Great Wolf Lodge

In choosing a location to visit that I have never visited before, I chose an establishment that is relatively remote, both geographically and culturally, from the city of Williamsburg, and the Williamsburg I am used to.  Great Wolf Lodge is 79,000 square feet of pure entertainment in a hotel.  My perception of the lodge prior to my visit was that it was a somewhat classy establishment that had fun for the whole family.  The word “lodge” carried a certain assumption of rustic accommodations that incorporated nature in some capacity.  It certainly didn’t look overwhelmingly large from I-64.  I knew there was an indoor water park but I didn’t think much of it.  I didn’t do much background research before I made my visit so as to maximize my reaction and thoughts upon arrival.  Any notion of class or incorporation of nature went right out the window as soon as I entered the compound.

To sum up Great Wolf Lodge in one word: enormous.  The amazement began as soon as I turned off of Rochambeau into the enormous Great Wolf Lodge compound.  Giant wolves adorned the entrance, giving it a powerful appearance.  I parked my car and entered the lodge.  Unbeknownst to me, January 31 is a teacher workday in Virginia, which translated into big business for Great Wolf Lodge.  I stopped in my tracks as soon as I entered the Lobby.  It was literally packed with people.  There was a long line just to check in and screaming children everywhere.  I went to the Concierge desk to see why it was so crowded and she told me about the workday.  That the hotel was packed was already too much to handle, add to that the extravagance and enormity of the main lobby, and it was sensory overload.  I didn’t know where to look let alone where to go.  The concierge gave me a basic run down of what I could see and I was able to get my bearings.  There were robotic animals everywhere and a giant fireplace.  The distinct smell of bad pizza was almost overwhelming and I immediately saw the Pizza Hut in the back corner of the lodge.  Behind the elevator I found windows that looked over a vast indoor water park filled with even more people.  Downstairs, I found an arcade the likes of which would throw anyone into an epileptic fit.  Further back was a room with a racecar track in it where you could build your own racecar and race it.  By the elevator, I found a sweets shop, right next to the entrance to the water park.  Makes sense: consume copious amounts of sugar, burn off the energy in a fast-paced water park, take the elevator back upstairs to your room.  Also on the bottom floor, two spas: one for adults, one for children.  Everywhere you looked, there were moving parts, children running around, food, games, lights, animals, processed food.  Great Wolf Lodge is essentially an indoor amusement park.

My Williamsburg is limited to the campus of William & Mary and the immediate surrounding areas, New Town, Monticello, Richmond Road, and Colonial Williamsburg. In my four years of attending William & Mary, I never felt compelled to travel outside the campus environment.  I would always see the Lodge as I traveled down I-64 towards Williamsburg but I never got a chance to visit the lodge.  As soon as I walked into the lodge I felt uncomfortable but I acknowledge that this is most likely due to the fact that it was a three-day weekend and thus, a high volume period for the lodge.  I imagine if it had been an off-peak weekday and there had been fewer people, I would have been able to handle it.  However, the way the lodge is designed and all the amenities it includes was already almost too much to handle.  The lodge is designed to cater to a very specific group of people: middle aged parents and their children ages 7-17 who are looking to burn energy.  There was no learning component or anything that requites a lot of thought.  In fact, there was a game room that is specifically for teens who want to play video games or surf the web.  This room can be found in the back corner of the lower level in a dark room.  Children sitting in the lobby presumably waiting for their parents to check in at Registration could be found staring down at their computers or hand-held gaming systems.  Great Wolf Lodge is anything if not a mindless entertainment zone for children and a vacuum for parents’ wallets.  What makes me even more uncomfortable is that I don’t think I would ever want to take my children to this themed-hotel, lest they start believing consuming that many sweets and wandering off on their own was ever acceptable in the real world.  The campy nature of the hotel fed into a stereotype of American culture that I try not to be a part of.  Specifically, the idea that American children are overloaded with electronics, sugary and processed foods, and material culture and that businesses key into this idea in order to make money.  What was especially frightening was the fact that all these children seemed to be roaming the halls and going in and out of the water park by themselves, without adult supervision.  This theme park is any parent’s nightmare.  Not only could a child easily wander off, but if they wandered outside of the building, they would be in the middle of nowhere and only about 100 yards from a busy highway.  Though I will say the activities provided within the compound are probably a major deterrent for children wandering outside of the Lodge, not to mention the fact that the compound is in the middle of the woods.

My visit was relatively short, maybe 20 minutes.  It would have been interesting to sit in the main lobby and people-watch to get a feel for the kind of people who visit this place.  Great Wolf Lodge was certainly an interesting place to visit but, much like Williamsburg, I believe it is a place where it’s best to stay only one or two nights and not for an extended period of time.  If you have unruly children who have a propensity for running around the house screaming, this is the place for you.  Anybody else should stick to Colonial Williamsburg.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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