Great Wolf Lodge in Manteca is a kid-friendly getaway that centers around an 84-degree indoor water park entirely housed inside a massive hotel.
About an hour from Berkeley or Oakland, they’re calling it “Great Wolf Lodge San Francisco.” Okay.
You can either make a weekend (or longer!) of it, or purchase day passes ($75 per person). Either way, this is not a cheap proposition.
Our contributor Jordan Latham, Alameda mom of four, ventured to Great Wolf Lodge with her family and shared her experience with us. She offered her enthusiasm for the trip — and plenty of words of wisdom, particularly regarding the upselling built into the resort experience.
“They’re smart; they offer the children complimentary wolf ears upon checking in, but send you to the overpriced gift shop to pick them up. Don’t make this dangerous mistake,” she warns. “Send another adult in there to snag those bad boys. This is Tantrum Avoidance 101, folks.”
What to expect at Great Wolf Lodge Manteca
Recommended for toddlers to teens and the parents who follow them around, hotel stays at Great Wolf Lodge include passes to a fully inclusive water park resort. Every night’s stay gets you two days of play – with park access from 1 pm on the day of arrival until the water park closes on your departure date. WiFi, towels, and life jackets are included.
Jordan assures us there is enough staff in the pool and slide areas that it feels like plenty of lifeguards are watching.
“The splash pad is one ton of water-spraying and dumping fun, and it’s totally fine for kids who can’t swim. The slides are a blast, especially if you have thrill-seeking kids. My 4-year-old was too little for the big water slides, but she loved the wave pool. My 6- and 8-year-olds were all over the place. They rode the big slides and loved the splash pad. It was hours of loud, rambunctious fun.”
Beyond water play
Programming throughout the resort offers a number of family activities, all included with the stay and numerous upgrades for a fee. From BINGO to yoga to arts and crafts, the schedule of optional fun is packed. There’s even an app to help you navigate all the options.
“They’ve built a fun game within the resort, comprised of a magic wand, that you buy, of course, and interactions with multiple screens and stations throughout the place. It involves dragons and points of some kind (I don’t think I ever fully understood what they were doing).
For kids 6 and up, I think it’s worth paying for a basic wand so they can play and talk to all the other kids about it. It’s a cool part of the overall experience.”
Beware of the upsells: “They have a variety of fancy-looking variations on the wand that increase some kind of magical abilities and cost you waaay more than is necessary,” says Jordan.
The lodging at Great Wolf Lodge easily accommodates families of up to seven people. The rooms do not offer kitchenettes, likely to encourage on-site dining. There are five restaurants, a bar, a Dunkin’ Donuts, and a deli market on the premises.
More Great Wolf Lodge tips from a mom who has been there
Thanks to Jordan for navigating this close-to-home vacation and sharing her learnings!
- Budget for a weekend splurge or plan for a weekday. On weekdays you’re looking at day passes for $75 and nightly rates of $350 to $500 before tax; weekends are substantially more. My understanding is the prices are lower in the winter season because it’s not prime waterpark time. Either way, for most families it’s pricey enough to visit Great Wolf, that it requires planning ahead. (See if this Living Social Deal for 40% off is still valid.)
- Investigate meal reservations before you go. There are several restaurants inside the lodge. On the weekends the nicer ones get booked in advance, but there are several places you can get a burger and fries for a reasonable price.
- Set expectations. I found myself constantly saying what we can and cannot do. “We can get ice cream after dinner, but we cannot go into the candy shop.” I love taking my kids to a destination so well-designed to entertain and thrill them, but I feel the strain of the resort trying to entice those little minds with purchases at every turn. It might be doable with one or two kids but when you’re packing three (plus a baby!), the price gets crazy town.”
- One night is enough. My kids swam until the park shut on Saturday and were ready with bells on at opening hour on Sunday. The Lodge allows you to stay and use the water park all day.
- Leave your snobbery at home. Great Wolf Lodge offers a solid vibe of fun-loving families who worked hard for the experience of coming to live it up. This is Manteca, not Sausalito, so we’re not in tech money territory. The crowd reflects the location, and it’s a lot of jubilant energy.
The Bottom Line on Great Wolf Lodge in Manteca
Jordan concludes that it’s a worthwhile investment in making family memories and enjoying the good times. She cannot help but advise, “When you’re in the car heading over there, remind the kids they don’t need all that extra plastic junk. We’re having quality time, gosh darn it!”
That talk always works, right?