Autism Tips for Great Wolf Lodge
I was one of a few media and local bloggers who had the opportunity to do a during construction walk thru before the opening of Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove. I was very interested in staying on the property since it was the first I had ever heard of the themed hotel chain. After it's opening I was a bit concerned about the way things were run as I had read and heard mixed reviews on it's autism friendliness. Worried about forking over my time, effort and most importantly money to stay I ended up going with a group of friends and their children which I felt would make the stay easier. The bonus, it was my little girls birthday month!
My daughter is very high functioning but has some auditory processing issues, with that my main concerns were the lines, the stimulation and transitioning (since water is my girls element) Most parks we visit have a fast pass system of sorts or disability lines we can utilize when needed. There is no such system in place at Great Wolf Lodge. This was also going to be the first water park my daughter was to visit so there was also that unknown. Below I breakdown the park, it's areas and their pros and cons.
Let me first start off with making reservations and the check in process. It's a breeze. If you are not on the property or maybe there and your room becomes available, you will get a text message or email. This way if you are there early you can still enjoy the water park even if your room isn't ready. Simply check your bags and they can be delivered up to your room when it becomes available. Each member of your party will receive a wrist band, they are your room key and a simple way to charge to your room within the hotel. Children get bands that just allow them into water park unless you want them to have access to room and ability to charge. Check out is just as simple, no need to visit the front desk, you can leave your belongings once again with the bag check while still enjoying the water park after your check out time up until closing. Your final itemized bill will be emailed to you and the credit card on file will be charged. Easy right?
The Water Park Overall:
Indoor area is quite loud (my girl wasn't too bothered by it)
Some of the floor surfaces are slippery in areas (near Fort Mackenzie)
It's kinda humid inside
Take goggles/hair caps water is highly treated thought it had no strong odor.
The pools can get crowded even though it is open only to hotel guests
Outdoor Pool Area:
Lots of interactive water play
Not very deep and graduates on both ends.
Some shady areas via Umbrellas (Cabana's also available for rent)
Areas of the Water Park:
Main Fort Mackenzie : with several slides, water cannons and the big 1000 gallon water drop.
Slap Tail Pond/ Wave Pool: Timed sets of waves in a pool that get progressively deeper (5') Between wave times water is still and has fountains at entrance of pool.
Lazy River: Current takes you around with or without inner tubes (single or doubles available)
Water Slides: Single riders to up to 5 per raft all with different height and weight requirements.
Kiddy Pool/Splash Area: Low level water with water activities, slides.
Big Foot Pass: Deeper pool with different balancing activities, basketball and more.
Wolf Rider Wipeout : Boogie board/surfing lanes. Must sign a waiver for this. (we did not ride)
The Arcade Lower level:
The lower level below the main hotel lobby is very loud. There you will find an arcade, mini golf course, mini bowling lanes, the spa, a retail store as well as the candy shop and snack bar. We had a blast on the Bowling lanes and the mini golf! Noise mainly confined to arcade area.
Very clean, comfortable and surprisingly very quite. I stayed in the regular "Family Suite" . Next time I would definitely get the cabin themed room. Suites and cabins can sleep from 2 to 8 people.
My Autism Tips:
Headphone are a must for those who have issues with sounds (interior portions of hotel).
If you have food concerns, you are welcome to bring in your own to enjoy in your room. No outside food is allowed within the water park.
I would visit the water park as soon as it opens, it stays relatively calm for the first couple hours making for a quieter, less crowded experience while getting a feel for the different slides (outdoor pool not same hours of indoor pool).
Most of the park has no lines, except slides and body board area making it great for those who have issues waiting. So if you have a child that wants to ride the bigger slides, do them first.
Mini Golf can get crowded, play a hole an extra time to make space between parties if possible or let faster players pass you.
The arcade has duplicates of most games, it's really loud and visually stimulating.
Mini bowling you can have side rails set up or down (keeping ball from going in gutter)
The Magic Quest: If you don't have a cabin or den room the wand without purchasing the game only has around 3 areas it will interact with. Game can take up to 6 hours to complete if you purchase the Quest. If you do get a cabin, the wand works in the room.
I went in not knowing 100% if Great Wolf Lodge would be a good fit for my daughter. We were both very excited to stay and play since before it's opening. I would say it is more autism friendly than not and it's no fault of the staff, it's just a matter of design. I only see issues with auditory processing in a couple of the areas, understanding turn taking in line for the slides, bowling lanes and waiting for golfers ahead to finish. Lines for the bigger slides can be crowded and confining as the stairs are 3 lanes wide. I really must say I was very relieved and my daughter had zero issues. If your child has reservations about the bigger slides I would recommend you show them a youtube video first to prepare them. My daughter backed out the first try but finally went on one of the big slides and loved it!
Story times and activities are throughout the day and was well taken by my daughter. Children and parents alike sit on the floor and everyone has a good view.
Cons: Acoustics in water park and lower level where arcade and other activities create a very loud and visually stimulating environment. The good thing is there is an outdoor water area and for the indoors areas where headphones can be used. If you can get a Cabana, they do have a small fridge stocked with beverages, a television and you are free to order in food from the hotel. If not there are lounge chairs everywhere. The breaks offered with the outdoor pool and the ability to retire to your room is a major plus and can make your stay totally doable.
Closing thoughts: I would definitely return with my daughter, she transitioned extremely well within the park, between the hotel and other activities. The rooms even have a channel dedicated to the Great Wolf Characters if you need to take a break from all the activities. The value is there. A one night stay gets you 2 days in the water park. If you are on a budget, you can always go off property to eat, take food to your room or bring a cooler with your own food to enjoy within your room. How long is long enough to stay? In my opinion the 1 night 2 day stay is plenty since the water park is open late. Would make for a great birthday destination, staycation or place to entertain out of town guests.
Groupon has a killer deal happening right now on rooms starting at just $149 for an overnight stay for six. Get all the details and and booking info HERE
So have you been to Great Wolf Lodge yet? If you are looking to stay, check their web site for deals and fun add ons like their Birthday packages, spa packages and so much more!