As a kid I went to Center Parcs with my family, I remember it still now, mainly because I flooded our villa with over exuberrant use of the jacuzzi bath tub and half a bottle of bubble bath. Also though because it was the first place that I rode a horse.
So this year when Nanny asked where would we like to go for our family weekend break Center Parcs was the first place that sprang to mind as I knew it would be a great family holiday and full of activities for Roo.
For some reason, don’t ask me why I plumped for Elveden Forest as our vacation. Slightly illogical when I live just 1 hour away from Sherwood Forest but it must have been my sixth sense taking hold as my mum and dad later reminded me that it was Elveden Forest where we first went.
The thing I love about Center Parcs is that there are different lodges catering for different budgets and with us deciding to go the first weekend in September prices were a little lower than usual as most of the kids had gone back to school. We plumped for a New Style Executive Lodge and I was looking forward to little extras such as the maid service and complimentary wi-fi.
Nanny and Roo would have to share a room but this wouldn’t be too much of a problem as the room had twin beds and their own bathroom as well.
Once the holiday there were additional extras such as a dedicated car parking space outside the cottage. Personally, I don’t see the point in this as once you are on site you don’t use your car so it isn’t that much of an added bonus and the walk to and from the car park is good exercise anyway.
The next thing to do was to book our activities. To say I was overwhelmed at the choice would have been an understatement. Looking primarily at activities for Roo (so suitable for 3 and under and age 3 – 7) there was so much choice, and it was going to be a struggle to fit everything in during the short break we had booked.
In the end I opted for the fairy and wizard workshop on the Saturday morning, then off for lunch with Rupert Bear on the teddy bear’s picnic and then finally on Saturday afternoon a family session of bowling. On Sunday Roo chose pony riding and then the mini animal farm encounter. Availability was pretty good on all of the activities and prices ranged from £6.25 for the animal encounter up to £23 for the fairy and wizard workshop.
In total the activities came to £89 and the cost of our lodge was £450; we would be taking our own food so the cost of eating out was negligible other than buying fresh milk if we ran out during our stay.
The fairy and wizard workshop was the only activity that we organised for Roo that required us to leave her in the care of the Center Parcs Time Out staff and for the 3 hour activity they got a dressing up set, face painting, planned activities including making chocolate frogs and a party gift.
On arrival, check in was speedy and we didn’t have to wait more than 3 minutes to collect our keys and head to our Maple villa. We found it easily and upon opening the door we were greeted with a clean, fresh smelling, and modern lodge for the next four days.
The kitchen was well equipped with essentials like a dishwasher and importantly a wine cooler and the bathrooms had lovely white fluffy towels. There was an issue with Roo’s bed linen in that the duvet cover was riddled with holes and smelled damp, but a call to Guest Services soon resolved this with new bed linen appearing about 30 minutes later.
That evening Nanny decided to get physical with the crockery in the lodge and smash two cups and slice her finger open. Never a dull moment on our family holiday’s but again a call to Guest Services and new cups were bought down, together with a dust pan and brush and although they were unable to supply a plaster for health and safety reasons there was no lasting damage.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early as the fairy and wizard workshop started at 9am. Unfortunately when Roo and Daddy E got there she was reluctant to stay on her own and Daddy E was unable to stay with her. The staff though were really good and after 5 minutes managed to calm Roo down and when we picked her up 3 hours later she was beaming from ear to ear and proudly clutching chocolate frogs and wearing a witches hat with her face painted. So all in all a big success.
The next activity was Ruper Bear’s Picnic. We checked in at the meeting point and were given a name badge; this was great as the staff took a real effort to remember the kids names on the activities. We then trekked off to find a teddy bear card on our way to the picnic and once we had found this and assembled at the gate we were let in to a little wooded area for story time on the mat. The kids loved the story time and the staff did brilliantly at engaging with them asking questions about the book and then getting them to find picnic food in the garden.
Each child was given a picnic box containing sandwiches, crisps, raisins, fruit juice and a big plate of fruit was bought out to feed the hungry hordes! Then it was time for singing so we all got into a big circle and sang our favourite songs. At the end of the song we were told to call out and see if Rupert wanted to come and join in; after shouting three times louder and louder Rupert appeared from behind a tree.
There was a mad rush of twenty or so little bodies as they descended on their character icon and hugged him with glee. We got to sing ‘wind the bobbin’ up with Rupert and then everyone got to have a photo with him and choose a cuddly toy from a selection that had been bought out from a lucky dip box.
This was a brilliant activity and Roo loved getting to meet Rupert. At £9.50 for kids and free for adults this was well worth the money.
When we weren’t doing activities we took advantage of the tropical indoor swimming area which has rapids, flumes and a wave machine as well as a children’s area. This was clean, well maintained and plenty of lifeguards on duty for emergencies. Roo loved it in here with Daddy E and they spent several hours in here on both days – meaning mummy got time out with a glass (or two) of wine (admittedly quite expensive at £9.50 for two small glasses).
Sunday dawned and it was pony riding time; this was a 15 minute activity and adults again could watch for free. Roo loved chosing the pony to ride and the girls were very welcoming in letting her stroke the pony and chatted animatedly to her during the 15 minute walk around the forest. Roo beamed all the way round and described her pony as ‘cheeky’ as he stopped half way round. We would have loved to have been able to book again or go round again but there isn’t this option and maybe for less popular activities such as this (as it certainly wasn’t busy) it would be good to know if you could book again when you finish the activity.
The only activity we didn’t feel was value for money was on the Sunday and that was the mini farm. At £6.25 for children and the same for adults, this 30 minute petting session consisted of feeding some pigs, goats, sheep and then handling a guinea pit and petting a giant rabbit. For the family of 5 that went in before us this would have cost them in exceess of £30 and I think expecting parents to pay the same as children is a little unfair and unnecessary.
Each night to say we were exhausted was an understatement; walking on average 6 miles each day around the park and taking advantage of all the free activities such as the parks, the play areas, the indoor play center at Forresters and the beach there was something to do at all times of the day and in all weathers.
All weekend we were so close to nature it was blissful, we had a number of visitors to our lodge from our cheeky squirrels called Harold and Maud through to the gorgeous Muntjack deer who paid us a visit late one afternoon. Roo was inquisitive about the nature around her and what animals were and what did they eat – it really was a joy to watch her taking it all in.
Center Parcs is a brilliant family holiday destination that allows families to do a huge array of activities safely indoors and outdoors (so if the British weather does scupper plans you don’t need to worry).
We will definintely be booking again and are already looking at Sherwood Forest for a break in the New Year to get over the winter blues and post Christmas come down.