Center Parcs has just celebrated its 25th year of family holidays on these shores. RICHARD ORD checks out what’s new at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest.
WHEN the Center Parcs franchise first revealed its huge glass-domed leisure complexes to the UK, the emphasis in the TV advertising was on the weather-proof holiday.
Here was a holiday break even the bleakest of British summer couldn’t spoil.
There were lingering shots of families racing down the water slides, under the dome, playing all kinds of outdoor sports, under the dome, and even eating al fresco, under the dome!
It was all very space age, like the sci-fi movie Logan’s Run, but without people trying to gun you down with lasers.
In truth, while the hermetically-sealed confines of the dome afford warmth and protection against the elements, there’s as much, if not more, taking place in the great outdoors than under glass – and that includes people trying to gun you down with lasers!
The balance between adventures in the great outdoors and the comfort of indoor leisure and sports is one of the keys to 25 years of success for Center Parcs.
Once dubbed the middle class Butlins, Center Parcs has prided itself on piling on the action and adventure with the safe haven of a smart restaurant or plush bar never too far from reach.
We have been regulars at Center Parcs sites for more than a decade and we’ve seen the Whinfell Forest site in Cumbria blossom and grow.
It’s the highlight of the year for our two boys who love their days packed with all-action sports and hair-raising activities. This year was no exception, as they threw themselves into football, tree-trekking, mini-Olympics, cricket, soft tennis, table tennis, badminton, the aforementioned laser shooting and roller-skating with their usual energetic gusto.
But this year’s visit also coincided with my wife’s 40th birthday celebrations and so Center Parcs pampering facilities were hit harder than usual.
Center Parcs is aimed primarily at family holidaymakers, but it has plenty to offer the mums, sisters, girly girls and the modern metrosexual man.
The Aqua Sana is home to exotic saunas, invigorating pools, foot spas and a myriad of face and body pummelling treatments to keep most men and women happy.
While the grandparents kept watch over the youngsters, we wiled away a few hours in the Aqua Sana before the breakneck speed of activities took over again.
The secret of a good Center Parcs visit is to book your activities well in advance and fill your days with as much as possible. A lot of the activities are aimed a family entertainment where you can take part with your children. Be warned, it’s fun but competitive. The lads and dads basketball being a case in point. It’s as entertaining watching as playing as mild mannered fathers turn into wannabe Michael Jordans, dunking baskets on the heads of seven year olds.
If that proves too much for your young ones, there are a number of back to nature events on site, where you can get to handle birds of prey, go pond-dipping or enjoy a pony trek.
The evenings should be left free to relax in the best of the restaurants on offer.
The Sports Bar is best for grabbing a quick bite to eat during the day, but depending on your taste there’s plenty of other options avaible. Bella Italia for pizzas, Hucks for burgers, the Lakeside Inn for pub meals (and a family quiz night) and Cafe Rouge for a bit of French cuisine, to name but a few.
And if a night in is called for, there’s takeaway by the lake that caters for your every need.
A night in your lodge is no bad idea. In recent years the accommodation has been given a designer makeover. The family lodges are particularly impressive, with flat screen TVs, water jet baths, and fully equipped kitchens. (It’s worth noting that if you’re on a budget, you can easily bring your own food and eat indoors every day.) Some lodges even come with a sauna attached.
Travelling around the 400 acre site is best done by bike. You can hire mountain bikes to suit on site, including bikes with carriages for the young ones and even tandems. Alternatively you can bring your own.
And if the weather does take a turn for the worst, the enormous Subtropical Swimming Paradise, under the dome, boasts pools, wave machines, slides, whirlpools and a waterside cafe to ensure the fun continues unabated.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if all-action holidays for energetic kids with great family restaurants on the doorstep is what you’re after, Center Parcs delivers every time. Here’s to another 25 years.
AT A GLANCE
Richard and his family stayed in the three-bed executive lodge at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest and prices vary depending on the time of year you’re planning on staying.
Typical three-bed family accommodation, which sleep up to six, on the site starts at £249 (working out at £11 per person per night).
Special offers: Center Parcs is offering breaks from as little as £229 for those booking 2014 breaks now.
Peak times can be more expensive. A February half term break (Friday to Monday) in a two-bed lodge start at £379.
For details log onto the Center Parcs website at www.centerparcs.co.uk
Telephone: 08448 267 723
Center Parcs has sites at Whinfell Forest, in Penrith, Cumbria; Sherwood Forest, Nottingham; Elvedon Forest, Suffolk; Longleat Forest, Wiltshire.