After trying to write up a blog post about our recent holiday to Center Parcs for what feels like forever, I’m scrapping everything I’d written so far and starting again. Why? Because I was going about it the wrong way. I was trying to fill in the back story – explaining why we went in the first place, how I wanted to make sure this year my birthday was better than last year. I spent over 1,000 waffling on about the lead up to the trip and hadn’t even begun documenting the memories I want to cherish from our time actually spent at Center Parcs. So I’m starting again. And focusing on what’s important.
Our First Full Family Holiday in Years
One of the most special things about this holiday was that my whole immediate family came too. My parents, all three of my brothers (including the one who lives in Australia – he made the trip over especially!) and my foster brothers too. It’s the first time the full Parker-clan (my maiden name) has been on holiday together in… I don’t even know how long. Possibly fifteen years. That’s half of my life. That really meant a lot to me, and I was hoping for lots of fun in the forest together to properly pre-celebrate my 30th birthday.
We got lucky with our accommodation, as when we booked there was a 3 bedrooms for 2 offer on, so we were able to get the bigger sized lodges we needed for a bit of a cheaper deal. Every little helps! One of my favourite parts of Center Parcs is the self-catering aspect of it. For those of you that usually stay in hotels and resorts, you may think I’m crazy, but I really appreciate being able to cook our own food on holiday – eating at times that suit us, and saving ourselves some money so that we can afford to spend a little bit more on activities together.
The whole reason we enjoyed this trip to Center Parcs so much more than our previous trip when Pickle was only six months old, was definitely that we could cycle. Cycling and Center Parcs is inseparable for me. It’s part of the joy of it! Whizzing down the hills, wrapping up warm and feeling the wind nip at your face and being able to take in and enjoy all the forest scenery. We hired bikes this time (we still don’t have a bike rack for our own, and although investing in a bike rack would save us money in the long term… it was cheaper and easier in the short term to hire Center Parcs bikes). Although we toyed with hiring the pull-along trailer for Pickle, I’m glad we trusted our instincts and went for the normal bike seat – it’s what he knows, and it makes us feel a little bit more connected somehow. Plus, it’s much easier to see his happy little face!
Our Evenings In
My idea of a perfect evening at Center Parcs includes a home-cooked meal, a couple of glasses of wine – preferably mulled, and a log burning in the fireplace whilst we play some games, resting our bodies after a day full of cycling and swimming.
My parents hosted the first night – inviting us all over for a lovely lasagne, followed by banoffee pie (two of my favourites – and funnily enough, exactly what LPD cooked for me the first time he invited me over for a meal). My Mum has even brought napkins with them to make the meal that little bit special, so I felt we had to up our game for the next night when it was our turn to host.
I cooked us a meal from the Take 5 Slimming World cookbook (which I’d definitely recommend), and followed it by lighting a little BBQ outside so we could all go and toast marshmallows and use a chocolate fondue set I bought from the Parc Market.
I even set up a little gin bar in the corner of our lodge, with a variety of garnishes, fairy lights and pink Gin which I fear may have contributed to the over-indulgence in alcohol that evening… which of course, resulted in a little bit of drama around midnight. Nothing a couple of sheepish apologies couldn’t fix after some of us had to spend a little more time in the bathroom than we’d have perhaps liked to!
One of my favourite benefits of visiting Center Parcs during their Winter Wonderland season is the promise of a fireworks display. It seems each year that passes, I like fireworks more and more. I was never really fussed about them as a teenager, but now there’s something about lots of people gathering outside, in the dark, all coming together in excitement that I really love. It’s almost the atmosphere rather than the fireworks themselves that I like.
Following the advice of one of the blokes from the Cycle Centre, we arrived really early. So after an hour of running around after Pickle, trying to keep him safe and avoiding mischief, we were definitely more than ready for the fireworks to start. Thankfully, we were treated to clear skies and a brilliant display.
A couple of treats
Center Parcs often comes with the association of being expensive. And if you have to visit during the school holidays and want to fill your time with lots of paid-for activities, then yes – it really is. But we’ve always been quite happy with going off-season, making the most of exploring the forest and the swimming pool and bringing our own food. However, it’s nice to sneak a few little treats in there too…
We booked Pickle into two activities: the Center Parcs Soccer School and a Little Elves Festive Party Hour. I didn’t take any photos of him during the football, although in hindsight – I wish I had. I’m always a bit cautious taking photos of him when other children are around but I was so proud of him during the little football session. He was able to put the coloured cones into the right coloured hoop, build a little tower out of the cones and a football, kick the football in the right direction and even get it into the goal. What a little superstar. For a while after we returned home, he showed his certificate to everyone who came to visit – so proud of his ‘kickball’ award.
He was a little bit of a handful at the Little Elves party (bad planning on our part, it was right when naptime would usually be!) but it was quite cute seeing him enjoy the Christmas themed songs and games.
For LPD and I, there was only one thing we knew had to be in our itinerary: a trip to the Aquasana. If you’ve not been to the spa at Center Parcs, you need to book yourself a trip. The three hours we spent in there, enjoying the different steam rooms, outdoor pool, relaxing beds and saunas was worth every single penny and helped this pair of stressed, chronically fatigued parents feel a little more human. Bliss.
The little moments to cherish
In-between the trips to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, the activities, and the meals with family, I often find on trips away like this, it’s the little things that mean the most to me. On Wednesday evening, I realised we hadn’t been out on our bikes as much as I’d have liked, coupled with a few quite lazy mornings where we hadn’t been up and out until much later in the day. I wanted to make the most of our time, so I suggested to LPD that if the weather was dry the next morning, we should head out for a cycle ride first thing when Pickle wakes up – just bundle him up in his PJs and head out the door.
And that’s just what we did.
We made our way to the Nature Trail, and enjoyed just seeing the sky get lighter and enjoying the peace and quiet. Pickle ran along the trail, keeping an eye open for squirrels and practicing his thumbs up.
It was lovely to see a couple of runners along the trail (which made me feel a little guilty that I’ve not picked up my own running shoes for a long time now), and it was also impressive to see a member of Center Parcs staff walk by checking for any litter.
Pickle loved this little wooden bridge/boardwalk – which makes me think he’d absolutely love it at Longleat if we plan another Center Parcs trip again soon.
Enjoying the Playground
We had a lovely time just playing on the park around the back of the Village Square by Huck’s. I wish we’d have found it sooner actually, as it was quite late into our stay that we discovered where it was.
My younger foster brother came to join us, and that’s always lovely to see the boys playing so nicely together. I feel very grateful to these two boys – who are so generous with Pickle. They play so nicely with him, really care for him and are really responsible around him. I’m glad he has older children to look up to and play with, and it’s definitely done him a lot of good. And I think it’s done the foster boys a bit of good too.
We’d have played on the park a fair bit longer I think, but this was before Pickle’s Little Elves Party Hour, and after the excitement of an early morning cycle and a good hour spent at the park, I’m not surprised he was a bit tired and grouchy.
Our Impressions of Woburn Forest
We’d not been to Woburn Forest before. LPD and I have now visited all of the UK Center Parcs together and so obviously our rankings of the different sites were discussed considerably. If you’re interested, here’s mine:
- Longleat Forest (as long as you don’t have a baby!)
- Woburn Forest (it came right in there at Number 2)
- Whinfell Forest (this was a close call… if it wasn’t such a journey to get there, Whinfell would take my Number 2 spot)
- Elveden Forest
- Sherwood Forest
I really liked Woburn – it’s a bit smaller when compared to some of the other locations I think, but that worked out well for us this year. All the main attraction points feel fairly central, and the Subtropical Swimming Paradise is perfect for children – it feels smaller compared to some of the other locations, and the outside pool isn’t as big which is a shame (I love having a little swim out there in the dark, with all the Christmas twinkling lights) but there’s some brilliant water rides.
This break will always be a special one for me. I hope I look back and remember all the little things – including the things that weren’t photographed…
- Enjoying a relaxing cup of tea and reading my book, guilt free, during Pickle’s nap
- The excitement on Pickle’s face when he saw the little Christmas displays dotted around
- Pickle not wanting to go down the slide in the toddler pool because it was ‘wet’
- My brother and I being mistaken for ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ going down the Cyclone ride with my foster brothers
- Seeing my Mum and Dad going off for a cycle ride together
Getting to spend some time with my beaut of a husband, just the two of us, is always incredibly appreciated these days. I made a promise to myself in that outside spa pool that we should do something like that more often. To take ourselves back to a time before Pickle. To just chat and be ourselves with less responsibility and needing to have conversations that only need half our attention whilst a raging toddler takes up the other half.
Center Parcs – we’ll be back. It may not be next year (we’ve got some big plans for our finances that will have to take priority) but if not, definitely the year after. We need to make the most of these lovely term-time breaks away before they become more difficult to manage.