Now I have to be honest here – I am not a holiday lover. Maybe I am the odd one out, but the whole hassle of packing, long car journeys, grumpy, tired children and being away from home comforts make me thing I would rather stay at home most of the time. Especially if the word ‘camping’ is ever involved.
When we were offered a Center Parcs break I pushed my feelings of stress aside as I just knew the children would adore it. Several of their friends have been to Center Parcs and raved about it, and if you ever ask the children where they would like to go on holiday, they always answer with either Disneyland Paris or Center Parcs. So we packed up, shipped out and headed for Longleat – only about an hour and a half in the car for us.
We arrived at about 3pm, and there was a HUGE queue to get into the park – do be aware of this is you are arriving during peak time, and pack snacks, drinks and books to occupy the little ones, so that you don’t have to get out the car and dig around in the boot for biscuits. (That’s definitely not me by the way, honestly….)
Checking in is simple – just give your booking number at the arrivals lodge and you are presented with keys and a map. Bear in mind that Center Parcs is usually a car free zone – you can drive to your lodge to unpack and then you take your car to the car park for the duration of your stay – getting around by foot or bike is the order of the day.
Accommodation at Center Parcs is covered by wooden chalet style lodges. They look the part – wooden cladding that fits well with the forest landscape, and big picture windows so you can admire the view. We also had a small patio and BBQ area which would be lovely in the warmer months. The beds are made up ready for you on arrival, and you are also provided with towels and a tea/coffee tray so you can have a brew when you get there. We also received an amazing provisions package with everything we needed to make a couple of easy meals and snacks.
The living area is clean, modern and beautifully decorated with full wall images of the surrounding woodland and a stunning fireplace. There are also magazines about the park with details of all the activities and facilities.
The bedrooms are spacious and the beds are very comfortable – everyone slept well. Max was provided with a cot and highchair, and it was lovely to see a proper wooden cot rather than a travel version. There is a family bathroom with bath and shower, and another toilet by the front door. There is also a huge store cupboard with cleaning equipment, which was big enough for us to store the pushchair in for the duration of our stay. The kids especially enjoyed the large blackboard wall too, which is ready with a pot of chalk as you get in the door – lovely touch.
On the first night we used the takeaway service – simply check out the menu in your villa, phone up and place your order and it is delivered to your accommodation. Ideal for those nights when you are over tired! The pizza was generous, well priced and very tasty.
On the second night we went for a meal at the Hawtons Bar & Restaurant on site. The staff are incredibly welcoming and very child friendly. Once we had ordered from the large menu, our food was served within 10 minutes – childrens meals coming out first. All the portions were generous, everyone enjoyed them, and nothing was too much for the staff – we even asked for something that wasn’t on the menu for fussy Jacob and it was not a problem at all. Drinks refills were offered throughout the evening, and a dessert menu was provided once the dinner plated were cleared. Again, the children’s food was bought out first, and everything was well made, well presented and utterly delicious.
Cooking facilities in the accommodation are great too – you have a cooker, grill and microwave as well as a dishwasher, so it is very easy to rustle something up there. The on site shop is well stocked if you need more supplies.
On the second day, Gemma and Jacob had a go at junior quad biking. After a few practice laps, they were off – zooming and turning through the muddy puddles and rough terrain with ease. The instructors are fantastic, fun and friendly and make the whole experience more enjoyable. Overalls, gloves and helmets are provided and at the end of the session each child receives a driving licence which they stamp with their own fingerprint.
The whole park is covered in play areas – everything from climbing frames and slides to swings and tunnels. Wherever you go, there is a new playground to stop and explore. There is also a huge lake where we fed the ducks, played on the beach area and watched the brave people on the aerial assault course zip wire across the water!
Aqua Sana spa
For the adults needing a bit of relaxation (and let’s face it, that’s the idea of a holiday), there is the Aqua Sana Spa. Set beside the lake it’s a peaceful, tranquil place to be and you can treat yourself to all manner of things – Kevin enjoyed the Tranquility Scalp Massage, and the Decléor Radiant Mother To Be Face & Body Treatment is the perfect pamper package for expectant mums. There is something for everyone, treatments are reasonably priced, and if needs be there are all manner of on site creches and kids clubs where the children can while away an hour or 2 while you enjoy some down time.
As I mentioned before, Center Parcs is a car free area. We loved this aspect of it, as it means that the children can run around without the worry of a car zipping by. You can choose to walk around the park, or travel by bike – either taking your own or hiring on the park. We were provided with bikes for our stay, and they were well maintained and made getting around a lot more fun! There are childrens bikes with stabilisers available as well as a range of bike seats and trailers for the little ones. Each bike you hire comes with a lock for security, and you can also hire helmets and other accessories if you need them.
Subtropical swimming pool
This was one of the things the children had been looking forward to most about our holiday. The subtropical swimming pool has SO many areas – we actually split up and I took Max in the toddler pools while Kevin took the older children in the wave pool, rapids and flume areas. The toddler pool is perfect for Max’s age – shallow, warm water with age appropriate slides and even some small sandpit areas. There is then a child pool with slightly bigger flumes a deeper swimming area, then a large main pool which has waves twice an hour, large slides and the rapids section. The rapids was Gemma and Jacob’s favourite thing – whirlpools, slides and an outside section meant they did this over and over again. Don’t worry about getting cold – everything is heated to sub tropical temperatures – perfect for fun with the children.
In and around the swimming pool area, there are a large selection of shops and activities – everything from clothes and sweet shops to restaurants and a bowling alley. We enjoyed a 45 minute bowling session, which the children loved. It’s a little bit pricey compared to usual bowling alley fees, and the time is tight for a game with 4 people – we actually lost our last couple of goes when there was a problem with the pins – by the time this had been sorted we were almost out of time, and you are not allocated any more for when there are issues. A small thing really, but worth bearing in mind if you have a few players.
I take back everything I said about holidays at the beginning of this post. Center Parcs has been a real eye opener for me. As far as family holidays are concerned, there is nothing better. Everything is so tailored for families, from the child friendly eating areas to the huge range of activities available and the comfortable accommodation. You don’t need to leave the park for the whole holiday – there is more than enough to occupy every family member, no matter what age they are. The whole car free, free range feel of the park is so relaxing, and it is wonderful to see the children enjoying the fresh air, running and jumping, seeing wild animals in their natural habitat and racing each other on their bikes.
Would I go again? Without a doubt. I actually said to Kevin on the way home that I think all out holidays will be Center Parcs holidays from now on. We have found our family ideal, and wouldn’t hesitate to go again and again and again.
*We were given a free Center Parcs holiday and selection of activities as part of the Center Parcs/Tots 100 scheme. All thoughts and opinons are my own, and those of my family members.