A great family vacation starts by choosing a destination that offers fun for the whole family. If a water park fits the bill, then Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari should be on your shortlist of destinations. The two water-park resorts offer comfortable accommodations and plenty of activities to keep children, teens, and parents smiling.
The two resorts have plenty of similarities that can make it difficult to choose. Both have locations all over the United States, and they both offer themed resorts with on-site restaurants, immense water parks, shopping, and other amenities. With all that these resorts offer, families could spend several nights at either one and not run out of fun things to do.
Great Wolf Lodge was the first massive waterpark resort destination, with locations in the Midwest, first in the Wisconsin Dells in 1997, then expanding into Sandusky, Ohio, near Cedar Point Amusement Park a few years later. As of 2021, Great Wolf Lodge has 21 resorts:
- North Carolina
- Ontario, Canada
Why not check out our guide to Great Wolf Lodge locations in the US?
Most Great Wolf Lodge locations are near existing attractions like amusement parks, shopping malls, beaches, and mountains.
Kalahari Resorts only have four locations, with the first opening in the Wisconsin Dells in 2000. The second Kalahari Resort opened in Sandusky, Ohio, a few years later. The other two resorts are in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and Round Rock, Texas.
Why not check out our guide to Kalahari Resort locations in the US?
The Size of the Kalahari Resorts
The Kalahari Resorts are some of the largest water parks in the United States. The Round Rock water park is the second largest in the United States, while the Pocono Mountains water park is the third largest. Both of them have more than 223,000 square feet of water games and rides under one roof—the first water park in the Wisconsin Dells.
The Sandusky, Ohio Kalahari Resort is the largest hotel in the state, with over 880 rooms. When it opened, it was the largest water park in 2005. The resort also has a convention center that hosts national and state organizations. It also has an outdoor area that closes in the chilly winter months.
All Kalahari Resorts have an immense indoor water park along with a convention center, several restaurants, retail space, an entertainment center, arcade, play structures, and an outdoor water park.
Overall, the Kalahari Resorts each have at least one million square feet of space dedicated to family fun, all with an African safari theme.
The Size of the Great Wolf Lodge Resorts
The Great Wolf Lodge Resorts are smaller than Kalahari Resorts, but it does not mean they aren’t as fun. Their resorts do not have convention centers, and their water parks are between approximately 80,000 and 100,000 square feet. Most of the resorts have around 400 to 500 rooms.
Overall, most of the Great Wolf Lodge locations are about half the size of the Kalahari locations. Without the convention center and with only half of the rooms, most Great Wolf Lodge locations have about 400,000 square feet of total space dedicated to the woodsy lodge theme.
Kalahari Resorts and Great Wolf Lodge both have unique themes that kids and adults appreciate.
Great Wolf Lodge
When you walk into the Great Wolf Lodge, you will notice how the lobby feels like an exceptionally large cabin in the woods. The lobby usually features a massive fireplace, a grandfather clock, and furniture that looks ruff hewn from local trees.
The cabin feel continues in the guest rooms. The resort does offer standard guest rooms with one or two beds, but the highlight for children is staying in the themed rooms with bunk beds in a kid cabin or a wolf den. Each resort also has premium suites with two stories and comfortable living areas.
The water park continues the cabin theme, with rides that look like they are right out of the woods. The indoor water park features a four-story fort with water activities, several themed water slides, and pools for adults and children.
Children and families can also partake in entertainment activities in the lobby. Some of them harken back to summer camp activities, like storytime at the clock and arts and crafts. The Great Wolf Lodge characters entertain the children in the lobby, and the resort also offers fun events like dance parties, kid-friendly bingo, and more.
When families aren’t at the water park or in the lobby, they can hang out in the arcade, practice their wizarding skills, or dig in the mining center. The resorts offer fun activities in the entertainment and retail area. Guests can purchase passes for their children to play MagiQuest, create a Build-a-Bear, or do other resort-specific activities.
The resorts also have several food choices, like Dunkin Donuts, a buffet, and a bakery. They often have special meals available during holidays, and Great Wolf Lodge takes pride in offering an allergy-friendly menu.
The rooms at Kalahari are attractive, but they don’t have the same thematic kitsch that the Great Wolf Lodge has. In fact, the Kalahari rooms have a sophisticated style to them, with a few touches that fit the African safari theme – but only the fabric that covers the headboards and some of the artwork.
Guests who want an exceptional experience can reserve one of the large entertainment houses that comes with several bedrooms, a pool table, and plenty of living space. The resort does offer several room configurations, but none have special spots for younger children.
The African safari theme is in the huge water park that looks like it is set in the wilderness of the massive continent. Large jungle animals dominate the space, and the slides end in pools surrounded by tall reeds.
Like Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari has a large lobby area where guests can take in the over-the-top safari decorations. The resorts have massive fireplaces, a fountain, and comfortable seating. Everything in the Kalahari Resort is large, and the lobby gives guests the first experience of how big everything is.
The theme carries into the activity spaces where guests can play Madagascar Mini Golf, play arcade games in the Big Game Room, and visit the live animals at the Safari Adventures Animal Park. The resort also has laser tag, bowling, and virtual-reality games.
Adults can get in on the action by enjoying time at the Kalahari Spa and Salon. They can also enjoy massage services or spend time in the gym.
The food choices only carry the theme in the waterpark area. Otherwise, the resorts usually have a fine-dining restaurant, a buffet, pizza parlor, coffee shop, and candy store. Guests are encouraged to make reservations, especially at the sit-down dining locations. Like Great Wolf Lodge, the resort usually offers special dining experiences during holidays.
What Will You Pay
The cost of spending a night in either waterpark is usually over $200 per night after factoring in the taxes and fees. The actual cost depends on what type of room you want. For example, at Great Wolf Lodge, the kid-themed rooms with room for four can be anywhere between $150 and $500 per night, depending on the time of year and availability.
At Kalahari, a suite with a living area and space for four costs between $210 and $270 based on availability and time of the year. Two-bedroom suites can cost over $400 for one night.
Fortunately, both resorts offer coupons and discounts. They also reduce the price for guests who do not need to worry about cancellations. While the waterpark passes are included in each stay, the other activities like bowling and arcade games are not. Food is also not included, but guests can buy food packages in advance to save money.
Which is Better for Families?
When looking at Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari as destinations for families, they both offer plenty of fun activities. Kalahari is a better choice for families with adolescents and teens, while Great Wolf Lodge is perfect for elementary-age children.
Part of the joy of Great Wolf Lodge is its size. It is a smaller resort, with plenty of employees who are prepared to work with young children. The resort is filled with families, all with children who want to run around and have fun.
Kalahari is better for families with children over age 12 because it is larger with bigger slides and teen-friendly activities. While there are activities for younger children, the sheer size of the water park and resort can be overwhelming for families to keep track of their littles. At its heart, Kalahari Resort is a convention center, entertaining adults, too.
Of course, children are welcome at both resorts. They both have water activities that are safe for small humans, but Great Wolf Lodge dedicated more space to them. Kalahari employees are there to assist the families and convention guests, while Great Wolf Lodge employees are there solely for the families with children under age 12.
A seasoned traveller, Dad, and avid sports tourist, James foundered The Family Vacation Guide to share his expert vacation experiences- especially when it comes to being a travelling family man.
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