Family Fun

Nate Berkus Helped Design The New Villas At Great Wolf Lodge So Parents Could Relax Too

The flagship Great Wolf Lodge waterpark in the Poconos just underwent a massive renovation including chic new villas and poolside cabanas by designer Nate Berkus.

Great Wolf Lodge has long since figured out the family part of “family vacation.” The resorts — there are now 21 across the United States and Canada — are indoor water parks with elaborate slides and pools, not to mention arcades, kid-friendly restaurants, and other family activities. It’s a formula designed to delight and exhaust your children. Now the flagship Poconos location, which has just undergone an extensive renovation, has something to delight parents as well: New family villas with outdoor patios designed by Nate Berkus.

The Woodland Villas are spacious three-bedroom, two-bath cottages that will make you forget you ever had to set up a pack ‘n play in the closet and whisper tensely through nap time. They come with an airy living room, fireplaces, and a kitchenette. Berkus is responsible for the private outdoor space that is the focal point of the villas, which can be joined together to make minicompounds for families or friends traveling together — ideal for anyone who knows the pain of trying to find an Airbnb that can sleep a dozen adults and children comfortably. Berkus also designed dreamy poolside cabanas.

Together, these new features are a testament to how vital good design is to relaxation — at least for grown ups. After watching your kids explore 120,000 square feet of water park (yup, that number is for real), it will be a pleasure to return to Berkus’s custom outdoor fabrics, and settle into a cozy sofa while the kids play. Clever details include dining tables that convert into ping pong tables (with Berkus-designed paddles and balls) and cheeky wolf-themed decor.

I got to sit down with Berkus (inside one of his poolside cabanas, transported to New York City) to ask him about this collaboration and why he’s so passionate about making family travel a pleasure for parents too.

Parenthood has turned me into someone who loves shade and would definitely rent a poolside cabana.

Being the guy who always does rent these things when I'm traveling with my family, I'm always asking what's missing? What could we use? Where can I put down my wallet? Where does the bug spray go? Designing this was like a Rubik's Cube — how could we fit everything in.

When you're traveling, are you always thinking I could do this better?

Always, always. But what a pleasure when I don't! I think that was sort of my insecurity in working with Great Wolf. My experience is mostly with very personal spaces — why would Great Wolf Lodge partner with Nate Berkus? And the answer is because they were so open to me bringing my residential design perspective into these spaces. And I was also so open to learning from them about what years of entertaining kids does to everything. And I saw it in action when I brought my daughter there.

She loved it, by the way.

A bedroom in one of Berkus’s Great Wolf Lodge Woodland Villas.courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
A living room and kitchenette.Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

What's the biggest thing you've learned since having kids about what makes a good hotel or destination?

Number one is space. My kids aren't nappers any more. They're five and eight now, but when they were younger, that was always huge. Like, I remember calling up a colleague who has children older than mine, and asking “what do you do when the kid needs to sleep? Where do you put the pack and play? And what do with yourself when they're napping for two hours in the closet” — that is, if you're lucky and they nap.

Another thing I learned as a parent in terms of travel is that it's not the grand gestures that you remember. It's what I call like the moments in between. It's my son falling asleep on me at 4 o'clock in the afternoon on a lounge chair because he was so tired. And breakfast in the morning in the room or getting ready and talking about what you're gonna do that day. Those are the moments that I remember as a dad. And those moments are very different from what you anticipate when you're booking something online.

And so this whole environment at Great Lodge was about connectivity, about those little moments in between. It's not the water park, it's not the activity part of it — but it's the late afternoon. When you put that key in the door and open it up, what are you walking into? And that's what was important. That's what I kind of kept going through my mind.

Berkus on vacation with his husband Jeremiah Brent and their children.

I imagine that parents take their kids to Great Wolf because they know the children will love it. Adults love their kids having fun at a water park but they may not love it themselves.

One hundred percent. We've done that in other resorts with our kids. We're in an amusement park all day and then we come home to an awful hotel room. You want them to nap, you want to take a bath, you want to take a shower, you don’t want to be trapped in, like, this little space. I've lived that. I need like two days to myself when I come home from an amusement park. I want to read, I want to speak only to grownups. I want some kale or a carrot. I’m hoping that parents staying in one of the Villas don’t feel that way.

But I really like the feel of Great Wolf because it reminds me of camp and my grandparents met at a camp.

Like a summer camp?

A family camp. Everyone sort of thinks their grandmother is beautiful, but my grandmother looked like Rita Haywood, she really did. And she had trunks and trunks of clothes for summer. And my grandfather was from Allentown — he was working class, his father was a tailor — and he arrived with like an army duffel bag. And he was the head of waterfront activity and my grandmother had to tell her parents she wasn't going to marry the person they thought she was because she was in love with my grandfather.

Because she was going to marry the waterfront activities guy.

She was in love with him and that was it.

I love that. Ok, back to your design. There are so many good details. I really like that there’s a grill with some of them and the lodge offers meal packages so you’re not eating all meals in a restaurant. That can be exhausting with kids.

That's very appealing to me, too. And these are the perfect place to come with another family or to have a reunion with like 15 cousins. The villas can connect. We’ve built a door into the wall that divides them, so that those doors, just like any hotel or suite, could be open.

The outdoor terrace at a Woodland Villa, designed by Nate Berkus for Great Wolf Lodge Poconos.Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
The interior of the Woodland Lodge.Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

Do you have a favorite detail from your design for Great Wolf?

I mean, it’s impossible to choose — but I do love the custom ping pong paddles. That one object is so indicative of the thoughtfulness that went into this project. And our custom outdoor fabrics. Because they’re beautiful but we know that someone will sit on them in a wet bathing suit or a wet towel and they’ll get dirt and sunscreen and bug spray and ketchup and everything on them. It's all scrubbable.

Learn more about the Woodland Villas or to book a stay at Great Wolf Lodge here.