Most weekends away offer you either fun activities or blissed out relaxation. The genius thing about Center Parcs is that it offers you both at the same time. One minute you can be watching your kids scale a six metre climbing wall, and the next, you can be sitting in a spa listening to relaxing music while you watch the tall trees sway in the wind, up above you.
If you haven’t been to Center Parcs before, the premise is simple: 2,3 and 4 bedroom lodges are scattered through the forest which you can get across either on foot or bike (you can bring your own or hire them there). The main star of the show is the swimming pool, with flumes and slides, Rapids and lazy rivers, but there’s a whole array of activities you can book – everything from baby sensory classes and pottery painting for little ones to Segway sessions and treetop exploring. There are restaurants and bars plus a well-stocked supermarket and even a Starbucks to give you your caffeine fix.
As weekends away go, it’s not a cheap option. On the weekend we went to Woburn Center Parcs, a 2 bed lodge for three nights would have set us back over £500. But the experience you get and the opportunity for fun is incredible. Plus, it is possible to save money while you’re there – take groceries with you and eat in your lodge rather than eating out, make the most of the free activities like the swimming pool and the outdoor/indoor play areas, take your own bikes and spend time exploring the forest on them.
Our weekend began as all good Center Parcs weekends should: getting the log fire going and drinking a glass (or two) of wine. It doesn’t matter what time of year we stay, I’ll always be up for a log fire. The lodges have an open plan design meaning you can enjoy the fire even when you’re cooking in the kitchen or eating at the dining table. The tree murals in the lodges bring nature indoors and the huge windows allow you to spot wildlife outside. The six-year-old loved seeing squirrels on our patio table, ducks waddling past on the grass and we even saw a pheasant strut by.
First port of call on Saturday was – of course – the Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise. We hit the lazy river first, then made for the kids’ area with small flumes, water jets and a surprise waterfall that suddenly appears every minute or so. The six-year-old was in her element along with her friends Mia and Yasmin who joined us for the day (top tip: if you are staying at Center Parcs, you can book Day passes for friends which allows them to spend the day with you).
After a few hours of splashing good fun, we were all ravenous so we headed to The Shearing House for lunch. We had a slight problem though: you know when you are so hungry, and the menu has so much choice, it almost blocks your brain from making a decision? Our poor waiter had to come back three times before we were ready for him to take our order! Thankfully, we all chose well. My burger was spot on and the kids cleaned their plates.
After a pit stop back at our lodge for tea and chocolate digestives (plus a mini stomp for the kids around the woods that our lodge backed onto), we went to the Plaza in search for some activities to book for the kids. It’s a good idea to pre-book activities in case they get booked up but we thought we’d chance our luck and see what was available on the day. Luckily, there was availability for the climbing wall – which the six-year-old was desperate to try – and short tennis so the kids had a couple of hours of energetic fun.
Clearly in need of burning off even more energy, we had pleads to go swimming for a second time that day. One swimming session is enough for me, so I went to Starbucks for a coffee and read while the others headed back to the Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise.
It’s safe to say, the six-year-old slept well that night.
The weather on Sunday was wet and windy. We abandoned plans to do Den Building And Decorating and instead Mr P took the six-year-old… yep you’ve guessed it, swimming! He braved the rain, cycling to the pool with the six-year-old in her dry little trailer behind him. Meanwhile, I headed to the Aqua Sana spa for a couple of hours of me-time. And after a jam-packed 24 hours, it was just the ticket. The spa is attached to the Plaza but once you step inside, you feel a millions miles away from the noisy action happening next door. As I was handed my towel and white bath robe, I could feel all of that melting away.
The spa has a series of different rooms with experiences like Reflexology Footbaths and a Japanese Salt Steam Bath, plus chill out areas with water beds and day beds. The outdoor pool was surprisingly popular despite the wind and rain, and chilled out music added to the relaxing vibe. After an hour of lounging, I had a superfood facial – every time I have a facial, I vow to look after my skin better, and my therapist gave me loads of tips on what kinds of products I should be using on my face.
Before I knew it, it was time to rejoin Mr P and the six-year-old, who had squeezed in another climbing session while I was being pampered. We had some food in the Sports Bar before having a couple of games of bowling and heading back to our lodge to pack.
We left Center Parcs thoroughly exhausted but with huge grins on our faces – now isn’t that the sign of a good weekend away?