Travel: What to expect from a Centreparcs holiday with the kids

When the Carnivore suggested we take a family holiday at Centreparcs, I was a little unsure, as I had heard it was expensive, and in all honesty I didn't see what the difference was between this and hiring a lodge elsewhere. Also with the Covid situation, it felt unpredictable. But when you have little children everything becomes about minimizing stress - am I right?

We talked about alternatives and other lodge holidays, but we kept coming back to the ease of being able to walk to restaurants and plenty of activities to keep the kids occupied. We also really wanted to swim with the kids every day.

As it was our first family holiday all together, and before our Girl Inspiration was bound by school holidays, we wanted it to be special.

We booked the 3 bed lodge,a five minute walk from the centre, which happened to have a sauna. If you don't want to walk 20 minutes with tired little legs every evening, then I suggest you pay slightly more to be in the green zone. It was worth it for us but of course, if you are all cycling, it doesn't matter too much. However, bare in mind in the winter it's dark, cold and soggy, so you still may not want to be too far out when you have toddlers. 

When we arrived at the lodge and parked our car 200 metres away, it all looked clean, spacious, and surrounded by the signature lush woodland. 

The lodges are pretty identikit, with the same mural and artwork on the wall, so I knew exactly the layout to expect. The kitchen and living were open plan, with 3 bedrooms coming off the kitchen with bathrooms. It was just so amazing to see the kids excitedly going from room to room exploring, and then jumping on each bed. 

Soon they selected which room they wanted to share and set to work unpacking their things. It was the cutest seeing them setting up their home from home. Given neither remember going on holiday before (pre-Covid) it was a big deal.

Our lodge had an outdoor shower and sauna attached to it just outside the doors. Cue getting very red and sweaty, followed by an icy blast of cold water! Obviously we couldn't take a baby monitor in so meant we had to take it in turns to use the sauna so we could hear the kids if they woke up. But it was a nice option to have, 

We probably would have gotten more use out of a hot tub but it was no big deal. We were so pruned up and shattered after swimming every day, we didn't feel like getting wet again anyway.

It was set, as all of the lodges are, in a beautiful part of the woodland with views of trees and ours had the added bonus of a stream below, down a steep ravine. I love the sound of flowing water but It did mean we couldn't just let the littlest free roam outside but it was okay for a short trip. If you were worried about this or wanted the kids to have more freedom, you can request to be away from water or steep drops.

After we explored every nook and cranny of the accommodation we set off to explore the park. A lovely woodland walk and a few minutes later and we had reached the edge of the centre, where we found shops, including a mini-supermarket, and restaurants. There was the usual chains, offering Italian, French and British cuisine. The supermarket stocked quite a lot actually, but obviously was 3 x the price, so we were glad we stocked up beforehand.

We had pre-booked our restaurant reservations online around 4-6 weeks before, along with the activities as we were advised that it gets booked up fast and it really did! Within hours everything had gone, so this is not the holiday to just turn up and be spontaneous. I'm sure there were activities we could have gotten on arrival but we would have been limited so I personally wouldn't risk it. The downside with Centreparcs is not much is included in the price, so you pay extra for activities, but there is't much to do unless you pay, so therein lies the dilemma.

However, for families who want to just unwind and get away from it all, bike rides, the man made beach, the various outdoor parks and swimming is probably enough to keep them happy. We do a lot of that sort of thing every day at home so wanted it to feel different, but when the kids are in full time school and nursery, we would probably be quite happy to take a more relaxed approach too.

We kept the first afternoon very free and took food with us for breakfast, lunch and one dinner, plus snacks. We bought it outside of the Park but there are plenty of options in the onsite shop if you get stuck. You can also get takeaways from the restaurants which I loved, as parent life demands you be be indoors and quiet from 7.30 each night. 

We walked around, taking it all in and enjoying the ponds and woodland, before finding the man made beach and park nearby. The beach and paddling lake was all closed up due to a problem with the water unfortunately but we could still play in the sand a little. The park was a hit with the kids and there was something for little and big kids to play on.

After plenty of fresh air, we headed back through the woodland looking for wildlife, cooked some food which we enjoyed on our patio at the lodge. We listened to the running water, watched our resident squirrel stealing crumbs and enjoyed the setting. Once the kids were asleep we watched TV and had a bottle of wine. After the early start and fresh air I don't think we lasted past about 9pm anyway.

We all needed an early night ready for the activities the next day. First up we had booked an electric boat ride on the lake. It was the first small boat they had been on and so they took turns pretending to be captain. Captain Stardust and Captain Moonheart (self-named) were naturals and steered us safely to shore, after a cruise of the lake. We watched Go Ape goers fly above our heads on the zipline and watched the ducks swimming nearby.

We then left a bit of time to explore the nearby parks and have a walk, before grabbing lunch out at the Pancake House, which I recommend. The pancakes are enormous and we learnt our lesson that the kids could have shared. I went for a savoury Mexican option (sounds weird, was delicious) but the Carnivore and the kids went for a sweet stack.

The afternoon consisted of swimming, which we booked online in a two hour block. It was the only indoor activity we did and I didn't know how busy it would be. Of course, it was, but there is a lot of room to spread out. The little ones LOVED swimming. Boy Inspiration had never really been swimming before apart from when tiny, as ya know, Covid, but he took to it like a natural, and even Girl Inspiration who hasn't been since she was 18 months, also loved it. 

We easily passed some time splashing and playing in the many pools inside the giant dome. They also have a wave pool on every hour, plus an outdoor pool and lazy river, which we couldn't use with the age of our little ones. They did, however, adore the water play area which also had the shallow baby pool, small water slides and water canons. There was also a big pirate ship with different levels for them to climb and explore, and occasionally get drenched by water buckets.

We also took them in the hot tubs to warm up a couple of times, but in the main, it was so warm and well heated in there, so they were fine. They also provide free life vests and floaties for the kids, so even though we took everything known to man, we didn't actually need it in the end.

In between swimming every day, we booked other activities for the kids to do to keep them busy. We did pony trekking, which they loved, and it's something they do at home. It was nice that they took them a bit into the woodland so it was more like hacking outside and the whole activity lasted about 20 minutes in total.

Another day they did a low level climbing course, which was just right for their age group. Girl inspiration loved it and said she'd like to do the bigger course but it was from 5 upwards so she was too young. They both enjoyed doing something different and none of the activities last too long for their age group.

We spent an afternoon exploring the far side of the park, where the nature reserve was and thought it was brilliant for little ones. We went in a hide and watched a woodpecker up close and there were so many squirrels and birds to see. You can book activities like den building which we would may be look into next time. We also tried out the family golf at this side which was much quieter than the mini golf near the boats, so do spread out a bit. The restaurant here, the Foresters Arms, also looked great and had a fab indoor/ outdoor kids play area.

It worked out that we did an activity and swimming every day. There were many more indoor activities which we avoided this time, due to the Covid situation but usually there is free soft play, craft activities and baking etc. It worked well as a holiday in pandemic times in that we could mix as little as we wanted, with our own lodge, outdoor activities and the only time we had to be indoors was for swimming. We also chose to eat at restaurants a couple of times but it was well spaced out with perspex screens in between our tables.

One night we ate at Bella Italia and couldn't fault it and the other night we ate at Cafe Rouge,and was equally as good. The kids menu is pretty much the same everywhere you go with staples such as fish and chips, pasta or burgers but good value with a small appetiser, main course and pudding for a fixed price. They of course make their money on the adult food and alcohol, even if you only have a couple of with dinner it's around £6-8 a drink. We also had a takeaway from Huck's Grill which was also delicious. 

As our first proper family holiday, and the first one at Centerparcs, it worked so well for us and the kids loved it. So much so that I think we will go back this year. I went from being someone who did not get the fuss when every family raved about Centerparcs, to someone who understands the beauty of how easy it is when you have little ones. 

So tell me have you been? Would you go there on holiday?

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