Clap. Clap. Stomp. Stomp. Aaaaaaoooooooo! (Hands cupped around mouth while sweeping head in a sideways and up motion.)
We quickly learned the correct way to howl upon our recent visit to the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, NC. In fact, even after returning home, we have continued to practice our howls with parents being more guilty than children. Our first trip to the family indoor waterpark resort brought laughter, exhaustion, and togetherness. The trip also enhanced my insight into the travel industry’s approach to accommodating guests with disabilities; an area of study that is increasingly fascinating to me. It is my belief that a profitable reward is ripe for the taking for companies that market themselves as disability friendly rather than just disability compliant.
Branding itself as a family resort, Great Wolf Lodge offers multiple non-standard room arrangements to accommodate families of all sizes. From the usual two queen beds, to suites with camp-themed, private bunk bed sleeping quarters for the kids, a wide range of room floorplans is available. Most, but not all of the room arrangements also offer a comparable accessible option. However, the sleeper sofa in the standard rooms is swapped out for a plush chair in the accessible version due to square footage limitations. Room rates vary depending upon the number of occupants since waterpark entry is “free” for overnight guests.
We chose an Accessible Wolf Den Suite. Our children were thrilled with their private nook that contained bunk beds, their very own TV, and cave themed wall decor. My youngest even stated that Great Wolf Lodge was better than Disney World simply because she and her sister had their “own” room. (Let’s ignore the fact that they have their own bedrooms at home, and I consider it sacrilege for anyone to claim any entertainment venue is better than Disney!)
The flow of the room offered clear maneuverability for the wheelchair; including the spaces in the Wolf Den nook and bathroom. The window curtains even had a circular plastic handle at the bottom of the drapery pull rod that lessened the amount of grip strength required to manipulate the curtains. However, accessibility onto the balcony was quite disappointing. The sliding doorway was wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, but the threshold between the balcony and room was high enough to be a significant barrier, and the patio furniture used every inch of space. I suppose you could ask the front desk to remove the furniture for your stay if you desired to spend time on your balcony, but the space appeared to be more for exterior aesthetics than functional use. If useful exterior space is a priority for you, consider reserving a first floor (waterpark level) room. Many units on the first floor had patios that offered larger outdoor spaces.
I always recommend traveling with a power strip and multiple extension cords just to be certain you can plug in any medical devices (as well as fun technologies) you require. Wow was I grateful I heeded my own advice on this trip! While there were plenty of outlets in our suite closely situated to almost every space, the only outlet in the Wolf Den was at the top of the wall behind the hanging TV in the corner opposite of the bunk beds. My daughter requires Bipap therapy at night, and access to electricity near her bed is critical. Without our extension cord, she would’ve needed to sleep on the queen bed in the main area of the suite. Thank goodness we had extra electrical extensions and avoided the likely tantrum of the six year old unable to sleep in the Wolf Den and the displaced 39 year old forced onto the bottom bunk of the cave! Crisis averted!!
The bathroom was well appointed for wheelchair and handicapped accessibility in most of its features. A large turning radius was available among the floor space, and the addition of levered doorknobs made for easy latching and unlatching of the door. Our bathroom included a shower chair and handheld shower head as well mounted shower head options in our accessible bathtub. Ample grab bars were also present as well as a lowered retractable clothesline across the bathtub and lowered towel hooks on the bathroom door. Adequate space for drying wet bathing suits is key after a long day in the waterpark!
My only complaint with the bathroom was that I was unable to find a way to book a room with a roll in shower using the resort’s website. Roll in showers are available in the two queen suite and kid cabin floorplans. However, I had to really dig to find that information, and it appears you cannot reserve these options online. If you require a roll in feature for bathing, you will want to call the resort to ensure your needs can be met. Roll in showers exist in the first floor locker room in the waterpark if times get desperate, but I imagine most guests would much prefer to have a bathing option within their own guest room. It should also be taken into consideration that the waterpark hours are typically around 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM and may not be convenient to your desired bathing schedule.
Another common but helpful and safe accessibility feature in our Wolf Den suite was a lowered height peep hole to view the hallway. I always enjoy locating the various accessible room locations in a facility while wandering the hallways by looking for doors with both standing as well as sitting height peep holes. Being a sucker for a gimmick, I ordered milk and cookies to be delivered to our room by a Great Wolf character. (Ignore the fact that being first time visitors to Great Wolf Lodge, we had zero emotional attachment to these characters.) My daughter utilized the lowered peep hole while waiting for Wiley Wolf to stop by for his yummy bedtime visit. She was thrilled when she saw his incredibly large form coming down the hall, and despite the fact that he awkwardly stepped on my oldest child’s foot, we enjoyed our special visit.
We found our room to be a comfortable resting spot at the end of a day of waterpark and MagiQuest entertainment adventures. Overall, our room illustrated that Great Wolf Lodge is making strides to go above and beyond simple ADA requirements in order to grow its marketshare of the disability travel industry.
ACCESSIBILITY WINS: Multiple disability friendly features including lowered hanging rods, easy grip drapery rod pull, and lowered clothesline in bathroom
ROOM TO IMPROVE: Easier booking of roll in shower rooms, larger balcony spaces for accessible rooms
Next in this series: Great Wolf Lodge: Part Two: Waterpark, MagiQuest, and More!