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No matter what you do, January’s always a bit of a let down. There’s the New Year’s Eve hangover that traditionally lasts a week (not this year, obviously), the lack of funds thanks to Baby Jesus’s birthday, the empty promises to stop eating potatoes cooked in Goose Fat and the shock that is your husband returning to work after a blissful two weeks of helping out around the house. Which is why I say January is the perfect time to go on holiday.
We’ve managed it twice before – once to Langkawi, Malaysia and once on our honeymoon to Kenya, but this year as I get so horribly paranoid about Elfie suffering a medical crisis abroad we decided to stay a little closer to home. One of our very best friends had a week off before she started her new job so we decided to spend five days together at Center Parcs. Amazingly we timed our holiday to co-incide with THAT Mumsnet Center Parcs thread, though I can confirm any suspicious marks on the sheets in our villa were a result of a baby banana breakfast in bed.
We booked into a three bedroomed villa at Center Parc’s Sherwood Forest site for a mere £249 (plus an extra £35 paid to secure a property close to the amenities); it had everything we could have wanted including a dishwasher, full kitchen, bath, shower, 7ft tall blackboard, open fire and flat screen TVs. The fridge was only small but we kept our wine and kegs of real ale (yes, really, Will likes to take KEGS on holiday with us) on the patio where we turned the in-built BBQ into a booze storage area. The villa came with all baby stuff we needed – cot (sans sheets) and highchair – though we had to bring things like baby cups and cutlery. It was really useful to be self-catering, I would have quite happily eaten out each and every night but it was lovely to be snuggled up in front of the fire with a big plate of homemade (villamade?) pasta knowing Elfie was safely tucked into bed.
I went on plenty of childhood holidays to Center Parcs Longleat so really didn’t know how I’d feel on my return as an adult. It had definitely lost a little bit of magic as it turns out that it’s not staffed by magical Center Parcs fairies who all live on-site (this is definitely how Disneyworld works and nothing will make me believe any different) but we all really enjoyed ourselves. The food was OK (Strada, Cafe Rouge, Pancake House, Huck’s American Diner) and I have to admit the swimming areas were dirtier than I remember them to be, though this may be down to my fussiness rather than lowered standards. I did however enjoy the full-body dryer facility in the changing rooms, particularly useful if your husband forgets to pack your towel and your delightful child pees on the one you are all sharing.
There was so much to do and we all agreed we could have been there happily for another couple of days; I love Center Parcs’s car-free ethos and it felt so good to be outside enjoying the fresh air or spotting squirrels or rabbits. I even went for a RUN and pootling around on a bike was a lot of fun.
The girls took a morning off to visit the Spa which was divine: I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in an upright wooden chair within half an hour. I sampled all the different steam rooms but didn’t stay in any for long, but my companion had a lovely time in all of them and especially enjoyed the open-air balcony with beds and fur blankets where you could relax and listen to the sound of the birds. Screw that, it was freezing, I much preferred the indoor beds which you could curl up on to with an actual duvet and pillows. The outdoor pool was lovely if a degree or two too cold and had a nice range of bubbles and massage jets. One thing I thought the spa was missing was a proper jaccuzzi or hot tub but overall it was a very good value. It doesn’t have the luxurious feel of Ragdale Hall or Eden Hall but at £30 for a half day it was well worth it and I would definitely return.
The boys sampled other activities such as the driving range, squash and these weird underwater fan-powered jet things (thoroughly enjoyed, apparently made them feel like Bond Villains) but otherwise we were happy to spend most of our time relaxing. Our wholesome friends went on a couple of bike rides and raved about the gorgeous scenery, which I was happy to enjoy from the comfort of our big comfy sofa.
Overall it was a fantastic week away that I’m looking forward to making a yearly tradition. We booked at a very cheap time of year, our accommodation came to a mere £15.50 per adult per night although we spent a fair amount on food, eating out at least once a day. The on-site supermarket has a large stock of food but I did a Sainsbury’s shop the day before and took that with us. You can spend as much or as little on activities as you like and usage of all swimming facilities is free.
Things I learnt at Center Parcs:
– If your crotch is already slightly ouchy from being six months pregnant, getting onto a bike for the first time in 8 years will only make it worse
– Similarly, cycling with a six month baby bump is quite difficult, even if it is small
– I really, REALLY, can’t bear to go to a swimming pool without wearing flip flops
– The great outdoors is actually rather nice
– Strada’s rosemary and garlic stretched pizza bread is to DIE for
– Once a child realises there is a soft play/ball pit area in the immediate vicinity there is no dragging them away
– Any Mumsnet reports of rampant anal sex at Center Parcs are to my knowledge completely false.