Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee to offer water park-only passes, rankling Great America exec

  • The water park at Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee will open for the first time Friday to non-hotel guests through a new day pass program.

      The water park at Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee will open for the first time Friday to non-hotel guests through a new day pass program. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2018

  • Kids play in the water park during the grand opening ceremony at Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee last June.

      Kids play in the water park during the grand opening ceremony at Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee last June. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2018

 
 
Updated 6/20/2019 7:57 PM

Starting today, you won't have to be a hotel guest to swim and splash at Great Wolf Lodge's large indoor water park in Gurnee.

Day passes will be available for purchase during a 45-day trial program unanimously approved by the Gurnee village board Monday. But while hotel officials estimate the day passes, if extended, could bring in $200,000 a year in taxes for the village, not everyone is happy about the change. Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said Six Flags Great America Park President Hank Salemi had issues with Great Wolf Lodge's proposal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I want to make sure the board's aware that Six Flags management expressed some concerns of this being competitive during the same season as their water park is," Kovarik said at the board meeting.

Great America's Hurricane Harbor, a large outdoor water park with 17 attractions, begins its season Memorial Day weekend and usually closes in late August or early September.

Caitlin Kepple, a Great America spokeswoman, confirmed that Salemi was concerned, but said he was traveling this week and wasn't able to comment further.

Steven Jacobsen, Great Wolf Lodge vice president of domestic development, said at Monday's meeting he didn't feel the new program would harm Great America because Great Wolf would offer a set number of water park passes per day based on the number of vacant rooms.

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"From Great America's standpoint, their peak is the summer, that's where we have our highest occupancy so the (number of) day passes would be the lowest. Our highest would be when they're not open," Jacobsen said, referring to day pass sales. "All we're trying to do is just fill in the trough periods of when the lodge is slow paced."

The Great Wolf water park is open year-round and is always kept at 84 degrees. The water park has 15 waterslides and Fort Mackenzie, a wet jungle gym topped with a giant bucket that fills with 700 gallons of water to be dumped over guests.

Jacobsen said the price of day passes would fluctuate, with $40 being the lowest. The program would be priced in such a way that the cost of multiple passes would encourage families to stay the night since rooms range from about $150 to $400.

Murray Hennessy, chief executive officer for Great Wolf Resorts, said Thursday that by limiting the number of day passes they offer they are avoiding overcrowding.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Families love knowing that when they come to the water park at Great Wolf Lodge, they won't need to wait in long lines for their favorite slides, struggle to find a deck chair, or swim shoulder to shoulder in our pools," Hennessy said. "By managing capacity levels at our water parks we will continue to offer a stress-free water park experience, just as we have from the onset of Great Wolf Lodge."

When the trial period ends, Great Wolf officials will have to return to the village board to seek approval for selling year-round day passes.

Kovarik said she and village administrator Pat Muetz were happy when they sat down with Great Wolf officials and heard their restrictions. She said she believes the day pass program is good for Great Wolf during nonpeak times.

"We always want to take good care of Gurnee Mills, Six Flags and Great Wolf," Kovarik said. "They drive everything; it is the halo effect."

The trial period at the Gurnee location coincides with Great Wolf's national launch for the day pass program. To mark the occasion Great Wolf Lodge will donate $5 to Make-A-Wish for every day pass sold now through the end of June. Day passes are only available for purchase online at greatwolf.com/daypass.

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