Recently, my brother invited my family and I to join his family at Great Wolf Lodge near Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. We accepted. I would like to extend a sincere thanks for the invitation.
However, I am sorry to say I won’t be joining them next year. What follows is a completely biased review of the facility, which I will hereby refer to as simply “The Lodge”.
The first thing you might notice when you begin to patronize the Niagara Falls establishments is a strange line item appearing on your receipts. When we stopped at an over-priced IHOP near The Lodge that strange line item was listed as NFDF (Niagara Falls District Fee). It could also appear as DMF (Destination Marketing Fee). You might see it called a TIF (Tourism Improvement Fee). Sometimes it will be called an APF (Attractions and Promotions Fee), or if you prefer, a DPF (Destination Productivity Fee). Don’t worry, no bureaucrats were harmed in the naming of that fee. Read all about it here:
It kind of reminds me of the old Ontario Hydro DRC (Debt Retirement Charge) but that is a whole other can of worms for another day.
Most businesses in Niagara Falls charge this “tourist tax” since it was made legal to do so. The Lodge is no exception. The good news for us is that usually if you politely them to kindly go shove their fee up their arse, they will remove it from your bill. It worked at the IHOP and apparently it was going to work at The Lodge as well.
With our billing issues settled, we checked in. Fortunately, our room was ready and we could check in early. You see, at The Lodge, you can’t usually check into your room until 4:00 pm, even though the attractions are open to you starting at 12:00 pm. Normally you would have to leave all your stuff in the car, grab a carry-on bag that has bathing suits for your whole family, head into The Lodge, bend over and take the $10 plus $10 key deposit locker rental charge up the poop chute, get changed, enjoy a few hours of water fun, dry off, get changed, go back to your car, grab all your stuff, and take it back to your room.
In our case, we got our room right away, so we unpacked our stuff straightaway, put our bathing suits on, and headed down to the water slides.
Some people love water. Some people hate it. Some people think the humidity and smell of chlorine are gross. Some people think that kids pee in pools. Some people think that some people don’t have good hygiene. Maybe jumping in a pool with thousands of strangers is not such a great idea. I’m not saying the Prime Dictator would ban all swimming pools, but he might take it into advisement.
First stop, the wave pool. The temperature was freezing. Getting smacked in the chest with ice-cold waves was not my cup of tea. It reminded me of growing up around Georgian Bay. The water looked beautiful, but it was too cold to swim in.
Next stop, the kiddie pool. We would let our toddler have a little fun on the kids’ slides. Ah, too bad. The pool was closed and the lifeguard was skimming something off the top of the water with a net. I wonder what that could be? We were advised the pool would be shut down for a couple of hours.
Off to the water slides. We grabbed our tubes and waited in line. We climbed one step and waited some more. We climbed two steps and waited some more. Twenty minutes and four flights of stairs later we were at the top. We took a fun twenty-second-long tube ride. Nobody wanted to wait in that line again, so we bobbed along in the lazy river instead.
“Ha ha, check that out,” said one of the adults, pointing in the river. There was a tampon, all puffed up, saturated with water, floating along with the current.
“At least it’s not used,” said one of the ladies.
I wondered, “How did they know?” Just because it had not been menstruated on, did not mean it had not been used. I thought of a new slogan for The Lodge: “Where they charge you for everything, but the tampons in the water are free.” It’s an interchangeable slogan. You can switch “tampons in the water” for “floaters in the kiddie pool” or “band-aids in the hot tub” or “urine on the pool deck”.
When I say they charge for everything, I mean everything. They make it super easy with RFID technology. Just wave your wristband in front of the sensor and whatever you desire will be charged back to your room.
Beer time. Divide and conquer. My wife will watch our little ones and I’ll have a beer with my brother. The tap needs to be changed on their signature beer.
“What else do you have,” I ask.
“Bud Light or Coors Light.” Mmm, delicious. My slogan could have been, “Where they charge for everything, but the water is free”, except that they are charging $6.99 for twenty ounces of water disguised as domestic beer.
We navigate through the small patio area around the kiddie pool. The pool is open now and the wife and kids are having a blast. I sidestep sopping wet towels and find one of the few remaining tables to sit at. I sit and enjoy my ice-cold Bud Light, shivering in my wet trunks, yelling in order to have a conversation over the din of screaming children. This is the life.
All the water and beer I swallowed is going right through me. I have to take a leak. I wish I had my flip-flops with me. I do something I have never done. I walk barefoot into the men’s washroom. I’m not a germaphobe by any means, but standing in front of a urinal barefoot makes my stomach turn.
I can’t wait to get into dry clothes. It’s dinner time. We avoid the highway-robbery prices at the restaurant and order a pizza to take back to our room. The neat thing about a regular hotel is that the policy is usually to discourage kids from running around the halls and disturbing the guests. At The Lodge, it’s the opposite.
On all levels where the hotel rooms are situated, there are pictures hung on the wall and treasure chests on the floor. These items respond to RFID-equipped “magic wands” that parents can apply credits to and give to their kids. The game is some sort of magic quest that requires the children to run around the hotel stopping at all of the items, waving magic wands, and causing all kinds of noise.
After the wands are depleted of credits, the pictures on the wall say, “Your wand is out of Mana.” This signals the children to whine to their parents so that they may re-charge the wands with their wallets. I watch a couple of kids opening a treasure chest by pulling up on the lid because it is not responding to their wands. They managed to get it open and then suddenly it slams down violently. I wonder, “How has a kid not lost their fingers on one of these yet?”
Finally, I get back to the room. I change into dry clothes. I grab a slice of pizza and a reasonably-priced beer that I refrigerated when I checked-in. I turn on the hockey game. We watch. Montreal Canadians vs. Toronto Maple Leafs. The final score: Leafs 6, Canadians 3. At least the trip wasn’t a total loss.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
Although not mentioned in my review, there were some good things about The Lodge. There were plenty of lifeguards, and they seemed to be taking their jobs seriously. The staff were very friendly. I even encountered some polite kids who said thank-you when I opened the door for them, and some who said sorry when they bumped into me in the hall. Most kids seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The price. We got a good deal on the room for one night at $250, but I’ve heard of people paying $400-500 for a one night stay.
The incremental charges for everything. It would almost be worth it if it was all-inclusive, but at The Lodge they charge for everything.
The Noise. With a thousand kids running around, what did I expect?
Crowds. The lineups for the water slides were too long.
Poop. Tampons. Urine. Chlorine. The Food. Bud Light.