Great Wolf Lodge Lives Up to Its Hype!

Since becoming parents, we’d been hearing SO much about Great Wolf Lodge, a family resort and indoor water park with 16 locations across the U.S. and Canada. While so many of our fellow parents hyped it up as the ideal vacation spot for families, I’ll admit that it sounded awful to Keith and me. Hundreds of screaming kids running around? Overpriced food? GERMS? No, thank you!

But when we saw a great deal pop up on Groupon recently, we decided to give the Williamsburg, Virginia location a shot. Our package included two nights in a KidKamp suite and a $50 daily food credit at a greatly reduced price. We were also able to go Sunday through Tuesday (our school district had a student holiday that Monday), so we knew crowds would be significantly smaller. So, off we went!

And let me tell you—our two days at Great Wolf Lodge were some of the most fun days we spent as a family all winter. All three of our children—5-year-old twins Matt and Nate and 2-year-old Lily—had a fabulous time. But here’s what surprised us—Keith and I had a blast, too! Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

WHAT WE LOVED!

The water parkThis place is seriously amazing, and that’s great because it’s the only attraction in the resort that doesn’t cost extra money. With 79,000 square feet of space, the water park has something for everyone. There are giant, winding water slides for big kids and adults and tiny slides for the little kids. There’s a wave pool, a lazy river, hot tubs, and a regular pool with basketball hoops. There’s a giant climbing structure with bridges, tunnels, and water features for kids to get lost in. There’s a kiddie pool with spray areas that Lily absolutely loved. And there’s the Wolf Rider Wipeout, an awesome surf simulator that the boys did two times each. (They were the smallest kids doing it—such brave boys!) Overall we spent three to four hours each day at the water park, and we had a blast.

IMG_1629.jpg

Here are my water park tips:

  • Get there early! There are a limited number of tables and chairs in the park that often get snatched up in minutes. So get down to the park about 15 minutes before it opens and be ready to stake out your spot. (Note: The resort website lists the water park hours as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, but that is subject to change based on the season. So, double check the hours when you arrive!)
  • Bring snacks. The signs posted say no outside food is allowed in the water park, but nearly everyone we saw had their own snacks with them. (They probably just don’t want you rolling in with bags of McDonald’s). So bring lots of food to munch on and plan to eat meals out or back at your room. There is a small food stand in the water park called Buckets Incredible Craveables, but it has a very limited selection of food and no kids’ meals.
  • Bring your own towels. The resort provides towels, but they are pretty tiny and flimsy. And even though the water is warm, it can feel really chilly in the water park when you get out. So we brought the kids their own hooded towels, and next time we’ll bring towels for ourselves as well.
  • Leave life jackets at home. The water park has free Coast Guard-approved life jackets and puddle jumpers, so there’s no need to bring your own!

MagiQuestWwere going to skip this game because we thought the boys were too young, but we are SO glad we didn’t. It’s expensive, but we played for hours, and Keith and I admittedly had as much fun as the boys did. It’s basically a live-action video game. First you go to a really cool wand shop and pick your own wand. Once your game is activated, you wave your wand at any of the “portals” located around the resort—mini touch screens—to start your quest. You then have to collect a certain number of runes before you can do fun things like battle a dragon, defeat a goblin king, etc. The screen tells you which objects you need to collect to get each rune and what area of the resort you can find them in. Then you walk around and wave your wand at treasure chests, boxes, wall hangings, and more to find the objects you need. When you’ve gotten them, you return to a portal, where a character from the game gives you your rune and instructions on how to get your next rune. Its lots of fun!

IMG_1654.jpg
The twins opened the treasure chest with a wave of their wands!
IMG_1711.jpg
They defeated the evil dragon Charlock!

Here are my MaqiQuest tips:

  • Be patient. The game is tough to figure out at first, but don’t give up. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very addicting! Try to play after the water park opens and before dinnertime—there seemed to be fewer people playing during those times, which meant we didn’t have to wait as long for our turn at the portals.
  • Save some money. As I mentioned, MagiQuest is not cheap: A wand costs $15.99 to $21.99 and the game costs $14.99, but you can play as much as you want throughout your stay! (Then you can bring your wand back on future stays to pick right up where you left off!) The wand itself is super cool, so there’s no need to purchase a wand topper for $17.99 to $19.99. Also, if you have a young child who wants in on the wand action but is too young to play the game, just buy the wand without the game. The wand will still work on all the cool objects around the resort. Lily had a blast waving her wand to open treasure chests, make animals move, light up stars, etc.
  • Be ready to exercise. You may think video games are for couch potatoes, but not MagiQuest. You’ll be going up and down stairs between the second and fourth floors of the resort nonstop to collect objects for the game (unless you feel like waiting forever for the elevators), so it’s a great way to keep your kids moving!

Bowling: The resort has a mini bowling alley that’s perfect for small children because it has shorter lanes, bumpers, and little five-pound balls. Plus, you don’t need to wear bowling shoes! We went bowling with friends who visited the resort the same weekend as us, and all of the kids had a blast. (We did have a problem with balls getting stuck on one of our lanes, but it was still a good time!) The cost was $5 per person per game.

IMG_1679.jpg
Even 2-year-old Lily got in on the bowling action!

 

Our suite: As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in a KidKamp suite, which is a large room with a queen-size bed, a full-size sofa sleeper, and a tent-themed sleeping area with bunk beds. The twins loved sleeping on the bunk beds in their own separate space. We liked that the room had a mini fridge and a microwave. There are many other room options at the resort at various price points, ranging from standard rooms to themed suites (like ours) to premium suites with lofts, fireplaces, and jacuzzi tubs. Our friends stayed in one of the premium suites and loved it.

IMG_1605.jpg
Playing peek-a-boo in the KidKamp Suite

 

Free lobby activities: The lobby always has some sort of free activity or show going on for the kids. We found The Great Clock Tower Show to be a bit creepy, and the kids were bored by the nighttime Story Time. But, all three loved the little activity table that offered coloring pages and guided activities like Bingo and friendship bracelet-making.

IMG_1670.jpg
Coloring in the lobby while Daddy waited in line for Dunkin’ Donuts

 

The wolf ears: To our surprise, we all got a free pair of wolf ears at check-in! Lots of grown-ups got into the spirit and wore them around the resort.

IMG_1596.jpg
Modeling our wolf ears! Daddy wore them too, but he was behind the camera!

 

The wristbands: As someone who’s been known to lose hotel room keys and forget my wallet, this was huge for me: When you check in, you get a waterproof wristband that you use as your room key, your water park entry, and your payment for activities and food (it all just gets charged to your room). How convenient is that? Plus, the kids felt super cool and important sporting their wristbands ( though they couldn’t buy things with theirs).

 

Now, here are a few things we didn’t love (but didn’t totally hate):

WHAT WE DIDN’T LOVE

Northern Lights ArcadeWith its wide variety of games, this place would be awesome for older kids and teenagers, but it was really overwhelming and chaotic for my three kids. Almost every game uses Paw Points, a reloadable gaming card that you swipe to play the game. That means that unless you have one adult to accompany each child around the arcade, your small kids are going to be swiping the card haphazardly without realizing whether it actually worked … and spend all of the Paw Points without playing a single game. Trust me, I know! So I’d say steer clear of the arcade if you have younger kids.

The food: The best food option at the Great Wolf Lodge was the Dunkin’ Donuts in the lobby. Keith went there every morning to get us breakfast and coffee and it was included in our $50 food credit—WIN! We got pizza and wings one evening from Hungry As A Wolf and ate it in the room. It was decent, quick, and convenient. But the buffet dinner we ate at the Loose Moose Bar & Grill was not very good. (Perhaps the breakfast would have been better, but who has time for that when you’ve got to get to the water park?) My advice? Eat dinners off site, or pick up food to bring back to your room. There are lots of casual or fast-food dining spots only a minute or two away, including Carrabba’s, Chick-fil-A, and Sonic.

 

Clearly, we loved a lot more things about Great Wolf Lodge than we didn’t love! And we only scratched the surface of the attractions that are available there. There are 4D movies, a miniature golf course,  a fitness center, a spa, and so much more. We definitely plan to visit again to try out some of these other activities.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge with your family, I have a few more tips:

  1. Go when there’s a deal. I frequently see Great Wolf Lodge deals on Groupon and similar sites, so keep your eyes peeled. If you’re an active or retired military family, emergency medical service personnel, or a police or correctional officer, you can take advantage of the Howling Heroes promotion, which gives you up to 30 percent off a suite for stays through October 31. And, keep in mind that weeknights are cheaper than weekends!
  2. Maximize your time. Though check-in isn’t until 4 p.m. and checkout is at 11 a.m., you can access the water park starting at 1 p.m. on your arrival date and until closing on your departure date. And you can often get early check-in if your room is available—we did! There are showers in the water park you can use before you leave.
  3. Two nights is perfect. It’s enough time to take advantage of many of the resort activities without feeling rushed, but not so long that your family will burn out and have meltdowns.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge, let me know what you think. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine did!

Has your family been to Great Wolf Lodge? Leave a comment below and let me know how you liked it! And if you have questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer them!

 

Share Your Hero With Mrs. Fields

Merriam-Webster defines the word “hero” as follows: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities. I can’t think of anyone who fits that description more completely than my husband, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Walters. Keith has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, during which he received three Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained in combat. He is well respected by so many soldiers and officers who have served with him. Those are the reasons he is considered a hero to many.

army-officer-holding-baby
This was at 6 am on July 4, 2011. Keith was holding one of our 2-week-old twins before leaving for Afghanistan … and he was still smiling. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is!

But to me, Keith is a hero because of the way he lives his life each day—because of the type of husband, father, family member, and friend he is. He is a hero every time he pushes through a run despite having been shot in the leg in Afghanistan. He was a hero when he happily looked after our three kids and my friend’s three kids—all age 6 and under—in our basement on a Friday evening so I could have the girls over for wine. He was a hero when he moved a morning work meeting to take care of the kids so I could sleep off a stomach bug. He was a hero when he practically carried my father, who’s over 6 feet tall, up the stairs during an illness earlier this year. He’s a hero every time he shovels a neighbor’s driveway in the bitter cold.

mrs-fields-shareyourhero-cookie

But enough about my hero. I want to hear about your hero—and so does Mrs. Fields! The cookie company has launched the Share Your Hero campaign to help embrace local heroes who serve their communities all across the country. Through October 31, 2016, you can go to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com to nominate a hero. Mrs. Fields will choose one nominee to be America’s Hometown Hero, and will donate $5,000 to a charity of his or her choosing. And as if that weren’t sweet enough, everyone who nominates a hero on the site will receive a coupon for $1 off a box of Mrs. Fields cookies. (Trust me, they’re delicious!)

mrs-fields-shareyourhero-box

So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com and #ShareYourHero. And while you’re at it, leave a comment below and let me know who you nominated. Can’t wait to hear all about your heroes!

Diapers.com Has Everything for Moms, Babies, and Kids!

This post was sponsored by Diapers.com as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

When the twins were babies, I’d spend hours running around to different stores—often with the two of them in tow—to buy the endless list of items they needed. I’d pick up baby food at the grocery store; diapers, wipes, and formula at a baby store; tiny clothing at the mall. But by the time Lily came along and I started working more, I no longer had the time or energy to do that. I needed a one-stop shop where I could buy whatever it is was the kids needed at the time—even better if I didn’t have to leave my house.

That’s where Diapers.com came in. Diapers.com carries so many sizes and brands of diapers, of course. But it also sells way more than that. There are the basics, like bottles, diaper cream, and wipes. There’s all the baby gear you could need, from car seats and strollers to monitors and safety gates. There are items for mom, like maternity clothing, diaper bags, and groceries. There’s clothing, shoes, toys, and food for babies and kids. And there is tons of other stuff! And, all of the products sold on Diapers.com are handpicked by experts, meaning you can be sure anything you buy on the site is a top product.

I truly wish I had known about Diapers.com during those first few crazy months of motherhood. It would have taken a lot of the guesswork out of shopping, given me more time to spend enjoying the boys instead of toting them around town, and allowed me to shop from home in my spit-up-soaked pajamas.

Luckily, I do know about Diapers.com now, and I do a lot of shopping for Lily on the site. Consider my most recent purchase, which came in at a little under $100:

As you can see, the prices are also competitive on Diapers.com. I was quite happy to get all of that for less than $100! Shipping was free, too, since all orders above $49 qualify for free shipping. And because Diapers.com offers 1-2 day shipping, I got my items quickly!

If you’re new to Diapers.com, you can save even more money because the site offers the following promotion:

  • First order: 20% off your order* plus extra $5 off with a case of diapers
    • Enter code: TRYUSLOVEUS
  • Second order: Get 10% off your entire second order**
  • Expiration Date: 12/31/2016
    • *Excludes diapers, wipes and formula. Brand exclusions apply. Max. discount $35. To redeem enter code TRYUSLOVEUS. Offer subject to change and cancellation
    • **Discount will auto-apply in about 24 hours to use on second order. Brand exclusions apply. Max discount $50. Offer subject to change and cancellation.

To place your first order on Diapers.com and redeem your new buyer offer, visit diapers.com/tryusloveus. And if you’re a new mom, click here to find a page just for you that lists everything you might need for your new baby. Happy shopping!

A Chemical-Free Baby Wipe … Plus, Win a $100 Walgreens Gift Card!

This post was sponsored by WaterWipes as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own. 

Baby wipes are a necessity when you’ve got little ones in diapers. Unfortunately, many of the baby wipes on the market contain chemicals that can irritate babies’ sensitive skin. So the very thing that keeps babies clean can also cause awful diaper rashes. It’s just one of those unavoidable aspects of parenting, right?

Not necessarily. I recently discovered WaterWipes, the only baby wipe in the world that contains no chemicals. In fact, WaterWipes contain only two ingredients—99.9% pure Irish water and 0.1% grapefruit seed extract, a natural skin conditioner. That means WaterWipes are gentle on baby’s skin and help prevent diaper rash and other skin conditions. The National Eczema Association has even awarded WaterWipes the Seal of Acceptance.

When I first read these facts, I figured WaterWipes must be flimsy like other sensitive baby wipes I have tried. I was thrilled to find that that’s not the case at all. WaterWipes are actually quite durable! They also work very well, meaning I don’t need to use 10 of them to get Lily clean. And, they’re not inter folded in the package, a feature that’s supposed to help make them more sterile.

Sounds like a product that could only be available in health stores, right? Actually, they are fully stocked at many major stores, including Walgreens. That’s where we got our WaterWipes. They were very easy to find, smack in the middle of the top shelf of the baby aisle.

WaterWipes

WaterWipes

Even Lily was excited to buy them!

img_9294

We have been using WaterWipes for a few weeks now and have had a great experience with them. Though Lily has never had very sensitive skin, I still feel good knowing I am using such pure and natural wipes on her. I may not be able to protect her from everything, but why wouldn’t I avoid using harmful chemicals on her as much as I can?

Lily seems to love them, too. Have you ever seen a baby so happy to have her diaper changed?

Baby with WaterWipes

Click here to learn more about WaterWipes and get a coupon for $1.00 off.

Want to buy your own WaterWipes? Influence Central is giving away five (5) Walgreens gift cards. That’s enough to purchase WaterWipes and other necessities for your little one! Just click below by October 7, 2016 to enter:

WaterWipes Walgreens Giveaway

I-C will randomly select winners from all program entries and will facilitate fulfillment of the winning prizes (5 winners). Good luck!

Ready for Kindergarten With Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin Gummies

This post was sponsored by Nature Made® as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central.

It is the final week of an extremely busy and fun summer for my family. We enjoyed lots of pool and playground time, baseball games, trips to New York, and even a Hawaiian vacation!

But now it’s time for us to get back into the swing of things. In just five days, the twins start kindergarten, and Lily starts preschool a week later. So many big changes are coming up for my family, and I can’t quite believe it!

Though Keith and I vowed to get the kids (and ourselves) back into a routine by mid August, our easygoing spirits took over and we failed to do so. Right up until last week we were still staying up too late to eat popsicles al fresco and enjoy family movie nights; still spending leisurely mornings lingering over breakfast and building LEGO cities in our pajamas.

But we’ve finally decided to get our acts together and transition the kids into a healthy back-to-school routine. Over the past week we’ve been eating earlier dinners and getting the kids to bed by 8 p.m. I’ve also been waking up before them to jump-start the day and prepare a nutritious breakfast. And for Matt and Nate, that breakfast includes Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin Gummies.

The boys started taking these vitamins a few weeks ago after we picked up a bottle of them during a Target run. They were right on the top shelf at the beginning of the vitamin aisle, so they were really easy to find! That made the kids happy because it meant we could head over to the toy aisle quicker.

Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin Gummies img_8923

The boys tried the vitamins the very next morning and absolutely loved them. They have taken them every morning since then, even asking for them if I forget to set them out with their breakfasts. The gummies come in three flavors—orange, cherry, and mixed berry—and Matt and Nate say they taste just like fruit snacks.

IMG_9130

Here is Nate ready to take his favorite flavor, orange:

img_9126

And here’s Matt with his favorite, mixed berry:

img_9128

 

But while the boys simply view Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin Gummies as a morning treat, they also contain 12 essential nutrients for kids. These include vitamins A, C, D, and E, B vitamins, and minerals such as iodine and zinc. I also like that the gummies’ colors come from natural sources (meaning no synthetic dyes are used), that they are gluten free, and that they contain no preservatives or yeast.

I will continue to give the boys Nature Made® KIDS FIRST® Multivitamin Gummies every morning this school year to help give them a healthy start to their day. Click here to learn more about them. Then head on over to Target to purchase a bottle. Here’s to a healthy, happy, and successful school year!

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Get Unlimited Kids’ Classes in the DC Metro Area with JumpIt Pass

Happy summer! Northern Virginia (NOVA) public schools have been closed for nearly two weeks now, but for Matt and Nate, preschool ended right before Memorial Day. That means it’s already been summer for us for over five weeks. And what a busy summer it has been. Besides the two weeks of camp the boys have done, we’ve gone to the pool, the splash pad, the nature center, movies, playgrounds, the trampoline park, the library, baseball games, and so many more fun places. Every day has been a new adventure. Here’s a shot of the kids at the Independence Day Parade in downtown Fairfax on July 4:

3 Kids on 4th of July

But there are still two more months of summer to go, and even with our upcoming trips to New York and Hawaii, we have many more days to fill. And it gets hot here. Really, really hot. That leaves me and so many other NOVA parents with a bit of a challenge: How do we entertain our children on these long, hot summer days without spending a ton of money?

NOVA—and the Washington, DC area in general—has many indoor gyms, play spaces, and other venues that offer children’s classes. The problem is, they are generally pretty expensive: Many of them have monthly memberships that cost $75 or more for one class per week. And what happens when your kid gets bored of going to the same place every week, or when your schedule doesn’t allow you to be at the same place at the same time each week?

Luckily, there is an option that can help solve those problems—JumpIt Pass. JumpIt Pass provides unlimited monthly access to some of the best kids’ classes across the DC metropolitan area. Families can attend classes at a variety of venues including play gyms, art studios, fitness centers, martial arts studios, dance studios, and more. You can take as many classes as you would like per month (up to three each month at the same venue).

When I first learned about JumpIt Pass back in October (about a month after its launch), most participating venues were in Bethesda, Rockville, or DC. As more and more NOVA venues got on board, I decided to give JumpIt Pass a try with Lily in January and February while the boys were at preschool. Unfortunately, frequent snow and the fact that Lily was still under 18 months old at the time prevented us from taking full advantage. But, we still really enjoyed the classes we took at Great Play of Fairfax with our JumpIt Pass.

Since then, JumpIt Pass has expanded even more. Now many NOVA venues participate, including Blue Box Sports in Chantilly, Gymboree Play & Music in Alexandria and Burke, BusyBees in Falls Church, Monkey Joe’s in Sterling, Tippi Toes in Alexandria and Arlington, World Karate in Fairfax, and more. There are also many fun locations in DC and Maryland. Click here to see a full list of participating venues.

And this summer is the perfect time to try JumpIt Pass because there’s an amazing promotion going on. JumpIt Pass usually costs $99 per month for unlimited classes for one child and $169 per month for unlimited classes for two children (additional kids cost $70 per month extra), or $59 for a three-class starter plan. But this summer, you can get 50 percent off any JumpIt Pass by entering promo code SUMMER at checkout. That is a huge bargain!

So if you live in the DC area and are looking for ways to entertain your kids this summer, head over to jumpitpass.com and give it a try. Your child may just find a new favorite place or discover a new passion. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary JumpItPass to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

 

 

Don’t Give Up!

When I first started writing this blog while I was pregnant with the twins, I mainly intended it to be a way to keep my family and friends updated on the pregnancy and babies. It was also a way for me to continue to put my writing out there. I had left my full-time job at Scholastic in order to move to Colorado Springs, and my freelance writing career hadn’t really taken off yet. So, I had a decent amount of time to spend on my little hobby.

Then life got crazy. The boys, and later Lily, were born. Keith deployed to Afghanistan and was wounded. We moved to California, then to Virginia. We traveled. And most of all, my freelance assignments began to pour in. I found myself with less and less time to devote to the blog.

But then, public relations folks began to take an interest in the blog. They started to reach out to me, asking me to review their products or visit their family-friendly locations. Then I received an invitation to Blogger Bash last summer, where I met and became inspired by so many successful bloggers. I decided to try to spend more time on Double Duty Twins and use it to impart some of my hard-won parenting advice to other moms and dads. And for a while, I was able to post more regularly.

But I’m not going to lie: It’s been extremely hard for me to keep it up. My writing career has really taken off, and I’m regularly juggling several assignments at once. I’m still writing a ton for Scholastic, and Care.com and Bentley University have kept me very busy as well. (You can check out some of the stories I’ve been working on at jennifermarinowalters.contently.com.) I also wrote four children’s books for Red Chair Press that are slated to hit shelves in August.

The kids have also been keeping me on my toes. The boys are in tee-ball, soccer, and swimming, and Lily and I go to Gymboree and other activities while they’re at school. Then there are the play dates, trips to the playground, birthday parties, etc.

It’s a very tough balancing act. I feel caught between the stay-at-home mom and the working-mom worlds. I’m trying to be both at the same time, but I am not fully either one, which makes managing my time really difficult.

I’m not complaining. I love being busy with work. I love doing fun things with the kids. It’s just impossible to do everything, which means something has to get lost in the fray. And that something, unfortunately, is usually this blog.

But I’m trying. I’m always looking for ways to organize my time better. I found a really great co-working space in Vienna, Virginia called Play, Work or Dash, and it’s got on-site child care for Lily. She and I go there weekly while the boys are in preschool. I’ve also been making better use of Lily’s nap times now that the boys are older and can entertain themselves. I have a nanny come about 12 hours a week while I work. And being a night owl helps, too, because I can write late at night while everyone is asleep.

My point is, I am not giving up on this blog. I’m asking that you don’t give up on it, either. It is never going to be my full-time job or my main source of income—especially as I continue to land more and more freelance-writing clients. But it’s always going to be a place where I can speak my mind and talk about the things that I want to talk about. And that is priceless to me.

So I will continue to do my best to write when I can and to find interesting things to share with other parents. I will also attend Blogger Bash again this summer, where I’ll get lots of new material. So please stick with me! If you want to stay updated on new blog posts (whenever they may come) and on my other stories, follow me on Twitter at @jmarinowalters. You can also find me on Instagram at @jmwalters718, and on Facebook at facebook.com/doubledutytwins.

And just for fun, here is a recent photo of my crazy crew during our recent trip to Disney World!

Minnie Mouse Disney World

Hope everyone is having a great month!