What is it? A long Center Parcs weekend break (Friday-Monday).

Where? At Oasis Whinfell in Cumbria, located between the Lake District and the Pennines.

Description: [villas.jpg]Give the kids – and yourself – a break at Center Parcs, where you can relax and enjoy life in peaceful forest surroundings. But as Wendy Sloane discovered when she took her three young daughters to Oasis Whinfell in Cumbria, all might not go according to plan…

To get away from London in a quiet, secluded place where the children can roam freely and participate in a variety of activities tailored to their age and interest.

The biggest hit with our three small daughters, aged seven, five and three, was the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, which has pools for toddlers and amazing slides for older folk (height restrictions apply). They also loved cycling, the bowling alley and arcade, pony riding, the Time Out Club and the sweetie shop (who wouldn’t?). Book activities in advance as hundreds are on offer, suitable for any age. Lots of playgrounds are also available but sleet and snow made most of them inaccessible during our stay, however there is plenty of indoor fun.

I wouldn’t recommend any of the restaurants – even the franchised ones brought in from the outside – but the disco evenings are big hits with the children. We took in an early panto – Aladdin – which was well-performed and very funny!

Our daughters had a fantastic morning in the Time Out Club, where they did a lot of arts and crafts activities, had their faces painted and played games. Although they are all of varying ages they were allowed to spend the morning together, which meant nobody got homesick and had to ring up Mummy! They take kids aged three months to seven years, with each session lasting three hours.

A morning in the Aqua Sana for me and friend Alex was well-spent, with its myriad saunas, hot pools, steam rooms, cold pools etc. A wide-ranging number of treatments, such as facials, massages, and body scrubs can be booked in advance. Her husband Dan was booked in the next day for a three-hour session but was chucked out once someone realised it was Ladies Day (a staff member actually threw him out of the swimming pool and offered him a complimentary mud treatment instead. As the treatment was for two people he ended up slathering mud on himself). Also, nobody was available in the hair salon all weekend due to “sickness and days off”, so plans for haircuts had to be cancelled.

Local activities: Like most people, once we entered the Parc we didn’t want to leave it. If we had had a longer holiday, however, we would definitely have spent more time in the Lake District and its environs, where there is loads to do.

Wish we had known: That the communication on-site was so poor. From getting linen (we had to ring Housekeeping for Clementine’s z-bed, then had to call again when it arrived sans blanket) to finding the correct times for gingerbread men decoration (first we were wrongly told it required booking, then it took quite a while to discover operating hours, then when we arrived at the time given it was closed), few staff seemed to know what was going on – and they didn’t seem that interested either.

Our top tip: The food in the Parc Market is very reasonably priced and there is a wide selection. We brought too much food with us – it makes both financial and common sense to ditch the restaurants, shop in the Market, and cook in the villa.

Kids say: “I loved the bowling,” says Tilly, five. “The Canyon Slide (in the pool) was the best,” says Josie, seven. “Aladdin was too scary for me,” adds Clementine, three, who hid her face in Daddy’s shirt throughout much of the performance.

Getting There: Whinfell Oasis is located in Cumbria, between the Lake District and the Pennines (online maps with directions available). Book online at www.CenterParcs.co.uk or phone 08448 267 723. Prices begin at L199 for a three-night break for up to six people (Special Offer, terms and restrictions apply). Keep in mind that while the Subtropical Swimming Paradise is included in the price, virtually everything else – including cycle hire – is at cost.

About our stay: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. My daughters have practically grown up on Center Parcs, so nobody was more excited than they were to discover we were going on a long weekend break to Oasis Whinfell in Cumbria, where we had never been before. We were also excited. Since our last visit, Center Parcs had enlisted the help of interior designer Tara Bernerd to bring about “two exciting ranges of accommodation”, the Woodland Lodge and the Executive Lodge. This was a chance to relax in peaceful, natural surroundings, let the kids do whatever they wanted (within reason), and take advantage of the comfortable, modern new villas designed to “bring the forest inside, retain the open fire, and keep the open-plan sociability.” The idea behind Center Parcs is brilliant. All accommodation consists of “villas” nestled in the forest, and after unloading you park your car in a remote car park, then travel everywhere by bike. Indoor and outdoor activities are available, most of which you must book in advance (swimming, cycling, playgrounds etc are freely available). From bowling to badminton, kayaking to trampolining to archery and face-painting, there is, literally, something for everyone. [face-painting.jpg] I must admit, this time it all started badly. We drove up during the worst blizzard of the season, narrowly escaping spending five hours trapped on the side of the road. On the way up we spent the night with friends in Wetherby and the next morning my husband Duncan drove swiftly but carefully, arriving at the Parc just ahead of the storm. Our friends Alex and Dan arrived at our three-bed Executive Lodge before we did, having been told they could have an early check-in. But on arrival they were told to come back two hours later as the place had yet to be cleaned. “Sorry love, communication at the Parc is terrible. Nobody told us you were arriving early,” the cleaner said, shooing them off her wet floor. Alex and Dan put on a brave faces and took their year-old daughter Lara for lunch at the on-site Cafe Rouge, where Alex ordered a sausage sandwich. “The sausages were literally burnt to a crisp. It was inedible,” she told me later. “I called over the waiter and he just shrugged and said he’d get me a new one if I wanted it. I didn’t.” We decided to forgo the dining experience and went straight to the Lodge, where I fed the girls beans on toast as I waited for the cleaner to finish. The next night we had a similar experience to Alex’s at the Chinese Restaurant Yang: although the service was wonderful, the food was dire. Still, the girls had a great time. All three loved the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, especially the oldest, seven-year-old Josie, who was tall enough to take advantage of the slides and rides. Tilly loved the bowling while for me the highlight of the trip was Pony Trekking, where all the girls were given their own pony and went on a half-hour trek through stunning countryside. [pony.jpg] The newly designed Lodge itself, with its three modern bathrooms and on-site sauna, was comfortable and spacious. We were one of the first to sample it, and we all loved the chunky lamps and sofas, while a forest mural on one wall prompted much discussion (I loved it, others didn’t). But it, too, had teething problems: a tap handle in the bathroom sink kept falling off, the new carpet was stained, the plaster behind the front door was already cracked and peeling. One great innovation was a giant chalkboard in the sitting room which we thought would be a perfect enticement for my two eldest to practice their spelling words in anticipation of school on Tuesday. However, I had to ring Housekeeping for chalk, two tiny pieces arrived only the following afternoon (after I rang a second time). Every holiday usually has some problems, and bad food and lacklustre service are par for the course. But when Lara spiked a high temperature on Day Two, Alex called to see if a doctor was available. “My baby is very sick, she needs to see someone,” she told Reception. “I’m sorry, all the nurses are at lunch,” she was told, without anyone taking the time to discover whether she had suspected meningitis or a stubbed toe. Alex took Lara to a nearby hospital, where she was diagnosed with a severe ear infection and immediately put on medication. Perhaps staggered lunches would be a more practical idea. Compared to other Center Parcs, Oasis seems less than an oasis. If you pay for an “executive” experience, you don’t expect all these niggles. Still, the proof is in the pudding: the kids had no complaints, and that’s what it’s all about. Wendy Sloane is Travel Editor of entertainthekids.com. She divides her time between writing and taking care of her three small daughters.

Created: 2008-02-25 11:04:08.447

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