Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
I’m glad I didn’t understand what I was about to do. I just followed my daughter up six flights of stairs, anticipating a fun, fast, but not suck-your-breath-away ride. At the top, we boarded the four-person yellow rubber raft, grabbed ahold of the handles, and with a shove from the attendant, were off.
Let’s just say there was a lot of screaming, squealing, gasping and breath-holding (mostly on my part) as the gushing water propelled us through the tunnel, spun us around, dropped our raft into a free-fall and spit us out at the bottom of the big yellow tube.
Now I get why they call this ride the Howlin’ Tornado.
It was our first day of a three-day weekend at Great Wolf Lodge waterpark in Garden Grove, and after taking on the Tornado, I knew I had to pace myself. The rest of my family did it the right way; they worked up to the Tornado. They began with the Totem Towers — open, three-story, body slides that are a whole bunch of slippery fun, but don’t make you wonder whether you’ll survive.
My husband and I were celebrating a milestone anniversary and needed a destination that would appeal to three generations. Having been to Great Wolf Lodge in 2016, we decided to re-visit. In the end, even the oldest among us admitted a good time was had by all.
Southern California comes late to the Great Wolf Lodge experience.
Most of the 14 waterparks are in the East and Midwest, but the West is catching up. There are lodges in Washington and Colorado, and one under construction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The waterpark, hotel and restaurants are fully geared for family fun.
The ample variety of rooms sleep up to eight and each has a microwave, larger-than-average hotel frig and ample shelf space. Prices include waterpark admission and sizable discounts are available if you book at least 60 days ahead.
All guests get waterproof wristbands that unlock room doors and conveniently (maybe too much so!) pay for food, entertainment and souvenirs. (At check-in, be sure to designate which wristbands can be used to charge goods and services.)
After the 11 a.m. checkout, families can stay on at the waterpark for no extra charge.
There are plenty of lifeguards throughout the 105,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, where guests plow through 7,000 to 9,000 towels daily. And surprisingly, the park uses only 565,000 gallons of filtered, heated and treated water that continuously circulates — less than what is in an Olympic-sized pool.
Kids qualify for various rides and elements according to size, which is indicated by an additional wristband. When everyone is thoroughly waterlogged, there are other entertainment forums like miniature golf, 3-D movies, the fantasy game MagiQuest, and free daily activities are held in various areas around the resort.
When it comes to food, special attention is given to those with special needs in the five restaurants. Rice flour is substituted for wheat flour in all fried foods and other recipes, and “guests have absolutely no idea that these are gluten free,” said Chef Hany Ali, who has been at the theme park since it opened.
“We have designated allergy areas in our kitchen. We are a 100 percent nut- and peanut-free facility. We also have gluten-free bread puddings and vegan chocolate cake. You try it and you’ll never think there is a difference.”
Accommodating those with special needs is the current trend in the restaurant business, Hany explained. He works with local culinary schools teaching students how to do this because “demand requires that schools shift gears because there are so many people with allergies. This is the direction the world is going in. If you have allergies, we don’t punish you.”
Visit www.greatwolf.com or call 888.960.9653. Special activities offered during Spring-a-Palooza celebration March 9 to April 15. For more photos and commentary, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.
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E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.