Friday, March 14, 2014

Great Wolf Lodge . . . Not So Great.

Great Wolf Lodge (courtesy of FamilyVacationCritic.com)
Between the two of us, my partner Kathie and I have seven, yes, count them, seven children who range in ages from 7 to 16 years old. She and I decided to take the kidlings on a little trip to The Great Wolf Lodge (GWL) - Poconos, known for its giant indoor water park. Frankly, I think we could have been more disappointed with our choice, but not by much.

We crossed the town line into Scotrun, very easily misread, on a slushy, late winter Thursday afternoon. I didn't have to wait long for the tone of the trip to be set. After waiting for about fifteen minutes in a line to check in, I went in search of a luggage cart. I asked a GWL worker for help and she responded, “In one of the two second level stair wells.” After checking both stairwells, I found none. I asked another employee who lamented, “Yeah, those are hard to come by. The good news, though, is we’ve ordered fifty more and they’ll be here in two weeks.”
Great Wolf Lodge Lobby at Check-In

“Thanks,” I didn’t sarcastically reply.

At no time during our stay was there ever any luggage carriages in either stairwell. Apparently, these carts are so difficult to find, once a guest does acquire one he keeps it in his room so he doesn’t have to search for another upon departure.

Only one of our two rooms was ready at about 3:30 p.m., so we carried our bags to the one room. The desk clerk took my mobile number and promised a text when our second room was ready. Our plan was to grab an early dinner and then hit the water park, but the cafeteria was conveniently closed. A row of eateries, including a Pizza Hut Express, a deli-like place, a Starbucks, an ice cream shop, and another pizza restaurant, on the lower level outside the water park entrance was our only other in-house option. We ordered two pies and two salads.

During dinner, I received the text that our room was ready. We thought we’d
Well, The Coffee Was Complimentary
booked as our second room a “family suite,” which featured a mock log cabin containing four bunk beds in addition to another couple of full size beds. That’s not the room we got. Upon discussing the discrepancy with a desk clerk, Kathie and I left with a promise that a manager would review the reservation and get back to us with a resolution.

The draw of GWL is the giant indoor water park, which, I’ll admit, was above average. There are, I believe, eight big slides, which are pretty fun. The minimum height for riders is 42 inches, which means all of our group could enjoy the rides. In some cases, a younger rider had to ride with an adult. Although I didn’t tackle all eight, I enjoy about half of them and those were fast and exciting. A wave pool, a kiddie pool, a family spa, an over-21 spa, and a number of other water attractions complete the 80,000 square foot space. One of GWL’s the best ideas is a dual use wrist band. Not only does the wrist band get you into the park, but also serves as an electronic room key. Very cool.

At one point, The Favorite Son and I headed over to the one set of restrooms in the park to find them closed. Having to answer the call of nature, he and I had to leave the park, enter the food/arcade/retail area again where the temperature was at least 15 degrees cooler, and use the facilities there.
80,000 Square Foot Indoor Water Park (Courtesy of PoconosBest.com)

Another of the offerings GWL has for kids to occupy themselves with a series of "quests," MagiQuest, ShadowQuest, CompassQuest, which your little warlocks or witches uses a wand to open a series of magical boxes placed strategically throughout the lodge. I never, frankly, understood the purpose of the quest, but there was apparently some type of achievement if questers visited each of the locations. Of course, like everything else at GWL, the quests are not free. Each player must buy both the game and the magic wand, which requires a $50 investment per child.

We ended our evening with the kids playing in the arcade and with Kathie and I having a cocktail in the bar, which of course didn’t serve any food because the kitchen in the bar, like the buffet, closed at nine o’clock. We sat down at the bar at 9:06 p.m., so we settled on Pizza Hut Express chicken wings and a salad from the deli-like establishment.

In the morning, Kathie and I headed downstairs before the kids woke up and had a Starbucks. We sat in front of the big fireplace, sipped our coffees, and talked. Eventually, we returned to our room before I popped back downstairs to work out in the exercise room. At nine-o’clock, I didn’t have to wait for one of the four exercise machines, which include exactly two ellipticals and two treadmills. In addition, there were four stations of weight machines. It was clear that the room hadn’t been cleaned or serviced during the night, though, because there was a mountain of dirty towels in the hamper and not a single clean one of the rack.
Family Suite (courtesy of FamilyVacationCritic.com)

When I’d finished at the gym, I stopped at the front desk to inquire about the room mix-up. I happened to speak with the same young lady to whom I spoke the previous night. She was nervous, but polite. She explained that a manager “pulled the call” and listened to the conversation of my reservation. That seemed far-fetched, but I went with it.  She told me that after the reservation operator explained to me that the family suites were in a different part of the hotel and our groups would be separated, I decided to stick with two standard suites. Considering it had been two or three months since I’d made the reservation and I didn’t remember exactly what I’d said, I accepted the explanation at face value and returned to the room. When I arrived, Kathie told me she’d received a call from someone about the room who told a different story and that I’d declined the family suite due to a higher price. Was it location, was it price, or did GWL make a mistake? I may never know, but by the time we herded all seven kids to breakfast it was 11:06 a.m. Of course, the buffet closed at eleven. Back downstairs we went to buy cereal for the kids from the deli place.

On check out day, families can still use the park as long as they want. That’s a nice perk and we stayed a good part of the rest of the day on the water slides. Frustratingly, though, there are no changing rooms or locker rooms to shower before starting the voyage home. So, families who want to stay after check out have to bring their street clothes to the park and leave them unsecured next to the table or chairs where they bivouac while splashing around. Fortunately, the restrooms were open when it was time to put on our street clothes.
The Reason We're Here

I guess the bottom line is, “Did the kids have fun?” I polled our litter using the old “1-to-10 scale.” The responses ranged from five on the low end and ten on the high; the average was just north of seven. That’s pretty good and I’m happy that the kids, for the most part, enjoyed themselves. Yes, the water park was pretty fun, but to achieve that level of kid satisfaction, the grown-up’s had to work very hard to overcome the slew of inconveniences. Considering the cost, which was just shy of $1,200 a night for the two rooms and nine guests, the average should have been an 11.

Ever the interviewer, I coaxed one hotel employee to disclose the GWL’s year round occupancy rate is about 85%. That’s amazing statistic. There are two ways to look at it. Either management isn’t concerned about its customer satisfaction gaps because it just doesn’t matter. Situated just outside New York City, one of the largest consumer markets in the country, GWL has a virtual license to print money. On the other hand, just how much more profitable could GWL be if they installed some basic quality systems and make it easier for mom and dad?

I doubt I’ll bother to find out.

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