A look inside Great Wolf Lodge

Many Twin Cities parents are wondering: What’s the difference between the old Water Park of America and the new Great Wolf Lodge resort that took its place in Bloomington across the way from the Mall of America?

Waterpark: Well, when it comes to the bones of the 75,000-square-foot waterpark, it’s actually very similar with pretty much the same rides and slides — touched up, enhanced with new branding and some special features.

On a recent two-night trip to the resort for Media Family Weekend (Jan. 5-6), however, we noticed one major difference: It’s not so busy.

Even though it was the last weekend of winter break and even though multiple slides were closed due to crazy-cold outdoor weather, the slide lines weren’t long, if there were lines at all. 


Under the new brand — which boasts 15, going on 17, locations in the U.S./Canada with Chicago and Atlanta coming this year — only hotel guests are allowed to use the waterpark, which means no crazy admission lines. 

Families don’t need to rush to get inside to get their money’s worth for the day because they can use the waterpark during their entire stay, including the days of their arrival and departure before or after using their actual rooms.  

During our stay, we wished that the lazy river was bigger (or about a mile longer), since it was the busiest place in the park and therefore not exactly “lazy.” But we loved how the currents somehow kept us on course, even as we moved through the awesome (but chaotic) wave pool.

Activities: Another huge factor is that the resort — which officially opened Dec. 12 — is absolutely packed with other non-water activities that kids love, including an expanded arcade, a climbing wall, a ropes course, a mining station, a stuffed-character-creation store, a candy shop, a gift shop, an outfitter, a kids’ spa, mini bowling and — by far the most popular feature of the hotel during our stay — MagiQuest, a resort-wide digital scavenger-hunt. 

Kids point magic wands at interactive objects throughout the hotel to collect gold, open portals and slay dragons. (Psst: Even the giant bear rug on the wall in the lodge lobby is part of the game.)

Cost: Yes, all of the above attractions cost extra (except the waterpark). Wands, which kids get to keep, start at $17.99. It costs an additional $14.99 for game activation, which lasts for your entire stay and can be reactivated — with past progress! — for future stays. A Paw Pass ($69.99 per kid) includes MagiQuest and access to many of the other attractions. 

Free activities include interactive, musical story times, crafts, Wolf Walk tours, kid yoga and “wolfercise,” character meet-and-greets, dance parties and a big Northwoods Friends bedtime show. (Coming soon is the option to host birthday parties here.)

Rooms: Rates for the resort’s 404 rooms and suites (available in 13 floor plans) start at $199 (weeknights) and include microwaves and mini fridges. If you have a larger party (6 or more), check out the cabin-style rooms, which include themed separate sleeping quarters for kids, so parents can stay up later (with the lights and TV on). 

Be sure to ask about another post-bedtime perk known as Wine Down Service — “coming soon,” sources say, to the Bloomington location. Ordered by door hanger and announced by text (so as not to wake the kids), this add-on includes a bottle of wine and a non-Goldfish snack. 

Some of the larger suites sleep up to 12 and offer the best value with the cost of multiple bedrooms and bathrooms shared between families. 

Food: We found the eight (!) dining options at the new lodge to be far more sophisticated than those at another location we visited back in 2010 in Washington state. 

Giant jumbo shrimp cocktails were a highlight of the evening buffet for the grownups and the kids loved the breakfast buffet with paw-stamped pancakes, a mountain of bacon and a gorgeous fruit selection, along with many other options. 

Just off the main lobby, wine and local beers are on tap alongside locally sourced vittles. You’ll also find a Dunkin’ Donuts, Ben & Jerry’s and — inside the waterpark — a bar with blended drinks to give you that full staycation feel. Overlooking the waterpark, there’s a walk-up pizza joint (serving Surly, among other brews), plus another bar with a woodsy theme. 

Bonus: All kitchen facilities at Great Wolf Lodge are peanut and tree nut free. 

What’s different? In short, it’s still a waterpark-hotel geared toward kids, but with a much more exclusive and immersive atmosphere, including animal-track carpeting running down every hallway and a set of fuzzy ears for every guest — yes, even parents.  

Learn more at Great Wolf Lodge's website.

Sarah Jackson stayed for two nights (for no charge) with her son, age 9, at Great Wolf Lodge as part of a media weekend with 30 other members of the local press, including local bloggers, and their families.