What is it? Center Parcs

Where? We went to the Sherwood Forest Parc in Nottinghamshire but the other Parcs are Longleat Forest near Warminster, the Oasis Whinfell in Cumbria and Elveden Forest in the Brecklands.

Description: [SUBTROPICAL_SWIMMING_PARADISE!.jpg]Calling it a middle-class Butlins doesn’t really do it justice. Wendy Sloane took her three kids to Center Parcs, which she discovered really does has something for everyone.

Living in a well-appointed villa in a secluded forest and travelling everywhere by bicycle is my family’s idea of heaven – even in the ice and snow! The best bit is you can do as much – or as little – as you want – and you really feel that you are far, far away from it all.

Our kids loved the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, a fantastic Balinese-style swimming oasis inside a large bubble – great all year round. Older kids – and adults – can take advantage of everything from rock-climbing to horse-riding, sailing and computer workshops.

The children’s disco is a all-time favourite, and for the more adventurous there’s an adult one as well. The cinema is open in the evenings as is the bowling alley, you can swim until late and visit one of the many restaurants or sports bars. Or just relax by the fire or in your own sauna, as we did…

Fantastic kid’s clubs are available for children aged three months to seven years – Josie and Tilly adored the Christa’s Colourful Creations arts and crafts session. Book in advance!

The Aqua Sana and Spa is truly a place to wind down – especially as nobody under age 14 is admitted. I had a fantastic deep tissue massage and lounged about the many steam rooms and saunas – three hours of pure, unadulterated bliss.

Local activities: Don’t think you’ll want to leave the Parc and venture outside during your stay because you won’t. There is so much to do and the natural area is unspoiled and beautiful. For once, take advantage of your surroundings and just relax.

Wish we had known: …that the restaurants aren’t great. The food in Luciano’s was passable but it was very crowded and the service was slow, we ate at Huckleberry’s because of the excellent kid’s play area but my sandwich was a bit soggy and unexciting. So we took advantage of the well-stocked food shop and, luckily, had brought a lot of food with us from London. The girls loved the bakery counter in the marketplace – and so did I – as well as the free samples of homemade fudge in the Treats shop (and so did I). PS from Kirsty – the restaurants at Longleat are fantastic!

Our top tip: Pack a bag with all your swimming gear and leave it on top of your luggage in the car. That way, it will be easily accessible if you arrive before your villa is ready (normally 3pm). Don’t waste time dragging things out of suitcases and backpacks in the car park!

Kids say: Tilly, three, says: ‘My favourite thing was very scary. It was a big raft, a circle, I loved that. At the end we went bump, smash.’

Getting There: To find out more visit www.centerparcs.co.uk, or call 01623 872 921 to request a brochure. Special offers are often available, so if you want to save cash avoid high seasons and school holiday periods. Prices generally start from L365 for a weekend break, Friday – Monday, in a two-bedroom villa, going up to L655 high-season. Mid-week is slightly more expensive.

About our stay: Ten years ago I visited the Sherwood Forest Center Parcs sans enfants, and my memories were hazy at best. It was bitter February, and I remember my then boyfriend Duncan and myself getting a bit bored as we lounged around the Subtropical Swimming Paradise and tried to navigate riding (read crashing) our bikes through the ice and snow. Last weekend we made the trek to Nottinghamshire again – this time with three kids in tow. What I would have given for a little boredom! Josie, five, and Tilly, three, could have spent 12 hours a day splashing in the swimming pool, and would have loved an extra week sliding down the new Grand Cascade Raft Ride. Even 18-month-old Clementine took full advantage of the baby water-slides. All I wanted was a break – and I got one. Center Parcs really does have something for everyone. Our children are still little, yet they still managed to swim, bowl, do arts and crafts, ride a bike (or be pulled behind one in a tiny trailer), play in the soft play areas, jump around the adventure playground and make enormous DIY ice cream sundaes in one of the many restaurants.[HAVING_FUN_IN_THE_BIKE_TRAILER.jpg] I did what they did – yet still had time to myself in the Aqua Sana and Spa, enjoying a deep tissue massage and an afternoon going from steam room to sauna – thanks to my now husband Duncan. Actually, he was the one who missed out on time alone, but give him a few beers and a good football game (or factual documentary, to give him credit) on telly and he’s one happy man. We spent Friday until Monday at Sherwood Forest, and the time flew by. Our executive three-bedroom villa came equipped with its own sauna and three bathtubs, one of which had Jacuzzi jets. Add a bottle of shower gel and presto – the bath is magically transformed into a cauldron of bubbles. The girls loved the bathtub, loved having their own bathroom and bedroom suite, loved eating the Coco-pops (which are forbidden at home) which were delivered in our pre-ordered grocery pack. What could be better? When they get a bit older we plan to take advantage of activities for older children, such as parasailing, wind-surfing and horse riding. For the moment, though, there was still plenty for them to do and lots for us to enjoy as well. Our only real complaint was the weather – a hail shower turned into sleet and then snow, which didn’t stick but made the ground muddy and all the ducks in our garden scurry away. [CLEMENTINE_IN_THE_ADVENTURE_PLAYGROUND.jpg] Some say that Center Parcs is just a middle-class Butlins, but I think that’s unfair. Sure, the swimming area gets a bit crowded – especially on change-over days – and the food isn’t all that great. But there are no forced activities, no smelly caravans and, remarkably, no lager louts making the evenings hellish for everyone else. What you get is a tiny slice of tranquility in a serene forest paradise, with enough to do to keep the kids from climbing out of their skins. The girls are desperate to go back. I reckon that has to be worth something. *Wendy Sloane is the Travel Editor for entertainthekids.com, has 3 children and lives in London with her husband, Duncan

Created: 2006-04-12 15:53:37.070

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