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How New Great Wolf Stacks Up Against Manteca Waterslides
Splashing Fun
The Rapid Racer slide at Great Wolf.

It was — and still ranks — as the ultimate speed waterslide ever built in California.

The 80-foot tall V-Max at Manteca Waterslides was a thrill.

But for those who pine for the 1974-2004 reign of Manteca Waterslides and view its successor in Manteca — the just opened 500-room Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park resort — as an overpriced replacement that somehow locks out the public, you are living in an alternate universe.

For starters this is 2021, not 1981. An all-day pass at places such as Raging Water in Sacramento billed as California’s largest waterpark and Sunsplash in Roseville range from $47.99 to $49.99. They are no longer $8.

Great Wolf — which clearly is a resort as opposed to a place where parents drop off their kids for a day — on the basic room prices per person essentially match the current outdoor water prices for a day and beats them hands down on a two-day basis since your room cost covers one night’s lodging and two days of water park access.

Of course you have to add room tax and a resort fee that pops up the price about $10 or so per person. Great Wolf obviously rakes in its profits on food service, extras such as private cabanas, and the family amusement center where a naked make-a-bear is $34.99 with clothing extra.

And — as more than a few people have figured out — to get the $199 rate that brings the cost down to a typical outdoor waterpark you need to search to book midweek during the off-season.

Unlike traditional waterslides you can’t get the $50 give or take all day adventure anytime you want. You need to cherry pick the off-times — midweeks and off-season — and then resist from going whole hog. And honestly even when Great Wolf offers day passes, based on their pricing at their other 18 locations before they suspended them due to the pandemic that reduced their resort capacities, it is cheaper to get four people together. Look for days that regular pricing and peak demand pricing gives way to “we need to fill some rooms”, and you get a resort-style experience at virtually an outdoor waterpark price.


It’s a resort for families

much like Calistoga mud bath

spas are a retreat for couples

To avoid the add-ons that add up you can always go home during your overnight hotel stay with two days access to access or hit the nearby Taco Bell. The late checkout fee of $59.99 on the second day is completely avoidable. Just stow your stuff in your car or take it home and then come back and frolic in the water slides until they close in the evening on your second day of access.

And if you’re not pinching pennies per se, there are still times in the summer — mostly midweeks — and weekends throughout the year where the basic standard room that starts at $199 doesn’t get peak priced into the stratosphere meaning you can have a reasonably-priced mini-vacation without leaving Manteca.

It’s kind of like living in Calistoga in the Napa Valley wine country and indulging in spa complete with mud treatment that serves as a couple’s retreat for people all over Northern California. It is a resort.

Great Wolf is a resort too but instead it’s a family retreat where happy screaming kids having the time of their life and not soothing pampering is the appeal.

And depending where you are in the 209, this resort aimed at family fun is just down the street or a short drive to Manteca.

As for those on social media still slamming the fact just anyone can’t walk off the street and pay $8 to partake in the same waterpark features that hotel guests can, try seeing if you can access the swimming pool at a Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay and not be a hotel guest.

Speaking of swimming pools, the outdoor one at Great Wolf is nearly on the same playing field as those at fancy resort-style hotels complete with cabanas for rent and poolside service.

Enough said about the cost. Great Wolf is clearly not just an updated version of your great-grandfather’s waterpark.


Wolf’s Tail is no V-Max:

But don’t be fooled;

it’s a compact thrill

Let’s get back in the V-Max and the old Manteca Waterslides experience versus new Manteca waterslides experience that Great Wolf offers.

I went down the V-Max.

As I recall, it was a borderline chest pounding climb up eight stories of stairs on a nice hot mid-August day. The slight winds were a nice cooling touch. The views at the top were vintage Manteca 1990s — dusty fields, industrialized segments of Lathrop before it became a distribution center hub, the Manteca wastewater treatment plant, orchards, train tracks, and two freeways.

They had you get in a narrow fiberglass tube, cross your arms, and then opened the gate.

You zipped down the tube with a nice cooling sensation before ending up in a trough of water coming to a stop with dozens of people milling around. You got yourself out and stepped onto nice hot asphalt with a palm tree in need of some TLC swaying slightly nearby.

It was over in about 10 seconds.

It was a thrill.

And while I’ve never done the Wolf’s Tail — Great Wolf’s exclusive thrill ride — it clearly sounds more like a thrill and a half as opposed to a thrill. And it comes with ambiance galore in a nice temperate 84-degree setting with no wind and no sun.

It is a 20-foot drop as opposed to 80 feet. Dad and mom or even granddad and grandma — should they try it — won’t be wheezing to get there.

Instead of lying down, they have you stand over a trapped door in the floor in a clear tube, cross your arms across your chest, and then they close the door.

When the door gives way you drop 20 feet and immediately go into a 360 degree high-speed loop.

The V-Max was a calm thrill as I felt much more serene and relaxed than on any other slide Budge Brown created at the old Manteca Waterslides. The Wolf’s Tail seems to be in more of the league of the Cyclone thrill ride at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk that I’ve been on but mercifully much shorter so it doesn’t poison the thrill with borderline terror.

The Cyclone at maximum speed allows you to experience centrifugal force equivalent to three times of gravity during a four or five minute spin. The Wolf’s Tail gives you a quick thrill without moving you into the apprehension-anxiety zone because it happens so quickly and it’s over.

One added plus: Unlike V-Max where you had to stand in a long hot line especially on “peak use days” the Wolf’s Tail queues are short thanks to limited access to those that are there for the resort experience.


My first waterslide existence

at the Manteca Waterslides:

‘Hey mister, you’re bleeding’

Great Wolf has 16 waterslides plus other water features such as a wave pool and a gigantic bucket that spills 1,000 gallons of water every three minutes or so on squealing kids along with kids at heart below.

I honestly can’t remember the slide count at Manteca Waterslides, but I do remember my first trip down one.

It happened to be on one of the original concrete ones that were still in use. You got prone on a mat and then went on your merry way.

Did I mention this was my absolute first waterslide ride ever? For whatever reason, the person I was with and the attendant didn’t notice I had positioned myself wrong as I wasn’t entirely on the mat.

When I landed in the water pool below, it was an exhilarating feeling.

It felt less so when a kid of about 7 or so told me as I was shaking off the water, “Hey mister, you’re bleeding.”

I had managed to scrape my elbows on the concrete.

After that little incident I did manage to have fun going down other slides.

What I didn’t enjoy was the relentless sun; the only option we had for lunch which was “typical waterslide fare” such as burgers, soft drinks, fries, and hot dogs; and older kids dumped off for the day running in a pack of sorts that got a bit rambunctious without a parent around.

In fairness to the Brown family that did a top notch job at running the waterslides for 30 years, they quickly got on top of such behavior and booted repeat offenders. I just can’t believe that would ever be much of an issue at Great Wolf as four 16-year-old boys won’t be booking a room on their own.

You can get traditional waterpark food at Great Wolf but that’s only a sliver of the options.

Their various restaurants run the gamut from craft pizzas and a buffet to “elevated dining” featuring sit down meals using fresh local ingredients.

This sounds a tad wacko, but when it comes to dining experience and food the Barnwood is destined to be No. 2 on the list in Manteca. No one of course is going to come close to Ernie’s Fine Food & Spirits that has been known to draw diners from San Francisco plus features a bar that is the platinum standard for the Northern San Joaquin Valley with uptown ambiance and service to match.


Then there are the

amusement & the

conference center

The ancillary amusements at Great Wolf are a number of notches above what outdoor water parks often offer.

Yes, there is miniature golf but there are also a ropes course, bowling, and more. Did I mention the largest arcade in the Northern San Joaquin Valley with 100 games?

While Manteca Waterslides had the Oakwood amphitheater that drew occasionally fairly big name concerts and hosted the Sunrise Kiwanis Manteca Pumpkin Fair for several years, Great Wolf has 10,000 square feet of divisible event center space.

Given Manteca is equal-distant from San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento it is likely to see a lot of midweek business use in addition to weekend gatherings such as United Cheer that has a long standing relationship with Great Wolf.

There is even an outdoor pavilion designed with organizations like United Cheer in mind that want to stage competitions as part of their gatherings.

The fact the Great Wolf at 500 rooms means Manteca now has the biggest hotel in all of the Great Central Valley from Bakersfield to Redding is impressive enough. But it also ranks easily in the top 10 largest hotels in all of Northern California and Central California.

And more important, for guests, there are 13 suite options.

Don’t misunderstand. Manteca Waterslides were great. But their glory belonged to another era.

Great Wolf is waterslide fun re-imagined as a family bonding experience.

And if you still want to see the run-of-the-mill outdoor waterslides reappear one day in Manteca, in other locales where indoor water slides pop up it isn’t unusual for the old-school waterslide experience to eventually locate nearby.

There’s a good chance Manteca could snare one as they proceed with development of a 100-acre family entertainment zone now bookended by Great Wolf and Big League Dreams sports complex which, between the two of them, are expected to bring a million visitors to Manteca each year to indulge in family-style fun.

One of the slides at the former Manteca Waterslides.