After arriving at Center Parcs in what felt like the middle of the night, thanks to the silent, dark forest all around us – but was only 8pm – everyone sprang awake early on Saturday morning to explore our very lovely ‘forest house’, including the fully equipped kitchen, outdoor sauna and – the best part – the wraparound windows surrounding us with dappled sunlight and birdsong.
Testing the water
It’s only after we depart by cycle for this morning’s activity – pedalo adventures on the Watersports Lake that lies at the other end of the village – that I realise how unfit and unused to cycling I am. The last time I rode a cycle I got startled by a bee and fell off and now I keep having to get off and walk the cycle uphill so often that I lose sight of my husband Stu (who is pulling our children, Herbie, aged 5, and Ned, 2, in a trailer) – and get hopelessly lost.
But weirdly, I don’t mind. Perhaps it’s all the fresh air in my lungs, or the spacious way the roads and pavements are laid out so nothing feels crowded, but I really feel as though I’m away from the stresses of everyday life. I’m happy to wend my way down to the lake – finding my speed and my bearings, taking a few wrong turns but knowing I’ll get there eventually. And when I do, the pedalo ride is just finishing. Stuart and the children are tumbling onto the jetty, laughing uproariously – they’ve been around the lake three times, apparently, having challenged every other boat to a race.
After careering through the maze of playgrounds that circle the lake, we head to The Pancake House for lunch – again, I fall behind with my slow cycling, but in doing so I briefly meet a friendly doe nibbling at something on the roadside, and she doesn’t even shy away when I say hello.
We spend the afternoon larking about in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise – the children aren’t quite big enough for the water slides, but everyone shrieks in delight as we bob around the lazy river and roll about in the wave pool. Stuart and I wind everyone down in the warmth of the outdoor pool as the sun sets, then we tumble the children – who’ve fallen asleep in the trailer – straight into bed, and do the rarest of rare things on a family holiday: enjoy a restful evening together – with a beer, a takeaway from the extensive Dining In menu, and a movie. It’s a revelation. We should live at Center Parcs.
The next day, it’s our first activity, chosen by Herbie and Ned. They were so excited about Baby Owls – right up until the keeper introduces the owls in all their big-eyed feathery reality, and then they become wary. However, they’re soon won over as Stuart and I let the beautiful birds land on our gloved hands.
We spend most of Sunday following the children’s lead as they mooch through the forest. We pursue them as they romp around the nature trails where, I suspect, they learn nothing about tadpole life cycles, but do act out an intensely imaginative saga involving The Hulk and several Jedi Knights.
We meander down to the lakeside beach, hitting every playground on the way down, and then, on the other side of the lake, walk through the forest, climbing the twistiest looking trees and pretending to be wolves.
The boys sleep in the cycle trailer in the afternoon, so Stuart and I take the opportunity to go for a relaxing ride around the village, only heading back to the lodge when the sun starts to go down and the tree-lights begin to click on.
After a home-cooked dinner, much fun is had in the ‘disco bath’ – turning the internal bath lights on while running the jacuzzi function – and, after the children go to bed, Stuart and I enjoy our last evening at Center Parcs. Family holidays with small children aren’t an impossibility, we decide – marvelling at the idiocy of all our misguided previous excursions to unsuitable apartments and death-trap holiday lets when all this time Center Parcs has existed. I am amazed at how relaxed and at peace, I feel here, and we vow to return.
We should also get cycles once we get home, we tell each other, and trailers, and get around that way. We haven’t, of course, because life has got in the way – but that’s fine because it just gives us another reason to return to Center Parcs. As though we needed one!
Tips for your first break
1 Want to roll out of bed and into the Subtropical Swimming Paradise? If the location of your accommodation is important to you, you can choose a particular lodge when you book.
2 Ramp up the excitement in advance! You can book cycles, activities, events and restaurants up to six months before you arrive. Because places are limited, no one will be disappointed at missing out on an activity.
3 If your booking includes 10 or more adults, our personal event planner can help with organising your activity and restaurant bookings. They can even arrange special sessions just for your group, including Paintballing, Tree Trekking and more. Get in touch with our Contact Centre for more information on 08448 266 200.
4 Why wait to check-in when you arrive? Register the details of your party before you get here to speed up the check-in process. Simply visit centerparcs.co.uk/my-account/sign-in.html and log in using your booking number and party details. Less time spent checking in means more time in the pool!
5 Celebrating during your stay? You could pre-order one of our gifts to surprise that special person, whether it’s for a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon.
6 If you have any special dietary requirements, including allergies, bring them to the attention of the restaurant before placing your order so we can do our best to serve your needs.
7 From meals and snacks to dips and drinks, we’ve got it covered at the ParcMarket. If you spend more than £40 we’ll deliver your food for free, and will even put perishables into your fridge so you don’t need to wait in.
Book activities at your village’s Booking Desk, call the booking line on 03448 266 200 or log into your online account.