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Perfect Holiday pretty much guaranteed.
Center Parcs (England)
Member Name: cha97mw
Center Parcs (England)
Advantages: very family friendly, close to our house, perfect for an active holiday
Disadvantages: can be busy, often get cars on site when they are not meant to be .
Center Parcs is one of my favourite UK holiday destinations. My in-laws treated us to a holiday in the Whinfell Forest parc in Cumbria in 2006 when I was heavily pregnant with my son, and since then we have returned many times, experiencing the parcs at Sherwood Forest in Nottingham, and Elveden Forest in Suffolk over the past 5 years.
Last weekend we went to Sherwood Forest which was our 3rd visit to that particular parc, and I am already getting twitchy fingers wanting to book in the next visit, with the only thing putting me off is the fact that we now have to go in school holidays and the price is suddenly more prohibitive to us nipping off for a short break.
===Booking the holiday===
Because I have booked a holiday before with the company, I get a brochure through the post and emails regularly tempting me to book a holiday at Centre parcs. Earlier this year, I made the snap decision to book a weekend break which co-incided with my husbands birthday.
Booking is incredibly easy. You go to the website (www.centerparcs.co.uk) which is well set out and incredibly easy to use. You can request a brochure, or play around inputting details and seeing if a weekend break (Friday to Monday) or a midweek break (Monday to Friday) is available when you want.
There is a quicklink box on the home page which allows you to input data really easily to check accomodation availability.
First, select what sort of break you would like, and then which village you would like to go to. (We have found that all the villages are fairly similar in terms of accomodation and facilities available on site, so we now tend to pick Sherwood as it is closest to us and also has an excellent nature reserve on site.)
You are then prompted to enter details about your party. The number of adults. The number of infants 0-2. The number of preschool children aged 2-5, and the number of children aged 6-16. This will then tell you what size villa you require (eg. for my family, 2 adults and 2 pre-school children we needed a 2 bedroom villa, but when we went with the in-laws when we had the baby, we had a cot provided for him and he slept in our bedroom.)
This then takes you to a screen where you can see details about the type of accomodation available to you on the date you have chosen, and how much this will cost you. I find this particular screen very helpful as you can look at layouts and photos of the style of villa you have chosen, and see details of what is included for the price you want to pay.
This last visit we went on a cheapie holiday and opted for a bog standard comfort villa. This cost us £380 for a weekend. For this price we had a 2 bedroom villa (one double, one twin), with cooking facilities. We had a bathroom containing a shower and bath, and a seperate toilet. We also had our own semi-private patio area with table and chairs, overlooking a pond on the site.
For a bit more money we could have added some mod cons like a DVD player, or a dishwasher. Then, by further increasing the budget you can get facilities such as towels provided for you, maid service every day to tidy up after you, en suite bathrooms, jacuzzi baths, steam rooms, and the top of the range option, the new executive treehouses, come with pool tables, and play station 3s, and your own parking space, though this comes in at almost 10x the price we paid, believe it or not.
When you make your decision on accomodation type, it will then give you a list of that type of villa by number, which you then compare to the map of the site before you make your final choice about which you want to choose.
Then it is a simple matter of filling in some details about the members of your party, because at least one person has to be over 21, and leaving a deposit (which was about 1/3 of the total cost).
===Building up to your stay===
Once the booking is made, you can then log on at any point to pre-register your party to make your arrival and booking in to the site a quicker and smoother process. Center parcs also then 'helpfully' bombard you with emails about activities you might like to do during your break which you can pre-book to avoid the queues, and also remind you to book in and pay off the balance a couple of months before you are due to arrive.
You can also book bikes for hire so you can pick them up from the cycle shop conveniently right next to the car park, and arrange for a selection of groceries to be delivered to your villa for when you arrive.
===Packing to go===
We always make sure that we take some supplies with us before we go, and this helps us not go to mad with the spending. The Parc Market will dazzle you with the array of goods you can buy, but it is at a premium cost. You will save yourself a fortune if you take basics such as washing up liquid, ketchup if you want to have a barbeque, loo rolls, and other such things that you might want.
Although the villa will be equipped for cooking, the items provided are for basic cooking, so if you want nice things like a dish to make a lasagna or cottage pie, take it. We also usually take a sharp knife for preparing food, as the ones in the villa are more like butter knifes as they are so blunt.
I also make sure we take waterproof coats, wellies for the kids, lots of clothes for when you get hot and sweaty doing all the exercise, and some nicer clothes for eating out if we want to.
===Arriving on site===
I honestly start to feel the magic as soon as we pull the car into the long drive up to the Arrivals lodge. We get in the appropriate queue for our villa depending on the number, and then approach the arrivals lodge. We always pre-register all the details such as names of the party, car registration details, and bike details online before we go, so all I have to do is tell the person checking me in my booking number and name, and then I am handed keys, a booklet telling me what is on, a safety guide, and a map of the village.
The gates to the village don't open until 3. We usually arrive just after lunch, so we park up in the car park, then walk into the village with our swimming kit so we can get a session in the pool before most people arrive and it gets busy.
Once 3 arrives, the parc seems to go a bit mental, with lots of people driving round the site and trying to find their accomodation. Once you have unloaded, you are expected to take your car back to the car park again. The gate gets locked again until Monday morning when it is time to leave.
Arriving at the Villa, we have always found our accomodation to be clean and welcoming. This time was no exception. There was a small selection of coffee, tea and UHT milk pots so we could make a cuppa, and a tea towel, cloth, sponge and washing up liquid in a sachet to start us off.
The villas are always in rows of 4, so you do feel like you get some privacy, even though you sometimes see your neighbours.
It was easy to unpack and get our belongings away as there are big wardrobes in the 2 bedrooms, and lots of cupboard space in the bathroom.
After eating and tidying up, we were happy to go off and explore.
===Facilities on site===
All of the sites have a sub-tropical swimming paradise, a supermarket, other shops selling items such as sportswear, toys and sweets, and a spa. There is also a selection of restaurants throughout the site, and open water and spots to watch the wildlife local to the area. At Cumbria it was lovely as it was the Red squirrels.
The use of the pool is free, but then there are charges for joining in with specific activities, such as hire of tennis courts, ten pin bowling, childrens activity clubs, high wire climbing, crazy golf and even swimming lessons and scuba diving.
Normally, we go with the intention of seeing what we fancy when we get there, and this works well for us, though you might like the peace of mind of knowing that you are booked in. Personally, I didn't fancy the kids clubs as we go away to spend quality time with the kids, and my kids are a bit young to do the climbing, horse riding and archery. The costs of the activities do seem very reasonable compared to doing them at home, but costs can rack up quickly when you are there a few days with kids wanting to do everything.
The pool is somewhere we use every day. At Sherwood the pool has a main section which has a wave machine in operation about every 20 minutes or so. There are then smaller jacuzzis, childrens pools and slides in the different areas of the pool. There is an outdoor section of the pool which features a cold plunge pool, and the entrance to the rapids, a fast moving section of water with currents that drag you along. There are then 2 slides you can go on with children sat on your lap, a childrens slide which is designed for those who like thrills and can swim, and the Grande Cascade ride exclusive to Sherwood. Here you sit in a giant rubber raft and go down the shoot, before twisting and turning round the outside of the building. Very thrilling and popular, so I advise trying to use it on Monday or Friday at changeover time to get best use of it.
But our favourite bit is the secluded childrens pool, shaped like a boat in dock, with 2 tame slides both our boys could use independently, we are free to sit back and relax, while they play safely in the warm water.
There are also lots of indoor and outdoor childrens play areas. These are located near the lake, and are quite good as there are lots of items to climb on, swing on, and even a sandy area with an Archimedes screw for water play. The kids loved these and would go every day, and it was challenging enough for kids up to about 12 I would say.
The indoor areas are located at Huck's restaurant and bar, and at the Foresters bar, so ideal for going for a bite to eat or just stopping in for a drink to kill some time through the day. The adults can then relax for a while, or even enjoy the free WiFi for a little while.
Somewhere else also good to kill some time is the nature reserve. At sherwood there is a whole visitor centre with seasonal activities for the kids, and a lake to walk around before going in the bird hide to watch the birds feeding at the feeders. There are handy pictures all around so it is simple for all to work out what they can see.
===What I love about Center Parcs===
You really can switch off here. Because there are very few cars on the site during your stay, it is safe for even the youngest cyclers to get confident cycling around the complex.
Although it is expensive, it is so relaxing to be able to switch off and be at one with nature. Looking out of the patio door, you can see squirrels and birds only yards away. At the Elveden forest, we even had little deer at the other side of the glass looking in. Put out some bread crumbs, and it is like being in a Disney film when they all come up. Our first stay at Sherwood, we had baby ducklings virtually eating out of our hand. It is the closest I have ever felt to nature.
We have been in the Winter, and in the heavy rain/floods of the summer of 2007, and we have always been able to just get on with the holiday by sticking on appropriate clothing and walking to the facilities. Once inside the swimming pool if you can ignore the persistent elephant trumpteting that signals the start of the waves, then you can pretend you are somewhere tropical with all the palm trees and exotic plants that thrive at those temperatures.
We come home so exhausted from all the swimming, cycling and walking, but it is the best kind of tired because we have enjoyed several days of quality time as a family, and that to me is worth the expense.
Thanks for reading, sorry its long, but there is a lot to do there.
Summary: A pretty idylic place, where you can have a quiet break, or go mad and spend lots.
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