Published April 2019
Recently the “6 Kids Crew” were invited by the team at Lake Erie Shores & Islands to visit the region and possibly reshape what we thought we knew about the area.
To quickly bring you up to speed, we are a family of 8, with 2 boys (MJ 15 and Vegas 3) and 4 girls (Scoop 10, Munchie 8, Chipmunk 6, and Sydney 2). Ohio natives and frequent visitors of the area since Reagan was in office, we’ve made countless trips to Cedar Point and Put-in-Bay during the warmer months, followed by winter getaways to one of several indoor water parks. We weren’t strangers to the 419 area code…or were we?
The kids were ecstatic to find out that during the trip we would be guests of Great Wolf Lodge! We are a water park loving family and have visited several as part of our “Indoor Water Park Tour,” but Great Wolf Lodge had eluded us and was still on the list to be conquered.
Upon check-in we were greeted by AJ who quickly and thoroughly ran over all of the resort’s amenities including:
- The water park contains something for all ages, from the large tube and body slides down to several water play areas for the kiddoes. MJ and Scoop were mainstays at the poolside basketball courts, Munchie and Chipmunk raced up and down the slides and Vegas and Sydney would race over from the kiddie pool to watch the water bucket atop “Fort Mackenzie” tip over each time the bell rang. Also, important to note, Great Wolf Lodge has a hot tub for families as well as an adults-only section.
- Three on-site restaurants offering everything from quick bites to full sit-down menus and a breakfast buffet. Also, for the java/donut lovers, Dunkin Donuts is located off the main lobby.
- A ton of free activities literally all day long, starting with “Yoga Tails” morning yoga and the “Wolf Walk,” to free crafts during lunchtime all the way to a nightly “PJ’s Dance Party” and “Storytime.” There are several other activities in between as well, providing you just as many things you can do outside the water park as you could inside! Not to mention, the first we’ve seen in a water park, a 24-hour arcade! Want to earn instant “hero status?” Wake your kids up at 1 am and tell them it's time to win some tickets! Thank me later…
- The option to purchase “passes,” which come in three levels, “Wolf, Paw, and Pup.” Each one allows you access to a bundle providing things from free ice cream, candy, or a game of MagiQuest, on up to your own personal Build-A-Bear. This is a great way to save money and allow the kids the opportunity to create their own vacation experience. We were provided with “Paw Passes,” which is the middle tier but provided more than enough extras for our crew.
- Where every indoor water park provides you with wristbands, Great Wolf Lodge wristbands are actually RFID enabled “smart wristbands” allowing them to be used as your room key and an “electronic wallet,” so you can leave your wallet securely in your room and simply charge things during your stay with a swipe of your wrist!
- The resort has several different room configurations available, making it easy to find one to fit your needs and if they can fit our family of 8, trust me, your family should fit just fine! We stayed in a “Fireplace Loft Suite,” which occupies two levels and includes three TV’s, three Queen Beds, one and a half baths, a balcony (or patio), microwave/fridge, and cozy fireplace. One nice touch is when we checked into our room or after housekeeping visited, the TV would be set on a channel which displayed a fireplace burning, relaxing cracking noises and all. Yes, I appreciate the little things.
We really had an unexpected blast at Great Wolf Lodge and after visiting so many water parks prior, we thought we had experienced it all. But after our stay here, the bar has been raised again! The kids were anxious to spend just as much time doing other activities in the lodge as they were in the water. MagiQuest was a HUGE HIT, which is something I definitely thought they would have zero interest in! They were so involved, they began to cast “freeze spells” on each other! On top of all the lodge has to offer, their hospitality underscores the region’s tagline “Lake Erie Love.” In short, they displayed unrequested acts of kindness far beyond what they had to, and made sure we felt like guests and not customers.
The following morning, we loaded up the Tank and headed down the road to “Ghostly Manor Thrill Center.” Prior to this visit, my experience with Ghostly Manor was limited to passing their huge billboard on U.S. 250 and always wondering exactly where it was, as the building doesn't front the main “drag” and rests behind a restaurant and motel. I’ve never stopped at Ghostly Manor before because four out of our six kids are terrified of haunted houses. Needless to say, I had to do a little bit of work to calm their fears. Come to find out, I shouldn't have let the name deter me for so long.
Most towns have a “family fun center” as our hometown of Columbus, Ohio actually has several, but the big difference at Ghostly Manor is that it is a combination of several elements under one roof!
- A 4D Movie Theater where the seats move in all directions surrounding you with special effects that coordinate with the action on screen, quickly fooling your senses into thinking you're actually IN the movie. You can pick from several different movies to “experience,” giving you the need to ride more than once!
- A huge climbing gym - This was a hit with the whole crew as it contains several elements that aren't included in the local play gyms back home.
- Bounce Houses - Vegas and Sydney loved these because they could finally jump on things without being immediately told to get off!
- Skating Rink - Generally we have to divide the party when it comes to rinks as the younger sibs can’t skate without our help, however Ghostly Manor continues to “change the game” by providing not only skates and rollerblades, but also SCOOTERS! Two- and three-wheeled versions are available for rent, providing a different element that even the big kids wanted to get in on it as well!
Impressive list of attractions, right? “But wait there's more!” (In my best infomercial voice.) They also offer Wizards Journey indoor glow golf loaded with serious special effects that jump out around every corner, an interactive virtual reality game where you and three friends don headsets and fight against alien attacks, an escape room, and a haunted house! Important to note that if you visit in October, there is an additional, award-winning haunted house that is open on site as well.
Ghostly Manor is seriously the “Wal-Mart” of fun centers, housing everything you need for a full day and evening worth of fun. We will definitely be visiting again on return trips to the area. Want to have a little additional fun? Stand around the dragon outside of the building and see what happens!
With so many delicious food options in the region, it was definitely hard to settle on where to dine:
- Big Ed’s Soda Grill - Even though you only have to travel a few miles from Sandusky to Vermillion, once you walk in, you’ll feel as if you traveled a few decades back in time. Looking like a time capsule, this old-school soda fountain serves up all the classic shakes, malts, burgers, and many other items from a bygone era. The kid’s meals were big enough to curb the youngster’s hunger for hours and I spotted a blast from my childhood years, a fried bologna sandwich! Stacked with several large cuts of bologna, lettuce, onions, pickles, and mustard, this sandwich was so good, the only thing missing was the black and white console TV I used to watch while eating these as a youngster.
- Quaker Steak & Lube - Attached to Castaway Bay indoor water park and abutting Sandusky Bay with a large deck perfect for the warmer months, this two-level establishment is known for their wings and seemingly never-ending list of available sauces. We’ve dined here before so the deal in returning was that we would order something different this go around. Charisse had the “Grilled Chicken Salad” tossed in Spicy Garlic sauce. Not being a fan of too much “heat,” she was delighted that it provided just a little kick adding more flavor than spice. I chose the “Skillet Mac and Cheese,” loaded with pulled pork, macaroni and cheese and topped with enough cheese to bankrupt Wisconsin. I attempted to eat it slow for two reasons. First, it was good, like really good and I wanted it to last. Second, I got full quick, but had to finish it. Call it gluttony; I call it “No Food Left Behind!” MJ says the “Bang Bang Shrimp” is now his favorite thing to order and it's so filling he says you could just order the appetizer version, add fries and you'll be more than satisfied!
- Toft Dairy - At each of the aforementioned establishments the kids attempted to order dessert but we wouldn't allow them to because we knew our next stop would make them ecstatic. That stop was the legendary Toft Dairy ice cream parlor! Home to “Ohio’s Oldest Dairy,” I grew up eating Toft’s as a kid at Cedar Point and now we were at the actual dairy. Vegas lit up as soon as he saw the cow windmill in the distance and when we pulled up, he hopped out of the Tank and ran inside! Let me give you a heads up, when at Toft’s, “request a scoop and get two” because a scoop is actually a double! The kids’ eyes lit up when their cones were handed to them fully-loaded. They were totally mind-blown while looking down into the cooler at all the flavors they could choose from, with most choosing Birthday Cake. Chipmunk loves Cedar Point as much as I do and out of loyalty selected the Cedar Point Cotton Candy. Munchie kept to her M.O. and asked for Rocky Road (and proceeded to wear much of it around her mouth as she dug into her cone face first). Scoop jokingly said that the Birthday Cake “tasted like her birthday!” Me being a creature of habit, ordered a Vanilla Milkshake. Sorry I lied, I actually ordered two shakes – a second one to go as I finished the first one while looking at the cool Sandusky murals painted on the wall.
Our weekend in Lake Erie Shores & Islands dispelled the popular myth that all the region has to offer is roller coasters and water parks. Sure, the area has become world-renowned thanks to lift hills and zero G rolls, but there’s just so much more to enjoy here. As we rode home, the kids were in the back looking through a stack of travel brochures and debating on where we would visit upon our next return trip and, from what we’ve learned from this trip, we’ve only started to crest the lift hill!