Monday, September 7, 2009

Playing Fetch (Part 2)

Read "Playing Fetch (Part 1)" here.

Wrapping up the the second part of our day, we found out another reason why Warren County does live up to their self-proclaimed title, "Ohio's largest playground".
Upon exiting the tennis tourney, we decided to drive across the street and see what all the ruckus has been about at The Great Wolf Lodge:

I know it's been awhile since first opening (in 2006), already jumping a few hurdles, but now since hitting it's stride, I thought actually visiting the place and scoping out the theming I've heard so much about might be enjoyable.

Coming from the Lindner Family Tennis Center, we drove east down Kings Mills Road, then south on Columbia and entered the complex at the first drive we saw, which put us in this rear lot facing the Conference Center entrance...


I suppose if we were actually staying there I would've driven around a bit and tried to find the main entrance (shown in the last picture), but this prominent opening looked adequate at the time. Thus, the following trek through the interior is, I suppose, considered a backward route.

So, after entering through the doors and making our way past the tables set up for a small convention that was starting, we hiked down the long hallway of the hotel wing, past what seemed like hundreds of rooms...

There was the occasional group of guests rushing past us with bathing garb and towels in hand, but overall, it seemed a little vacant. I'm not sure what the visitor trends are for the place - if it was in season, the right day of the week, etc. - so I'll just leave it at that.

We eventually hit the core of the complex, poking our heads inside the boisterous arcade area and a couple of little dining spots, before finally slipping past the "bracelet-checker" and entering the nexus of the Great Wolf universe...

This really is a grand structure, encompassing vast amounts of chlorinated water, bright-colored plastic, dedicated theming, and warm, sticky air. Of course, being a completely enclosed environment, voices echoed without abandon, but it wasn't annoying - it only seemed to exacerbate the excitement of the place. Though I must say, if we had brought our 2-year-old son here, I can only imagine the shock-and-awe that this thing in its totality would've inflicted upon his senses - maybe a little overwhelming, but probably adaptable.

If anyone has noticed, I'm kind of a big fan of theme parks - not necessarily for the thrill rides (though, who doesn't love 'em), but more for the thematic elements. Creating an artificial environment from scratch that accurately portrays the chosen concept, and is believable, is really satisfying - and honestly, not even just viewing the final product, but realizing the process behind it all, is really exciting
to me. That being said, this place didn't represent the cream-of-the-crop in terms of execution or detail, but for a sit-alone hotel/water park in the Midwest (and for parts of the year, vying with the likes of The Beach and Kings Island), it really wasn't a bad job at all - some monies were definitely spent here.

What's really cool about this place is that there's a multitude of options for every age. As we scoped the place out, there seemed to be several paths leading to various, separate swimming locations - pools, slides, and play areas. For instance, here's a "hot springs" wave pool...


As we kept moving around the place, there was no denying the many different slides looming extensively overhead, as well as the many different pools at our feet - after that long day of watching tennis in those scorching bleachers, I was ready to dive in! Check it all out in this 360˚ pan of the place as we were deep in it...

(Looking at the photo above) We then made our way over the bridge, past the yellow stairs, and to the far corner of the building (in the center of the picture), past another small dining area, and to my surprise, an outdoor pool area...

I don't know why it surprised me that much, seeing another grand pool outside, with more slides and dining areas... because hey, pools are usually exposed to the elements (and vitamin D is essential). I suppose the indoor section was just that overwhelming, so I didn't expect more.

Anyway, we went back inside the great beast, made our way back under the slides, past an "obstacle course" pool and a huge kiddie pool, over the "lazy river" and under the huge watery tree fort, then exited the pool area and came upon the lobby of the main entrance...


This was another grand space, showcasing the three-stories of rooms and setting off the main theme, which I thought was executed... well... a little awkwardly. Checking in at the front desk "lodge" and sitting down for a minute or two in overstuffed chairs by the huge fireplace wasn't the problem, it was that things became it little too kitschy (in my amateur opinion). In others words: Too many wolves...


In the fireplace picture alone, I counted six... and why was there a wolf (stuffed animal) in the rafters of the first pic? And why was the camping gear on the roof of the building? I guess I just didn't understand it. It really got to the point where I thought the official hotel staff garb might be Three Wolf Moon t-shirts or something. Sadly though, not.

Those trivialities aside, we explored the rest of the lobby, which included some sort of animatronic Chuck E. Cheese-type setup (which was off at the moment - seen 3 pics above, on the left side), a huge gift shop-slash-Starbucks, and a laid back, full-service restaurant (of which, after nosing through the windows at some family's dinner, looked pretty enticing).

Then we started to wonder if that was it. There was a lot to the place - swimming, eating, video games, and light shopping - but was it enough to keep a family occupied in a $200/night room? Well, we decided to explore the upper levels of the place, taking the glass elevator to the second and third floors, and explored from there. Of course, we found more...


Not only were there great seating areas in the common areas of each floor - some of which had flatscreen TVs, game tables, and/or great window views of the main attraction (above photo) - but there was also an elaborate scavenger hunt game with clues built into every area of the hotel. We noticed this because kids were strolling back and forth around us (with their parents) holding these wooden (plastic) "magic wands", that were completely interactive with the surroundings (small treasure chests down various hallways, a small forest with interactive screens, a large dragon sleeping upon a gold coins, etc.). We found the shop selling the the game (MagiQuest), and found out that it took about 2 hours to solve, but could be played sporadically over the course of your stay - pretty cool, especially if you have kids... or not. More on MagiQuest and the rest of Great Wolf's activities here.

So, all in all, Great Wolf Lodge looked like a pretty successful and extremely eventful entertainment option, especially for families - obviously a great draw in the winter. I never checked out any of the rooms, but spending some cool dough for a couple of chillly nights basking in the warm glow of the wet wolf wouldn't seem too bad...


Again, a great weekend visiting another one of Cincinnati's many stellar attractions. Not that this was the epitome of greatness, but for all the bitching that goes on around this town, we really do have it pretty darn good.

another's quick wrap on Great Wolf Lodge, check out JordanC's review.

• The article title plays on the fact that I've grown up with dogs, and tennis, which means there was lot of slobbery, chewed up yellow balls lying around. Wolves may not "play fetch" but hey, they're related to dogs anyway.

• Visit this and several other multi-post articles through the pull-down menus, located in the lower right sidebar.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A View from Above

 Mt. Adams Incline (Upper Station) by Nelsom Ronsheim. (1939).
Via Michael G. Smith's "Planes and Trains" Flickr set

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bravo, Erich

 Erich Kunzel (1935-2009).
Read more: Bio & announcement.