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My Brutally Honest Review of Great Wolf Lodge Manteca/SF

Last week we visited the brand new Great Wolf Lodge in Manteca.

It just opened in June of 2021 and we were excited to have a GWL within a few hours of our house.

We had visited the So. Cal GWL a few years ago when our kids were little and we were looking forward to experiencing the waterpark now that they were big enough to go on all the slides.

We did a mid-week 3 day/2 night stay and I would say that amount of time was perfect. It was just enough time to fit all the activities in, spend a ton of time and the waterpark and still head home before anyone had a meltdown.

We had a great time and it was a wonderful mini-family vacation.

The fact that you can get there in just 3 hours from our location in northern California was amazing since we are used to driving 5+ hours to get to most destinations. This was a huge plus since the kids were still in a good mood when we arrived and ready to play.

On their website they say check in is at 4pm, but you can access the waterpark at 1pm. We arrived early and since we visited during a slow day we were able to check into our room right away which was awesome.

We really did enjoy ourselves while we were there and I would whole-heartedly recommend GWL Manteca to friends and family who are looking for a short and convenient family trip.

That being said, we did have some issues during our stay, that made me very happy that we had gotten a 50% discount on our room since we booked months ago before the resort actually opened.

Since we got such a good deal I was only minorly irritated when the fire alarm went off twice during the night (electrical issue) and when we couldn’t use our cell phones (more on that below).

Below I have included a bulleted list of things to know to help you plan ahead so your family can have a fun and enjoyable stay.

Like I said, my family had a great time and we would probably go back again. I just want to share some tips and tricks that I learned along the way. 

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Things to know:

The resort is new and it shows.

In every inch of the resort you will see new staff members being trained. This was fine, but that meant that sometimes people don’t know the answers to your questions, or that they are more focused on talking to each other than being available to guests.

For the restaurant staff this means they don’t know how to make what you order, like when my daughter and I had a late night mother-daughter date night and ordered a S’mores Sundae with “burnt marshmallow topping” which instead came out to us as 3 cold marshmallows on top of vanilla ice cream sitting on 2 squares of graham crackers LOL!

Overall the staff members are young, which is awesome, but they also haven’t mastered the fine art of hospitality and customer service. I am sure this will improve over time.

I honestly feel like they are overbooking for the amount of trained staff they have. Of course, they want to fill as many rooms as possible, but it’s putting a strain on their new staff. 

For this reason alone, I highly recommend avoiding the weekends or any week that school is out when the resort will probably be very full. 

Booking

  • Sign up for their email list and get offers for 40-60% off their average room rates.
  • Use their booking calendar to find the cheapest days for the room type you want.
  • We booked a den room and were a little disappointed. Just a bunk bed with some painting on the walls. When we booked in LA we booked a cabin room and it had animatronics and was interactive…this room was bare bones. That being said, it was built during a pandemic and I am sure they had to cut back since construction costs are insane right now.
  • When we arrived on Wednesday we were able to check into our room right away at 1pm. I felt bad for people who booked on busier days and reported arriving at 4pm and waiting in line for an hour to check in.

The Waterpark

  • Temp is kept at 84 degrees. I am ALWAYS cold and the temperature was great. However, the water was a little too cold for me, but again I am a wimp. It wasn’t cold enough to stop me from playing with my kids though, which makes me think most people would be just fine.
  • Kids will be measured as they enter the waterpark area. There are three different heights that will dictate which rides they can go on and whether or not they have to wear a life jacket. Be sure to review this before you go. It would be disappointing to get there and realize that your kids aren’t able to go on all the slides. That being said, the area for younger kids is really fun.
  • You can check out towels there with your wristband, but be sure to return them when you head back to your room or they charge you $15 per towel. It’s super easy to return them.
  • Two of the slides in the main play area were closed. I think my kids would have loved these slides and they were the perfect size for them. It was part of Fort Mackenzie splash structure. I asked employees why it was closed and got different answers:
    • It’s been closed for months
    • We are short staffed
    • Manager: Sometimes we don’t know something will be closed until it happens. Could be staffing or mechanical (however this doesn’t match up with what the employee said about it being closed for months)
  • Try to book mid-week. It will be worth having the kids miss school. We got there on a Wednesday. Wednesday and Thursday were great! Thursday night and Friday it was packed with long lines and waits for the largest slides.
  • There is a weight limit for the large, family-style slides. I believe it was 250lbs for a single person. For these rides they have each person stand on a scale individually and then all together. It can take a  long time when the line is long.
  • The large family-style rides are super fun! We went on them a million times – and my legs were sore from climbing 4 stories to reach the top. That being said, I am VERY afraid of heights and I didn’t like how high we had to climb. 99% of people won’t give it a second thought, but if you are afraid of heights, be prepared.
  • The Lazy River isn’t very lazy. There are tons of places in Fort Mackenzie for kids to spray, splash and dump water on people floating in the lazy river. My kids loved this part, but since I hate being splashed, I never went in the lazy river, which is usually right up my alley. It was also really sad when kids would dump water on really young kids in the lazy river. 
  • My kids loved the wave pool. 
  • The outdoor pool was closed when we were there, which was fine because there are no slides or attractions outside. Just a large pool. 
  • Fort Mackenzie would be super fun for kids from about 4 up to about age 8, since the 2 bigger slides in that area were closed.
  • There were signs outside the waterpark that said “no outside food” and they checked my bag for glass each time we went in and out. That being said, I saw a lot of people with coolers with their own food and drinks so I am not sure what the deal is with that.
  • I would recommend water shoes to make sure the kids don’t slip and fall as some surfaces are really slippery and the concrete tears up your feet a bit after hours of walking back and forth.
  • Bring a bag with clothes or cover ups to put on to walk back to your room. Once your wet the AC in the rest of the hotel makes it a very cold trip back up to your room.

The Adventure Park

Tons of fun to be had here! We purchased the Wolf Pass for our kids and it saved a lot of money and they were able to do everything on the list. It kept them busy and happy when they had enough of the waterpark each day.

Discount Attraction Passes

  • Honestly, I would skip the Pup Pass or the Paw Pass.

    Both of these include a cup of candy – which my kids were really excited about and it ended up only being jelly beans that they can fill their cups with. The other item on both of these that is a rip off is the arcade. The games are SUPER expensive to load on the card and the prizes are junk….like really, really bad. Skip these passes and just pay cash for the other activities if you have young kids who won’t or can’t do everything listed on the Wolf Pass.

Ropes Course

  • The ropes course was amazing! I got too scared to do it, but was so impressed that my kids did both levels. The upper level is really high. I would recommend going up with your kids (my hubby did). I saw some younger kids go up without parents and get scared. They do have staff that can get to them and help them, but most of the time they weren’t paying attention. My kids loved it and I would go back again, just for them to do that, they enjoyed it so much and conquered a major fear. This is very unique experience and I would say it’s a must-do. 

Ten Pen

  • Fun for a quick game. They have bumpers, which my kids used because the small ball was hard for them to control. It took my kids about 10 minutes to play through their game, so it was a quick activity. We could have purchased more games, but they didn’t want to play again and only 1 game was included on the Wolf Pass, which was perfect.

MagiQuest

  • This attraction was major fun for my kids (9 and 12). They ran around for 2 days finding clues and battling dragons.

    I think younger kids would get pretty frustrated unless the parent was doing everything for them. Some of the items were hard to find, but you can always go into the MagiQuest storefront and they will help you if you get stuck.

    This is another reason to go when it isn’t super crowded. On our second night it was pretty crowded and kids were lined up at each stop, with kids cutting and being kinda pushy. The day before it was empty and really enjoyable.

    My husband and I were able to have a dinner date at Barnwood while the kids ran around and played MagiQuest. We sat in the front of the restaurant and could see them and talk to them as they walked back and forth finding clues. They loved being independent and we loved being able to keep an eye on them while enjoying a relaxing dinner.

Oliver’s Mining Co.

  • This attraction has two parts 1) A mirror maze. 2) A mining attraction.

    The mirror maze was included in the Wolf Pass, so my kids did it and said it was fun. We didn’t pay to go in with them, since they were old enough to go in alone and it only took a few minutes for them to walk through. I don’t think I would have paid to do the maze part if it hadn’t been included in the pass, or if I had younger kids that would need me to go through with them, so if you’re trying to save money that’s a good one to skip.

    The mining activity is cool. You purchase a bag of rocks and sift them in running water to find special rocks and gems. My kids have done these at other places many times, so since it wasn’t included in the Wolf Pass we skipped it, but if your children haven’t done it before I think it would be worth it. 

Mini Golf

  • A small course, but my kids had fun and it was included in the Wolf Pass. 

The Property

  • There is very spotty WIFI around the property. I was never able to get my laptop to connect – plus the wifi is unsecured….eeek! The staff at the front desk said that wifi has been a major issue and that sometimes their computers for check-in don’t even connect.

  • In our second room (we asked to be moved due to screaming kids on our floor the first night) we had ZERO CELL SERVICE. We could not use our phones or call each other from downstairs. This was a major inconvenience and we were worried if there was an emergency in the family that no one would be able to get in touch with us. 
  • I was moderately disappointed in the cleanliness. It was fine, but it definitely wasn’t spotless. Our first room had lots of handprints and food smeared on the wall. You can tell they are in a rush trying to get people checked out and prepare rooms for the next day. 

The Food

  • Expect to pay more for your food than it is worth, but which is also to be expected. Similar to food at any other amusement park style resort.
  • The food was “fine”. I was hoping that the churros and carnitas tacos were going to be really good, but they didn’t have much flavor. My kids really liked their pizza by the slice, which was a good deal at about $3.00 for a huge piece of pizza. The Barnwood Restaurant was really good, but also the most expensive. We ate all of our meals at GWL. We didn’t leave the property while we were there and for two and half days it was fine. I honestly wouldn’t have even mentioned the price of the food, if it was just a little bit tastier than it was.
  • What’s available: tacos, burgers, pizza, nachos, quesadillas, salads etc. Again all the food was ok. You might want to consider ordering from a nearby restaurant and having it delivered via DoorDash. 
  • My kids loved getting Dunkin Donuts each morning. Around 7:30 am the line starts getting long, so be sure to sneak down in your pajamas as soon as you wake up to skip the long wait. Also a lot of the specialty donuts sold out each day. We were there during Halloween and all the fun ones were going pretty fast. 
  • Be sure to bring fruit with you. We brought apples, bananas and Cuties along with us and they were a great change from the high calorie junk we ate the rest of the time. I also recommend packing granola or protein bars and your own juice boxes. My kids convinced me to buy them Powerade (which were $4.50 a piece – ouch). We also packed a box of Uncrustables and my kids were perfectly happy eating those instead of the restaurant food. 
  • My kids loved the sundae’s that were included with their Wolf Pass, otherwise the ice cream was insanely expensive. A milkshake was $8.50 and I think a child’s scoop of ice cream was around $5.
  • There isn’t a microwave in your room, but there is one in the vending rooms on each floor. Bring your own microwave popcorn for a fun late-night snack. Also handy for heating up leftovers or bottles if you have little ones. 
  • The “adult beverage” selection looked amazing. They definitely have some delicious looking alcoholic drinks.
  • Do yourself a favor and get the Huckleberry Palmer (non-alcoholic). It’s an Arnold Palmer, with huckleberry syrup added and it’s delicious.
  • They have some fun “mocktails” for kids too.

The Daily Events

For younger kids this really makes the stay an amazing experience. My kids were a bit too old to be interested in many of the activities provided, but I could see how much fun all the little kids were having. Definitely something that makes the stay special and magical for kids. They have story time, yoga, dance parties, craft giveaways and more. The staff members were friendly and all the activities were free. If you have kids aged 2-7 they will absolutely love it. 

Check Out

Check out is at 11am, but you can request a late check out. Even if you do have to check out at 11, you are able to access the waterpark and the rest of the resort until they close on that day. The waterpark closes at 8pm. 

Conclusion

We had a great time and I could see us going back in the future, however I would probably only stay 1 night instead of 2 and just stay longer on the day we check out.

They also have day passes available which would be fun if you lived closer, but for us we wouldn’t want to drive there and back in one day so an overnight stay would be required.

While we were there I also thought it would be really fun to go with a few families so that the kids have friends to play with when parents get tired of the waterpark.

My kids said they rated it an 8 out of 10 and that is what really matters, since we went to have fun and create some memories as a family before they grow up and don’t want to hang out with us anymore.

Great Wolf Lodge is a great spot for a family vacation with young kids and I am excited to have one in our neck of the woods. I am confident the resort will improve as they get a little time and experience under their belt.

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