Tourists from all over the US flock to Dallas. It’s got cultural attractions, theme parks, big sports teams (think of the famous Cowboys), and rodeos. But last year I met a delightful representative from Visit Grapevine who convinced me to check out her family-friendly town about half an hour west of Dallas.
And I’m so glad she did.
Grapevine was our last stop in Texas during our #motherofallroadtrips. And our kids loved every minute – from waving magic wands to riding a historic train to exploring a world made of LEGO. Grapevine has everything a parent could ask for.
Where To Stay
Throughout our travels in the US we have managed to dodge the Great Wolf Lodge. I expected it to be like the Disney World of hotels – epic, but requiring a big time and energy commitment.
I was right.
The Great Wolf Lodge is a holiday in itself and it’s quite possible your kids won’t want to leave once they step through the large wood-clad front doors.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But I knew there was so much to see and do around Grapevine, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. With a little arm-twisting, I managed to convince my kids to put down their magic wands or take off their swimsuits and leave the building… at least twice during our stay.
When we walked into the Great Wolf Lodge for the first time, it was absolutely packed. Check-in took quite some time. And even though the quoted check-in time is a relatively late 4pm, they don’t guarantee your room will be ready at this time. So we dropped off our luggage and explored the sprawling resort, waiting for the promised SMS/email notification confirming our room was ready.
1. Your first stop (and maybe only) – MagiQuest
If I had known this would become my kids obsession for the next 3 days, I would have thought twice before visiting. MagiQuest was our first stop, our last stop and our every stop in between. Not even the waterpark with giant tipping bucket and awesome slides could lure our children away from their wands and their determined quest to defeat the red dragon.
At the MagiQuest store my kids picked an interactive wand and head piece. A staff member gave instructions on what to do along with a mini quest book. To me, it was as clear as mud. Another hotel guest explained it again after our attempt at the first quest left us clueless, and the penny dropped.
Think Harry Potter meets Zelda. Or a scavenger hunt meets fairytale story.
Once you get the hang of it it’s hard to stop. Each quest comprises of finding items and stations spread over the 7 floors of the Great Wolf Lodge. When you finish one quest you unlock the next.
It’s a fantastic idea. It really makes the hotel feel like home. You are allowed to roam all floors looking for clues and pieces of the puzzle, located strategically around the stairs and lifts, not too close to guest rooms – keeping the noise of excited youngsters relatively contained.
The book encourages you to take the “hidden” stairwell every time, so you can guess how many steps my FitBit clocked up.
I spotted kids wandering around waving wands at wall-hung paintings and elaborate treasure chests right up to the 11pm curfew. The game is insanely addictive and my 5 & 7-year-olds absolutely loved it – it was unlike anything they’d done before.
2. The Waterpark
While we all enjoy a good waterpark, we only managed to stay 2 hours in the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark before our kids begged for more MagiQuest. The slide queues were long so we spent the majority of our time in the wave pool before vacating and getting back to our wand waving.
Where To Eat
3. Great Wolf Lodge
We were surprised by the delicious buffet within the Great Wolf Lodge. On our first night in Grapevine we ate at the resort restaurant. The buffet was lined with delicious dishes from Mexican to freshly prepared pasta to kids’ favourites.
Compared to other typical hotel buffets, the Great Wolf Lodge restaurant firmly sits in the upper tier in terms of quality and variety.
We also enjoyed breakfast here each morning. Eggs are prepared fresh and you can find any number of cereals, fruits, pastries, etc.
4. Rainforest Café
3000 Grapevine Mills Pkwy, Grapevine
One of our kids’ favourite themed restaurants. If you’ve never been, it’s a restaurant that will complete your family vacation - from the wild jungle decor to the animatronic animals that can start moving, squawking and grunting at any given moment. The food is typical Americana - large servings with lots of calories. And since you’re on vacation, don’t forget to order the brownie sundae for dessert… OMG!
5. Napoli’s Italian Café & Confectionary
This little nook-in-the-wall in the historic downtown district will satisfy every family member. Whether it’s the café for dinner, the bar at the back, or the 18 flavours of gelato in the ice-creamery at the front. We enjoyed delicious Italian food, which was topped off by mouth-watering gelato.
Where To Take The Kids (If You Want To Leave The Hotel)
6. Grapevine Vintage Railroad
In the centre of Grapevine, these 1920s Victorian-style coaches take guests on an Old West journey through Texas. If you are lucky you might even get “Puffy”, the oldest continuously operating steam engine in the South since 1896.
All aboard! We hopped into our seats and left Grapevine for the Fort Worth Stockyards Station before returning along the same line.
It’s a relaxing, scenic journey and our kids made several new friends along the way, including a giant bunny handing out treats. The snacks for sale on board are limited but very reasonably priced.
7. Grapevine Glockenspiel Clock Tower
In the centre of town situated above the Visitors Centre is a 127-foot-high clock tower featuring 9-foot Glockenspiel characters. You can read their story across the road near the train station. Several boards describe 2 would-be train robbers, Nat Barrett and Willy Majors.
The clock goes off every day at noon, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm when Nat and Willy emerge to attempt the perfect heist. The general gist is Nat was looking to rob a train just one time so he could move out West and build a ranch. He meets Willy who is a regular train robber and is looking for one last train robbery so he can ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. While they are arguing, the train pulls away and they both miss their chance.
If you’re not next to the information boards, it’s a little hard to hear. But the kids loved it and it’s a fascinating story.
8. LEGOLAND Discovery Center
3000 Grapevine Mills Pkwy, Grapevine
A Discovery Centre is not to be confused with a LEGO store (such as Mall of America) or LEGOLAND theme park (such as Orlando). Imagine the two had a baby and now you’ve got a LEGOLAND Discovery Center.
Located inside the mall, Grapevine’s LEGOLAND Discover Center covers 35,000 square feet and includes the famous MINILAND, rides, 4D cinema and play areas.
The MINILAND is unique to each Discovery Centre so here you will see popular sites in Texas minified for your enjoyment. They also had a special Star Wars exhibit, which was a highlight for our kids as well.
We experienced the different 4D movies on offer and they had several small rides as well. A great big playground is positioned in the middle of the complex, surrounded by boxes of LEGO for kids to build and play with.
We spent at least 3 hours there and our kids would have been happy to stay longer so set aside at least 3-4 hours.
Here’s a couple tips to make the most of this LEGOLAND Discovery Center:
- There are height restrictions on some rides – kids over 4 feet tall will be able to do most rides.
- Parents still pay full price, although there’s only 2 rides they can go on. So if you want to save money, perhaps send mom off for a little retail therapy in the mall while dad and the kids explore.
- The outdoor splashpad is open when the temperature reaches 75°F (usually mid-April to October). This is the only LEGOLAND Discovery Center with an outdoor splashpad.
- There’s no re-entry after leaving, so ensure your kids eat as much as possible before visiting.
9. SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium
3000 Grapevine Mills Pwky, Grapevine
We visit a lot of aquariums around the world, but SEA LIFE have built a solid, well-deserved reputation. This SEA LIFE is located opposite LEGOLAND Discovery Centre and spread over 45,000 square feet.
They boast more than 30 spectacular displays of diverse marine life from the smallest of seahorses to large sharks and rays. Of course our kids’ favourite exhibit was the ocean tunnel.
Like other SEA LIFE locations, there is a strong focus on education and preservation. The kids received passports to stamp as they made their way through the aquarium learning from the interactive exhibits.
The Bottom Line
I loved Grapevine, Texas for its small town vibe, and big town attractions. With only 3 days set aside on our road trip, we missed plenty of other must-sees like Grapevine Mills mall, dinner theatre, botanical gardens, boat tours, farms, museums, and more. With a bit more time, this list would have been much longer!
But I know that my kids loved their experienced in Grapevine, Texas and have already asked to go back. And when they’re pointing their magic wands at me putting on their best intimidating faces, it’s hard to say no.
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
thank for great article!!!
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