enjoyed the water until about 7, when we took a break and had dinner back in our room (pizza from the Lodge restaurant).  Brad and the boys headed back to the water park about 8:00 (I stayed back with Ruby to put her to bed) and they closed down the water park, coming back to the room right at 10.  We tucked them in and they were fast asleep!
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A peek at our room.  We got the standard {read: cheapest} reservation and even at that Lodge rate, our room had class!  Very roomy and comfy! 
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{There is a sofa and coffee table on the other side of that wall, and behind where I’m standing, taking the photo, is a large counter/sink/fridge in the entry area, and the large bathroom.}
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Despite the late night the night before, neither boy slept too far past normal, and we were all ready for breakfast by 9:00.  Brad went up the street and picked up pancakes from McDonald’s for all of us, and we were packed and ready to head into the water park by the time it opened at 10:00.  I didn’t take my camera into the water park on Monday, but {obviously} wanted to be able to snap as many photos as I could on Tuesday.  We took as many as we could while keeping our cameraphone dry {couldn’t risk a water mishap with the big guy!}.
There was a lot to do within the water park, and a lot of different areas designated for certain water activities.  And for the record — you cannot go in here and expect to not get wet.  There’s water flying everywhere!
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A giant walkway/bridge/water apparatus.  You can fill buckets and aim water guns and get perfect strangers down below perfectly soaked.  Tons of sprinklers and that giant bucket in the upper right of that photo above?  Yep.  It’ll dump one thousands gallons of water on ya if you’re not paying attention. 
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There are fancy “wolf” like names for all the different areas — as if I remember any of them.  So we’ll just call this the younger child/wading pool area.  The water is knee high on an adult and the boys loved those smaller slides to the left that they could down themselves.
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Then they upgraded to the individual slides in a different area that were a couple stories high.
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The second favorite for the boys was the wave pool.
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She liked it, too.
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So my oldest son, whom I couldn’t pry off the wall to float in the lazy river with me…he’s out there in that wave pool.  Without his life jacket.  See him?
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Look to the left.  For real.  That kid is strange.
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She really liked it.
So what topped the favorites list???
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These bad boys.  We all loved them.  They are all inner tube/raft rides, and depending on the slide, they accommodate either one, two, or up to five riders.  Drew was able to try all of them; there was just one, the water coaster, that Reed couldn’t ride as he didn’t meet the height requirement.  Brad and I took turns with the boys, while the other either waited at the bottom with Ruby or took the other boy to a different area of the park while we waited our turn.  Confession: I’m not a water park person — I’m not a water person.  It wouldn’t be my first pick as a vacation hot spot and it’s not always that much fun for me.  But let me tell you - doing this with our boys, seeing their joy — it was awesome!   
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Drew’s favorite was the Hydro Plunge, which is a water roller coaster.  I rode it with him and thought I was going to drown.  But noooooo, no lazy river!  This kid.  I mean, really.  Reed’s favorite was Coyote Cannon, which we affectionately termed “the toilet bowl”.  It’s a short start on the slide before you’re plunged into a giant swirly circle that you spin around until you’re eventually flushed out into the landing area.  That was my fav, too.  There were a handful of other different slides, as well as a giant family ride that used a raft that up to five people could ride in.  Both Brad and I were able to take the boys together on that one.  That was certainly on the top of the favorites list too — as Brad said, “Going down a family water slide backwards and being able to see your boys happy faces is pretty priceless!”
There were a few other areas, too.  The lazy river, which Ruby, Reed and I especially enjoyed, as well as a shallower pool with some kind of ropes course, and a four foot area with basketball and lily pads for older/taller kids and adults.
{If you’re interested, you can click HERE to take a virtual tour of the water park, or see videos of these water slides.}
We took an ice cream break early afternoon, and timed it just right to get our own personal photo shoot with Sammy the Squirrel.  We ran into her in the hall, and she was kind enough to pause for a picture with us!  
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We began to lose steam late afternoon and around 5:00 decided to call it a day.
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We changed and loaded into the van to head another 45 minutes south to the hotel we’d be staying at for the remainder of the week {the Wingate, just south of Cincinnati in Erlanger, Kentucky}.  We ate dinner at Dairy Queen, the boys watched a movie on their bed, and all the kiddos were tucked in by 9pm.  
The Vander Waal family rating of Great Wolf Lodge: Five Stars!  If you get the chance, go!  There are so many other activities, non-water related, that we didn’t participate in but look awesome, the accommodations are warm and comfortable, and the atmosphere is top-notch.  And the water park?  I think you get the point.

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