Where can you enjoy a few days of fresh air, be completely car-free, spend time swimming with your family, and also enjoy delicious pancakes and the most hysterical magic show you have ever seen, just a few hours drive away from home?? Center parcs really does have it all…
We’re no strangers to Center parcs, having now been 3 times. Friends often ask me about it, and so I decided to write a blog post to share some of our favourite activities at Center parcs, and a few tips as well.
Admittedly Center parcs is not a cheap holiday, but if you’re able to go outside of school holidays it really can be a good deal.
Our last visit was a 4-night midweek break to Center Parcs Longleat Forest in the summer of 2016. The previous year we had been to Woburn Forest. I think there are pros and cons to each, but in this post I will concentrate on Longleat as that was our most recent trip. If anyone is interested I can cover more about Woburn in my next post! One of the features I like most about Longleat is the stunning forest. It is more expansive than Woburn, which is either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your point of view. But it is the type of tree and the density of the trees at Longleat which I find most alluring.
The accommodation is fairly basic but we have always found it very comfortable. Our kids always enjoy arriving and making the place their own by drawing all over the blackboard in the living area. We stayed in a 3-bedroom woodland lodge this time, which had one shared bathroom and a kitchen area. At the front of the lodge is an area to lock up bikes and trailers. At the back is a little patio with a barbecue and a small table with a few chairs. We were lucky enough to catch sight of this little fellow rustling around behind our lodge!
Our oldest is obsessed with swimming so while other people usually arrive and get settled into their lodge straightaway, we always find ourselves heading to the pool first, then dinner, then getting our bicycles from the bike rental place, then heading to the lodge around 8pm, when everybody else seems to have that bit done and dusted! Completely backwards! Swimming is included in the price of your visit to Center parcs and is probably one of the highlights for most people who visit. It can get rather busy and confusing in the Longleat changing rooms – the layout at the newer Woburn resort is definitely better and you can get an electronic wristband which locks and unlocks your locker, and can be used to purchase food and drinks as well. The pool area at Woburn also has a great area for the little ones that looks like a pirate ship. Though Longleat has toddler areas they were not as exciting for our preschooler. One advantage Longleat has is part of the pool is outdoors, which is enjoyable if the weather is cooperative!
We really enjoy cycling everywhere while at Center parcs. Everything you need to do this can be hired from the cycle hut, but you can bring your own bicycles and this would save money. We adults hired bicycles, and one for our 7 year old, but the 3 year old brought his balance bike, and for the 1 year old we hired a trailer. It was easy to fit the 3 and the 1 year old in the trailer at the same time, when needed, as there are enough straps to fasten them both in safely.
The spa at Woburn Forest is newer and state-of-the-art. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours there with my husband last year. This year I decided to try out the spa at Longleat for the first time, and I wasn’t disappointed! Though not quite as flashy as Woburn it is nonetheless incredibly relaxing and service is top-notch. Basking in the little suntrap with a magazine on a recliner, after a massage, is one of my best memories of our visit to Center parcs!
The other big draw for us at Longleat is the magic show at the Pancake House. This takes place just twice a week, and it doesn’t seem to be very well-advertised so many people don’t even realise it is on! This surprises me as it really is too good to miss. Nutty Noah, the entertainer, is really the most hilarious magician you will ever meet! And he also does some very good magic! The children were falling about laughing uncontrollably, as were the adults, for the entirety of the show. Just plain brilliant.
When you attend on magic show night (which absolutely must be booked in advance) the price you pay includes a savoury pancake and the dessert buffet, as well as the show. The picture above of a dessert waffle, was actually taken when we returned to the pancake house the following day, for more gluttony! I am not sure this is meant to be the point of a Center Parcs holiday, but for us scoffing pancakes and waffles at this restaurant is very much now a tradition. On the day we returned we were delighted to find there was another entertainer doing free balloon modelling for the children. He will literally make any animal you ask for! So both our kids got a nice souvenir.
One of the activities our children enjoyed was “mini crossbows”. It’s a short, indoor activity, but was enjoyable for both a 3 and a 7-year old with a budding interest in archery.
My husband and I managed to escape for a couple hours to play tennis, while the older children attended the kids’ club in the “activity den” and our youngest was with my parents who joined us for a couple days at Center parcs. There are a few events to choose from which take place at the activity den, that are aimed at 3-7 year olds. My daughter has previously been to the pirate and princess party, which was a big hit, but this time she decided on the Mad Hatter’s tea party. They seemed to enjoy decorating hats, playing games, and each had a box of cupcakes to show off when they emerged at the end of the session. There was also an opportunity at the finish to watch them singing together as a group with the other children, which was sweet.
I’ve included some photos at the end here, from our visit to Longleat Safari Park, which is really just next door to Center Parcs Longleat Forest. Right after checking out of Center Parcs on the last day, we went to the safari park. There is so much to do here, we didn’t manage it all! The kids absolutely loved it. The boat cruise is good fun, and there are some great activities. There is also an indoor area which our kids enjoyed, with a chamber full of balloons, with a fan in each corner. Our 19 month old in particular thought this was the most amazing thing ever.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my handy guide to gift-buying. I find that if I’m buying a gift for my own child it’s easy – they tell me exactly what they want all the time! Even for my children’s same-age friends, again pretty simple. But ask me to buy for a child who is a little older and I’m completely clueless. Sometimes with younger I can’t remember, either! This guide solves all those problems. It was put together with the help of 250 mums on facebook. Take a look…
The Tale of Mummyhood