I think that I have wanted to visit Center Parcs for about 20 years, maybe longer. I always thought though that you needed children to come here and really enjoy Center Parcs, so I didn’t plan a holiday here till I had a daughter. Last April I booked a weekend break to coincide with my husband’s birthday. I don’t usually book holidays 11 months in advance but I’d heard that you got better prices by booking early. Not sure if this is true but the price we paid wasn’t too bad and we got the accommodation that we liked the look of best.
The excitement started before the weekend with the downloading of the Center Parcs app and choosing and booking some activities and restaurants. Not a perfect app but pretty good and a great way to remember when and where you need to go. I needed to make some alterations to the activities a few days before going and a phone call to Center Parcs sorted it out very easily and no admin charges. Within minutes my app had been updated too.
Friday came but before we even thought about leaving for Sherwood Forest, we had to celebrate my husbands birthday – presents and cards (with a toddler helping to open everything), balloons, croissants for breakfast and a cake (Mary Berry’s Malted Chocolate Cake) and candles after lunch. In between the celebrations, ironing, packing the cases and the car. We had booked the early arrival but it wasn’t long before we realised that we weren’t going to make this. Never mind celebrations and family illness couldn’t be helped.
Finally we were on our way, car packed to the rafters for 3 nights away. Just after 3pm we turned into Center Parcs and thankfully (despite what I’d previously read) the queue to get the accommodation key wasn’t too long.
We were lucky enough to have a reserved parking space with our apartment, although when we arrived, there were plenty of spaces but a few hours later and people were squeezing their cars in anywhere.
First impressions of our apartment were very good. It looked modern and was large and spacious. It had everything that you needed for a break away. It came with some basics in the kitchen – cloth, dishwasher tablets, washing up liquid. You couldn’t hear any of our neighbours, so you could easily forget that someone was staying very close by to you.
Perfect for my 2 year old daughter was the chalk board on the wall. Who can draw better, mummy or daughter?
She also thought it was amazing that both bedrooms had a tv. Oh to think like a toddler!
But best all were the ducks, birds, squirrel and rabbit that came to our patio area. Our daughter enjoyed feeding them and waving and saying hello. Some fun doesn’t have to cost much. Seeing a happy toddler, makes happy parents too.
We were staying in the Pine area and were about 5 minutes from guest services, the cycle centre and Jardine Des Sports. Aqua Santa spa was only a few minutes walk across two car parks. The village square and Subtropical Swimming Paradise were about a 10 minute walk from our apartment. The lake and Nature Centre were further out beyond the Village Square.
Strangely, neither of us liked the taste of the tap water, it wasn’t as lovely as Yorkshire water. My tea just didn’t taste nice, so we had to go and buy some mineral water to use. Some people won’t obviously mind the taste but worth noting that it might not be to every bodies taste.
Plenty of people brought along bikes or hired them but we decided to walk, especially as it was only 3 months since my operation. I found walking around really easy and didn’t miss not having a bike to ride. Certainly, walking everywhere was easy from where we were staying. If you do want to cycle, Sherwood Forest is fairly flat, so would be good for little kids.
I can’t fault any of the staff that we encountered. Everyone was customer focused. From the housekeeping staff emptying or putting on the dishwasher, to the restaurant staff who were lovely with our toddler. No one we spoke to said, that’s not my job, they just helped.
We booked some activities. Learn Balance Bike, as I am keen for my daughter to love the balance bike that we bought her. I don’t know what I expected for the 45min lesson but it was well thought out and Callam the instructor was great with all of the toddlers. Daisy even rode a balance bike with encouragement from Callam. No such luck a week later at home!
On the Sunday morning we did The Really Wild Treasure Hunt, which was designed for 2 years + with mummy and daddy’s help. It was a lovely walk, following a map and looking out for question points on trees so that we could spell a word and get a prize. It took about 1 hour, and we did most of this with our daughter being carried in a baby carrier as she was tired but we still all enjoyed being outdoors, and walking. The prize was a badge and some sweets, not much but ok and we only paid £4 something.
That afternoon we had a game of ten pin bowling booked but discovered that with our daughters afternoon nap the time we had booked was not going to work. A quick phone call and our bowling and restaurant bookings were moved. We all had a lot of fun bowing. It had been years since I had bowled and still wasn’t great! It worked really well with a toddler too, who obviously won. After the bowling we spotted a small soft play area in the Jardine de Sports and stopped to let our daughter have some pre dinner fun. It was busy but not too busy for her to still make use of it and enjoy herself. Best of all it was clean!
So everyone mentions the swimming at Center Parcs and no we did not forget to swim, although we had trouble fitting it in. We did manage a short swim before going on the treasure hunt. We had a lot of fun, my only criticism would be that the changing rooms could do with a bit of modernising. I would have liked to have spent more time in the Swimming Paradise. Sensibly, we kept our swimming stuff in a locker whilst we went on the nature trail and collected them afterwards.
I had booked my self a massage at the Aqua Sana Spa on the Saturday. This was a lovely experience overall. Disappointingly, I wasn’t allowed to have the aromatherapy massage as I had an operation 3 months earlier, this was despite phoning a few days earlier to check. As an alternative, I was offered a manicure instead. A bit disappointed but it was a deluxe manicure, including massage, soak and mask and I got a delicious hot chocolate to drink with cream and flake, as well as time to relax in their relaxation area afterwards. The only downside to this spa was the changing room which was crowded. There were plenty of lockers but not enough space for everyone to change. I would definitely recommend treating yourself to a treatment at the spa if you are coming to stay. I would have liked to spend longer at Aqua Sana but had a toddle r and husband to go back to. Luckily for hubby, I managed to book this across our daughter’s nap time, so he go some F1 time to himself.
Eating at Center Parcs was hit and miss for us. We tried The Pancake House, Huck’s American Bar and Grill and Strada, alongside a coffee at Starbucks.
Well, Starbucks was Starbucks, so absolutely fine.
The Pancake House
I had read good things about The Pancake House, so I was looking forward to lunch here. This restaurant serves dutch style pancakes and omelets. My first impressions were that it looked old fashioned. That said my daughter was happy to get a balloon. We enjoyed the omelets that we ate for lunch and my daughter ate all of her pasta. We did not like the pancakes, tasted odd to us and my daughters fresh fruit desert did not look in great condition. Hubby was given a Mother’s day card to take away, colour and give to me. That was a nice Center Parcs touch.
Huck’s American Bar and Grill
This I had read mixed reviews about and my overall opinion wasn’t great. This is an American style restaurant serving burgers, stakes, chicken wings, onion rings etc. Children can do a kids buffet, which is great to get them eating straight away, only I didn’t think much to the quality of it but my daughter enjoyed the pasta and peas that she chose. We had burgers, which were disappointing, given the standard of burgers that on offer these days at most restaurants. The waitress was lovely and again 2 balloons for my daughter were greatly received. They had a soft play area and computers to play on. As my daughter was involved in food and balloons, she did not notice these. I can see how this could be useful with older children.
This was my favourite place that we ate at. This is an Italian restaurant that lots of people will know from seeing or visiting one locally to them. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meal here. My daughter got crayons and a menu to colour in to keep her occupied. I would definitely eat here again.
I would eat more meals in our accommodation next time. We had all our breakfasts, one dinner and one lunch in the accommodation. All easy to prepare in the kitchen that had just enough equipment to make everything and a dishwasher to ease the cleaning up.
We did go to the on site supermarket, which wasn’t cheap but not too expensive. My daughter loved the mini shopping trolley. all supermarkets should have these, it kept her interested in shopping and was much easier to shop with her with her own trolley.
We only went for a weekend but both my husband and I said that we felt really relaxed at the end of it, so much so, that we have booked another weekend to celebrate my hubby’s birthday again next year, and we’re staying in the same apartment too!