Baby, It's Warm Inside

The water park at Williamsburg's Great Wolf Lodge has a giant bucket that dumps 1,000 gallons of water on guests.
The water park at Williamsburg's Great Wolf Lodge has a giant bucket that dumps 1,000 gallons of water on guests. (Great Wolf Lodge)
By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Clark Woods and Tashaunea Riley are confident that his 8-year-old and her daughter of the same age are having a good time at Great Wolf Lodge. They're not so sure about Riley's 11-year-old, Kristin.

She likes big thrill rides. The grown-ups are worried that a new indoor water park in Williamsburg might be a little tame for her.

But here's Kristin herself, dripping her way to the lounge chairs for a little break.

"It's so fun! Better than an amusement park and it stays open real late," she starts saying. The words tumble out.

"It has more games in the arcade, and the water slides are bigger and faster, and we get our own house in our room. It's called a kids cabin and it's, like, right next to the main room and it has bunk beds and the room has a flat-screen TV and a GameCube and a fireplace and of course the kids' cabin which is like a log cabin but with no doors or windows but we made doors and windows. We put a sheet over the door and put pillows in the windows. And there's an 8,000-gallon bucket that tips water and there's a buzzer so you can get ready and stand under it and you can get a lot of people on a raft for one of the slides and you don't have to wait long in line and there's a wave pool and it's like you're at the beach and it's so much fun you're never bored. Plus breakfast is really good."

Take a breath, Kristin.

Apparently the newest major attraction in Williamsburg has won fans in more than one age bracket since opening at the end of March. The 301 suites in the lodge were filled soon after, and the summer proved a busy one for the Wisconsin company's first opening outside the Midwest.

"We didn't know how quickly the East Coast would respond," chief executive John Emery said in a phone interview. But almost immediately after opening, the company began planning an expansion -- 100 more suites and a $5 million addition to the water park.

Only resort guests can use the water park, and admission is included in the price of a room. The target group: families with children up to age 14.

And by the way, don't worry about your kids being flattened by 8,000 gallons of water tipping from a bucket on top of a 48-foot-high fort. Kristin's report on bucket capacity somehow got exaggerated by a factor of eight.

Still, there's plenty of water -- more than a million gallons is recirculated every hour. There are six swimming pools and two whirlpools -- one for families and one for adults -- and a lazy river. All but one of the pools is indoors, so Great Wolf is just now flexing the expertise it has learned during many Midwestern winters: providing big-scale water fun in the cold months. In fact, when it's freezing outside, you can best appreciate an indoor space kept at a comfy 86 degrees -- 84 in the water.

During a weekend visit, my 12-year-old and her 13-year-old friend Becky were immediately impressed with the lodge itself, with its soaring lobby ceilings and glass elevator. Ironically, the owners had to cut down a small forest to make room on the 83.3-acre property for a Northwest wilderness-style lodge -- but not one built of timber. The lodge's exterior is made of what look like huge logs but in fact are a kind of plastic foam covered with laminated wood. While some forest remains at the back of the property, the front of the lodge overlooks a highway and is just minutes from a Wal-Mart.

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