My partner and I had debated visiting Center Parcs for many years, but I had always resisted the idea, insisting that I would rather spend my precious time off sprawled out on a sun lounger somewhere hot.
However, his fond childhood memories of family excursions to Sherwood Forest eventually swayed me, and we travelled down to the resort with our two-year-old son and eight-year-old stepdaughter excitedly chirping away in the back of the car.
I still wasn’t convinced as we drove into the village in a procession of cars and navigated our way to our woodland lodge to unload. But once we had explored our plush, well-equipped three-bedroom cabin, and taken our vehicle to the on-site car park, where we left it for the duration of the trip, it all began to make sense.
As we left the car behind and cycled back to our accommodation on our newly-hired bikes, the looming Scots Pine and Norway Spruce trees enveloped us in a calming embrace.
The tring-a-ling of bells and the whir of bike tyres on tarmac replaced the hum of traffic, and the soothing sound of forest wildlife added to the cocoon of tranquility. It was already beginning to become clear why people prefer to ditch their passports and head to Center Parcs instead.
When we stepped out of the patio doors at our lodge and discovered a small lake with resident ducks and swans, along with a small army of squirrels darting from tree to tree, our toddler squealed with delight. An outburst that became a familiar sound over our three-day stay.
Center Parcs really is a haven for children. On our first day, we were happy to spend a couple of hours in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, an impressive venue with children’s pools, water rides, chutes and spa pools, and a huge swimming pool with a wave machine and shallow areas for paddlers.
Afterwards, we refuelled at the Starbucks outlet in the village and then enjoyed a family bowling session. Even my toddler could play as the lane barriers go up when its the little ones’ turn, and all they have to do is push the ball down the ramp. I’ve always thought bowling was a bit naff, but we had a fabulous time and my constant failed attempts to hit the pins provided laughs.
With a selection of restaurants to choose from, we decided to visit Strada. The staff couldn’t do enough and our waitress was a star with our children. The play area in the corner of the restaurant was ingenious and we were able to enjoy parts of our meal in relative peace. Heck, I even had a coffee. This is one of the many things I love about Center Parcs. You can go out and have an evening meal relaxed in the knowledge the restaurant will be child-friendly.
The following day we got up early and dropped our son off at the creche. I was apprehensive at first, but I did my research and was further reassured when we were greeted by the clearly experienced, friendly staff. We then cycled at top-speed to the other end of the village and dropped off our daughter at the Woodland Games, one of the many activities on offer for youngsters.
We were then able to enter the calm of the Aquasana World of Spa for three hours of bliss. There’s an array of steam rooms and a huge sauna, as well as a heated outdoor pool and relaxation areas.
But the highlight was a 60-minute aromatherapy massage which saw me nearly fall asleep on numerous occasions. Was it wrong that I left my partner to collect the kids while I enjoyed this spa treatment? Oh well, I’m a mum, I deserved/needed it. Who says you have to give up on all luxuries when you have children?
If you are insane and would prefer to do something more active with your precious child-free time, the Center Parcs website allows you to book activities from badminton and horse-riding to wall-climbing in advance, and then makes up a full itinerary for your stay.
Or you could just tootle around on your bikes and enjoy the natural beauty of the forest or sip a latte while you kids clamber around in one of the many play areas. There’s even a sandy beach next to a lake, so you can dig out your bucket and spade.
On an evening you don’t even have to venture out, as there’s a takeaway service offering everything from Indian to Chinese food. So those with younger children can still enjoy a break from cooking.
By the end of the weekend I was a Center Parcs convert. It’s not cheap, but you can’t put a price on precious family memories.