Because Grace sometimes sounds like a New Jersey gangster, and because my family just checked into Great Wolf Lodge Niagara, I’m pretty sure our six-year-old daughter means "wolf."
So I point to the animatronic pack adorning the towering lobby fireplace and reply: "Look Gracie, there are lots of wolves up there."
She heaves a small sigh and rolls her eyes for reasons she would later reveal, then quickly moves on to the storytelling forest and 473 other pieces of child-oriented eye candy in the bustling atrium.
I’m not far behind. Over the course of my 9.08 years as a dad I've noticed that just about every kid who comes through my door has at least heard of Great Wolf Lodge. Some of them have visited, but all of them aspire to visiting. Grace and her big sister Ava, 9, are firmly among the latter. I've already promised a Great Wolf weekend in moments of festive reverie and early-January desperation, so I jump at the chance to see what all the fuss is about when Expedia.ca invites the brood to GWL as part of its Big World Explorer blogger program.
Suddenly, everyone seems to know where we we’re going: Teachers, other parents, a few nannies, the crossing guard, even my doppelganger. “Have fun at Great Wolf Lodge!” they call out when my wife Angela and I pick up our gleeful (and somewhat boastful) daughters from school on Friday afternoon.
After noting the 34-degree difference in air temperature between the resort’s indoor waterpark and the Ontario winter outside — it’s highlighted on various wall-mounted screens — we rush to our roomy “KidKamp” suite to drop off luggage, affix wristbands and don swimwear. Next up: A technicolour playground of spraying, bubbling, rushing and cascading mayhem.
We start off with a thorough drenching on the tiered and turreted Fort Mackenzie, which we descend via the medium-sized Beaver and Squirrel Falls slides. (Young stranger in Transformers-themed board shorts, if you’re reading this, you will pay dearly for your merciless spraying. Oh yes, you will pay!)
We quickly discover that every slide starts with trepidation and ends with Grace and Ava both gasping “AGAIN!!!” It’s no wonder — just look at the “Canada Vortex” from their perspective: “Take a Slip N’ Slide, which we already worship, stretch it to more than 20 times its normal length, tilt it dramatically downhill, and add banked twists, turns, and a massive swishing vortex that demands toilet analogies.”
I also figure Grace’s initial “wool” query must have been rooted in the four-person “Woolly Mammoth” inner-tube slide.
Speaking of trepidation, back to the vortex. Why the Canada Vortex? There are no red maple leaves emblazoned on it or working syrup dispensers. The colour scheme is blue and yellow. But no matter: If our goal as a nation is to frighten and delight both six-year-olds and startlingly handsome grown men, then the Canada Vortex it is. Indeed, as our two-person figure-eight-shaped inner-tube plunges down its pitch-black “launch slide,” Grace’s grip tightens on my shins and she screams almost as girlishly as I do.
Suddenly, time has no meaning. Fifteen minutes later it’s four hours later. I exist in one of two states: Cavorting in water — in a wave pool, hot tub, lazy river and various play pools — or sipping a piña colada while dispensing ketchup. There is nothing else.
I find there is as little, or as much, as I want there to be at Great Wolf Lodge Niagara. We opt for the former on our inaugural two-night visit: Waterpark meets sustenance. There’s milk and cereal in our suite’s mini-fridge, morning take-out from the Canoe Coffee shop, Buckets fast-food and Grizzly Rob's blender drinks in the waterpark, and the Antler Shanty buffet to seriously refuel.
We don’t need wallets or keys, as our sundry transactions are recorded by the sensor-equipped wristbands. And because cellphones and watery vortices don’t mix, we are gently induced to unplug.
Reality rears its frost-bitten head on the Sunday evening of our departure. The temperature differential has jumped to 39 degrees, it’s snowing hard outside and, thinking back to our arrival, I wish we could return to a “great wool lodge” of our own.
Then Grace asks: "Daddy, what's a Flodge?"
As in "Great Wool Flodge." I wonder what she thinks of those weird-looking sheep on the fireplace…