My Wolfpack’s Trip To Great Wolf Lodge

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If you’re not familiar with Great Wolf Lodge, it’s a hotel and indoor waterpark with 15 locations in the United States. My family and I traveled to the Grapevine, TX locationin the Dallas/Fort Worth area, about three hours from our home.

Checking into Great Wolf Lodge

Waterpark Attractions and Crowds

My husband and son first visited Great Wolf Lodge last summer when my oldest son started school a couple days later than my youngest. Our nearby go-to waterpark was closed for maintenance, so they headed north to spend the night at Great Wolf Lodge. They raved about their experience, especially how empty it was since most kids were back in school. Shortly after their trip, we had an opportunity to book a second trip for a deep discount. We then booked the trip with the whole family to celebrate my oldest son’s birthday several months later.

We arrived at Great Wolf Lodge on a Saturday shortly after it was open to check in arrivals. I recommend getting there as early as possible because the waterpark is open to guests both on the day of check in and of check out. Luckily, our room was ready so we changed into swimsuits and headed to the waterpark. There are attractions for all ages, from the fast-moving slides to the wave pool and lazy river.

The next day we got to the water park right when it opened, which allowed us quick access to the slides we enjoyed the most. After a couple of hours we took a break for lunch and some down time then got back to the waterpark. The crowds were definitely down by Sunday afternoon, and my husband’s parents and sister came to meet us and stay at the resort as well.

Dining

Towels are provided and no outside food is allowed in the waterpark so you don’t really need to bring anything. You are issued a wristband upon arrival so if you do choose to purchase food or drinks from the concession stands in the park, you can charge them to your room. We saw many people bring their own insulated cups with drinks into the park, and I recommend drinking plenty of water as it is easy to become dehydrated.

Once we had our fill of the waterpark for that day, we went back to the room to shower and change for dinner. We ate dinner offsite, but there are options to dine in one of the restaurants at the hotel or bring in your own food. We brought our own drinks, snacks and breakfast foods and saw several other families with large coolers doing the same.

Decor

Happy Birthday from Great Wolf Lodge

The decor of the hotel and the rooms are themed like a cabin or campground. Some guest rooms even have smaller rooms inside decorated like log cabins that house bunk beds for the kids. We had an ordinary room, but it was quite spacious and there was plenty of room to spread out to eat and watch TV when we were not in the waterpark. We also appreciated the “Happy Birthday” sign the staff left on our door to celebrate my oldest son.

Magic Quest and Kids’ Activities

Playing Magic Quest and howling with the wolves

There are plenty of activities to enjoy in the hotel besides the water park, including a kid’s spa and an arcade. One of the most popular features is the Magic Quest game, which we started playing the second night. This involves purchasing a magic wand and going on “quests” in a scavenger hunt-like game throughout the hotel. If your children (or you) decide to participate in this game, I recommend purchasing it upon arrival rather than on the second day. It takes several hours to complete, but it’s fun for the kids because it’s interactive. They can wave their wands and make things talk or move to give them clues to get to the next level. It’s a nice relief from the waterpark, and it’s also good exercise as much of the game involves climbing up and down stairs to get clues in the stairwells. By the third day, my youngest son had enough of the waterpark and just wanted to play this game.

There are also several free organized activities like storytime and dance parties for the kids. My sons briefly joined in a dance party one night but left when my 10-year-old decided he was too cool for it. Adults can also enjoy an adults-only hot tub or spa onsite.

Recommendations

I would definitely recommend Great Wolf Lodge for a quick family getaway, especially if you can stay on a weekday when most kids are out of school. It’s also a fun way to celebrate your child’s birthday. In fact, my son said he would rather bring a couple of friends there than have an actual birthday party next year. Go early, stay late, bring your own food, and have a great time!

What’s your experience been like at Great Wolf Lodge or another waterpark? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

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8 Ways To Maximize Your Disney Cruise Check In Day

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Check In Day on the Disney Wonder, 2016

Disney cruises are so exciting!  While you may be anxious to set sail and arrive at your first destination, the magic really begins the day you board the ship. There are tons of things to see and do onboard, so here are 8 ways to make the most of your check in day:

#1: Get to Port the Night Before

I strongly recommend arriving in port the night before you set sail. If you travel to the port the day of departure, there’s a chance of your flight being delayed and (literally) missing the boat. Spend the night before in a hotel and give yourself peace of mind that you’ll make it on time.

#2: Check in Early

If you booked your cruise with a Disney travel agent (which I highly recommend), ask your agent to arrange for your check in time to be as early as possible. This is definitely key to making the most of your day.

Meeting Spider Man at the Oceaneer Club

#3: Register at the Oceaneer Club

Disney cruise ships have a wonderful kids’ club that will keep your children entertained while you grab an adults-only dinner or some quiet time at the pool. During the registration process, you’ll need to fill out some paperwork and your children will be given a magnetic arm band that grants them access to the club. If you’re working with a Disney travel agent, they can pre-register your children so you complete this process during embarkation rather than on the ship, where there are sure to be long lines.

#4: Bring a Carry On Bag

You will surrender your luggage during the embarkation process and your bags will be delivered to your state room later in the day. Bring a carry on bag with your essentials, including a swimsuit (see #7).

#5: Book Any Excursions, Tastings or Dining Reservations

If you need to make any changes to your existing reservations or if you want to sign up for other events onboard (such as wine tastings), be sure to stop by appropriate desk (Port Adventures Desk for excursions and Guest Services Desk for reservations) immediately upon arrival. This will give you the best chance of getting your favorite activities booked at your preferred time slots.

#6: Eat Lunch

Take advantage of Disney dining as soon as possible upon your arrival. There should be an option of a buffet or a sit down lunch. Enjoy the great food and familiarize yourself with the restaurants and their menus.

Checking out the waterslide and pool

#7: Ride the Waterslide

Once you’ve had something to eat, be sure to change into your swimsuit (see #4) and check out the pool. I recommend riding the waterslide as soon as possible. If the ship you are cruising on has an Aqua Duck, it’s sure to become one of the most popular attractions of the cruise. Even if it’s a regular slide, enjoy it now before the lines get too long.

#8: Explore

There is so much to see and do on a Disney cruise. Have fun exploring the ship on your own, or take an organized tour. You’re going to have a wonderful time, so enjoy and take it all in.

I hope these tips make your embarkation day smooth sailing (pun intended). If you’re a veteran cruiser with other tips on how to make the most of your check in day, please share in the comments!

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11 Things To Pack For Your Disney Cruise

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My family and I depart this week for a 10-night cruise from Port Canaveral to the southern Caribbean and we’re in the midst of packing. This is our second Disney cruise, so I’ve learned to pack a few key items to make everything go more smoothly:

#11: Door Decorations

On our first Disney cruise I was surprised at the extent families decorated their state room doors. Some had magnets with names of every family member and others had blinking lights. Door decorations don’t need to be fancy, but I recommend putting at least one small thing on your door to help your kids find your room (or help you find it after a few cocktails).

#10: Reusable Water Bottles

Reusable water bottles

Disney cruise ships  allow guests to bring a few plastic water bottles on board, and they sell water bottle packages you can have delivered to your room. Spare the expense and pack a reusable water bottle instead. There are stations all over the ship where you can fill your bottle up with fresh water, and you won’t get confused as to whose water bottle is whose.

#9: Wine

While on the subject of beverages, Disney allows each guest over age 21 to bring two bottles of wine on board. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the cost of a Disney cruise and while Disney sells wine packages, they can be pricey. Bring your own wine and enjoy a glass of wine out on your verandah while watching the sunset, or pour yourself a glass and bring it to dinner(though this is technically not allowed, it is rarely questioned. You will be charged a corkage fee if you bring a full bottle).

#8: Little Black Dress

Disney cruises usually include a “formal” and “semi-formal” night during your cruise. Those descriptions are open to interpretation and you’ll see people in everything from ball gowns to blue jeans. Pack a little black dress that can be dressed up or down with accessories. An LBD works in virtually any scenario and you’ll almost certainly wear it again to a wedding, corporate event or cocktail party. For the male equivalent of an LBD, pack a sport coat, tie, collared shirt and two pairs of slacks. Wear the tie for the formal night and pair the sport coat and shirt with more casual slacks for the semi-formal night.

#7: Workout Clothes

There is so much delicious food on a Disney cruise that it helps to balance things out with a little exercise. I am not much of a runner but Disney ships usually organize group runs/walks around the decks, and if you are visiting Castaway Cay, there is a 5K on the island the morning you arrive. Pilates is more my style and I was surprised to learn that there were pilates classes available onboard on my first cruise. If I would have brought workout clothes, I definitely would have tried a class or two. If nothing else, yoga pants are comfortable and great for lounging around in your room on the evenings you’d rather stay in.

#6: Gift for State Room Host

On a Disney cruise you’ll quickly realize that the state room hosts are some of the hardest working people on the ship. They clean your room every day, and do all the “extras” like leaving folded towels and chocolates on your pillow. While you have the opportunity to tip your state room host at the end of the week, it’s also nice to bring them a little something as a token of appreciation for all their hard work.

#5: Lanyard

Drinking wine (#9) and wearing my lanyard (#5) on the Disney Wonder

When you embark on a Disney cruise, each member of your party receives a “Key to the World” card that not only opens your state room door, but also serves as your identification and virtual credit card. You need to have this card with you at all times so it helps to have a lanyard to wear so you don’t have to worry about leaving it in your pocket or purse. If you’ve been on a Disney cruise before, you’ll probably be issued a lanyard upon arrival as a “thank you” for being a veteran cruiser. If not, pick one up at a dollar store beforehand and make sure it has a sealable pouch to keep your card clean and dry.

#4: Waterproof camera

There are many water activities on a Disney cruise, from the pool and waterslide on deck to the beaches, waterparks and snorkeling excursions available at various destinations. Bring a waterproof camera to capture the special memories at these locations.

#3: Packable Pail

If you have young kids and you’re traveling to a beach destination, consider bringing a Packable Pail that collapses so it doesn’t take up too much room in your suitcase. My 5-year-old had great fun with his pail on our last trip to Castaway Cay and he found a playmate with other beach toys. They shared and created sandcastles together.

#2: Beach Bag

Beach bag

If you’re traveling to any kind of beach, pack a beach bag to carry your sunscreen, Packable Pail (see #3), hats, cover ups and whatever else you might need. This could be as simple as a canvas tote from home, or you could bring a more elaborate bag with a cooler to keep cold drinks. A bonus is that you can also use it for souvenirs or dirty clothes when you disembark from the ship.

#1: Disney Gift Cards

Buy Disney gift cards in advance to pay for port adventures or any other extras during your trip. Not only does this help you budget, but you can also save money if you buy them at Target using a Target credit or debit card because you get a 5% discount. When you are buying hundreds or thousands of dollars gift cards, that adds up.

I hope these suggestions prove helpful on your next Disney cruise adventure! What other things do you recommend packing for a Disney cruise that I may not have listed here? Leave your best tips in the comments.

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I Need A Vacation, And So Do You

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Why I Love Vacation

I don’t know about you, but I need a vacation! A little about me – my name is Beth and I’m a political consultant, Pilates instructor, wife and mom of two boys in Austin, Texas. I’ll be guest blogging here at Main Street Tales for the next few months. But more importantly, I am a person who LOVES vacation.

 

Disney’s Aulani Resort, Oahu, 2015

Vacations are what keep me going through the slog of of the daily grind. I love all kinds of vacations — family vacations with just the four of us, a vacation with my husband, adults-only vacations with friends or even family vacations with multiple families. I love looking forward to vacations — daydreaming about visiting new places and relaxing while taking in the scenery. I love preparing for vacations – shopping for vacation clothes, getting my nails done, even exercising to get into that swimsuit. Most importantly, I love vacations because they give me an opportunity to spend time with people I love, to experience new places and to do things I wouldn’t normally have the chance to experience.

Pike’s Peak, Colorado, 2014

Vacations don’t have to be fancy to make an impact. I’ve had great family vacations involving nothing more than a one night stay in San Antonio (about 1 ½ hours from our house) and a day at a local theme park. I’ve tagged along on my husband’s work trips and considered my vacation relaxing by the pool and going out for a nice dinner. The point is that I got away, even for one night, to relax and experience something new.

Napa, 2016

I believe in the value of EXPERIENCES over THINGS. A good vacation experience doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as easy as sleeping in and letting someone else clean the room. Kids can give us great examples of how small, simple experiences can make a great vacation. My kids love hotels. They enjoy pressing the button for the elevator, eating a breakfast buffet and taking baths in a different tub than the one at home. It’s the change of scenery and disruption of the routine that they enjoy most.

After I come back from vacation I feel relaxed and recharged, and it motivates me to work harder (if for no other reason than to afford my next vacation!). Vacations give me something to look forward to and a goal to work toward.

Mardi Gras, New Orleans, 2015

 

Your Turn for a Vacation

Now that summer is here, it’s time for YOU to take a vacation. Disconnect from the real world, even if it’s only for a day. Spend some time away from your cell phone. Relax and enjoy a good meal. Try a new activity or adventure. Explore a new place. Do something different, and get away from everyday life.  

If it’s a family vacation you’re considering, give your kids the gift of your undivided attention. Make memories together. Give them something interesting to write about for their “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay assignment when they return to school.

Summer may already be upon us, but it’s not too late to pull something together if you haven’t already. Our family is taking a 10-night cruise to the southern Caribbean on the Disney Fantasy and I couldn’t be more excited. Thanks to Main Street Tales’ travel agency partner, Trips to the Mouse, anything is possible. So gather your family together and make a plan. Where will vacation take YOU this summer?

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Top 5 Walt Disney World Snacks

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I recently had a client ask if I could make any recommendations the top Walt Disney World snacks. They wanted to splurge and get a few every day to share. Though I managed to be more professional in my email back to her, my in-person response would have been “Girl, do I!!”

I consider myself and my family “snack connoisseurs,” though I don’t know that this is a particularly flattering description of us. Our favorite park is Epcot, which is a veritable smorgasbord of deliciousness, and the snack options are part of the reason we love it so much. Who doesn’t want to travel around the world and eat themselves silly?

It is in this spirit that I present my top five (yes, I know – it was hard to pare them down!) Walt Disney World Snacks:

 

5. Werther’s Caramel Popcorn

Sweet and salty? It’s right up my alley. You really can’t go wrong with popcorn of any kind at Disney World, but if you’re a caramel fan, the caramel corn at Karamell Kuche at Epcot’s Germany pavilion is where it’s at. While you’re there, grab a Mickey rice krispy treat dipped in caramel and milk chocolate, or a pecan caramel cluster.

4. Carrot Cake Cookie

This cult favorite used to be “the snack to have” at the Writer’s Stop café in Hollywood Studios, but since the café’s closing, you can find it at Sweet Spells right down the road. Two HUGE delicious carrot cake cookies sandwich a massive layer of cream cheese frosting. And since it has carrots in it, it’s good for you, right?! (photo credit: The Disney Food Blog)

3. LeFou’s Brew

If you’re a big Beauty and the Beast fan like I am, just the experience of stepping into Gaston’s Tavern, located in Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom, is a dream come true. He uses antlers in all of his decorating – seriously! There are plenty of delicious snacks to be had at this unique snack counter (pork shank, giant cinnamon rolls, oh my!) but the winner is LeFou’s Brew, an apple/marshmallow/passion fruit combo of a drink that will blow your mind. Sound weird? Just trust me and try it out! (photo credit: The Disney Parks Blog )

2. Dole Whip

To not set off the ire of the Dole Whip diehards out there (you know who you are!), I will explain that there are times that this would rank #1 for me. Who wouldn’t like pineapple ice cream? There are many variations of this treat – with and without alcohol, with and without pineapple juice, etc. – and they’re all delicious. But my favorite is at Pineapple Lanai at the Polynesian Resort. Pineapple and vanilla soft serve swirled together to perfection-yum!

1. School Bread

 

The cardamom bun. The vanilla icing and toasted coconut drizzled over the top. That slightly lemon-y dollop of pudding cream. Oh, how I could wax poetic on the deliciousness of this Norwegian treat. My family likes to get one to share while visiting the Norway pavilion at Epcot, and several to eat for breakfast the next day when we’re on our way out. I literally dream about this treat when it’s been too long since my last visit! (photo credit: The Disney Food Blog)

 

There you are – my top 5 treats you must experience your next trip to Walt Disney World. What would you add to the list?

 

This post is brought to you by Laura Wright, a travel advisor with Trips To The Mouse. If you would like Laura to help you with all of your Disney vacation needs, email her here or request a quote here.

Laura “I am an avid traveler – to Disney and beyond! (read that in Buzz Lightyear’s voice and you’ve got the right idea!) My daughters, husband and I have taken four Disney trips in the last five years, as well as journeyed in an RV for six months across the Western United States. My favorite rides at Disney World are Space Mountain, Peter Pan (I get chill bumps every time we fly over London!), and Star Tours. The Polynesian Village Resort is my absolute favorite place to stay, especially because there’s unlimited Dole Whip!”

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