LARP Your Wizard Heart Out at This Beloved American Water Park Chain

Enter the wonderfully weird world of MagiQuest.

Imagine booking a vacation at a water park this summer and bumping into groups of wizards and witches running through resort hallways while waving wands at walls, communing with talking treasure chests, and dodging dragon blasts from video screens.

This is the world of MagiQuest, an interactive game that's part scavenger hunt, part video game, part cosplay experience, and full-time passion for some of its teen and adult devotees at 20 Great Wolf Lodge resorts across the US. While the resort’s main attraction is its water park, MagiQuest has taken on a life of its own. Since the game’s introduction at the resorts in 2008, more than 5.8 million people have entered the world of MagiQuest, with 833,000 playing in 2021 alone.

Originally designed for young kids to play with help from parents, the game has since been embraced by teens and adults, many of whom have been immersed in the game for more than a decade.

“I’ve been playing MagiQuest since about 2010,” says Abbie Duncan, age 19. She continues to play every few months “because of how interesting the lore is to me, how replayable the game is, and the awesome community I’ve been a part of. I’ve made lots of friends through MagiQuest and they’ve all become some of my favorite people!”

“No other attraction has this level of interactivity on the scale that MagiQuest achieves” says William Litchford, 20, who’s played for more than 15 years. For him, MagiQuest has “masterfully translated the questing game genre into real life.”

So just what is this game, and why are people so passionate about it? And what in the world does it have to do with a water park?

adults playing MagiQuest
MagiQuest Pigeon Forge

MagiQuest is a combination live action and video-based challenge in which players try to complete a quest by gathering magic runes and virtual treasure, eventually defeating a dragon or other nemesis in a final showdown. Players are armed with their own unique “magic” wand which emits signals that interact with stations spread around multiple floors of hallways, lobbies, and common areas of the resort (but not actually inside the water park).

Video screens display actors or animated creatures who give clues to send players scampering around the hotel in search of stations to advance the quest up to the final battle. This leads to the incongruous scenes of some guests walking the hallways from the water park in dripping swimsuits and towels, while others dressed in capes, wizard hats, and logo T-shirts rush through the same hallways, waving their wands at glowing crystals and growling gnomes.

The game, developed by Creative Kingdoms in 2004, is one of many attractions (like arcades, ropes courses, and mini golf) meant to supplement the water park and encourage longer stays at the resort. But MagiQuest proved so popular that Great Wolf Lodge actually purchased Creative Kingdoms in 2010. The game has since been updated with new quests and scenarios, with the latest version currently rolling out across the country.

MagiQuest “runs from early in the morning until around 11pm at night,” says Jordan Itkowitz, the corporate director for Creative Kingdoms/MagiQuest. “We see most activity in the evening, after guests are done with the water park for the day, and often see kids start playing as soon as the game comes on in the morning to finish the game and become Master Magi before it’s time to go home.” On a recent visit to a Great Wolf Lodge, I saw kids lined up six deep to await their fight with the final dragon, some begging parents to stay longer (or return again) to let them finish their quest.

Adult gamers (and kids with tolerant parents) buy the most upgraded wands, with “toppers” adding extra powers and cheat codes to help win. The MagiQuest shop at each destination also sells an array of costumes and accessories and features a leaderboard showing who has collected the most treasure or experience points that day, week, and all-time, encouraging more repeat visits.

wands being waved during MagiQuest game
MagiQuest Pigeon Forge

While designed as a water park supplement to entertain kids at the hotel, MagiQuest has become an attraction of its own for kids, teens, and adults alike. Enthusiasts like Litchford and Duncan typically play on day trips to the resort, completely eschewing the water park and hotel stays.

And MagiQuesters have developed their own community, too. Fanatic players share game history on fan Wiki pages, trade strategy tips, share opinions, memes and fan art on a MagiQuest subreddit and Discord Server, and produce videos about their adventures. Some people have even hacked their MagiQuest wands to use for at-home automation.

Why the enduring enthusiasm for the game? According to Itkowitz, “MagiQuest resonates because it’s an interactive adventure game that takes place beyond the screen. Players love the sense of freedom and discovery that comes from completing their quests.”

For someone who’s played the game for the bulk of his lifetime, Litchford says “After so many years of being a Magi, I’ve experienced almost everything that is playable an absurd amount of times. So recently I've enjoyed bringing new players to locations to experience the game for the first time. Seeing people’s reaction to this game I've loved all my life is one of the best feelings in the world.”

While the Dungeons & Dragons-style quests would seem to resonate more with boys, Duncan says MagiQuest is an equal opportunity adventure. “When I was younger I thought I was the only girl who played MagiQuest or the only girl who was obsessed with the game, but I was very, very wrong… There are a ton of amazing women that I’ve met who are highly involved in the community and game as well!”

man holding magic wand
MagiQuest Pigeon Forge

If you’re curious about MagiQuest, playing the game is as simple as going to a Great Wolf Lodge location, buying a reusable wand at their store ($20-$25), and paying about $17-20 to activate it for each game. Package deals are available with rooms as well. Individual quest segments take 30 minutes to an hour, with the full adventure taking a day or two of gameplay (although some experts can complete it in a matter of hours).

MagiQuest is offered at all 20 (and soon to be 23) Great Wolf Lodge locations in 19 states and Niagara Falls, Canada, as well as at a stand-alone location in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Three different versions and multiple expansion modules of the game can be found at various locations, with the original “Legacy” game most popular among long-time enthusiasts (though of course game debates run rampant on Reddit).

So whether you’re looking to add a little variety to your water park visit, or want to fully immerse yourself in a world of wands, it's worth taking the time to see what MagiQuest is all about.

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Bill Fink is a contributor for Thrillist.