The wonder of Christmas comes alive at Center Parcs
What do four boisterous boys with bags of energy to burn plus two stressed working mums equal?
The answer is two families in need of a break. And, as Julie Bayley discovered, that’s where Center Parcs comes into the equation.
Whether you’re a Center Parcs virgin or veteran, you’re guaranteed one thing: fun. And at this time of the year it’s most certainly fun with knobs on.
The six of us booked a long weekend at the Sherwood Forest village near Nottingham to co-incide with Winter Wonderland season when the canopy of the forest sparkles with thousands of twinkling fairy lights and the spirit of Christmas spreads to guests and staff alike.
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Different types of accommodation are peppered throughout the expanse of woodland and the car-free nature of the site means that the air really is fresh.
We stayed in a four-bedroomed executive style lodge and felt truly at home. As well as our very own sauna, plus TVs in every bedroom and kitchen gadgets galore, we had a games rooms where our four under-11s played pool while chatting excitedly about their swimming and cycling exploits.
For the uninitiated, at the heart of the resort is a sub-tropical swimming paradise. Think of the best swimming pools, water slides and Jacuzzis you’ve seen and put them together under one Eden Project-style roof. It would be easy to spend an entire weekend under this aqua dome of delight. In fact, some families do.
But there really is much more to experience, and you’ll feel compelled to drag yourself away to try other things. So we headed to the Jardin de Sports where our four boys pulled on their boots and enjoyed a jingle bells rock and rollerskating session.
The following day, with green and brown camouflage face-paint streaked across our faces, we went to war in the woods. The laser combat activity is a fantastically exhilarating way to spend a Sunday morning and everyone in our party put it down as the highlight of the weekend. It brought out the Rambo in us all and afterwards we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces.
With my laser gun bellowing “Medic, medic! Man down!” as I lost the last of my 10 lives I couldn’t help thinking what a contrast this noisy, muddy mock-battlefield was in contrast to where I was less than 24 hours earlier….
Just the day before I’d indulged in an Elemis face and body massage at the village’s Aqua Sana spa. Here the only mud to be seen is a face pack. It’s a quiet world where you can restore your inner calm and totally relax. The tranquillity is almost tangible and you can indulge in all manner of treatments without a hint of guilt, knowing your children are having the time of their lives elsewhere in the village.
And that is what Center Parcs is all about: contrasts. One minute you can be strolling peacefully through the beautiful trees, with Christmas lights snaked around each trunk, and the next you can be plunging down a water slide on your stomach with your children’s laughter echoing in your ears.
There is no shortage of places to re-fuel after all that activity. In fact two more restaurants have been added to the mix since our last visit a year ago. And you really are spoilt for choice. We chose to dine at Huck’s, an American-style bar and grill and had a great night out. We also called in to the Pancake House, a firm favourite of ours.
The key to making the most of your break here is to plan your activities well ahead. It’s a popular destination every week of the year but especially so at Christmas and the list of the seasonal activities is inspiring.
Your little ones can make Christmas baubles, enjoy festive carriage rides – even join the Elf Academy. Panto lovers can catch Sleeping Beauty or why not join a snowman hunt?
You won’t be surprised to discover that Father Christmas is rather fond of Center Parcs too – in fact he’s set up his own woodland workshop here and it's something children should not miss – especially if they choose to arrive in style by pony...
Or if ponies are not your thing you could try out the latest way of making your way around the village: Segways!
Centre Parcs really is a flawless concept in short breaks. I say flawless but, of course, there is one problem. You have to go home at some point. The conversation on our journey back was filled with recollections of record-breaking water slide descents, memories of mouth-watering pancakes eaten lakeside and one magical moment on the Sunday night down on the beach just as the fireworks were ending. Intrigued? Well, if you want to find out for yourself there is still availability for Winter Woodland. All six of us – as well as Santa - promise you won’t be disappointed.
To learn more about Winter Woodland at any of the Center Parcs villages or to book click here. Or call 08448 267 723.
• Center Parcs has four villages with a fifth opening in Bedfordshire (provisionally late 2013).
• Sherwood was opened in 1987
• Lodges: 862
• Treehouses: 3
• Shops: 12
• Restaurants & Cafes: 12
• Distinctive features: At the edge of the forest there is a nature centre and in the subtropical swimming paradise, there's a Grand Cascade rapid ride.