Great Wolf Lodge & Busch Gardens Williamsburg – with a Service Dog

This past weekend my husband and I took our kids (and adopted their boyfriends) for a weekend of fun in Williamsburg, Virginia. As always, we were traveling with a Service Animal in tow.We stayed at the Great Wolf Lodge, which is a family and kid friendly resort that offers a wide variety of activities. The most notable activity is the indoor water park, which offers 10 hours of pool games, huge water slides, tube rides, and even a Flowrider (free to ride!). Other activities include themed adventures, miniature golf, bowling, and a large arcade. The water park is included with your room rental, and is more than enough to wear our even the most seasoned of splashers. The other activities have additional fees. We scored a great deal on lodging and tickets through Groupon (read the fine print with all Groupons)!

Service Animal at Great Wolf Lodge

The resort has plenty of food options on premise. There was a Dunkin Donuts shop right down the hall from our room. We also found a buffet, a pizza parlor, a burger joint (with beer!), and an ice cream parlor within the lodge. There may have been more, but all of those places we found on our very short walk to the pool.

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Tyler is always working.

The lodge is also very close to downtown Williamsburg, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, shops, and other activities. We stopped in town for some Sicilian pizza at Anna’s Brick Oven Pizzeria one night. The pizza was good, however, they only offer limited amounts of Sicilian crust, and they were sold out when we arrived. Bummer.

The lodge was pretty uneventful in terms of our Service Animal (Tyler). He received lots of comments, cuddles, and stares from kids passing by, but the staff neither mentioned nor asked about him, even during check-in. In a hotel, this is a welcome relief! There are trees and green space surrounding the resort, which provided plenty of places to let Tyler relieve himself.

Child petting Service Dog

Tyler’s always making friends, too!

There are two things worth mentioning about the Great Wolf Lodge: 1) there was a kitchenette with a mini fridge and microwave in our room. Next time we will bring a Ninja crock pot, and never need to eat out! 2) the bunks and pull out couch are not comfortable for teens or adults. We will bring our Exped MegaMat Duos next time.

Service Dog posing with Roller Coaster Riders

On Saturday we headed over to Busch Gardens. We hit the jackpot, as parking, usually $20, was free! There is ample parking in the handicapped parking lot, which is right in front of the main entrance (England on the park map).

Drinking from collapsable bowl

Be sure to take plenty of water and rest breaks.

If you’ve read my previous blog – Disney with a Service Dog – then you probably have already read some of my tips. Be sure to bring a collapsible water bowl to fill up at the water fountains, and some snacks to keep your animal’s energy up. Tyler’s vest also made a handy place to stash phones, keys, and wallets.

Service Dog Vest

Tyler’s vest was a great place to stash everyone’s loose items when riding a coaster.  We also use it to stash his squishy water bowl.

I will say that this was a very different experience from Disney. The park was difficult to manage, even without a disability. The park is separated into several areas, all themed around Europe: England, France, New France, Germany, Italy, and Oktoberfest. There are very few directional signs and navigation aids (we counted one sign and 3 map boards). Our group found the park map confusing, and took many wrong turns, most of which sent us up and down steep hills and some serious stair climbs. My husband pondered how someone in a wheelchair would navigate the park. I am sure it can be done, but would entail taking different and even longer routes.

Service Animal Relief Map

The Service Animal Relief Area is easy to miss.

There is only one Service Animal relief area – and it is on the far side of the park. I looked at the map 3x and could not find it until we stumbled upon it by accident. It is located directly behind a small shop – across from the Pompeii ride and next to the train tracks and lawn mower display (yes, lawn mowers, which delighted my husband). There are ample spots with trees and shrubs hidden in the corners of shops and buildings if your animal needs an emergency #1 break.

Service Animal Relief Area

I found the park staff to be relatively unenthusiastic. Many appeared to be annoyed or confused in the course of their duties. Unlike Disney, not a single staff member acknowledged or recognized that we had a Service Animal. There were only two rides that Tyler was able to ride: the sky tram and the park train. That’s not really a bad thing, as I don’t think he’s a fan of roller coasters, but it is nice when we can all board a calm ride and no one is left sitting out. There were handicap ride entrances, although not always clear, and when approaching the rides, the operators offered no attention, assistance, or guidance.

Service animal exiting a ride

Always have a handler exit the ride first (or have a staff member assist) to ensure the service animal exits onto a safe surface, not into the path of a moving ride, or into a gap in the platform.

We don’t always need assistance, but as an example: on the train there is a designated handicapped area where Tyler should have boarded that offered both safety and comfort. We approached the area and the operator looked at us blankly and didn’t budge. I was surprised that he offered zero assistance, even as I pointed and inquisitively stated we had a Service Animal. We weren’t able to help ourselves into the handicapped car as there were gates and a wheelchair ramp that looked a bit too complicated for self-service. The train was very full and my husband had to board on the end of a crowded row with Tyler. Not a safe place for either of them.

There was no clear information on handicapped services. Shows had very limited handicapped seating, which was occupied by strollers and not made available to us. Staff offered zero assistance. My recommendation would be to plan to have a person stay behind on each ride to handle the Service Animal, or consider another park. Next time that we are in the area, we will give Kings Dominion a shot.

Service Animal at Amusement Park

Busch Gardens is known as a premier park in the DelMarVa area, and as such, we were a bit disappointed in our visit. Between the relatively unfriendly staff, long wait times, and thoroughly confusing navigation – we weren’t having a very good time. The whole group voted and decided to leave the park early, riding only 5 or so rides (some rode nothing at all).

If you’d like the scoop on the group’s favorite coasters and shows, below are their reviews.

  • InvadR – line was way too long so we missed this one.
  • Griffon – the group’s favorite. Terrifying even from the ground. Ridden twice!
  • Apollo’s Chariot – the groups 2nd favorite. Very smooth, fast ride with serious air time. This also makes solid appearances on the “Best Coasters in the USA” list.
  • Alpengeist – this roller coaster held its own, and was a fun mix of speed and spirals.
  • Loch Ness Monster – every single person said it was an awful ride. Presumably their oldest coaster – it is a very rough ride that left everyone with a major headache.
  • Celtic Fyre (irish dancing) – my step daughter dragged us to this one. It was an entertaining 30 minutes, if you are into the singing dancing thing. Worthy of a pit stop if you need a break. Again – limited-to-no handicap seating, and no guidance from staff.
  • Pet Shenanigans Show – our teens weren’t impressed, but young kids might be. This is out doors, right next to the aviary (and the hidden garden spot).
  • The Lorikeet Glen – the aviary is pretty small, and only has a handful of birds. It is handicap accessible, although wheel chairs may need help opening the doors. For a fee, you can buy a small cup of nectar to feed the birds. Unfortunately this results in the aviary being full of people crowding and trying to force feed the birds, who are probably sick of people and sick of eating. Worth a 5 minute pit stop, but don’t waste your money on the nectar. There are usually people trying to get rid of their cups of it anyway.
  • Wolf Haven – This is an open area and accessible. Per the trainer, the wolves rarely come out of their cage/den. We stuck around for a while and they never came out of their den.
  • The Highland Stable – home of the Clydesdales. Horses are cool, big horses are cooler!
  • Skyride – this sky tram is accessible and safe for your Service Animal. I shared a tram-car with my husband and Tyler with room to spare. I’m afraid of heights so this ride was terrifying for me (ha)!
  • The Train – an easy way to commute around the park. There is a wheelchair/handicap area, but as I stated above, staff wasn’t very helpful, or I should say – completely unhelpful, in handicap boarding.
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