Review of Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark – Traverse City

Two weeks ago we surprised our kids with a two night stay at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, Michigan.  This was our first stay at an indoor waterpark, and it was a very good experience.

Background

We knew that we wanted to get away for a couple of days sometime this winter, and that turned out to be a great choice, as it’s been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recorded history.  In fact, the first day we were there, the recorded temperature outside was -22 degrees.  It was a great decision to break up the winter with some ‘summer’ fun.

Price

We booked two months in advance, and we looked at all of the various pricing models.  Just like most everything in the travel / lodging industry, pricing is tied to demand.  Weekends are higher than weekdays, and times like Spring Break and such have higher demand, thus higher pricing.  We found a few week stretch between mid-winter break and spring break where prices were lower.  In addition, we looked at staying Sunday and Monday instead of Friday and Saturday, which made the price cheaper.

The listed price of the room was $150 per night.  This included your stay as well as access to the waterpark itself.

We used a 20% discount code that was made available to us through my employer.  They have a deal where employees can use this code.  That took us down to $120 per night, but keep in mind that taxes and mandatory resort fees will add about $25-30 per night.  In the end, we paid $147 per night, so the 20% basically covered the extra charges.

It is worth noting that waterparks tend to offer codes or participate in Groupon deals, so even though your employer might not have a deal, it’s worth a Google search.  You can also sign up for their e-mail list, which often provides discount codes as well.

Check In

I’m not going to lie, the check in process was not a great first impression.  We arrived around 1pm, which apparently is around peak time for check-ins.  While they had five of six spots open, we still had to wait over 30 minutes in line to check in.  Apparently, there’s no need to change this, so it’s ‘common’.   I also was not impressed with the elevators.  In the main lobby there are two elevators.  The waterpark is one level down from the lobby and the rooms are on the two levels above.  With just two elevators, we had to wait another 10 minutes just to get to our floor.  Luckily, I found that there are more elevators on the back end of the hall.  As that’s where our room was located, this turned out to be a nice find.  Still, I think the desk workers could have told people in rooms further down the hall about the other elevators, which could have reduced congestion significantly.

Rooms

The rooms are very spacious.  We had the basic type room, a Family Suite, which is still very nice.  There are two queen size beds, and there’s an area with a couch, with a half wall between this area.  The TV is on a dresser and can pivot to face the beds or the sitting area.  This is a great layout because the kids can go to bed while the adults can stay up.  The room also had a fairly standard bathroom, and a nice area outside which to get ready.  There was also a nice area with a microwave, a small refrigerator (yes, there’s a small freezer section), and a coffee maker.

They have more intricate rooms.  There are rooms where the kids beds are in a little built in ‘cabin’ or something like that.  Our kids would have gotten little from that, but maybe down the road.

Water Park

The main reason to go there is the water park and it did not disappoint.  There is fun there for kids of all ages.  Our kids are 4 and 2 and they were not bored for a single second.  They spent a lot of time in the kiddie pool, which is very big and has three slides that they went down, each hundreds of times.  Our four year old was big enough to go down himself.  Our two year old was able to go down the slide, but we had to catch her at the bottom.  Still, she loved it.

The centerpiece of the room is what I can only describe as a giant jungle gym that has water sprays, buckets, and such all throughout.  There’s a giant bucket that holds 1,000 gallons of water.  It fills every five minutes and the bucket is imbalanced, so every five minutes it dumps this down below.  There are warning clangs and those who dare will stand directly underneath.  You have to be careful as you’re walking by as people above can dump buckets or water on you or shoot you with spray guns.  We found this out the hard way.

The jungle gym has two slides which my kids decided they wanted to go down on the last day.  In fact, our two year old was the first to want to go.  We thought she might be too little, but they said she met the requirements.  We asked her over and over if she really wanted to go.  She did.  You have to go down by yourself (no going in mom or dad’s laps) and she went down each one once and decided she was done (she arrived ‘laying down’ each time, so it obviously bounced her around).  My son went down each one at least four or five times.

They also had a larger pool with a basketball hoop that is probably for a bit bigger kids.  We didn’t spend much time there.

They have a ‘lazy river’ ride where you go around in tubes.  This was nice to relax in, as was the hot tub.  The kids liked the hot tub for when they would get chilly.  They also have an adults only hot tub, though we didn’t use that.

There are three enclosed slides that require you to ride on tubes.  You have to be ‘big’ enough to get on those.  My daughter wasn’t big enough, but my son was big enough for two of the three.  My wife and I each took him once down the two slides, and while he enjoyed it, he always wanted to go do something else.  I went down the third slide by myself.  It was pretty fun.

The only knock on the waterpark is that on our first day there, they ran out of towels.  How does that even happen?  Other than that, it was great.

Tip: If you want a spot to put your things, you have to get there right when the place opens, as people nab all available chairs and tables.

Staff

The staff was very polite and friendly.  On our first day, the housekeeping staff knocked on our door and asked if they could clean the room.  We were still there and they asked us what would be a good time.  We told them a window that we would likely be at the park, and they agreed to clean the room at that time.  They followed through and it looked great upon our return.

I’ve heard people say that the staff will consistently try to up-sell you on extras and such.  Maybe it was because our kids were little, but we were not approached at all.  We felt no pressure to go for extras.

My only knock on the staff was that I called twice to find out if anybody had found my lost drivers license.  The front desk looked, and each time transferred me to housekeeping to see if they’d found it.  I left two messages asking for a call back, and while I’m sure that not getting a call meant that they didn’t find it, the message did say that they’d call back each time.  It would have been nice to hear for certain, and not have to assume, that they in fact did not find my license.

Extras

There are a lot of other activities that kids can participate in.  There are treasure hunts and such.  Our kids were too little, but maybe down the road they’ll want to do this.  There were always kids running around, so it must be popular.

They have a Dunkin Donuts which is a great choice for a family themed resort.  I got my coffee, kids can get their morning treat, and everybody’s happy.  They also have a restaurant, which we didn’t use, but seemed pretty busy.  There’s a sweet shop right outside of the water park where the kids (and adults) enjoyed a scoop of ice cream.  They also have a shop to buy swimming gear, there’s an arcade, and even a spa.  All in all, they provide many different ways to try to keep people from leaving.

Overall

I’d have to say it was a great experience.  My wife and I were pleased, the kids had a great time, and we felt the value was there for our money.  We already started talking about going back next winter.  All in all, for a break, I could highly recommend the Great Wolf Lodge.

(Note: This was my own personal review because I wanted to share our positive experience.  I was in no way asked to provide this review, nor was I compensated in any way)

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How Much Do I Love My Samsung Galaxy S3?

It’s been awhile since I talked about getting my new cell phone from work.  As you may remember, I chose to get the Samsung Galaxy GS3 over the Apple iPhone 4S, which was what was offered at the time.

I felt that the S3 offered a bigger screen, the same amount and quality of apps, and ran an OS (Android) which I’m more familiar since I’ve yet to become an Apple guy.

So far, I have to say I love it.  Here is my mini-review of the Samsung Galaxy S3 (aka Samsung Galaxy S III)

  • Service – The company provides service on the AT&T network, which is vastly superior to the Sprint network, where I was previously based.  Sprint has not yet rolled out 4G, let alone LTE, in our area, so the difference in download and data speeds is remarkable.  Not to mention, our house required a data booster to even work adequately with Sprint, but AT&T has so far given me no connection problems.
  • Screen – Oh, the screen.  I remember when my wife got her HTC phone after her Blackberry died (the phone I had the same model of).  I thought hers was so big.  Then, my S3 came and it’s practically double the screen viewing area.  I love it and it has great resolution and color depth as well.
  • Size – With the screen comes a phone that is much bigger across and up/down than the Blackberry I had.  But, it’s quite a bit thinner and doesn’t weigh any more (at least to the touch).  I typically don’t carrying things in my pocket, so I was afraid that the S3 would be hard to deal with, but so far it doesn’t bother me at all.
  • Applications – I love the applications that I can download and use so easily.  Pandora was available on the Blackberry but with the unwieldy interface (no touch screen), the slow service, and the spotty coverage, I barely used it or any streaming music coverage.  Now, when things get loud at work, it’s easy to pop in the buds and get some music.  I also love some of the standbys like Gas Buddy and Angry Birds 🙂
  • E-mail – Even though Blackberry was designed for the enterprise, it would constantly truncate e-mails.  Longer e-mails simply couldn’t be downloaded.  This was a point of major frustration for me.  This is no longer an issue with my S3.  E-mails come through right away, and more importantly, in full.
  • Swipe – I love that you can type or you can swipe between characters on the keypad.
  • Commercial – I love the commercial that aired all the time last month where everybody in the Apple line was talking about all the features that the new iPhone was going to have, only to hear that the S3 had even more built in.  There’s one guy that’s talking about the earphone jack getting moved to the bottom, and he motions that it blows his mind.  I’m not one to buy into marketing, but that kills me every time.

There are a few things I wish were a little bit better that are somewhat steps back:

  • Spell check – Blackberry had a built in spell checker that would (like Microsoft Word) keep words highlighted that might be spelled incorrectly.  With my S3, if you don’t correct the word immediately, it doesn’t keep it highlighted. I’ve yet to find a third party app that works to my satisfaction.
  • Touch keypad – Having the buttons on the Blackberry took a lot of room, but they made for faster and easier typing than the touchpad.  Even though the keys are ‘big’ since the screen is so big, I still make frequent mistakes, more so than with the buttons.  Hopefully this is something I can get used to.

All in all, there are a few minor issues but I suppose that’s going to happen with any piece of technology.  I don’t think anything is perfect when it comes to a gadget, especially when everybody just works to make their next product better than the competition and their old one.  I’m sure in two years or so, I’ll be sick of the S3 and itching for the next big thing.  Whatever that will be 🙂  Until then, the S3 is definitely for me!

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Our Quirky Video Monitor: The Levana Safe ‘N See

We are on our second baby video monitor.  Both have been purchased from Costco.  The first one was by a company named Lorax and it did pretty much everything we needed.  The issue was the connector was very poorly placed.  It was essentially a micro USB connector that stuck up out of the base.  This meant that you had to wiggle it on and place it exactly onto the base.  My wife noted right after we got it in February 2011 that it was ‘weird’.

Sure enough, the design caused the receptacle in the actual monitor unit to come loose and eventually break off within the unit.

Costco has a great return policy where most items can be returned indefinitely.  So, we took it back even though it had been 18 months.  They took it back no questions asked.

They don’t sell the monitors in the store, only online, so we went looking for a replacement.  Our biggest requirement is that it have two video cameras so that we can monitor both kids.

They no longer sell the Lorax, but the closest that they had with our price point was the Levana Safe N’ See monitor.

We ordered it and it came a few days later.

It’s definitely different.  Here are a few things we like and don’t like:

Pros

  • Temperature gauge – It actually shows the temperature in each room which is a nice feature.
  • Big screen – The screen is 3.5” diagonal which is pretty big.  The Lorax was probably 2”
  • Remote intercom – The Lorax had this as well but this also has the ability for us to ‘speak’ to our children from the monitor
  • Lights and music – You can also turn on a nightlight and start a lullaby to play in your babies room from the monitor unit
  • Price – It was the most economical unit available which included two cameras.

Cons

  • Pairing the second camera – The second camera must be paired to the base unit, as it is a closed circuit unit.  We followed the directions and it didn’t work.  One of the steps was to cover the light sensor of the camera, which tells it to start transmitting the pairing signal.  Even though I covered this completely, it wouldn’t work because I did it in the afternoon and some ambient light must have been getting through.  When I tried it again in the evening, it worked like a charm.  They should tell you to do this in a darkened room.
  • The video can’t be fully turned off – Both monitors have a feature where it will flip back and forth between the two cameras.  This doesn’t work though if you want the video off (and who doesn’t during the middle of the night?).  The only way to turn the video off is to set the ‘VOX’ which monitors the sound level and only turns on when it detects noise.  Unfortunately, when you activate VOX, it locks on one camera. Luckily we have a sound-only monitor so we can use this in one kids room, and set the other for the second kids room, but it seems silly.
  • Harder to hear – Most monitors we’ve seen are a little too good at picking up noise.  My in-laws have one that can pick up someone having a conversation across the street….through a closed window!  Ours are about 12’ from the kids beds and it is pretty muffled.
  • Out of the box battery issue – The monitor can be unplugged, so it has a rechargeable battery. It looks as if ours is defective, as the charging light never turns green, even though it’s plugged in all night.   I have to call them and see if they will send me a replacement.

All in all, it’s a pretty average unit, but for the price you can’t beat it.  A comparable two video system will cost you at least $100 more.  There’s nothing wrong with the Levana unit, it just has some features (and non-features) that you could tell were not engineered by parents that actually used the thing.   Considering our oldest is over three, I don’t expect that we’ll need the video for all that long, so I didn’t want to put much more into it.  And, since it was purchased at Costco, we have a warranty for as long as we need it.

Do you use video monitors for your kids?

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If You (Or Someone In Your House) Isn’t On Pinterest, You Should Be

I first laughed when I heard chatter about Pinterest.  For those who don’t know, it’s a social media outlet where you share images rather than statuses.  It’s really caught on with women, as many women have found things like recipes, fashion tips, and other things that (not to be sexist) generally aren’t as interesting to men as they are to women. I thought ‘Oh, just another passing fad’.

Soon, I started seeing my wife sitting in front of the computer for long stretches at a time, failing to answer roughly two-thirds of questions directed her way.  When I probed to find out what was the new source of interest, it turns out she had come across Pinterest.

Now, I have only seen Pinterest in passing, but I have to say, having one person in our household has been a good thing.

My wife has found some pretty awesome recipes.  I don’t have the links for them but I know they should be easy enough to find.  Some examples of yummy food we’ve had:

  • Chocolate chip cookies that are softer than usual after you add pudding to the mix
  • Fiesta rice that is similar (and even better) than the rice you get at Chipotle
  • Pulled chicken that we’ll be serving at our daughter’s first birthday party.

She’s also got some wonderful decorating ideas for the aforementioned party, and the great thing is that she’s found stuff that is frugal, fun and easy, yet with very unique results.

Again, I don’t have a Pinterest account and have no interest (I keep using that rhyme, which is fun) but I think as long as someone in your house has a Pinterest account, that should be sufficient.

Do you use Pinterest or know someone that does?  Has it led you to any frugal ideas? 

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