Thursday, April 7, 2011

Great Wolf Lodge

Here it is, another rant on the average food of middle America food I presume to be the average of middle America. I am trying not to be a snob or come across as a snob, but sometimes it is a challenge. I live in New York City and we take advantage of most of the glorious food that it has to offer. So when we leave town sometimes it can be a shock to spend time in a town with only one grocery store. Or where Friendly’s and Applebee’s is a dinner out. I know that I am spoiled with choices in Manhattan. There are millions of people that don’t even have the most basic access to unindustrial food. But this post is not really about that. It is merely the story of our family’s three day trip into “kid food land”.

I have taken this week off work. And so far I have managed to do only a little work. It has been so nice to be home with the Things, and to sleep until 7 o’clock every morning. DH and I made reservations late last week to the most kid friendly resort on the planet-The Great Wolf Lodge. Though we didn’t know it when we made the reservations, Great Wolf Lodge is a group of 12 indoor water park resorts. We went to their resort in the Pocono’s in Pennsylvania. The resort is a full service hotel and has a couple of different restaurants, children’s activities, an arcade, an adult and a kid spa and oh yeah, I forgot to mention-a huge indoor water park. The water park boasts a kiddie pool depth about 1 foot with baby slides that both Things really liked. It also includes a towering two or three story playground filled with dump-able buckets of water and hoses that kids can turn on and off, spouts of water coming up from the floor and some two story water slides that even Thing 1 wasn’t too afraid to go on alone. Amazing how fast they grow up. For the older kids (and ahemmm, the adults too) they had 4 cool tube slides that felt more like roller coasters and a couple of full fledged water roller coasters that we just couldn’t get to while having little ones. They also have some real swimming pools (which we didn’t use because our kids are too little), a wave pool, 2 hot tubs and one of those lazy rivers. But the crown jewel was a 1000 gallon bucket of water that filled up and then splashed down onto unsuspecting park-goers every 5 minutes or so. Both Things thoroughly enjoyed watching the water fall both in the park and from the enormous windows within the hotel. It was a fantastic trip where the Things got to fully enjoy, and we didn’t worry once that they would hurt themselves or drown. They could fully use the facilities even though they are technically babies. And DH and I didn’t have to hover around them. The kids are aware of the dangers of water obviously, because they didn’t roam too far from us. So overall it was a brilliant trip.

The facilities are very well designed for both kids and parents enjoyment. But…the food left a little to be desired. This first night we went down to the restaurant within the hotel and ate the buffet. I am still confused as to whether there is a sit down table service restaurant available. There were two places with different names, but I think they serve the same buffet. Not sure about that one. For the parents I did find some good options: good tasting chicken cassoulet and grilled asparagus, fresh salad. But for the kids it was a bit of a train wreck: pizza, pasta both with and without sauce, chicken nuggets and other unidentifiable fried items, hotdogs, hamburgers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, jello, chocolate pudding, weird burritos, and the absolute winner, French fries which really were just mashed potatoes squished into smiley faces then batter and fried.

No, I am not going to say that I was just happy that they ate. I kept thinking about that mentality while we were there. So many kids were eating fried crap and hot dogs from food stands in the resort for lunches and snacks. I saw fatty egg sandwiches and pancakes for breakfast. There were sodas everywhere. For a mom who is worried about serving goldfish crackers AT ALL, to be in a place where goldfish crackers were the least malign thing available was a bit shocking. I want to believe that just like me, everyone there was on vacation and that the vast majority of families aren’t eating like that every day. But, I don’t think that is entirely true.

My kids travel pretty well. They are up for a good trip; they get excited by going new places. But on virtually every trip, food is tough. Food that is foreign or looks different or is presented in a different way is a challenge to my kids in a strange environment. Many veggies are tough even in the comfort of our own home. To me, this is the biggest reason I stress eating and cooking at home. The controlled environment increases the likelihood that my kids will eat more healthfully. But when we are in a public setting, we usually choose the path of least resistance. Say I am a bad parent, I don’t care. For the sake of everyone out with us, I choose to not have screaming kids if I can help it. And there was decent food (even if it was industrial). There were vegetables available that were palatable and not overcooked. There was a fresh salad bar, even if it was basic. I really enjoyed my meal! But to try and fight my kids to get them to eat chicken cassoulet when they can smell pizza and see every other kid in the joint eating a hot dog, well, it just won’t happen. Maybe if we took our food to go, yeah. But you don’t have complete control in a buffet setting.

I have a feeling that we might have been in the minority for parents that thought the food wasn’t up to par. Sandwiches looked big and juicy. Fries were plump and fresh. There were cooked carrots put out for the kids (that we did tell Thing 1 he had to eat with his dinner), and there were fresh items throughout the buffet. I just didn’t see one kid in the place eating the fresh stuff. No, the food wasn’t bad in the traditional sense. It was not like a stale Mc Donald’s where the burgers have been wrapped up and sitting for an hour before you get them. This place had staff coming out the wazoo ready to help take of you and make you happy. And a year ago I probably would have said the food was great, I just felt robbed of options. What about when you don’t want pancakes with bacon for breakfast? Where is the yogurt with fruit? And that’s great that there were veggies available, the asparagus were delicious, but what about ANOTHER vegetable?

I am proud of a couple things. First off, I packed ahead!! I brought with us our expensive local grass fed low-temperature pasteurization milk, as well as granola purchased at the farmer’s market (my oven is STILL broken-can you believe that??), sprouted bread and organic cheese and salami and lots of fresh cut apples and carrots, celery and cucumbers. I also packed snacks like raw nuts and local dried cherries and the pretzels which we still eat because we don’t eat that many. And I did splurge and buy a bag of potato chips just so everyone could feel like we were on vacation. So all breakfasts, lunches and snacks we had en suite. For dinners we went out. But after the first considerably expensive buffet, the next night we found a local pizza place that was much cheaper and less troublesome. Overall, we didn’t eat enough veggies, but our planning ahead saved us money and constipation.

I am also really impressed that neither kid begged for food that they saw someone else eating. The smell of beachy snacks was all over the place (in addition to that chlorine smell). When I was a kid I would have BEGGED my parents for a basket of chicken fingers and fries. But our kids didn’t. They didn’t complain about sandwiches in the room even a little. May it ever be so.

Now that we are back in New York with all our access to farmer’s markets and organic groceries, I keep wondering how many of our fellow vacationers have the same access? How many of them care? How many of them even know the reasons WHY one should eat unindustrial food? How many realize that there is such a thing as unindustrial food? I left understanding why the real food movement is consistently lambasted for being elitist and a hobby of bored intellectuals who each day have to ask the question ‘what should I have for dinner’. In New York I feel like one in a movement of people, but at Great Wolf Lodge I felt like an oddball.

Now, with all that being said, we had a wonderful time. This vacation wasn’t about food. And it will get easier as the kids get older. They can start to make their own healthy choices without being freaked out by being in a new place. Thing 1 actually impressed us by how much he ate and his willingness to eat the healthy stuff we asked him to eat. Thing 2 ate French fries only, except for the good stuff we brought with us. But he is at that age now. This too shall pass. This vacation was about splashing water and slippy slides and trying to answer questions about how they make waves in an indoor pool. I would think it a shame to miss out on such a fun time for fears of too much processed food. We had a BLAST, and we will totally being going back next year. Only, I will probably pack more fresh healthy food.


  1. This place is so much fun! We went last winter and brought some food with us, but mostly ate in the lodge too. Next week we are going for 2 nights and packing enough food to feed us for most of the trip. If we can get away with only buying ice cream/special dessert I will be happy. It will take great will power for me to resist the fries for myself though...they always look so yummy!

  2. Once you shift your perspective, what you want changes so much. Really nice observation of what you can see when you look at traditional American abundance through a different lens. And a reminder that we can still have fun and stay true to our eating values.