This past weekend my family and I drove just under two hours down to Utica, Illinois. It is just a mere 88 minutes away from Chicago and right next to Starved Rock, which is a big spot for hiking and beautiful scenery. Where were we staying? None other than the hidden gem, Grizzly Jacks Grand Bear Resort. I say hidden because I can’t believe I had never heard of the resort before, especially with it just a few hours away. What attracted my family to Grizzly Jacks was that it was not only a resort, but it features an amusement park and water park!
Upon arriving at Grizzly Jacks around 1:30 PM we were excited to find out our Vacation Villa was ready for us to check-in to, usually check-in is 4 PM. Grizzly Jacks has three main areas for lodging – the resort hotel (traditional rooms of various styles and sizes), Vacation Villas (town homes for up to 9 people) and Luxury Cabins (town homes for up to 18 people.)
My first impression when I opened the door to our Vacation Villa was amazement. It is a townhouse with a huge kitchen, dining area, living room area, washer/dryer, bathroom and then an upstairs with two bedrooms and another bathroom. There were also tons of closets and a giant hot tub in the one bedroom upstairs. My 18 month old couldn’t wait to try out the hot tub and it was perfect for her to use to unwind the day.
Yes you get your own washer and dryer! This was great for us to dry our bathing suits!
Looking in from front door:
One of the bathrooms:
I loved the kitchen table!
2nd bedroom (that sofa in there also opens up to a bed):
Making herself at home:
After checking in we dressed and headed to the watermark. Now the disadvantage to staying at a Vacation Villa is that it is not connected to the watermark so we did have to walk the block outside to the main lodge. The Vacation Villas are anywhere from one block to about one mile away, but there is a free shuttle that will pick you up and drive you to the waterpark or amusement park. Included with your stay at Grizzly Jacks is the watermark and amusement park, which is a nice perk!
At the watermark there are locker rooms to easily change and store your items if needed. We brought our bag and left it on the tables as we swam and enjoyed the water area. I’d say the size of the watermark was perfect. It wasn’t huge but it did include a little of everything. There is a wave pool, kiddie pool with slide, hot tub, lazy river, two big watersides, a waterfall and playground water area. The wave pool is nice because it starts out with zero depth and my 18 month old had a blast playing with the water sprayers in the beginning and then walking in. My boys (4 and 6) loved the lazy river probably because it wasn’t stressed to have a tube so they loved having the freedom to swim in it. Had I wanted to lounge and enjoy the lazy river I probably would have been bothered by kids swimming by but it was fun and at least for us I made sure we didn’t bother anyone. We spent about three hours at the watermark and that was perfect for us.
On our way out we spent some time in the arcade before heading back to our townhouse to freshen up before dinner. I’d say it was worth being away from the main hotel to have all the space we had in our Vacation Villa as there were nine of us total. We also had a full kitchen, not that we ended up using it.
For dinner, we headed to the Enchanted Forest which has a restaurant as well as arcade and amusement park rides. Dinner was basic food like pizza, burgers, and sandwiches. We ate there for the convenience and it was okay. They were pretty busy in there and pizzas do take 30 minutes. We had some issues with our food taking longer than we’d like but the manager came out and took care of it for us, he was super friendly and even gave my kids some tokens for the arcade. The prices were reasonable and for the nine of us it was $75.
After dinner it was time for some rides. We spent about three hours going on the few rides they had! There was two inflatable jumpys, two rides that were small rides that go around, a small ride that goes up and drops, a boat that went up and down and around and then two rides for bigger kids (Tilt-A-Whirl and Growler.) For an additional fee there is a Zipline, walking rope thing up above the arcade, and Laser Tag. My sister and her friend, who are both 15, went on a few rides a few times but they did get bored quickly. My kids had to be pulled away crying! I’d say the amusement park is perfect for ages 4-12 years old. As far as rides go though we were pretty disappointed that the two kid rides my kids loved only had one associate working them and he had to take turns on which ride he operated which was not always equal. They could have used a few more associates on the floor for rides as there was another ride without an operator, but I suppose that could have been due to an employee calling in sick.
This looked really cool but cost extra:
Overall, we had a great time and are already talking about coming back in the summertime when we can also take advantage of some of the outside activities here such as mini-golf, the park, and just walking around the trails. There was also a breakfast buffet for $6.95 for adults and $4.95 for kids that had both hot and cold foods and was great to start the day with. Starved Rock is also literally across the street and it would be nice to go there as a a family and then come back to Grizzly Jacks to sleep. I think too that we will stay at a Vacation Villa again as it was so nice to have all the room and with young kids that is a huge plus! My boys wanted to live there and asked where their toy room would be! I should say too that before coming here I did read reviews online which were both positive and negative. We had a great time and I think the few bumps we encountered could have happened anywhere.
VISIT: Check out Grizzly Jacks to get started planning your family vacation or staycation!
Mom and More Disclosure: I received a complimentary night in exchange for my honest opinion. Please see my Disclosure Policy.