When you’re an adventurous kid, the only thing better than a birthday road trip is getting to bring a friend along for the ride. For her tenth birthday, my daughter was determined to have a hotel slumber party, and it had to be at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas — a three-hour drive away. No other hotel would do. Not even the water park resort 15 minutes from our house.
It turns out, this crazy plan was a good one. Imagine a whole weekend of two sugar-hyped tweens, squealing and giggling and having the time of their little lives. They shared candy and ice cream, painted each other’s nails in our themed suite and played so long in the wave pool they fell asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows.
More Than a Water Park — Adventures and Quests
It’s no surprise that Great Wolf Lodge has lots of water fun. There are big slides, little slides, a lazy river, a wave pool and an activity pool.
But after wearing your people out navigating the huge indoor water park, there is still an entire hotel to explore. First, you need a wand.
Eight themed floors of the hotel come to life with the flick of a MagiQuest wand. Treasure chests light up and paintings speak. This interactive experience is what sets Great Wolf Lodge apart from other kid-friendly resorts.
After activating your souvenir wand, choose a quest from The Ancient Book of Wisdom. There are 10 quests and four adventures, each of which takes about half an hour to complete (longer if you have to wait in line behind other kids).
No matter the choice, you’ll find yourself running up and down flights of stairs trying to keep up with your young Magi because elevators are painfully slow when they’re on a mission. You might think this is your chance to sneak off to the hotel room and rest, but even 10-year-olds like some parent help when collecting magical items on their list.
Bells and Whistles — Gemstone Mining to Build a Bear
Water slides and quests are exciting, but Great Wolf Lodge has plenty more to keep you busy. There’s an arcade, ice cream shop, gemstone mining, candy shop, ropes course and Build-A- Bear station.
If you’re only staying one night, it can be hard to fit in all the extra activities. But you can try, with an activity pass that bundles the main attractions. These run from $55 to $90 per child.
Alternatively, you can stick to the free activities in the lobby, like Yoga Tails, story time and a glow family dance party.
Cozy Wolf Dens for Sleepy Cubs
Turns out 10-year-olds are not too cool to get excited about a wolf theme — wearing wolf ear headbands and playing “howlin’ Bingo” in the lobby. Our little pack especially loved the Wolf Den hotel suite, where the girls had a bunk bed lair all to themselves.
Other themed sleeping options include KidKamp and Kid Cabin suites. All have semi-private sleeping quarters for kids within the hotel room, which is nice for anyone who likes to actually sleep after an action-packed day.
Plan Your Visit
Great Wolf Lodge Grapevine is located across the street from the Gaylord Texan, a 15-minute drive from DFW Airport. To visit, you can buy a half-day pass, a full-day pass or book a hotel stay which includes water park admission.
Look for deals and you can save up to 50%, but you might also consider some of the many add-ons, including late check-out at 2 p.m.
If you can swing it, weekdays are cheaper and quieter at the resort. With smaller crowds, there are shorter lines for water slides and MagiQuest is more fun, too.
Cover Photo Courtesy Great Wolf Lodge.
Heidi Gollub is a lead editor at USA TODAY Blueprint during the week and a 4th grader’s chauffeur on the weekend. She lives in Austin with her husband and kids.