Upon entering the lobby of Washington’s Great Wolf Lodge, my sight fell upon a fleshy woman in a wet swimsuit, dripping lavishly on the carpet. She was barefoot. In one hand she held a plate of half-eaten nachos; in the other, she held a stick. With whole-body gyrations she thrust the stick repeatedly at a stuffed white wolf, as if expecting it to do something. My ten-year-old daughter, Samantha, and her friend Katie stared, transfixed.

“Mom, it’s a MagiQuest wand,” Sam whispered. The girls had been hearing about Great Wolf Lodge and its indoor water park and MagiQuest wands since the resort opened last year. That’s when Grand Mound, Washington—equidistant between Portland and Seattle—joined eleven other locations across North America as a destination for the Great Wolf Resorts chain. In no time, this newest outpost became the rage of the Jonas Brothers set, who would return from pilgrimages bearing mythic tales of dark, thrilling waterslides, bunk beds shaped like wolf caves, marshmallows dipped in chocolate and sprinkles; and of the MagiQuest game, which allows players to run unsupervised through hotel halls, enchanting inanimate objects into glowing and moving with the flick of a MagiQuest wand ($25 at the kiosk)—or usually with a flick, as She of the Dripping Swimsuit was finding out.

“I think she needs help, Mom,” Sam said. But the big dripper wasn’t the only one. Beyond the lobby, I saw a vast room handsomely clad in raw pine, like a lodge, and crawling with people in swimsuits—among them plenty of the beer-bellied and pear-shaped, parading their pale midwinter excess without an iota of shame. And everywhere, swarms of children. Off they streamed to the left, where a couple of restaurants led down a hall toward conference facilities. Off they streamed to the right, toward the elevators to eight floors of hotel rooms. They covered the staircase, which led to an open mezzanine level with the video arcade and the kid spa and the Cub Club and the teenage tech center and the Pizza Hut and the Bear Paw sweet shop. And straight ahead, beyond a vast picture window, splashed the happiest children of all—in a water park that spanned an area the size of several city blocks.

It took our girls about thirteen seconds to jump into their swimsuits.

A blast of clammy humidity hit us as we opened the door to the water park. (Summer is big here, but the moist heat is well suited to winter.) The place includes mellower attractions—a shallow play pool for toddlers, water basketball, a hot tub, a lily pad–to–lily pad jump area. But these languished like plain girls at a barn dance.