My hubby celebrated his 40th birthday this weekend so to celebrate we went for a long weekend to Center parcs. (10 years ago for his 30th he went on a lads holiday to a dodgy resort on a Greek Island - how life is different now!)
It's the first time I've been to anywhere like Center parcs and I was extremely impressed that it's not just for kids. There were loads of couples or mixed groups there enjoying activity breaks or Spa breaks, there was just so much to do.
I fell into the well designed trap of the booking system though and ended up with an itinerary (on discovering this hubby rolled his eyes) I did have to drop in the activities slowly over the course of the week building up to our trip.
We planned to set off fairly early Friday morning to pick up a hire car (6 seater) and the grandparents.
On walking to the car Jasmine declared her shoes were too small & hurting her feet, on inspection, she was right. We agreed to call in to Clarks to buy a new pair.
Our car which had been in the underground car park in London for 6 weeks (we've been home to France so hadn't needed it) wouldn't start. We called out the Green Flag who came within 15mins & declared the brand new battery flat, not surprising apparently on these complicated cars as there is lots going on when it's just been sat there...what is it doing? working out how to solve the european debt crisis?
Anyway we got on our way, picked up the hire car and drove two cars to pick up the grandparents leaving ours at their place. On arrival to their town to go shoe shopping, Jasmine said she was 'so very hungry' which I now know means 'feels sick' as she proceeded to redecorate the inside of our car. I was under no doubt as it rocketed past me into the centre console...Nice! Detour straight to Grandparents, change of clothes & sent hubby to buy new shoes. Not much choice so she has a pair that fits they are not really to my taste. Still she likes her new shoes & I guess thats what counts oh & he picked up a packet of traveleeze from Boots (strawberry flavoured antitravel sickness sweets) lets hope that works!
Now cleaned up, we transferred 2 kids and car seats and a load of baggage (I'm referring to suitcases & food shopping here in case you wondered) into the hire car & set off for Centerparcs longleat. Not a bad journey except past stone henge where loads of people were playing Makka Pakka (In the Night Garden cartoon for kids if u don't know who he is) and causing congestion.
Finally we arrived at Centerparcs around 5pm but it was now too late to make use of the pool leaving just about enough time for unpacking, tea, bathtime & bed. So much for my planning!
If you have no idea what Centerparcs is then I'll describe it for you, basically a huge forest in which are set a load of little cabins & wooden houses for families & groups to live in for short breaks. The idea is you cycle or walk everywhere & the whole place is laid out to support this creating a really safe environment for everyone to move around. You can only use your car on the day of arrival & departure to load/unload & then its parked in a huge carpark away from the cabins (unless you pay a fortune for a luxury villa).
We were really pleased with our accommodation, clean and spacious with everything you needed. We took a quick trip to the parcmarket and were pleasantly surprised that the food prices were normal, I wouldn't have packed so much if I'd known that in advance. The parcmarket was next to the Plaza which is an indoor & outdoor swimming area with shops & cafes (or subtropical swimming paradise in Centerparc's glamerous terminology). There are rapids for older kids & adults which go outside with heated water which was lovely.
I was intrigued by the little bikes with kids trailers we saw bobbing about and thought how great one of these would be for our kids back in France.
We had grandparents with us & they're not really fit for cycling so we didn't hire these on this occasion but I'd love to get them next time. We took the footpaths and the little train around the forest as all the activities are spread out across a wide area and it was fabulous being in such a country leafy environment after being in the tall concrete & glass environment of Canary Wharf for a little too long now.
The following morning we were up early for swimming lessons 'Froglets' in the 'subtropical swimming paradise' where our 2 year old was joined by only 2 other fathers & toddlers for a private lesson. The pool is closed until 10am to everyone else so it was fantastic to use this warm tropical pool to ourselves. We learnt quite a lot about getting our toddler to swim (No 1, get rid of the float suit which stops her swimming properly, No 2 don't hold onto her too tightly and No 3 Make it fun!) The session was followed by Baby Dolphins which was a free session for little ones - a few more joined us but it was still fairly empty.
As per the itinerary we had to rush now over to the other side of the forest on foot for our photo session (I thought it was a good idea to get a photo of all 4 of us together - something we have never achieved before) but as we carried 2 nippers past everyone on cycles and panicked about being late I began to think the pre-booking wasn't such a great idea (my hubby's muttering about it beginning to feel a bit stressful confirmed this). Still we arrived on time & the session went well, the photos from Pret-a-portrait are great but the prices are not....alas whilst there are some lovely ones we will not be shedding out £64 per high resolution JPEG! Slightly disappointing to have such a high cost for the images or £25 for a 5x7 print.
Next we met up with the grandparents for lunch, then after siestas and a back massage for the birthday boy in the luxury spa, we went to the mini bowling which is excellent and cleverly designed for little ones to practice 10 pin bowling. Jasmine didn't quite get the idea that we take it in turns and ended up bowling for everyone else, but she thought it was great fun which made it worthwhile & for £10 for an hour's bowling I didn't think that was too bad.
That evening I'd booked into the Grand Dining restaurant (between 6.00 & 6.08 precisely!) no pressure as we hurried along the grandparents & kids down to the Village Square where the restaurant (not really Grand Dining) was situated. The dinner was reasonable (we had to prepay £5 a head to reserve) but didn't quite live up to it's name even if the waiters wore dicky bows. Think Gastropub food rather than Grand Dining. Still the environment was fairly relaxed and there was an outdoor play area for the kids as well as crayons etc inside.
Sunday morning we were treated to little cute roe deer who came up to our cabin and peered at us which led our 9m old to squeal with excitement sending them scarpering. Next on our morning walk we saw a bunny hopping about and collected acorns, pine cones and many different variety of leaves (leaving us trying to recall our primary lessons about tree identification) - I think we need to get a nature book & start reading up as the questions of 'what's that?' have started coming thick & fast).
In the afternoon whilst siestas were underway I enjoyed a Decleor Mummy2Be treatment in the spa which involved a relaxing body massage (not back as obviously can't lie on tummy!), facial and a special tummy mask. It was totally lush!
Next we went to the beach by the side of the lake where Jasmine enjoyed knocking over abandoned sand castles and watching the canoes, sail boats & other watersports going on.
We walked back to our cabin through the forest admiring the adventurous parcers who were zip wiring, abseiling & tree climbing above our heads.
Monday morning brought 'tadpoles' swimming lesson for Izzy (9m old) and at the end of the session both kids were presented with a certificate & swimming toy from Zoggs. The downside of the departure day is the 10am departure time...it was a stress getting out of the accommodation by 7.45am having washed, breakfasted & packed to get off to the swimming lessons at 8.30.
We had a lovely weekend and as my hubby entered his 40th year we hope to be able to do this again. We know Centerparcs exists in France and wonder if anyone has tried them? I see they are linked to Pierre&Vacances - do you know if they are the same concept as the UK. I loved the forest setting for the trees, wildlife as well as the cycling & outdoor activities. The swimming pools would be fantastic if not so busy during peak times but overall a great experience.