If you’ve been around here for a while, you may remember our first trip to Great Wolf Lodge back in 2012, when I attended a conference hosted at Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, North Carolina. We LOVED it!! (Here’s the post if you’re interested in reading about that trip.)
So, then, you will know just. how. thrilled! we were when they asked us to come back–and this time to take part in some special activities.
SO VERY EXCITED!
We were part of a fantastic group of bloggers and journalists on this press trip. I met three awesome bloggers: Maria from Mamalicious Maria; Shelly from Mom Files; and Laura from Carolina Epicurean. I already knew the wonderful Jen from Mommy B Knows Best.
Besides getting lots of free time to enjoy the water park and other amenities, the members of the press trip were treated to a tour of the facility by the property General Manager, Angie Brown. It was obvious that Angie is a perfect fit for the Concord location. Her hospitable personality sets the tone for the congenial staff. I love that she patiently answered all of our questions (and you know with a group of bloggers and journalists, there were a lot!) and kept us entertained with Great Wolf history, facts, and information. (Tidbit: Did you know Great Wolf Lodge has its roots in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, the water park capital of the world? Makes sense! And so smart to put a really good idea under a roof and make it an even better idea!! Genius!)
We toured the water park and learned some behind the scenes info. Great Wolf Lodge properties are each individual, so while a visit will always have the same pleasant staff members and great customer service, features will vary slightly to give unique thrills. Concord is one of only two properties to have Mat Racers, a popular water park ride.
Angie also showed us where some of the rides exit the building and then come back inside. Some parks, she said, are visible from the highway coming in and seeing the water ride flumes adds to the excitement when arriving. Concord’s front face is the grand lodge itself and I can attest, we were all giddy driving up I-85 when we first spotted it!
I loved hearing about how the life guard staff members are constantly patrolling for safety. They are tested daily and while being present during testing can be unnerving for parents and children, it’s SO REASSURING to know that the guards are always performing at top ability. I didn’t take a photo of “Timmy,” the life-size mannequin they use for testing, but he’s on display at the front of the park where visitors can see him and learn more about the safety procedures.
We learned about all of the fun activities that aren’t water park related, like shopping at one of five themed shops, the Northern Lights Arcade, Elements Spa Salon and Scoops Kid Spa, the Iron Horse Fitness Room, and Cub Club. There’s also Creation Station, where you can make your own stuffed animal–and dress it with a great custom look, a sweet pint-size bowling alley, and several electronic games/videos. And our favorite for tweens: MAGIQUEST!! Not a chance to be bored at Great Wolf Lodge!!
And we were told a great teaser: coming to Great Wolf Lodge Concord in May……. a ropes course!! You know Ariel is pumped about that!!! And I’m betting there’s not a kid at her school that hasn’t heard about it by now! Just something about tweens and ropes courses! 😀
After our tour, we enjoyed a tasting luncheon with Corporate Director of Food & Beverage, Chris Hammond, and Corporate Director of Culinary, Russ Meeks.
Have you ever seen a meal that looked too pretty to eat?
Ummmm. Yes. It was too pretty to eat… but eat it we did! And it was just as delicious as it looked!
Here’s what we sampled, starting at the top right and proceeding clockwise:
Mini Grilled Cheese: toasted with cheddar cheese and served with tomato soup shooters
Grilled Shrimp & Farro: Grilled Shrimp with seasonal greens, cucumbers, feta cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, Kalamata olives and fresh mint. Served with red wine vinaigrette.
Roasted Wild Mushroom Pasta: Farfalle pasta with crimini, portabello and shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, roasted tomatoes and mushroom jus.
House-Made Hummus: with extra virgin olive oil, paprika, feta cheese and olive tapenade. Served with grilled flatbread and vegetables.
Salted Caramel Brownie: Do I even have to say more? It was divine!
And not only was the meal delicious, but listening to Chris and Russ describe the lengthy journey Great Wolf Lodge’s culinary service has been through was very interesting. Certainly parts of Great Wolf Lodge are perfect for families as they are. Who can complain about an 84º oasis in any weather? It’s downright decadent in freezing cold and quite refreshing in a baking hot summer. You can check in as early as 1 pm on the day of your arrival to use the water park (rooms won’t be available until 4 pm) and you can stay in the water park for the whole day on the day you check out (room check out is at 11 am). Two days of fun for one night’s room charge.
Having restaurants in the facility made sense. To families. To Great Wolf Lodge.
But the restaurants weren’t great. Food was expensive and just not awesome, the way families wanted it to be. GMO this. Non-organic that. Nuts in products.
All of that has changed.
Chris believes that “Food has to have soul,” meaning that he wants the food at Great Wolf Lodge to have meaning, to be nourishing, fresh, to be the best of the best.
What a great idea. Its implementation at Great Wolf Lodge has been a challenge. I’m sure there have been times when upper management screamed at some of the costs incurred. I’m sure most visitors don’t know all that goes into their meal prep. Probably a lot of the GWL staff doesn’t know. But it’s good for families that it’s happened, so much healthier and safer, and I’m glad I was able to learn a little bit more about what they’re doing with the food they’re making at Great Wolf Lodge.
Here are a few notes I jotted down as Chris spoke:
- All ground beef served at Great Wolf Lodge is 100% pure beef, never frozen.
- The new, improved pizza now served at the brand’s Wolf It Down restaurants took 6 months to develop! They even figured out that THE WATER was critical to the great-tasting dough in New York style pizza, so they found a bakery in Brooklyn to make dough for all of the pizza restaurants!
- All of the chicken served at Great Wolf Lodge is antibiotic and hormone free.
- Special gluten-free pizzas are available at Great Wolf Lodge–and even though it costs more to make them, the restaurant absorbs the extra costs and don’t pass them on to the consumer.
- All of the newly implemented recipes at Lodge Wood Fired Grill were created using the cleanest methods possible, meaning if they could make something without gluten- or allergen-containing products, they did. This is HUGE because it means that it doesn’t take any longer prep time to make a special request meal…. it’s already compliant!
- No nuts are served in the restaurants or snack bars. None.
- Their chicken strips are breaded in rice flour.
- No yellow #5 in the macaroni and cheese! (and they serve over 60,000 portions of mac & cheese annually!)
- He gave the example that they were buying non-GMO potatoes and frying them in non-GMO oil…. but then realized that a key part of the processing was done with GMO products. UGH. So they went to their suppliers and (because they are a large customer) were able to get the processor to change the process and use non-GMO products throughout the rest of the processing. That’s using your leverage for good!
Remember: each room at Great Wolf Lodge comes with a fridge and a microwave and there are tons of restaurants around the area in Concord. You can eat snacks and meals in your room if you wish. You cannot take outside food or beverages into the water park, but you don’t have to eat there to have a great time.
BUT, with all of the wonderful changes being implemented at the food service level at Great Wolf Lodge, you can enjoy meals there knowing that special diets or accommodations are welcomed and not treated as an inconvenience. To me, knowing that my child’s friend with a peanut allergy can safely eat anything served at GWL makes me VERY happy! Knowing that another friend with celiac won’t feel ostracized by not being able to have pizza with the rest of the birthday party friends is awesome. KUDOS to Great Wolf Lodge for making these warranted and appreciated changes!!
As he ended his presentation, Chris said something that made so much sense to me. He said, “It’s the right thing to do.” He’s right. I am grateful that my family doesn’t have special dietary needs and that we can eat out pretty much anywhere we want to, but I know so many people who can’t. What a relief this must be for families that do have those concerns! Additionally, guests are encouraged to contact the chef of the property they’re visiting via phone or email prior to their visit to ensure that all their needs are addressed in advance. Such a great way of providing customer service.
What a wonderful addition to a fun, fabulous, and SAFE water park hotel: food service that makes eating out safer and worry-free for families that have dietary concerns.
We had so much fun and learned so much about Great Wolf Lodge’s new initiatives on Family Travel Dining and their continuing emphasis on safety. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and learned something too! Soon, I’ll tell you about the rest of the fun we had at Great Wolf Lodge!!
Disclosure: We attended a press trip at Great Wolf Lodge where we received one free night’s stay and chose to pay a reduced rate for another night’s stay. We were also given vouchers to sample each of the restaurants while we were there. We bought an additional meal plan (great value!) and purchased various souvenirs too. (Of course!) All opinions here, as always, are my own.