Planning the opening of a new Center Parcs Village is a little like a wedding; you have lots of projects being juggled around as well as one, main plan. Things surprise you and there are little challenges but when you get to the big day, you can’t quite believe it. It’s kind of expected I would compare the two considering that for the past two years I have been planning Woburn Forest’s Launch and my own wedding in parallel.
D-Day upon us
Before we could open Woburn Forest to guests, family testers came in to try everything out and, during this time, the Village felt quiet with a low level of activity. Then as June 6, the first break, approached, we knew that D-day quite literally was almost upon us.
A few days before the big opening, we invited some of the local residents from the area around Woburn Forest to visit for some exclusive tours. We have been keeping close to the local community for many years, during the build and development, and this was our chance to show them the culmination of the many years of hard work. It actually felt like I was walking around with a group of friends and where usually I feel my facts and figures bamboozle, they were really engaging this group of interested people.
I was particularly surprised by how long they wanted to spend in our ParcMarket! As we approached The Plaza, I mentioned the ParcMarket and said “I’m not sure you want to see that do you”, to which they exclaimed: “Yes, definitely!” At one point, I didn’t think we would move on from there as they seemed so enamoured with it.
As D-Day approached, the anticipation grew in the air. The day before, trial guests left the Village and all that was left was the staff, preparing for the grand opening. I felt a little strange in that usually, at moments like this, I get emotional. But here I was focused, as was everyone else. I wanted to feel that buzz from the guests and we all knew this was merely hours away.
Morning broke on opening day and the scene was set: sun breaking the night into dawn, the birds chattering in the trees, a slight breeze rustling against the sounds of sweeping and squirts of cleaning liquids. It’s all so quiet…
Our first guests
Just before the BBC and ITV had arrived on the Friday morning, I had ventured to the Arrivals Lodge to see the first guests arrive. It was just before 10am that a father and his son, who was celebrating his birthday, arrived. “My son wanted to be the first to arrive and we’re so pleased we made it before anyone else” he said. “Now our plan is to be the first ones in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, even if we have to wait outside for it to open!”
I was excited like everyone else, but still no serious butterflies, until I stood at the bottom of the Tornado ride in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, waiting for the first guests to come down, with the ITV cameraman, one of our social media team and a group of lifeguards, were there, primed and peering up the dark tube, our ears straining to hear any shrieks or giggles of delight. It must have been about two minutes but it felt like at least 20 and when they finally appeared – their arms reaching to the sky and big smiles on their faces – there it was, my big butterflies.
I really didn’t expect it but it was at that moment I felt the buzz; the feeling that I have been a part of something great. I have been a Center Parcs fan for 24 years now and it felt very poignant waiting for the first Woburn Forest guests to appear at the bottom of that ride.
Since June 6, families have been visiting Woburn Forest for their short breaks and while this day marked the end of a long story for Village number five, it is really the start of even more adventures!
In the words of Martin Dalby [CEO]: “The Center Parcs family; we are now five”.
And now for my wedding….