This past week my wife and I took our three girls on a mini vacation, to our local branch of the Great Wolf Lodge. It is one of the benefits of being a homeschooling family, that we can schedule little trips like this, and it does not affect our children's education. They can work weekends, or extra days at our discretion to make up the lost time.
We found a great package, with discounted rates because of the winter season. I credit my wife completely for this. She had the idea, and the fortitude to keep looking and pressing the issue with me to do something fun to celebrate all of the girls accomplishments in school this year. I was not hesitant to take part in this, far from it, but I suffer from a chronic loss of intelligence and lack of memory, so if the issue is not constantly brought up in front of my face, I tend to forget about it and nothing happens. I am thankful for a wife who lovingly reminds me that these times will not last forever with my children and I should actively participate in their childhood whenever I can. So we made the reservations, I booked the time off and Monday morning we packed up the kids and made the hour drive to the lodge.
I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.
From the outside, the facility is awe inspiring to say the least. It looks a bit like a massive log cabin, but massive seems such a lacking word. It's more like a pentagon sized building made of wood logs.
What impressed me the most about the place, was the professionalism that was displayed in nearly every aspect of our stay. I have commented about the importance of professionalism in the past, and GWL seems to have adopted the vision to heart. From the initial check in, to checking out, everyone on staff there paid attention to the smallest detail. The environment was consistent with the whole "outdoor/log cabin/wolf/wildlife theme". Children are referred to as "cubs", parents wolves, rooms are dens, etc. All the employees wear uniforms, which, for the most part, were clean and pressed with few exceptions.
The room we stayed in was very nice. Though our room was admittedly at the bottom of the price scale (I have 5 people to pay for after all and as of yet I have not been able to sell an internet company for millions of dollars and retire into the lap of luxury), it was still clean and spacious. It even boasted a little sitting room, with a couch and table and chairs, along with the two full sized beds and bathroom. It had a porch and all weather table and chairs on the balcony. The beds were nice, the furniture clean.
But the level of professionalism within the facility was never more prominent than at the water park.
I must admit I am an avid people watcher. I had intended to sit and read while the kids occupied themselves in the wave pool and surrounding water activities - of which there were many. But upon sitting down to read my eye was immediately drawn to the life guards. In a perfectly clean and acceptable way! Get your mind out of the gutter, that's not what I mean.
The average age of the life guards would be somewhere in the late teens early twenties if I had to fancy a guess. So these people were not the upper crust of business executives in the world of corporate hustle and bustle. But make no mistake, these young people were extremely professional in how they approached their jobs.
In America today I think many of us have a picture in our minds of young people addicted to video games and cell phones, unable to be productive, take anything seriously, or carry on a conversation with an actual living person.
These were not those kids.
I didn't see a single life guard in my two days in the water park that did not take their job seriously and approach it with all the adult maturity of a stick in the mud executive.
There were no beach lifeguard chairs here, oh no. Like soldiers walking the borders of a military camp, the lifeguards patrolled their appointed areas with patterned movements and hawk-like stares. They never stood still, presumably because the company they work for has instilled in them the vision to know that their jobs could truly save the life of a child under their gaze.
I was astounded at the militaristic nature of it all. The young lifeguards, were all in sharp uniforms, grey shirts, red shorts and a waist pack with a CPR kit protruding from the back within easy reach. I watched in stunned appreciation for hours as their shifts changed. They appeared to be on 30 minute shift intervals, so that they patrolled different areas of the park every 30 minutes. This is sheer genius as it obviously keeps the lifeguards sharp and aware. You don't get bored going to a new point every half hour.
But even the shift changes were handled professionally.
Like the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier there was a nearly silent ceremony for each switch. The relief guard would show up, indicating he was there to take over. Instead of stopping to switch shifts, the new guard would perform a patrolled walk of 2 rounds of the area alongside the guard being replaced. Halfway through the dual patrol, the guard being replaced would pass off his lifesaving banana float to his replacement which he wore strapped to his chest like a messenger bag. The second patrol would have the new guard wearing the float, and the old guard walking alongside before he stepped off, relived of his duty to take up another post somewhere in the park, or disappear into the employee areas for his/her break.
There were even instances where the guard on duty simply had to sign a piece of paper. The lifeguard collecting signatures would take over for a moment, doing the dual shift change ceremony, pass off the clipboard when he/she received the banana, before taking over for the guard on duty. The guard on duty would walk away a few steps, fill out whatever was on the clipboard he needed to fill out, before resuming his post, taking up the banana again, passing off the clipboard to the other guard after another dual patrol.
The shift changes also never took place at the same time which I thought was impressive to say the least. While the wave pool had 2 guards, they would switch out on alternating patterns of 15 minute intervals ensuring that at any time at least one half of the guards were in the middle of a shift and both guards were not being replaced at the same time.
At one point, the management there conducted a 'fake baby training' on one of the guards. While the guard was on patrol, a fake baby was tossed into the water, and the entire group of guards snapped into motion. The nearest guard blew his whistle and hit the emergency stop on the wave pool before jumping into the water to recover the child. Another lifeguard appeared from nowhere to take up his post while the proper procedures were administered.
It was all extremely professional.
At one point, a pair of children came out of the wave pool crying and walked up to the lifeguard to voice their complaint about a missing parent or a mean child in the pool. The guard politely listened for the briefest of moments, instructed the kids to stay put, blew his whistle a few times in ordered blasts of air, and then held his fist up. It seemed awkward and even a bit rude at first -the lifeguard continuing his patrol with his "Lifeguard Power" fisted salute into the air - until a lifeguard manager, wearing a red shirt and khaki shorts showed up to talk to the kids and help them find their parents.
The meaning was clear. While the lifeguard was to be courteous and help the children, his job was to protect the lives of swimmers. Someone else was appointed to help follow up with kids in need of more detailed attention.
As a parent I was extremely impressed by this. Swimming is a lot of fun, and water parks are the best blend of technology coupling the endless enjoyment that clean water can bring. But water is also dangerous as the staggering number of drowned children each year can attest to. Here was a company committed to giving kids and parents a great excursion, while taking serious the inherent danger of swimming.
I really have nothing negative to say about the experience. Sure there were things that could be improved upon, but overall it was an enjoyable two days. As part of our package the resort credited fifty dollars to our room to spend on food, activities or souvenirs at the facility. It was a bit like the "Mark of the Beast" from Revelation, given that they scanned a microchip in a bracelet you get at check-in, but I figured I was ok since it was only within the resort. I couldn't buy and sell anything with it, only buy. So hopefully I avoided any judgement from above.
There are also plenty of non-water activities for the kids, mystery games, visits by Wolf Lodge characters and Mascots, bedtime stories, Ultraviolet Light mini-golf, and a sprawling arcade are available just to name a few.
I would highly recommend Great Wolf Lodge to anyone interested in a nice little family getaway. Yes the hotel food can be expensive, but all hotel food and drinks are expensive. But if you can find a non-peak time to go, you can have all the trappings of an expensive family vacation without all the... expenses.
And who couldn't use a bit of inexpensive fun these days!