Centre Parcs, a forest wonderland
Prior to having kids I had given very little thought to small breaks in the UK, always preferring to save for a “proper” holiday. However, with the birth of Maya I started looking at options, near and far.
I had heard of Center Parcs but hadn’t really thought about visiting. Whilst browsing the internet one day I spotted a great deal for a stay over Bonfire night. My nieces birthday falls on Bonfire night so thought it would be a great way of celebrating. As my sister is a school teacher we would be leaving after work on Friday and return on Sunday evening. The weekend break, in a 3 bed, comfort, terraced lodge cost us £279. What was perfect about this particular lodge was that even though it only has 3 rooms with the 2 pull out sofas it means that you can accommodate 8 in this particular lodge.
We decided to go the Whinefell Forest in Cumbria. Located in the north lakes near Penrith, it is a 1.5 hour drive from home. The group consisted of 6 adults, 2 children and 1 infant. You’ll have gathered by now that I am rather partial to family travel. The more the merrier is definitely a motto I live by.
Recommendation, do the online check in at home, register your car and people, saves so much time! Arriving at Center Parcs at 7, we had no wait but the check in system though very smooth, was a very large conveyer belt. It genuinely felt like a toll road, check in gates, and personally dispelled some of the magical feeling of being in the woods.
Our lodge was located in Badger Wood and was perfect for accessing
all the amenities if the village centre. For me the lodge was perfect, equipped with cutlery and plates etc and it was clean. I know others may have found the decor dated but I would rather choose a cheaper option in terms of lodge and use the money saved elsewhere.
Handy hint: Even though you have a fully fitted kitchen we had decided to cook a few meals from home to last us the few nights we were there. With hindsight that was perfect as it meant we could enjoy being out and about in the woods and when in the lodge could actually sit down and talk rather then rushing around cooking.
The walks and the village itself is lovely. It does have a commercial forest feel to it but once you look past that, it’s still captivating. One thing that I greatly dislike about Center Parcs is the extortionate costs of the activities. As we were travelling with other people it’s very hard to balance everyone’s needs so we decided against any paid activities except for the treasure hunt.
With Christmas around the corner, the lights were up around the village and our nightly strolls were very peaceful and heartwarming. One of Center Parcs biggest appeals is the fact that there are next to no cars on the roads around the village. This was a great peace of mind for me as it meant that day or night we felt comfortable with young children, buggies etc.
There is a useful shop inside the village center and they also have staff who will help out with any other issues so you know help is at hand if you need it.
The best attraction by far is the swimming pool! From about 20 metres before you get into the swimming pool area the heat hits you. The pool and area is called…. Which is very fitting as it was absolutely roasting. Your bare, wet feet felt warm against the floor tiles as the area was kept so warm. The pool itself is great, with slides, a wave generator, whirl pool, children’s pool to name a few. They also provide life jackets so you can leave your floats etc at home if you desire. The pool is open all day with earlier times specifically for families with small children. You could spend hours here and not get bored! I warn you though once your children go inside you’ll be finding it a) hard to get them out, or b) trying to get them to do something else as they will always ask for swimming!
The treasure hunt is great at keeping the costs down. It’s £3 for a map and everyone can join in. The hunt takes you all over the village had gives the children something to focus on. They will also receive certificates at the Rangers Lodge on the completion of the hunt. It is a nice walk around the village and allows you see the various areas and sights. The hunt passes various outdoor challenges which you can take part in and there are a few fabulous playgrounds. The activity will take roughly 2-3 hours. However, it wasn’t the best start for the hunt… My niece hates the great outdoors, animals and generally anything which would be associated with this. We went to the Rabgers office to collect the map, myself and Doc went inside only to hear a heart stopping, pained scream. We came running out to find everyone crowded around my niece. I panicked and hurried over, scared she’d been hurt. Passing by an elderly couple, I heard the man say “what a lucky thing, the squirrel ran up her leg”. Getting to my niece I could hear a stream of anguished words escape her mouth. It turns out that a red squirrel (who apparently are normally really shy) was partial to my nieces white jeans (I know, white jeans in a muddy forest?! Enough said!) and decided to run up her leg before jumping off. Till this day I can picture myself at the scene and laugh so hard at the stupidity of it. My niece has never returned to center parcs….
Another cheapish activity is bowling. If you choose a bowling slot early in the day or late evening the price drops. That maybe useful as a rainy day activity. We booked a bowling session for a morning activity and was worthwhile.
The fireworks were scheduled for the Sunday at 5. From our lodge in Badgerwood we were in easy access of the boathouse and decided to watch from there. The fireworks were spectacular and were definitely worth visiting. If you around when fireworks are scheduled they are not to be missed!
I am always scouting the internet for good value breaks. Whenever there is mention of Center Parcs, I usually see reference to comments such as “overpriced”, “a lot of hype” but for me I thought it was a fantastic experience. I have since tried a number of the UK rivals to Center Parcs but I end up comparing it to CP and they have always come up wanting.
Overall, I had a fantastic time and so did the rest of our group. We had such a good time that we rebooked for the following year in December. Booking so soon after our last visit meant we were able to make use of the offer of rebooking within 28 days and getting free insurance and £50 towards activities for our next visit. Our second visit was possibly the most magical Christmas we could have experienced, with snow, Santa and Docs 30th! This deserves it’s very own post, if only for the gorgeous pics we managed to take in the snow!