Great Wolf Lodge, Williamsburg, VA February 16-19, 2015

great wolf lobby
The Lobby of Animatronic Creepiness

So we got offered an excellent (for Great Wolf) deal on a loft suite as part of a homeschool group booking. We were very excited to finally be able to take the kids and saved it as a surprise for them during the gloomy (and as it turned out, unusually frigid and snowy) days of February. Unfortunately the biggest surprise was what a disappointment this turned out to be.

The check-in process was horribly slow, with a line stretching across the lobby and into the hall. They eventually came down the line handing out park passes and asking folks to come back later to check in when it was less busy. Unfortunately, even going back when the line was shorter, check in took a full hour. The shameful part was that I had seen GWL featured on an older episode of Undercover Boss. At that time they identified their terrible check-in process as one of the biggest things that needed to be improved. However, it was quite obvious that absolutely nothing had changed in the intervening 5 years.

While awaiting our room we went down to the waterpark to change. The women’s facility is small, with only 4 shower/changing stalls and reeked of dirty diapers (there were several left on the changing room floor on my first visit). There are also holes in the walls of the hall to the changing rooms. Lockers are available in the park area, but at $10/day for a locker we could barely cram a small bag and 4 pairs of shoes in, they are neither cost-efficient nor particularly useful. There are only two small bathrooms, one in the changing area and one near the back of the park, providing a total of only 9 or 10 stalls, which does not seem to be nearly enough for a waterpark serving up to 2000 people per day. At least not if you don’t want them peeing in the pool.

The waterpark itself was a lot of fun, we particularly liked the family Raging Rivers slide with its four-person tubes and the surfing simulator. It was reasonably clean, but again with a lot of dust and damage when you got up to the higher levels of the park. Not enough to make it unenjoyable, but noticeable in light of everything else being run down. The lifeguard staff were fabulous, kept a good eye out for the kids and were extremely friendly.

Inside the Wolf Den
As we checked in a day early due to weather, and as the loft we originally reserved was not available the first night, we had the opportunity to check out two different styles of room. The Wolf Den was small, definitely worn from all the kids staying, but while it had scratched wallpaper, old stained carpet, and holes in the wall where a TV had been pulled down and remounted, it was clean and fun for the kids. The 9 year-old, in particular, loved having his own ‘cave’ to watch TV and sleep in. FYI, the bunks are not full size single beds and my 12 year old was nearly too tall to sleep comfortably, if you have teenagers I’d advise a different room type.

Unfortunately, the top of the line loft suite that we had reserved for the other two nights was a different story. It was absolutely filthy, all the walls were stained and scarred, but the worst were one in the living area that was covered in some sort or mysterious brown gundge and the one by the refrigerator that was coated with old food. The overhead heating ducts were filled with dust (bad for allergy sufferers) and there were cobwebs in the corners. There were even boogers crusted on the display Shutterfly book they were trying to sell and I felt so ill just looking around that I almost insisted we leave then and there.

A call to the front desk actually got a troubleshooting team sent up from the Public Areas crew to do some emergency cleaning. Rashawn and Nikita were fabulous and very kind about the whole situation. They scrubbed down as much as they could (with brushes, that’s how caked the walls were) and at least got the room to a point where I was willing to stay in it. But there is no excuse for these sorts of condition even in a cheap hotel room, much less in one that retails from $400-$650 a night.

The public areas are also, while not dreadful, more run down than I expect from an expensive resort and every surface higher than the floor was dust-covered. I came away with the distinct impression that the management’s attitude is “It’s just for the kids, who won’t notice, so who cares.” I guess they figure that the kids will beg to come back because of the waterpark and the parents will take them to keep the family peace. But frankly, outside of the water park, I didn’t see that they took very good care for the kids’ needs either. I understand that some of the GWLs have a dedicated kids club, but all they have in Williamsburg is a rolling cart they set up in the lobby. So the activities were pretty much confined to dancing in the lobby or obstacle courses made out of hula hoops, the problem was that this actually made the congestion from the long check-in lines worse. It also meant there was no way to check kids in and out of activities and no accountability. There is an animatronic musical show in the lobby at bedtime, but frankly, the eldest found it creepy (I agreed).

Last thing, everything is an upcharge here. Nothing is included but your room and the waterpark, and everything is overpriced. The worst are the MagicQuest games that are *heavily* promoted throughout the hotel and sold as a can’t-miss experience. It’s a digital scavenger hunt that involves running around throughout the hotel with a wand, which you point at different items to collect points and complete quests. The problem is that at the bare minimum you have to buy a wand ($17 and up depending on options) and then pay another $15 for each “Quest”. Then there are different toppers for the wands that grant new abilities in-game, which are another $20 each. We forwent the experience as even playing a single game with the minimal equipment would have run $64 for our two boys, and we saw many folks for whom the cost with extras was adding up quickly. The best deal was probably the mini-bowling alley (actually a 10 pin variant of German-style Kegel) at $5 a pop. The also offer mini golf, 3D Ride simulators, teddy bear building and an arcade, all for a fee, of course.

Paul’s take on the traditional Cubano
Food is no better than average and also on the pricy side. There are a million better, cheaper places to eat in Williamsburg (my personal favorite is Paul’s Deli, over by the College), so I advise you to get out and explore rather than eat soggy pizza and gooey waffles at amusement park prices.

Lastly, room pricing is not transparent, the rates you are quoted do not include the $20 daily resort fee, so be aware when booking that the real rate is $20 dollars/day more than the rate you see. We were refunded half a day’s stay for the filthy room, but that did not include any of the additional fee.

My best advice is to skip this place altogether and stay in one of the many nicer and (much) less expensive hotels in the area, then use the money you’ve saved to buy season passes to Water Country USA and Colonial Williamsburg instead.

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3 thoughts on “Great Wolf Lodge, Williamsburg, VA February 16-19, 2015

  1. We went last fall and had the same experience. We have traveled a lot – in the US and abroad – and have never seen such filthy conditions. The rugs throughout were disgusting and people were walking barefoot. It made me gag! There was a blob of shampoo(?) in the tub, a pile of hair on the bathroom floor, some sticky substance all over the door, and food ground into the carpet. I wiped everything with lysol wipes when we got there and they were brown when I was done. We bought the pizza meal from the basement restaurant. The pizza was half-cooked and the salad was clearly a few days old. I was also shocked at the extra costs for EVERYTHING. We didn’t do any of the extra stuff. Thankfully, the kids loved the waterpark so didn’t feel like they missed anything. We will NOT being going back there.

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