“Just what is this place like?”
Long pause. “I imagine it’s like a kid casino.”
If you have never experienced the all-American greatness that is an indoor water theme park that may be like, say the Great Wolf Lodge just off I-5 in Grand Mound, Wash., then I have to say, good for you. You are winning at life so far.
There are 11 of these motherfuckin’ things spread about our fine nation in such glorious vacation spots including the Wisconsin Dells, Williamsburg, Va., and Niagara Falls. And may I say to the planners, makers and owners of such establishments, well done. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good ol’ fleecing of the lower and middle-class upfront, and the folks who built these things are fucking geniuses when it comes to taking money from people who likely can’t afford to part with it. Geniuses.
We, however, not of the geniuses, were taking my boyfriend Brian’s daughter and her friend there for her birthday weekend. This is, apparently, what happens when you allow children to make choices. Or have children for that matter.
In my mind, I imagined this place might actually be a real, you know, lodge, in the woods, surrounded by picturesque hiking trails, scenic lakes and such.
A co-worker once went here to escape the winter drudgery and forewarned me, as he, too, had a rustic Pacific Northwest lodge weekend in mind. Apparently the indoor water aspect, a smooth, controlled 84 degrees year-round, was calling. Then he told me what it was really like. “It’s like you’re being peed on by children. Constantly. Everywhere. Oh, look, there’s another drop. Of pee.”
Once we walked through the door, we knew what we were in for…hundreds of barely watched spawn running through the halls, waving sharp, projectile instruments, or “magic wands” that they had to buy at a “magic shop” to play a game called Magic Quest. What kind of game is this, you may be asking, gentle reader? Several points were marked out on the first five floors with stops and clues, where a handy bear or wolf would talk to you, but only if you inserted your “magic wand” into the slot. These plastic pieces of shit cost about $15. Oh, want a deluxe one? That’ll be $22. Not satisfied with your wand performance? You can upgrade your wand with several accessories, for a few more bucks! Oh, and there are no prizes or winners of this game. It’s just a hellish kid free-for-all all over the damn hotel.
But fuck wands. Let’s talk water slides. The place was mayhem, a shitshow if you will, of mass proportions packed into teeny-tiny bikinis and swim trunks. And an employee told me there aren’t even into high season yet, which is July and August. I watched throngs of people playing in an ocean simulator, and while, yes, the Pacific is a bit chilly this time of year, I thought, “Holy fuck, the ocean is right over there–how many of these people have even taken their kids to see it?”
Tired of the water slides? Why, step into the Arcade, aka the hard-core casino part of the kid casino, where games look like actual slot machines and no thought or skill is required to win prizes! Just tickets…Lots and lots of $2 tickets to play a game.
What else did this place have? Why, dream it up, and you can do it, as long as it involves sugar and plastic. Want to get a mani-pedi with your kid, while sitting on a ridiculous piece of plastic and eating an ice-cream sundae? You can do it! For about $50 a pop.
Are you ready to eat a real meal? Great! We have multiple options–the Loose Moose Cottage, buffet-style options, all-you-can eat, of course, only $14 for breakfast! Or try the Camp Critter Bar and Grille for its less-than-an-airport-quality $16 burger! I ordered a vegetable pasta dish for nearly $20. “That looks like they fucking took a frozen bag of Barilla with that cube of melt-in-the-dish sauce,” Brian said.
Oh, and sugar was everywhere. Around 7 p.m., the sugar-crashing, pre-bedtime battle was ramped up to mythical proportions. If one of the world’s most pleasant sounds is a child’s laugh, one of the worst is truly their cries: “Do you hear the screams?” Brian asked as we walked down our hallway, the chorus of dozens of tantrum-throwing children echoing throughout the Great Wolf Lodge’s halls.
We roughly calculated, based on the Best-Western-in-the-middle-of-nowhere look and feel of our hotel room — which was around $300 per weekend night — that the average family of four would part with about $1,200 for a weekend here. Twelve. Hundred. Dollars. And that’s a pretty conservative estimate.
And when a kid allegedly pooped in the wading pool, with that, it was time to go. We made it through nearly 22 hours of the kid casino.
So, what did we learn from this experience, gentle reader? Nearly two weeks later, I sit here, with that forlorn, lost, dazed look on my face, trying to figure out how to sum up this experience. I can’t. Perhaps the best way is this: Sitting back in Seattle, at a local restaurant, before biting into a local grass-fed burger, Brian said, “I am so glad to be back in the city.” Hallelujah.