Great Wolf offers sneak peek of its first water park resort in Illinois

Chicago Tribune

Great Wolf Resorts on Wednesday revealed new details and the first renderings of its water park lodge opening next year near Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.

The $60 million-plus project calls for transforming the tropical-themed KeyLime Cove indoor water park resort into the Northwoods-style Great Wolf Lodge Illinois, featuring an expanded, 80,000-square-foot indoor water park with a wave pool, 50 percent more slides than its predecessor, a new outdoor pool and “several” water attractions still in development.

“When the weather is nice in the Midwest, people want to be outside, and the outdoor pool is definitely something guests said they wanted,” Great Wolf spokesman Jason Lasecki said. “It’s going to be a huge addition.”

Great Wolf got its start 20 years ago in Wisconsin Dells and has been growing at an impressive clip. The Gurnee property marks the 17th indoor water park resort for the company, which recently relocated its headquarters from Madison, Wis., to Chicago’s River North neighborhood.

Plans call for opening a Great Wolf lodge in Minnesota later this year and another outside Atlanta in the spring.

The upcoming Illinois outpost, a relatively easy drive for the Chicago and Milwaukee markets, is slated to launch mid-2018. Great Wolf bought the nearly decade-old, 414-room KeyLime Cove indoor water park resort earlier this year.

“It had a lot of what’s in line with our brand — oversized rooms, the big lobby — but the water park wasn’t as big as it should have been,” said Great Wolf development director Bryson Heezen.

The new aquatic playground will be 20,000 square feet larger and tricked out with a lazy river and a dozen slides, including the resort company’s signature Alberta Falls, a speedy ride with high banking turns and steep pitches, and Coyote Canyon, a tube slide that funnels passengers into a spinning vortex. Tamer options will be available for younger kids, too, in keeping with the company’s target audience of toddlers to early teens.

Artist renderings of the future resort show the colorful indoor water park showcased behind a wall of windows in the cavernous lobby, where a tall, stone fireplace serves as a rustic centerpiece.

“When you enter, you’re really immersing yourself into that Northwoods feel our guests love,” Heezen said. “It’s going to look like an entirely new property.”

Behind the stone fireplace will be the setting for a souped-up version of a Great Wolf fan favorite, “The Forest Friends Show,” where animatronic animal characters entertain the kids three times a day. The new show will take place inside a giant, wood-carved picture frame and uses projection mapping technology on a multi-plane surface for a more dramatic effect.

“We’ll be able to bring the characters to life in a way we couldn’t do before,” Lasecki said.

The so-called “dry play” attractions will be clustered together in an adventure park area with mini-bowling lanes, a nine-hole miniature golf course, a live-action adventure game called MagiQuest, a kids spa and an arcade, among other things.

The company is looking to up its culinary game on a couple of fronts, including the addition of a new farm-to-fork restaurant, Barnwood, which will serve locally sourced small plates and craft cocktails and — unlike the water park itself — be open to nonresort customers.

“We introduced it in Colorado Springs, and it’s been doing phenomenal,” Lasecki said.

Great Wolf also is trying to tap into the food hall zeitgeist with a multi-restaurant, open-seating dining area anchored by four diverse eateries.

“It’s not a mall food court,” Lasecki said. “It will be higher-end food offerings, but family-friendly. We’re still working on the culinary concepts that will be there.”

Another example of Great Wolf’s increased focus on food and beverage offerings can be seen in its “Wine Down” service, recently rolled out at all of its resorts. For $35, parents can have a bottle of wine and a sweet or savory snack delivered to their rooms between 8 and 11 p.m.

“We’re making it more of a completely immersive resort destination,” Lasecki said. “We want guests to stay at least two or three nights instead of one.”

In Gurnee, the number of rooms, 414, will stay the same as KeyLime Cove had. But the Caribbean decor will give way to a cabin vibe, especially in the KidCabin suites. A hallmark at other Great Wolf resorts, the suites function like a room-within-a-room, where children can sleep and play in a private, themed area with bunk beds.

“It’s their own little hideaway,” said Lasecki, a father of three. “My kids love it. And it gives parents some breathing space.”

Reservations won’t be taken at Great Wolf Lodge Illinois until roughly six months before it opens. Overnight rates haven’t yet been set, Lasecki said. They typically start around $199 at other Great Wolf resorts. The price includes access to the water park for up to four guests.

“You can use the water park before check-in and after checkout, so for a one-night stay, you get two days of play,” he said. “That appeals to a market like Chicago, where it’s only an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive.”

lrackl@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @lorirackl

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