As a parent I’ve experienced two of the latter: Disney World, which I visited with the brood a couple years back; and Great Wolf Lodge, where we headed last weekend after Expedia.ca invited us to the waterpark resort chain's Niagara location as part of the Big World Explorer blogger program.
Both spots deserve to be on my ingenious made-up list, but upon further review GWL has some surprising advantages when compared with its mouse-eared Florida rival:
1. Controlled climate: There’s a 13-degree difference between Disney World’s warmest and coolest average monthly highs: 20 C in January and 33 C in July. January’s average low, meanwhile, is just 8 degrees. In short, it can be chilly in winter and scorching in summer. But there’s no difference between January and July at Great Wolf Lodge, where the waterpark air temperature is a constant 29 C. Plus, there are no rainy days when you visit a 100,000-square-foot indoor waterpark — although you’re very likely to get soaked.
2. Better food and drink: Quantity doesn’t always produce quality when it comes to family-resort dining. Disney World is home to more than 140 eateries, but their menus focus on uninspiring "American" fare that kids will eat willingly (one hopes) and parents will tolerate out of necessity. Great Wolf Lodge Niagara's seven options keep it simple and surprisingly fresh: If you need to refuel (and relax) poolside, Buckets Incredible Craveables serves juicy burgers, legit poutine and other fast-food. Grizzly Rob's pours local microbrews and Niagara wines, and blends umbrella drinks that would please both Jennifer Lawrence and Hulk Hogan. Want to retire to your suite? The Northwoods Pizza Company delivers steaming slices, spicy wings and fresh salads to your door. You can work up a serious appetite at the waterpark, which is where the Antler Shanty buffet steps in. Oh, and because the in-room coffee is atrocious, Canoe Coffee's lattes and muffins are steps from the lobby.
3. Simplicity: You could write a book about all the ticketing options at Disney World. (Indeed, some have.) At Great Wolf, however, a plastic wristband is all you need to access the waterpark and unlock your room door. Extra-cost activities like bowling and arcade games, along with meals and other purchases, are charged to your check-in credit card with a wave of your wristband. It's almost too easy. (OK, it is too easy when microbrews, daiquiris and magic wands are involved.) There are no shuttle buses or monorails — all the fun is within steps of your suite, and your suite is within steps of the massive parking lot.
4. Weekend friendly: We picked up our girls right after school on Friday, and by 5 p.m. we were soaking each other with rail-mounted water cannons. For GTA residents like us, Great Wolf is a 90-minute drive away, which makes it ideal for a two-night weekend jaunt. Single-night guests can stay till the waterpark closes the following evening, which makes a one-night stay viable. But our two-nighter let us sample the park, then go to town on it, then overdo it. Perfect!
5. Less busy: Great Wolf's superb fun-to-time ratio is made possible by the fact that only resort guests can use the waterpark. We were there on what must have been one of the busiest days of the year: Rooms were sold out and the parking lot was packed. Yet we rarely waited in line for the waterslides for more than a few minutes, and often there was no noticeable wait at all. Plus, there are plenty of diversions where waiting is not an issue: The wave pool, the lazy river, the hots tubs, etc. On the Saturday of our visit, the observed average wait time for the "7 Dwarfs Train" at Disney World was 52 minutes.
6. Forced unplugging: Because iPhones and waterslides don’t mix, we left our devices in our suite. This yielded higher-quality quality time, to be sure, but it did present a problem: How to digitally capture treasured moments like Gracie swirling down her first vortex and Daddy taking a water-cannon blast to the midriff? Again, Great Wolf has the answer: A slide-mounted camera on the four-person Wooly Mammoth raft ride transmits snapshots to a photo booth in the lobby.
So thank you, Great Wolf Lodge Niagara, for providing photographic evidence that Daddy does, in fact, scream like a little girl...