What is it? A mid-week break (Monday-Friday) at Center Parcs.

Where? Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire.

Description: Having kids a little bit older means there’s a lot more to take advantage of in Center Parcs, as Wendy Sloane discovered when she took her three daughters to Sherwood Forest recently. From dirt buggies to falconry to steep water slides, the activities just go on and on… [josie.jpg]

To experience Center Parcs with slightly older children, to see what they think of the facilities now that they can participate in more activities.

See About Our Stay.

Center Parcs has a lot of nighttime entertainment. When our kids were younger they loved the children’s disco; this time they enjoyed eating in the restaurants until late. Unfortunately, our next-door neighbours loved late-night partying too much – this was the first time in my 15 years of visiting Center Parcs that I actually even noticed we had neighbours, who partied outside until after midnight every night. I know, I know, I’m getting old…

Center Parcs has brilliant childcare facilities, including kids’ clubs for younger kids and drop-off activities for slightly older ones. We also paid for a baby-sitter for our five-year-old when we went on our dirt buggies (see below) and she had a lovely time, playing table tennis, going to the playground and buying a donut from the market. The woman who looked after her was lovely and gave her a teddy bear as a gift. Cost: L15 for two hours.

Center Parcs is famous in that it offers something for everyone. For parents who want to get away from it all in particular, there is the Aqua Sana, which bars kids (the best bit) and offers a big range of “experiences” such as steam room, sauna, swimming pool and Turkish baths, as well as myriad treatments. Whether you want a facial, an aromatherapy massage or a mud bath, it’s all here. I found some of the “experiences” a bit bogus, however, such as the Four Senses Loungers, which promises a “unique, sensory voyage into a world of deep relaxation and wellbeing.” Sorry mate, a few coloured lights, a chaise longue and some tacky music do not a unique sensory voyage make…

Local activities: We have been to Center Parcs several times, and never in the past did we venture outside its hallowed gates during our stay. This time was an exception, as we went off-site to indulge in some dirt buggy riding (see About Our Stay), although we booked it through the Parc. There is no real need to look around at local stuff not connected to the Parc – what’s the point?

Wish we had known: That the swimming pools were fairly cold – my youngest and myself both got a bit of a chill.

Our top tip: Take a small backpack for every family member with you if you intend to ride bikes everywhere, otherwise you might find lugging around all your swimming kit etc. around extremely hard going.

Kids say: “I think it’s nice because I liked the swimming pool,” says Clementine, five. “It was really fun, especially riding on the bikes,” says Josie, ten. “I liked the falconary [sic] because I loved holding birds. And the pool,” adds Tilly, eight.

Getting There: Sherwood Forest is located north of Nottingham between the M1 and A1. Prices vary, depending on the type of accommodation and the time of year. You can pre-book a mid-week break, weekend break (Friday – Monday) or a week-long break. The cheapest break is L239 for a family of four in a two-bedroom comfort lodge during the cheapest time of the year, but that does not include any activities, bicycle hire etc. It all adds up! Check out www.centerparcs.co.uk for more information or to request a brochure. Other Center Parc locations are in Whinfell Forest, Cumbria, Longleat Forest, Wiltshire, and Elveden Forest, Suffolk.

About our stay: Let’s talk dirty – about dirt buggies, that is. Who’d ever think that cramming a large bum into a tiny seat and riding through dirt terrain for fifteen minutes could be so much fun? Not me, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when my husband Duncan and I took our two eldest daughters on a dirt buggy ride at Center Parcs this summer –and had the time of our lives. It was an auspicious start. First we were shown a safety video, showing us where the fire extinguisher is kept on the vehicle should our buggy turn over on its side and spontaneously combust. Then we were given a special helmet to wear, just in case our buggy should crash frontwise and smash our heads open. Oh dear, I thought. Tilly is only eight! She hasn’t lived! My fears, of course, were completely unfounded. Both Tilly and Josie, ten, managed to ride without incident, and even I dispelled my fears and had a good time. Duncan, for his part, looked like Mid-Life Crisis Man in his cool gear (although we were the only chicks around to impress), and we were all completely happy at the end of our session. Dirt buggy riding was only one of the more grown-up activities we enjoyed during our recent trip to Center Parcs. Last time we went our youngest, Clementine, was only two or three, and we spent most of the time frolicking on teddy bear picnics and sampling the various playgrounds. This time, however, things were different – and a lot more fun. While we still have things like Cable Water Skiing ahead of us (Elveden Forest only), the girls took full advantage of other activities, such as Forest Survival Course and a Junior Falconry session. Tilly in particular loved being with the birds, and didn’t even squirm when a decapitated chicken head was rubbed on her glove to attract an owl. [falconry.jpg] And happily for them, both she and Josie were finally old enough – and tall enough – to go on virtually all the Sub-Tropical Swimming Paradise water slides, and all three girls were brave enough to book into activities while Duncan and I spent an enjoyable morning in the Aqua Sana. We also managed to get amazing accommodation this time, a New Style Executive Lodge that was, embarrassingly, bigger than our flat at home. With two floors and four bathrooms (all with en-suite bedrooms), it even had a games room, maid service and an integral sauna. None of us wanted to leave. [lodge.jpg] Surprisingly, even the food seems to have improved. Last time we went we had a burnt meal at Cafe Rouge, this time we decided to sample the same restaurant and had a very pleasant meal. The girls adored the Indian meal at Rajinder Pradesh, and we took full advantage of the Parc market, which was well-stocked. We did, however, give some of the more obvious kiddie buffet-style meals a miss – last time we had soggy fish fingers and cold peas, and I don’t know if the experience would have been repeated this time as well. The only downside of the trip for me – although it was a highlight for my husband – was connected to my abysmal sense of direction, coupled with being completely unfit. Huffing and puffing on a bike trying desperately to find our lodge wasn’t my idea of fun, although it was an enormous source of hilarity for my other half. Once I became so lost I asked a Parc staffer in a car for directions; half an hour later that same staffer drove past me again, still searching for the Lodge. Duncan, it’s not funny! *Wendy Sloane is the Travel Editor of entertainthekids.com, a freelance journalist for many other publications and websites, and a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at London Metropolitan University.

Created: 2010-09-18 16:57:34.733

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