Before we went on holiday I was asked by Center Parcs to write a piece for their blog and I’m very pleased to say it has now been published over on the Center Parcs blog. Have a look here!
Oh gosh what a week. We had a fantastic time and we will always be able to look back on Austin’s first ever holiday with such great memories! Why did we pick Center Parcs you might ask? Let me tell you exactly why…
My first ever visit to Center Parcs was all the way back in 1987, it was July and I was just 12 months old. My parents had taken us to the opening of England’s first ever village, Sherwood Forest in Nottingham. Obviously I don’t remember much but it’s safe to say my parents definitely got the bug! As each new village opened up and down the country we’d book a break and suss it out. We have continued visiting Center Parcs about twice a year ever since – which over the last 27 years adds up to approximately 54 times!
Very soon our favourite became their third village Longleat, mainly because it was closest to us. We have been visiting Longleat for more than 20 years and I’m willing to bet a large amount of cash that any member of my family could find their way around every inch of the enormous Wiltshire site blindfolded. I’m not joking and with Longleat having over 6 million guests since it opened, we are not alone in our love for it!
For our first family holiday last week, we chose Sherwood in Nottingham as our friends Donna, Mark and their baby Noah were coming along too and they live in Scotland. We are in Surrey making Nottingham roughly half way, so Sherwood’s location worked perfectly. I was very excited to visit Sherwood again as I hadn’t been since I was very young, on it’s opening week.
Our week was supposed to go something like this:
Monday: Arrive late afternoon. Starbucks. Have dinner and drinks at the house with Donna and Mark. Catch up after not seeing them for 2 years and meet baby Noah! Takeaway food.
Tuesday: 9.15am Baby Dolphin swimming lesson. Starbucks. 10.15am-1.15pm Family Cabana and swim. Starbucks. Relax at the house for the afternoon before 7pm Meal at Indian restaurant Rajinda Pradesh.
Wednesday: Relax in the morning. Starbucks. Walk around the forest. Lunch. 2.10pm Quad safari for the men. Drinks at the pub. Takeaway at the house.
Thursday: Starbucks. 9.30am Fun Pots With Tots art and craft session. Starbucks. 2pm 3 hours in the spa for myself and Donna whilst the men babysat – YES!!!! Starbucks. Noticing a theme yet?
Friday: Departure day. STARBUCKS STARBUCKS STARBUCKS. Good job they have two on the village really, isn’t it?
Our week ACTUALLY went something like this:
Monday: Arrival day. Starbucks. Donna and Mark caught in terrible traffic and didn’t arrive until 9pm. Opened ALL THE ALCOHOL. Lovely catch up, met Noah, ordered Chinese food. Bed.
So far, so good.
Tuesday: Since Donna and Mark had arrived so late, we decided to swap plans around a little, have a lie in and do the baby swimming lesson on Thursday instead. Family cabana and swim went ahead as normal.
So did Starbucks. Grant (my husband) started to feel ill and not up to going out, so we phoned the restaurant and changed our booking to tomorrow night. Ordered Indian takeaway.
Wednesday: DIRTY GREAT STINKING SICK BUG!!!!!!! THE END.
OK, I may be exaggerating. Well, slightly.
Grant came down with an absolutely awful illness (which we obviously brought with us as there was a bug in the family beforehand). We knew it was bad as he is a typical man when it comes to being ill. Pretends he is totally fine even if he’s dying. A slight cough or groan when he gets up for the day, but that’s as far as it ever gets. Compare to me getting flu and you couldn’t get more opposite. He gets on with life as normal with the odd splutter, still exclaiming he’s absolutely fine and could build the Queen a new Kingdom right there and then if she asked him to. Cut to me on the sofa with 12 duvets making my own funeral arrangements and you start to see my point.
This week was very different. He couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t even have the energy to turn a tap on or lift a glass to his mouth. He was a mess and he kept saying he’d never felt anything like it in his life. This is very unusual behaviour for him, so I started to worry. I remembered seeing signs for a medical centre and decided to phone them as I knew they have a nurse there every day from 9-5pm. In 28 years of visiting various villages, my family have never had to use the medical center fortunately, but thought it would be wise to get them involved this time and I’m glad I did as they were brilliant. The nurse was very helpful, asking about all of his symptoms and whether he’d like a visit. When she heard there were young babies in the house she told me all the things to do to avoid them catching it and also what to do if they did get it. She said she would visit us anytime if we were worried or things got worse and she was only a phone call away. Excellent!
Grant definitely wasn’t up to quad biking and Mark wasn’t keen on doing the activity alone, so we called them and said we regretfully had to cancel. Again, they were very helpful and were sorry to hear we had an illness. We left Grant in bed and popped out to the pub in the Jardin de Sport building. We lounged on the huge comfy sofas and relaxed for a couple of hours while the babies slept next to us. Lovely stuff.
We ordered the chicken and bacon salad which was really tasty. It was nice to see a salad that wasn’t a cop-out made with a few simple leaves, but beetroot, grated carrot and lots of other lovely food making it a great hearty meal. We also noticed on the menu they had many choices of buy one get one free meal offers on weeknights and wished we’d taken advantage of that earlier in the week. We saw the BOGOF burgers being served and they were to die for!
Back to the house for a few drinks and an early night.
Thursday: Grant still ill but starting to feel much better. Donna, Mark and I had lunch in the Pancake House where the food was fantastic! Donna and Mark had the all day breakfast pancake and I ordered a chicken, mushroom and paprika omelette with a whopping chocolate pancake for dessert and a hot chocolate. It was so good! I could barely walk afterwards, but totally worth it.
We went back to the house to settle the babies with the men. Donna and I left our orders, swiftly made our exit and walked to the Spa.I will explain in detail later but for now… OH. MY. GOD.
In the spa restaurant we ordered the pea and butternut squash salad, paninis and a glass of wine. Gorgeous food and excellent service. Back home feeling totally relaxed ready to rescue the babies from their dads. Ordered takeaway Pizza.
Friday: Packed up and left the house by 10am. Walked to the village for breakfast in Cafe Rouge. Mark and I had eggs Benedict which was really lovely.
Donna had a sausage and bacon bap and Grant just sat there looking sorry for himself. Walked back to the car, said goodbye and drove home.
So. It didn’t go exactly to plan (not at all to plan if I’m going to be brutally honest), but illness aside we had an absolutely amazing week. We were sad to miss out on our planned meal at the indian restaurant, quad biking, baby swim lesson and arts and craft session but it was still brilliant to see Donna, Mark and Noah again and spend some quality time together in such a fantastically family friendly place.
I met Donna a few years ago on an internet forum for people going through IVF, believe it or not. My doctor had suggested I go to a particular website to find someone starting their cycle at the same time as mine so that I had someone to talk to. Donna messaged me, we soon swapped numbers and became the best of friends talking every day. Two years ago a national newspaper heard of our friendship and the unusual situation that brought us together and wanted to run the story, so they flew Donna down to Surrey to spend the weekend with me. It was lovely to finally meet in person! Since then we continued to speak every day by text chatting about failed IVF after failed IVF. Eventually Donna became pregnant and a few months later so did I! Both with boys! We’ve been so excited to see each other again and meet the babies, so this holiday was the perfect place for it.
Donna and Mark hadn’t been to Center Parcs before so it was my job to show them the ropes. If I’m honest I was a little nervous. When you talk so highly about somewhere you love that holds such great childhood memories, you’re always aware that someone seeing it with fresh adult eyes may be a little underwhelmed. I didn’t need to worry – they loved it and have said they will definitely go back in future! From start to finish the staff were fantastic. When we had to change our plans at the last minute, it seemed as though nothing was too much trouble for them. For me, this holiday was a first in some ways too as I’d never been with a baby in tow!
The house we stayed in was an executive 2 bed, 2 storey house with beautiful bedrooms, luxurious en-suites complete with rainforest showers and jacuzzi baths.
They provided a cot and highchair which was a really great help too. We had parking next to the house instead of in the main car park which was a lifesaver on arrival and departure day packing and unpacking. We had arranged for a family grocery pack to be there when we arrived and we were very grateful to see that it had already been unpacked and put away for us. It included all your essentials which meant we didn’t have to think of a food shop as soon as we arrived. There was bread, eggs, bacon, drinks, ketchup, crisps, sweets, butter, teabags, coffee and many more helpful items. It was a really lovely treat to see wine and beer in the fridge too!
One of my favourite parts of the accomodation has always been the view from the lounge. Staying at Center Parcs treats you to a lovely little outdoor space through the patio doors looking out onto beautiful woodland and a large pond full of wildlife. We had swans, ducks, squirrels and lots of other animals trotting up to us every day wanting to say hello. It really feels as if you’re in your own little woodland fairytale!
Everywhere we visited was also super child friendly. The walkways are spacious as are the shops and restaurants which is what you need when you’re taking a pram everywhere! When you find somewhere to eat, the staff do all they can to sit you somewhere with enough room for the pram and mountain of bags you inevitably drag around with you. The gift shops are beautiful too – a children’s gift store and a separate store for grown ups full of lovely Cath Kidston gifts, Christmas decorations and much more all beautifully laid out. Again, almost impossible not to spend a fortune on gifts for yourself!
The most impressive thing for me from a parent’s point of view were the baby stations. In each restauarant we visited there was a microwave, bottle warmer, bowls and free baby food! An absolutely genius idea and such a lovely touch to offer the complimentary food to make life even simpler for mums and dads while out and about. I was upset that Austin isn’t yet on solid food as I really wanted to take advantage of it!
The swimming area is really great for babies! It has lovely separate shallow areas that are much warmer than the main pools which is perfect for tiny ones. We decided that for our first visit with babies so young we’d like luxury. The main pool area is fab but would have a wet floor and be quite busy, so what with all our changing bags and blankets we fancied somewhere more private and dry. We booked a cabana and it was the best decision I’ve ever made! High up away from all the noise and crowds are delightful wooden huts complete with seriously comfy loungers, a fridge with complimentary drinks, towels and a safe. Total swimming heaven!! The babies even had an hour sleep in there after their swim – it’s so cosy!
My husband and I both said that in future we won’t go swimming at Center Parcs without one – they really are a godsend. A private haven away from all the noise and chaos. One of my favourite parts was that we could come into the swimming area in our outdoor gear (minus shoes) and get changed in our own private space. Changing rooms are always too small in any public swimming pool and the family ones are always in use. With young babies it was so great to have all the space we needed when changing. We paid £50 for 4 hours and they seat 6 or 8 people. Totally worth it, it was a fantastic experience.
Now to tell you about the spa. I don’t know if I can find the words to fully get across how amazing it is in there! A separate building called Aqua Sana has a calming atmosphere as soon as you step in the door with lovely, friendly staff waiting at reception. We were booked in for a 3 hour stay which we felt would go very quickly, but it was such a relaxing place we felt as if we were in there forever! A total sanctuary. After a few days away with the babies and having dealt with a sick bug, our spa treat couldn’t have come around fast enough!
The spa boasts a beautiful outdoor pool and has over 16 different spa experience rooms and rest zones set over 2 floors. It is ultimate luxury and I couldn’t think of anything I could possibly add to make it any more relaxing. We strolled out of the changing rooms wearing our fluffy robes and slippers and couldn’t believe our eyes. It felt like total 5 star luxury! Within seconds we had forgotten all the stress of everyday life and were so excited to try all the different rooms. We walked around both floors first of all to get a feel for what was where and it was all we could do to not explode with the sort of excitement only mummies can understand when they have 3 child free hours in such an amazing place!
We had a peek in each room, walked past the gorgeous water beds where people were quietly reading or sleeping – actually sleeping! Then popped into the relaxation room. A dark space with the most comfortable solid spherical hammocks which hung from the ceiling. On the wall was a plasma screen playing a tropical fish tank scene. We quietly lay in the swinging hammocks and after 5 minutes we decided we had to leave as we were so close to falling asleep and we hadn’t even tried any other rooms! I was immediately desperate to book in for a full day in the future as I could have easily slept away hours in that room.
Our next stop was the pool. On the ground floor there are steps leading through flaps out into the open air pool. We spent quite a while floating on our backs without a care in the world! We continued visiting each different rooms where we found the Greek herbal bath, Turkish hammam, tyrolean sauna, multi sensory showers (watch out for the cold option! Brrr!), tepidarium, zen garden (a beautiful outdoor meditation space), Indian blossom steam room, Laconium, Reflexology foot baths – the list goes on! Our favourite was the Japanese salt steam bath. The salty sea air combined with steam and essential oils works wonders for the respiratory system and provides a unique inhalation room. We left after only 7 or 8 minutes in their with skin as smooth as silk!
I really could go on and on about our experience, but I will leave the rest to your imagination. Or if you have any sense you will book in yourself right now and see it all for yourself!
Also in the village is a creche, a babysitting service and more activities than you could ever fit into one holiday. Center Parcs is absolutely made for families. With crazy golf, swimming lessons, arts and crafts, zip wire, high ropes, bowling, indoor caving, archery, badminton, squash, ping pong, entertainment shows, treasure trails, snorkelling, fencing, falconry, soccor school, roller skating, watersports on the vast lake and much, much more, it really is the place to be when you have children whether newborns or teenagers!
I thoroughly enjoyed it as a child and it is still my favourite holiday destination even as an adult – to me it’s better than any holiday abroad! I was brought up going every single year and now I have children myself I am so excited to continue the family tradition. You’d be absolutely bonkers not to book yourself a break and see for yourself! Go on, go!
Thanks for reading 🙂