THE VISION THAT MET MY GAZE upon entering the grand lobby of the Great Wolf Lodge was a fleshy woman in a wet swimsuit, dripping lavishly on the carpet. She was barefoot. In one hand she held a half-eaten paper plate of nachos; in the other, a stick. With whole-body gyrations she was thrusting the stick repeatedly in the direction of a stuffed white wolf, as if expecting it to do something. My 10-year-old daughter Samantha and her friend Katie stared, transfixed.
“Mom, it’s a MagiQuest wand!” Sam whispered with excitement. The girls had been hearing about Great Wolf Lodge and its indoor water park and its MagiQuest wands since the resort opened last March, when Grand Mound, Washington, joined Niagara Falls and Wisconsin Dells and nine other locations as a destination for the Great Wolf Resorts chain. In no time, this newest outpost 76 miles south of Seattle (just north of Centralia) became the rage of the Jonas Brothers set, who would return from pilgrimages bearing mythic tales of thrilling dark waterslides and bunk beds shaped like wolf caves and marshmallows dipped in chocolate and sprinkles. And the MagiQuest game, which allowed kids to run unsupervised through hotel halls enchanting inanimate objects into glowing and moving at their command. Said glowing and moving is achieved with a flick of the MagiQuest wand, just $25 at the kiosk. Or, rather, it’s usually achieved, as She of the Dripping Swimsuit was finding out.
“I think she needs help, Mom,” offered Samantha. Yes, she does, I winced. But she wasn’t the only one. As I looked beyond her the lobby opened up into a vast great room, handsomely clad in raw pine like a North Woods lodge, and crawling with people in swimsuits—among them plenty of the beer bellied and pear shaped, parading their pale midwinter excess without an iota of shame. And everywhere, swarms of children. Off they streamed to the left, where a couple of restaurants led down a hall toward conference facilities. Off they streamed to the right, toward the elevators to eight floors of hotel rooms. They covered the staircase, which led to an open mezzanine with the video arcade and the kid spa and the Cub Club and the teenage tech center and the Pizza Hut and the Bear Paw sweet shop. And straight ahead through a vast picture window splashed the happiest children of all, in a water park that sprawled an area the size of several city blocks.
It took our girls about 13 seconds to jump into their swimsuits.