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Top-10 reasons a water park resort is like a casino

19 January 2015

Last week, we learned that Glenn Straub, the Florida real estate developer who bid $95.4 million to buy Atlantic City's shuttered Revel, wants to turn the $2.4 billion resort into a water park.

Some people probably think Straub's idea is crazy. I think it's crazy genius.

I just returned from a quick trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, Mass. The trip was a Christmas present to our three kids, and it cost us a pretty penny. That said, I can tell you that the kids are already bugging us to go back, and we probably will, because it was a lot of fun.

Now Revel wouldn't just be a water park. There would also be a gaming floor where people would gamble, but according to the Press of Atlantic City, the gaming floor would take up less than half the available space.

Combining a water park (family entertainment) with a casino (adult entertainment) might seem like a stretch. But the Great Wolf Lodge experience isn't all that dissimilar from visiting a casino, except this one is designed for kids. Here are 10 similarities that might surprise you.

10. Climate control
Walk down the Las Vegas Strip for 10 minutes at midday in July, then make your way into a casino. You won't want to go back outside until October. Casinos do their best to make you comfortable. They've studied not only what the best temperature is to keep you comfortable, but also the humidity. (There's a bit of casino lore that says they pump extra oxygen into the air, but that seems a bit unlikely to both me and snopes.com.)

Like a casino, Great Wolf Lodge keeps the environment comfortable — a toasty 84 degrees in the water park. When you have to wait in line five minutes for a water slide and you're soaking wet, you don't want to be shivering the entire time.

9. Space
Gaming floors take up a huge amount of real estate, and so do indoor water parks. Great Wolf Lodge has 68,000 square feet of water park, with two huge areas side by side. While not nearly as big as Foxwoods, the resort is much bigger than some Las Vegas casinos.

8. Nothing's a sure thing
Sitting on a 20 vs. a dealer's 5 in blackjack might feel pretty good, until the dealer ends up with a 6-card 21. And you might think that your three-year-old has mastered the art of climbing three stairs, until a big bucket above his head flips over and dumps three gallons of water on him, knocking him down the stairs backwards. In both cases, someone ends up crying and needing to be consoled, and in both cases, all that was really hurt was the injured party's pride.

7. Caters to different levels of risk tolerance
Whatever your risk tolerance is, you can find a way to gamble appropriately at a casino. If you don't like a lot of risk, you can sit at a pai gow table for an hour and you'll likely be up or down no more than five bets. Or you can throw down John Daly style and play the high-limit slots or bet it all on a four-team parlay. If you don't like to gamble at all you can go to a show or just watch a friend.

Water parks offer similar opportunities for risk tolerance. At Great Wolf Lodge, you can shoot down Alberta Falls to get a little bit of adrenaline flowing, or you can really test your limits in the Howlin' Tornado. And if you'd rather just be a spectator, you can float in Slap Tail Pond and enjoy the waves, or just sit in a chair and take it all in.

6. Customer service is paramount
Nothing will make or break your opinion of a resort more than the level of customer service you receive. When casino dealers are rude or disinterested, you don't tend to want to stick around. When they tell a joke and make you feel welcomed, you're more likely to enjoy yourself.

I can say that we experienced a wide range of customer service at Great Wolf Lodge. Some clearly were counting the minutes until they could leave, and I can't say that I blame them. Pushing rafts of people down a plastic tube filled with flowing chlorinated water for eight hours a day is probably about as much fun as it sounds. But the ones who conveyed a sense of excitement and smiled as they got us started made a big difference in how excited we were for the ride.

5. Smokers are everywhere
I don't see many smokers in my everyday life. Sure, there are a few people who work in my office park who go outside for a cigarette break a few times a day, but outside of that, I don't see many people puffing away very often. Except, of course, when I go into a casino. Casinos are a smoker's paradise, where non-smoking areas are few and far between and smokers have free reign.

While you can't smoke inside Great Wolf Lodge, every time I went outside the building there was a collection of employees and exasperated parents sucking down nicotine. My 24-hour experience was surely a small sample size, but it was nonetheless remarkable.

4. Energy costs must be overwhelming
While many casinos (and no doubt water parks, too) are now doing great work to make their buildings as energy efficient as possible, there's no doubt that the places have to generate enormous utility bills. Heating huge, cavernous spaces in the middle of the winter, or air conditioning them in the summer, will cost a pretty penny. And Great Wolf Lodge had almost as many screens in it as a casino gaming floor, with a MagiQuest game and arcades in two separate locations.

3. You can't do it all in one day
A big casino can be pretty overwhelming, and it can take awhile to get your bearings. There are too many restaurants, gaming machines and tables, and in some cases, entertainment venues, to see and do it all in one day. The same applies to Great Wolf Lodge. We didn't even try to do it all. The only meal we ate "on campus" was breakfast from Dunkin' Donuts, and we only walked through the arcade (more on that later).

2. Location of the machines that take your money
To be honest, I'm not the originator of the idea that Great Wolf Lodge is like a casino. Our friend Lauren went so far as to call it "Kiddy Vegas."

I thought she was joking until I started the long walk from our hotel registration desk to our room. We walked by the arcade, where machines rang and bells dinged, then walked by MagiQuest, where screens boomed at kids holding wands, directing them through what to do next (but mostly saying, "A wizard never strays from his journey. Try your magic elsewhere."). Admission to the water parks comes free with your hotel stay, but the arcade and MagiQuest are not, and the cost of the extra activities can add up quickly. By the time we got to our room, the kids already had grand plans of feeding the machines every $20 bill in my wallet. It really was no different from forcing you to walk through the gaming floor to get to your hotel room at a casino.

1. Expensive, but you can find a deal
We stayed at Great Wolf Lodge the weekend before the Martin Luther King holiday, so we had to pay a premium. Try staying at a posh casino resort over a holiday weekend and you're likely to pay a premium as well. But if you can plan your trip when there isn't nearly as much demand, you'll find that the trip becomes much more affordable.
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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.