Holiday weekend adventures

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 8:39 PM | comments: 0

As I mentioned a week ago, the weather for the holiday weekend was not looking very promising, at home or in Portland, where we contemplated going, but we did want to get out and do some stuff. So we planned some grilling at home, a zoo trip and an overnight at Great Wolf Lodge, about 90 minutes away.

We settled on going to the Woodland Park Zoo on Sunday, as the day with the best weather. We probably didn't think that through very well, because it was crazy crowded. It wasn't terrible though, outside of having to park about three blocks from the zoo. In all of the crowds, we ran into our neighbors and PEPS friends, the Wrights, which was totally random. It also made it feel like we do in fact live here, to run into people like that.

The wagon we just bought is definitely a hit with Simon. Kinda knew it would be, since we borrowed Joe's when we took Simon and Mason to the mini-zoo near us. There is one down side, that he can't exactly crash in it the way he can in his stroller, but that will be easier once he's able to go longer between naps, or without a second nap. We didn't spend a lot of time there, and didn't see much of the zoo, the way we did last fall when he was smaller. But for five bucks on the Microsoft discount, it was still well worth it. It's an up-and-coming zoo, in my view, and I say that because I grew up with the Cleveland zoo, and the Columbus zoo was my backup. Those are fairly awesome zoos. Then there's Animal Kingdom, which sets the gold standard. We have very high expectations of zoos!

The big, magic moment, was when we were standing looking into the elephant habitat, and one of them walked into the scene and started to pick at one of the trees with his trunk. Simon thought this was the coolest thing he had ever seen, and it totally made the short visit worth it. He also got a huge kick out of meeting the goats in the petting farm, reacting much as he does to big dogs. We really wore him out, and he slept quietly in the car on the way home.

For our Great Wolf trip, I decided we should arrive on Monday, as everyone else is leaving, and take Tuesday off. It turns out that it was an excellent decision. While you can use the water park until close the day you check out, the place had cleared out almost entirely on our second trip in, after dinner.

The hotel is what I'd describe as clean, adequate and comfortable. The decor is "lodgey," which is brilliant because the room furniture can take a beating and it's just part of the theme, so as long as they keep up on the mattresses, carpet and chair covering, it stays fairly new looking despite the rigor of family use.

There are tons of things for kids to do, with an arcade, a teen hangout, various snack bars, a big animated character stage, MagiQuest stuff and of course, the water park. Overall, we thought it was a pretty good value even if we would've paid the online price of $220 a night, but it was a great value at $150, with the Microsoft discount. (It's ironic that a company full of people bringing down six figure salaries get discounts all over town.) The only real disappointment is the food choices in the evening. While their giant breakfast buffet is a slam dunk, the lunch and dinner choices aren't great. The kids menu food is also horribly bland. Snack and dessert foods, and the bar, however, are solid.

Given the mass-exodus on Monday, they had a room ready for us when we got there around noon. You can use the water park even if your room isn't ready, but this certainly made things more convenient. They're brilliant about allowing you to enjoy yourself around the resort without being encumbered by giving you RFID bracelets that act as your room key and room charge. No cards, keys or wallets to lose. Very smart, though having to sleep with them blows.

The first thing we did was get some lunch there, since there is nothing else in the area. Like I said, the food isn't great. I had a very bland chicken sandwich and bland fries. Simon's grilled cheese was better! After that, we headed up to our room to get our swimmies on and have fun in the water park.

The park isn't huge, but you can definitely spend many hours there, particularly if you're a kid. It has a significant snack bar, an alcohol bar and a swim merchandise shop. The wave pool takes up a large part of the room, as does the standard play structure with the giant bucket and two junior water slides. There's a play area for the smaller kids, though Simon is a little young still for that. On the other side, a big netted-in basketball pool and a pool for doing rope walks and such. The corner of the building has the stairs for the big slides. The slides themselves are actually outside of the building, enclosed. They have two single or double-person tube slides that start from about three stories up, and they seriously haul ass. We took turns going down those solo. They also have a standard ProSlide Tornado, which is weird because you can't look into it, since it's outside of the building. The other big one I think is a ProSlide Mammoth. Unfortunately, we couldn't ride those since we didn't have anyone to hang out with Simon, but maybe we can talk his cousins into going next year.

The big hit with Simon was, not surprisingly, the wave pool. We sat him down in the shallow part, braced between our legs in about four or five inches of water, and he absolutely loved it. He was just so excited by it all. The first time we went in, on Monday afternoon, there were still a lot of people, so the waves were diluted a bit. But our evening visit, and Tuesday morning visit, was fantastic. He seemed to really enjoy getting tossed around by the waves, which would splash up almost to his neck. Even between wave sets, if he wasn't playing in the vertical water jets, he was fascinated by the giant fans on the ceiling. He wasn't sure what to think about the big water bucket dumps, so we kind of watched those from a distance.

Overall, we were mostly impressed with the place, even if the food wasn't ideal. We'll definitely go back, perhaps this winter. The best part on the drive home was the sleepy fella in the backseat of the car.

We made the most of a crappy weather weekend, and I feel like we had some nice decompression time. Traveling with Simon, even short distances, isn't horribly challenging if we mostly roll with it. Getting him sleeping, whether in the car or in a hotel room, isn't always easy, but eventually he adapts. Haven't figured out what to do with ourselves when he goes to bed at 8 (or earlier), but we're still very thrilled to have him as part of our little family. We had a great weekend with him.


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