This post contains affiliate links. My stay at Great Wolf Lodge was paid for by myself.
Have you heard that the newest Great Wolf Lodge has opened in Manteca, California? We got the chance to check it out and were delighted with our experience. Read on for more tips for planning a stay and visiting Great Wolf Lodge in Northern California.
1. Be strategic with your room selection.
This is a place where you won’t spend much time in the room aside from sleeping so be thoughtful when selecting your room. For a smaller family (with 2 kids), one of the standard rooms should be sufficient. But, for families of 5+ or groups of friends, taking advantage of one of the larger suites could prove to be comfortable and economical. I shared the Grizzly Suite with a friend and her kids and, with 2 separate bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a pull-out couch, the six of us had ample space. One other reason to potentially book a fancier room…many of the suites have bunk beds which can be a really fun experience for kids. Our friend’s had a bunk bed room and the six girls did a pre-bedtime howl together (you get wolf ears when checking in) and it almost felt a bit like summer camp.
2. Maximize your pool time.
Even if you only spend one night like we did, you can still get ample pool time by taking advantage of the generous provisions set forth. On the day of check-in, you can access the pool at 1pm. While your room might not necessary be available, you can leave your items in your vehicle and just have a small bag with your pool essentials to get the fun started. We lucked out and had our room ready for us at 1pm so we quickly changed and dropped off our stuff and stayed down there until it closed at 8pm! Around 4-5pm, the crowd definitely lightens as people leave to change for dinner and then gets progressively quieter. We opted to eat dinner from the poolside dining and left as the pool was shutting down for the night. Likewise, we were in line for the pool at about 8:55am to be one of the first people in the pool area for the day. And, on your day of departure, you technically have pool access all day but you still need to vacate your room by 11am.
3. Pack light for the pool.
You really do not need much for the pool and, while we felt safe leaving belonging unattended, I definitely prefer to have less sitting around. Thankfully, Great Wolf Lodge issues wristbands that act as your room key and a form of payment so wallets are unnecessary and there is no key to lose! My only item of value was my phone and I brought a very small dry bag with me which I kept it in during rides (I also saw many people with waterproof lanyard style holders like this). Highly recommend investing in a quality dry bag as we use it all the time on day trips and vacations. Another alternate is using the lockers in the pool area.
So, what do you really need to pack for the pool?
- Footwear for walking in/out (while some people were wearing aqua socks, most people were barefoot)
- Water bottle
Towels are provided and can be refreshed throughout the day. No outside food is permitted but there are several places to buy food and drink and you can come and go as you please. For younger kids, life jackets in 3 sizes were available to use at no extra charge.
Heading to Great Wolf Lodge? San Francisco is a short drive away. Check out my one day in San Francisco itinerary.
4. Where to spend vs save
I was actually pleasantly surprised at the quality and prices of food at Great Wolf Lodge. I seem to associate high prices and bad food with many spots so was pleased to get five slices of pizza for $15 and the pizza was actually quite good. Likewise, we ate breakfast at the on-site Dunkin Donuts and it was $10 for two donuts, a breakfast entree for me and a coffee. I think I was prepared to pay double in both cases. We also did an array of appetizers from Buckets and Timbers (both located poolside) and I have some advice: get the cheese curds. The kids were skeptical at first (I mean, the name doesn’t sound all that appealing) but, thankfully, one of my besties is married to a man from Wisconsin and I was introduced to these a few years ago. Just get them.
On the flip side, there are lots of opportunities to spend frivolously — one example is the MagiQuest. You buy a wand ($18-20/each) and then pay for game time ($14). Throughout the property, you can unlock treasure and it did look cool but the thought of shelling out over $200 for our six kids to fun around for a bit seemed a bit steep. And then there is the money suck known as Build-a-Bear which I avoided (please no more soft toys in the house). Instead, a few of the kids did the ropes course ($15) as a unique experience. The candy store was the other shocker. I let my daughter get a few bits of candy thinking it was by weight but it was actually filling the whole cup for like $13. So, yes, I paid way too much for a few Swedish fish and some Jelly Bellies!
If the MagiQuest is appealing, consider getting one wand for the whole family and have the kids take turns using it.
5. Attractions are color-coded (and there are wristbands!)
Perhaps the hardest part of any theme park is determining which rides or attractions are suitable for which age groups. Great Wolf Lodge has thought of everything and has a cool color coded system for each ride. Upon entry to the park, children are measured and given an appropriate colored wristband. Green can go on anything, yellow has some restrictions (usually accompanied by an adult and/or wearing a life jacket) and red is the most restrictive. This actually helps make the lifeguard’s job easier, too. My 6 year old had the yellow band and went into the wave pool without a life jacket. Within seconds, they had kindly asked us to put a life jacket on. In all the hustle and bustle going from one ride to another, it is comforting to know the staff is so attentive.
How to Book…
Ready to plan your trip? Head to the Great Wolf Lodge website for a direct booking and exclusive deals. In their user-friendly portal, you can not only select your room but also add on special passes and experiences at the same time.
Other Common Questions…
- Can I get a day pass? At the moment, day passes were not available.
- How long of a visit do I need? I am not a theme park person but I actually did enjoy my time at Great Wolf Lodge. With that said, we did one night (Sunday evening) and it was perfect. Using the timing mentioned above of maximizing pool time, we felt we got to do everything we wanted. If you want to also allot time for mini golf, ropes course or other things, a second night may be beneficial so you do not feel too rushed.
- Can I bring in outside food? To your room, yes. To the pool, no. If you are looking to save money, there is a Costco next door for cheap pizza and hot dogs. But, I was pleasantly surprised with the reasonable prices at Great Wolf Lodge so don’t completely write them off. I would, however, recommend bringing some drinks and snacks for the room.
- Would my younger toddler have fun? There were people with tiny babies and younger toddlers. Obviously, the babies weren’t doing much but the younger toddlers were loving the splash pad as well as the beach entry outdoor pool.
Have another question? Post it in the comments and I will add to the post!