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Great Wolf Lodge

The hotel-meets-water-park chain brings its all-weather family fun to Orange County

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At first glance, a completely indoor water-park hotel might seem unnecessary in sunny Orange County. Fans of the Great Wolf Lodge brand, however, will attest that this 603-room hotel in Garden Grove, just outside Anaheim, is still irresistible for families looking for a crowd-pleasing stay.

Great Wolf Lodge’s indoor water park has more than a dozen slides, a lazy river and—as a nod to the real beaches 15 or so miles away—a surf simulator. 

“Southern California is already a family mecca,” says Phil Cunningham, general manager of California’s first Great Wolf Lodge, the brand that debuted in 1997 in frigid-wintered Wisconsin. “So this is a great area for Great Wolf Lodge to be.”

Plus, parents get a break from slathering sunscreen on the kids. Either way, there’s enough to keep any brood of varying ages busy for at least a weekend: The 105,000-square-foot indoor water park (kept at a balmy 84°F) features more than a dozen slides, a wave pool, a lazy river and—as a nod to the real beaches 15 or so miles away—a surf simulator.

And it’s safety first: Lifeguards abound, and all of the water park features are color-coded for height requirements, so only kids with the coordinating color of wristband can access them. Since the water park is for hotel guests only, even on a really busy day you’ll likely have no more than a 20-minute wait for the most popular slides (like the impressively scream-inducing Howlin’ Tornado).

Outside the water park, but still inside the resort, the hotel offers a vaguely Vegas-for-kids atmosphere that includes a huge arcade, a mini bowling alley, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, two interactive games (such as MagiQuest, which equips them with light-up wands), and even an ice-cream-themed kids’ spa. Rooms range in size from one-queen-bed standards to two-bedroom suites, but kids will likely get most fired up about the KidCabin and Wolf Den suites, where the presiding adults get a queen bed and the kids get a cabin- or cave-style alcove, which features character wallpaper, bunk beds, and its own flat-screen TV.

As for the food, it aims to be both kid and grown-up friendly. Parents will appreciate the well-thought-out approach, from the buffet at Loose Moose Family Kitchen, off the lobby, to the snack bar next to the wave pool. “If you want to eat chicken fingers and fries on vacation, that’s OK—we just want you to eat the best chicken fingers and fries,” says Great Wolf Lodge executive chef Chris Hammond, who has created menus that use sustainable, locally sourced, or organic ingredients whenever possible. The kitchens also cater to the growing number of families managing allergy issues, and Hammond says roughly half the dishes are now gluten-free.

The resort makes two big nods to its new Southern California home. First, to help with conservation efforts, it recirculates filtered pool water. Second, it runs a free, three-mile shuttle to Disneyland Resort.

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