I recently stayed at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA. I was there to be interviewed for an avian instructional video. I didn’t choose to stay there, it just happened to be where the Mid-Atlantic States Avian Vet’s Conference was being held. Dr. Scott Echols happened to be lecturing so that’s where I ended up to do the video.

I’m an old hand at hotels having spent more nights in Hotels than at home at times in my life. But this was, well, unsettling and because of my former camping and north woods experiences, I found it ersatz and artificial.

First of all it’s a family resort built to conjure up the feeling of the north woods and camping, and it had a “gathering around the campfire outside the tent” kind of feel to it. I found it ironic that it was virtually surrounded by gorgeous, huge trees and foliage and nobody put so much as a toe outside to actually experience nature. Everyone was too busy inside at the giant water park, ordering up Pizza Hut pizza, shopping in the gift shop, playing video games in the game room, and running around waving wands to follow some sort of virtual game called “MagiQuest.” I talked to some of the Staff and I was extremely impressed by them. (Well, there was one staffer, a Hostess at the “Loose Moose” Restaurant who had this major issue with me looking at the buffet before choosing to eat. She followed me around asking if I needed any help.  I politely informed her I didn’t require any assistance, I was simply looking at the buffet for the evening. She kept asking, “Would you like a table?” “No, just checking out the buffet.” I thought she was going to have a stroke. I mean this kid just wouldn’t let it go. I felt like I was being stalked. I suppose I was expected to blindly plop down thirty bucks for a buffet that may or may not have been any good.) But for the most part, the staff was well-trained and top-notch. And the place was very clean and well groomed.

I guess I have an issue with the concept of the place. It seems to be a wildly successful enterprise that caters to people with kids that want to show their children what it’s like to “camp” without actually expending any effort. (If I was smart, I’d buy stock in the company. I’ve never believed in overestimating what the public wants.)

They have different styles of hotel rooms that have a separate area for the kids. For instance, the “Kids Kamp” suite has a tent-like looking enclosure for your kids. Here’s the best shot I could get of the “Kids Cabin Room.” You can sort of see the “log cabin” enclosure where your kids sleep.

However, I don’t think it’s right to put a misspelled word up on the entrance to a hotel room when you have a lot of kids around, no matter how cute it is. I mean, how do you explain this “professional incorrect spelling?”

In effect, I think the people who patronize this resort want to go somewhere that “looks” like the outdoors, without actually going outdoors. However, I think this kind of defeats the purpose. I got into a discussion with one of the bartenders who in the end had to agree with me. He was holding on to the corporate rhetoric he was taught to spew until he realized he was looking like an ass. He got my point entirely and wanly agreed with my issues with the place. (To be honest, he totally got it but he was working and he held on to the corporate line until he was blue in the face. I was actually quite proud of him.)

His only defense was of the game, “Magiquest.” In order to check all of the “treasure hunt ” items off the list, you had to literally walk all over the hotel, which, by the way is massive. Here is a shot of a hallway:

So he stated that a lot of moms and dads were getting a pretty good workout following their kids around as they bounded around the hotel waving their wands at hidden treasure chests and the like so it would digitally check that “quest” off of their hunting list.  Of course you had to buy the wand at the gift shop in order to play.  And to me it looked like this big scavenger hunt with “Harry Potter” overtones. And I personally wouldn’t find trooping up and down hotel hallways looking for some fake jewelry set into a wall behind a glass plate that lights up when you wave your wand at it particularly “magical.”  Catching a fish from a canoe while watching real live loons flying onto the lake at dusk somewhere in Northern Wisconsin? Seeing wild deer grazing? Spotting a black bear or a beaver den? Now that’s cool.

It’s as if the developers of this place wanted to deliver that feeling, but at the end of the day, they wanted those parents to get their kids into the “Scoops Kids Spa” for a 50 buck pedicure, followed by a quick run to lunch. There was some brilliant marketing going on, however. First of all you didn’t get a room key. You got a bracelet with a chip embedded in it that not only opened your hotel room door, you could also use it to buy a soda or candy in the vending machine. They didn’t take cash. Nada. It all was charged to your room. So you had kids running around with the power to buy virtually anything they wanted. Of course the Parents could put a limit on how much was on the bracelet account, but man this was really brilliant marketing. And they had a guy dressed up as this bear character. I can’t remember his name but he was kind of neat:

He was down by the fireplace for “Story time.” I was not down by the fireplace for story time. I was on my way to the bar for a beer and some dinner, but I got side-tracked by the sight of this character and a bunch of kids in their pajamas sitting in a hotel lobby in front of this huge fireplace at 8 p.m. It’s a big fireplace, I’ll grant them that. Here’s my friend George and I standing in front of it:

George Bono and me in front of the fireplace. It's Big!

So it was like going back to nature, but without the nature aspect of it. Instead of seeing real wildlife, you saw this:

And this:

And this:

Instead of the beautiful trees that were right outside….

you saw this:

Perhaps the parents who bring their kids here have no outdoor skills and this is the only way they can show their children what the Great Outdoors is like. If that’s the case, aren’t there summer camps these kids can go to? What ever happened to that? Don’t they have summer camps any more? I went to “Pokonokah Hills” Girl Scout Camp when I was ten and I got pretty darned good at a lot of outdoor stuff as a result: handling a canoe, building and lighting a fire with one match, gathering wood, cooking over a campfire, swimming, and handling a pocket knife. I also learned how to build a latrine. Just saying…

Here, there were other distractions. Instead of  seeing the real “Northern Lights,” there was this:

So if Parents don’t have the skills themselves and they feel it’s important for them to develop an understanding and appreciation for it, then why not send the kids to people who do have the skills? Because I’m not so sure this is the place to learn basic camping and survival skills. But that’s probably not the point. And maybe they do have a point, but I’m not getting it because I don’t have children. All in all, I didn’t choose to stay there and probably wouldn’t have due to the high volume of children ramming around the place. Not my scene and I wouldn’t suggest it for anyone who doesn’t have kids. It appeared to be a well-run, well-maintained, clean, and orderly resort. I get that part. But it’s no substitute for the real thing.