Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Wolf Pack

Several years ago my best friend, Courtney, moved to Pittsburgh with her husband so that he could earn his PhD.  We planned to call and visit each other often so the move didn't seem that dramatic.  What we didn't count on was that jobs, school, pregnancies, and babies would eventually make the trip almost impossible.  For the past few summers we have planned to meet in the middle for a family weekend, but it has never worked out.
Finally, after seven years, we were able to make a plan and stick to it, and we met the Williams clan in Sandusky Ohio at The Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park and resort.  If you haven't been to a Great Wolf (and you have children with no fear of water borne illness) then you are missing out.  The resort is enormous with 30,00 square feet of water park, several activities that don't involve water, and huge family style hotel rooms, all for a reasonable price.
We arrived early Friday evening with the Williamseses hot on our trail.  After checking in, we were walking to the lobby to check things out and ran into them in the hallway.  It was quickly decided that the moms would unpack in the rooms while the dads took the kids to the water park.  This proved to be no big deal for Grant since he has been home with the kids writing his dissertation while Courtney has taken classes for her Masters.  Bryan, on the other hand, struggled with his task.  When I came down to the water with my camera, I was quickly informed that Lilly had been 'missplaced' for several minutes.  No worries, Lilly was found, learned a lesson about staying with 'her adults' and the kids were having a great time.
Jack and Maddie loved the area at the front for little ones.  Jack liked the water fountains, and Maddie preferred the slide.  She climbed up the stairs and went down the slide somewhere around a million times.

Jack stepping on one of the fountains and blocking the water.
Yep, then this happened. 
Within the first five minutes Lilly had led Bryan into almost every single area that the water park offered, just to check it out.
By the time we were able to get the kids out of the water park, dressed and ready for dinner it was late.  It was much later than I will admit to feeding my kids.  But, in an odd twist, it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable dinners I've had in a restaurant with my children.  Lilly sat by Aiden and they talked, colored and ate as if they were in their own little world and possibly (as Courtney and I like to believe) on a date.  Jack and Maddie were entertained for much longer than expected with coloring and eventually smart phones.  Bryan and Grant were able to order more than one beer, and I even got dessert.  Crazy dinner with four kids, I know.
On our way to dinner, Lilly spotted this bear by the lobby.  She saw a mom taking pictures of her kids on the bears lap and insisted that we get some photos too...every time we passed the bear.
Confirming Courtney's and my belief that Lilly and Aiden were actually on a date.  We have been taking pictures like this for years and we've already started working on the slide show for their wedding.
The next morning, after everyone slept in and we had breakfast, we decided to take advantage of the some of the other activities.  Here the older two kids, with Bryan's help, did a magic quest.  The kids (adults) purchased magic wands, read clues from a magic book, and then searched throughout the hotel for treasure and artifacts.  Here Lilly and Aiden are getting their instructions for the quest.  Ironically, the screen that gives the starting directions was the hardest for us to find.  It was right outside the shop where the wands were sold.
Jack taking a turn with Lilly's wand.
Searching for another treasure.
Lilly and Aiden casting their spells to open the magic book.
Bryan, joyfully searching for the next clue.  He loved the magic quest and wanted to do it again and again. 
We happened upon a show int he lobby.  In an ironic twist, these animatronic figures sang a song with the chorus, "There's nothing to be scared of here", except for the creepy animatronic figures, of course.
Lilly and Jack getting into the show.
And, again on the bear.
If you are planning to do everything that  Great Wolf has to offer, you are advised to buy a pass.  Courtney and I decided on the Paw Pass for the older kids and the Pup Pass for Jack and Maddie.  Along with several other things, the older two got to do the magic quest and the little ones got to make their very own t-shirt in the Pup Club.  I ended up coloring most of Jack's shirt because the Pup Club had a little area with trucks that he chose to play with instead.
After the magic quest, t-shirt making, and creepy animatronic songs the kids, and parents, were all ready for more water park fun.
This time we left Grant in charge of Lilly and, as you can see, it was a good call because he is closely monitoring her and Aiden in the lazy river.
Bryan (not pictured here) was obviously in charge of Jack.
It took just the smallest bit of coaxing, but once we got Lilly and Aiden on the water slides, we couldn't get them to do anything else.

Racing slides!
Both Lilly and Aiden, again with some coaxing, eventually went on the biggest of the water slides too.  And, just like the little ones, once they did it they wanted to go again and again.
Jack and Maddie, however, had no interest in slides, but found some water squirters and ways to have fun in each section.
Lilly, waiting for the giant 700 gallon bucket to dump and shower the entire park with water.
Lilly taking a direct hit from the giant bucket.
Again, Jack and Maddie chose not to partake in the giant bucket.
After the water park we got some baths, dry clothes and, of course, the wolf ears that came with every one's pass.
Each of the kids was also able to make a stuffed animal.  Someone chose a dragon and a theme was born.  Everyone made a dragon except Maddie, who made a raccoon.
After being stuffed Jack puts a magic star in his dragon to bring him to life.
Grant gets in on the action.  Despite what his face says, he was actually having a really good time in his wolf ears.
In a rare and exciting moment, we were able to get a picture of all four kids, looking at the camera!
After making animals we went to the arcade to collect the tokens that each child was entitled to per their pass.  At this point, we realized that the passes had become more of job, trying to make sure were got everything that we had paid for, and less of a fun way to save money.
At least Lilly carried her own dragon around the arcade for a while.
We were desperately trying to find ways for the kids to hurry and spend their tokens so we could eat dinner and get down to the lobby for story time, but they kept wanting to ride things that didn't even require that we put a token for a five year old to enjoy it.
So proud of my liberated woman.  She hopped on a bike and said, "Aiden, let's race!"
Then, she proved that I have a lot of work to do because as soon as Aiden invited her to ride with him, she ditched her own bike and hopped on the back of his.
After a wild dinner of pizza in the room, we finally made it to story time and got the kids their "free" ice cream that came with the passes.
I have said it many times before and it never gets any less true....nothing attracts kids like an adult on the floor.  Maddie and Jack opted for cuddles while they listened to the story.  As you can see, Maddie may not be sure about sharing her daddy's lap.
Another thing that attracts children?  A large furry mascot animal with a line waiting to have pictures taken with him.  No one was interested in meeting the raccoon until a line formed, then it was all Aiden had ever wanted in his life.
And, of course, Maddie wanted to meet him too.  Although, I'm pretty sure Maddie wanted to actually meet him, not because there was a line, but because she wanted to give him a hug.
It was a great weekend:  A good plan, an equal driving distance for each of us, a lot of fun for the kids, pretty affordable for the adults, and a great way for our families to spend time together.  At the end, we said our good byes and counted this weekend as a success and vowed to do it again...hopefully, it won't take seven years this time.

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