“Dad, you know when you used to take us to Center Parcs? Did you actually enjoy it, as an adult?”
“Er.. do you want me to be honest? No, not really. It’s more a place for young children and everything was so expensive.”
Imagine my awkward pause after the above conversation before informing Dad that we would soon be heading off to Center Parcs as a couple hoping for a quiet getaway.
I’m going to be as honest as my Dad and admit James and I were viewing our upcoming trip to Longleat Forest with a little trepidation.
We’d been desperate for a holiday and the price of Center Parcs (under £300 for a lodge that slept six for Mon-Fri) and location (less than an hour away) seemed perfect.
Check-in started at 3pm so in a bid to avoid the queues, we did a big shop at a nearby Waitrose and drove in at around 5pm.
There was a short queue to enter the park and we then navigated the roads up to our lodge, number 588, before parking close and unpacking.
It was beautifully clean and spacious, with a well equipped kitchen, televisions in the lounge and bedrooms and two bathrooms (one with a bath/shower).
There were complimentary toiletries and the bathrooms were fine, not too small with great water pressure and temperature.
Everything was well thought out, with a towel rack for heating wet swimsuits and towels, which were plentiful around the lodge.
In terms of the bedrooms, there was one double bed and two rooms with twin beds, all made up and clean.
I was pleasantly surprised to find products in the kitchen, including dishwasher tablets, a cleaning cloth and tea towel.
The lounge area was comfortable and the kitchen/diner/lounge was open plan so we could chat while one cooked dinner as the other relaxed.
You can guess who did what ;)
Our lodge was connected to others but it was mostly quiet and peaceful and we had our own patio and BBQ area.
After dropping the car off at the car park, we picked up our bikes (£25/each for the stay) and cycled the 20 minutes back to our lodge.
In hindsight, our lodge was one of the furthest away and although it was fun and convenient to hire the bikes, it was an expense we could have spared.
We were a 10 minute cycle ride or 25 minute walk to the Plaza, the hub of shops, restaurants, Starbucks and Subtropical Swimming Paradise.
The Parc Market was affordable, with a wide variety of foods (even a gluten-free section), bakery and olive bar, as well as books, magazines and papers.
There was a toy shop, sweet shop, gift shop, clothes shop and swim store with towels to rent if you didn’t want to bring your own for swimming.
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise was awesome, beautifully heated inside and out with an adult area of the main pool, hot tub, plunge pool and separate area for young children.
As we went outside half term, we were hoping there wouldn’t be too many kids around but alas, there were loads of pre-school toddlers, babies and also post-school teenagers.
Honestly, we were expecting it but it was our major gripe of the holiday. Lots of parents didn’t want to play by the rules, especially in the pool area.
If the baby areas were getting busy, some would simply push their baby/toddler into the adult swimming area (in armbands) and play where we were swimming laps.
Teenagers were also a pain – they’d wallow at the bottom of slides (causing injury to anyone who came down crashing into them) and get steamy in the pool after dark.
There was also quite selfish behaviour by people of cycle trails and James cut his knee after being forced off a bridge (!) by one group of cyclists that wouldn’t move over.
We kept ourselves entertained by booking one cheap activity a day, doing lots of swimming, reading at our quiet lodge, and relaxing.
We were impressed by Center Parc’s seasonal activities, which included lots of free activities around the prettily decorated forest.
The firework display over the beach was stunning, lasted for 10 minutes and set to music, with Christmas tunes belting out before and after.
The Village Square (home to other restaurants, workshops and places to see reindeer and ponies) was decked out with trees, fake snow and fairy lights.
It definitely put us in a festive mood and the level of effort they went to was really appreciated – not too in your face but pretty and immersing.
In terms of paid-for activities, we spread out the Treasure Trail over two days (cycling and walking), it was good fun despite a few instructions being inaccurate!
We hit Pottery Studio to paint our own Christmas tree decorations, it worked out as quite expensive but was worth it.
Our decorations came out well and we were able to spend lots of time choosing what we wanted to paint and painting with a large variety of colours and implements.
The only downside to the pottery painting was one family with two children: one who ran round the shop smashing things and the other who screamed the whole time.
Thankfully their behaviour was too much for their parents after an hour and they were taken out of the studio – leaving us and other painters in blissful silence.
Our final activity was the pub quiz, which was brilliant. Difficult questions, good atmosphere and a hilarious quizmaster plus well priced drinks and snacks.
We came to Center Parcs to relax, get away from the grind of work and the city and we achieved all of those things.
I read fiction for the first time in months, we sat down to eat at the table instead of multitasking food with the evening news and slept as we wanted.
It was such a treat to be in the forest, breathing in clear air. Feeling our eyes water as we shot down hills on our bikes, swimming until our legs felt like jelly.
I can’t ignore the behaviour of some guests (though the majority were great) but I think it’s hard to avoid when you choose such a holiday.
Center Parcs makes it easy to spend a lot of money by eating out and booking expensive spa treatments/activities but it’s also easy to keep to a tight budget if you don’t.
Would I recommend it as a romantic couple’s getaway? Perhaps not overly romantic but it was good fun and we had a great time together.
I’d happily go back, James is a bit more on the fence but I think that could change once his knee heals!
* Have you been on a great holiday recently?
* Are you tolerant of naughty children?!