Santa speeding across a lake in a boat, festive fireworks on the beach, real-life reindeers and even a professional photography lesson were just some of the highlights of our recent weekend at Center Parcs. It was our fifth visit to their Sherwood Forest venue and despite living only a short distance away, it always feels like a million miles away from home.
We were thrilled to be offered a complementary three night stay to enjoy their Winter Wonderland this year; especially as we’d never visited during December. For six weeks of the year Center Parcs is decorated with lights, decorations, Christmas trees and even a little fake snow. There’s also Santa’s Woodland Workshop, festive pony rides, carriage rides, a pantomime and lots of Christmas craft activities, so we were keen to see if it would get us into the Christmas spirit.
Our two-bedroom Woodland Lodge was clean and very comfortable with all the facilities you would need for a self-catering holiday including two televisions and a dishwasher. Center Parcs also filled our fridge with food which meant we didn’t need to use the Parcmarket on site, which I’ve found a little expensive. We were provided with a family grocery pack which would normally cost £45. It contained everything we needed for breakfast, snacks and drinks during our stay and I’d definitely order one in future.
We were also located just a short walk from the Village Square, very close to the beach and the children’s play areas, which was absolutely ideal.
Now that IJ is more confident in the water we were able to make really good use of the swimming facilities for the first time. She absolutely loved spending hours in the water and even tried out one of the water slides. I didn’t think it was quite as warm as it is in the summer months but the temperature inside the subtropical paradise was still very pleasant. The changing facilities could do with a bit of an upgrade and we did have to wait for a cubicle to dry off, but you don’t spend very long in there and it didn’t put us off returning the next day.
Despite the cold weather there were also plenty of opportunities to enjoy some of the outdoor facilities, particularly the Forest Swings Play Area and if we had stayed longer we would have taken more time to explore the surrounding countryside. One day I'd also like to take to the water.
The highlight for me was a childfree visit to the Aqua Sana World of Spa. It was the first time I’d ever visited a spa and after spending three hours enjoying the Japanese Salt Stream Room, the Laconium, the Aqua Meditation Room and the Greek herbal Bath, I now feel I have been missing out all these years. It was simply bliss.
The facilities at the Aqua Sana were clean and luxurious and although some of the spa rooms are quite small, there were fifteen different rooms to choose from and they were never full. There was also a pool, a Japanese Zen Garden and a number of water beds to relax on. You’re given a towel and a robe when you arrive, and then you just relax, unwind and recharge.
I also enjoyed an excellent wildlife photography session with a professional photographer who has, at last, taught me how take my camera off auto. I spent the time in the hide at the Nature Centre capturing wildlife like this:
Our only negative experience was at the Cycle Centre where IJ hired a bike with stabilisers shortly after we arrived. As the stabilisers seemed a little unbalanced we took the bike back to exchange it for a different one, but were told that an eight year old shouldn’t be riding a bike with stabilisers. IJ was upset and embarrassed and I really felt for her.
While most eight year olds will have no need for bikes with stabilisers, I felt that consideration should have been made for the fact that if an eight year old is in need of stabilisers, there is usually a reason. In my daughter's case she has had some problems with her balance. A little sensitivity is therefore needed as children have different needs, even if they are not obvious.
We left without a bike having been told a bike with stabilisers would be dangerous to ride, yet nothing had been said when IJ had hired her bike the previous evening. Next time we plan to travel round on one of these instead:
The Cycle Centre experience aside, we found the staff incredibly friendly and helpful. In all our visits to Center Parcs over the years, customer service has always been a strong point. We’ve always found the restaurant staff in particular very welcoming.
On this visit we were treated a fabulous three course meal at Strada complete with liquors. It is my favourite restaurant of those on offer although IJ prefers the American diner Hucks because it has a ball park and six Apple Mac computers that kids can play games on.
We definitely got into the Christmas spirit and I was very tempted to join in a kids’ conga dance around the Leisure Bowl after winning a game of bowling, but IJ told me to sit down as the disco was aimed at the under 5s. Still, I wouldn’t have been the only adult to have joined in.
The best part of our trip apart from the spa, the pool, the festivities and the excessive amount of food, was spending time together as a family and having the chance to relax.
On the last day I asked IJ what she had thought of our trip. She said: “Apart from the bike man, it was the best holiday ever.”
We would certainly go back.
Center Parcs treated us to a complementary three night stay in a Woodland Lodge villa for the purpose of this review, including a grocery pack, a restaurant meal, bike hire and spa sessions. Prices for breaks at the Winter Wonderland start at £229. Spa sessions are priced at £40 per person when staying on site. A child’s bike hire costs £17 and an adult mountain bike £24. The cost of my photography session was £33.
More photos from our trip can be found on my Facebook page.