I first visited Centre Parcs when the children were tiny little things. At the time I was in too much of a blur to really form an opinion of the place, apart from feeling that the whole place was rather too commercial. However we decided to give it a go again this half term, given that February can be a pretty dreary month. With the children being the age they are now we hoped that they might enjoy the activities and we might get a chance to relax.
Firstly, its expensive, you have to overcome the fact that you are paying a premium rate for the lodges because of the facilities within the centre. Although we did pay extra anyway for one of the nicer lodges.
Secondly, it's busy, the village centre reminded me somewhat of a shopping mall.
Thirdly, if you want the kids to do activities the prices are not cheap, it's a real money making system.
Despite all of that I have really enjoyed our week there.
The weather was incredibly kind to us, clear blue skies and sunshine. It may have been a different experience if it had rained every day.
The swimming pool is great fun, it's warm and it has a myriad of exciting slides for the kids and adults to enjoy. Really warm outdoor pools for the not so adventurous to bob about in.
The bike hire is great, and with no cars to worry about the children can ride around freely and safely without you worrying.
You can get away from the busier areas by visiting the bird hide or exploring the further out forest trails. A Roe Deer ran out in front of the kids as they cycled along one of the quieter tracks. They were delighted.
There are red squirrels dotting around the forest, we were lucky enough to see the one above on our first visit to the Bird Hide.
There are restaurants and cafes, bars and a well stocked supermarket, but I decided to do self catering for the majority of the holiday as the restaurants didn't appeal to me that much.
On one of the days in the supermarket I watched a guy racking up a huge bill on convenience food, drinks, small packets of cereals and generally food just to survive on for the holiday. I couldn't help thinking if he'd just got himself organised a little before he came away, he would, 1) save a fortune and 2) actually have some decent food on holiday.
I planned our meals and shopped before we left home (no surprise there). Let me say it was almost precision planned, as I have brought very little home with me. We bought pastries from the shop in the morning (a good experience for the children to go on their own) and the odd coffee, drink and snack out, but otherwise have been very self sufficient. Of course as I am on holiday and you never know what the facilities are like, I planned easy meals, which didn't involve alot of preparation and cooking. An Indian takeaway which is delivered by the centre went down a treat one evening.
I'll do a breakdown of lunches and meals with the idea that it may be helpful for others with holidays coming up at Easter and May half term. It might take the stress away from the thought of self catering.
I always raid the store cupboard and take random jars of olives, tins of soup, beans and this time a delicious chocolate fondue which I had received for a Christmas present. I'll put a link to it soon, I'm hoping to get hold of some more. M & S did stock them in their speciality range, though I'm not sure they still do.
Brunch with bacon, beans and eggs
Tuna Panini's and salad
Wraps with houmous, sundried tomatoes, salad and pine nuts
Smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches (salmon left over from meal )
Heinz Tomato soup
Ham and cheese, fried tortillas, (wraps left over from Mon lunch)
Arrival night, quick tea needed as kids desperate to get in the swimming pool,
M & S pizza with garlic bread and salad
Nigellas Italian chicken http://goodfoodandredshoes.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/nigellas-chicken-with-tomatoes-and.html
Chocolate fondue with chopped fruit
Smoked salmon, capers, pasta and cream
Mince pie and mushy peas
Bananas and custard
My verdict of the Holiday:
Great for families, especially with a 12 year old boy who has more energy than the rest of his family put together. Well organised activities, great sub tropical aqua park, nice, clean, warm accommodation. Lovely woodland setting.
Be prepared to self cater otherwise you will end up spending a small fortune.
We would definitely return.
Not for those who like to get away from it all though.