“Thank you for this!" wrote my five-year-old daughter on our kitchen blackboard after arriving at our lodge, bouncing up and down with excitement as she anticipated the fun ahead. These four words summed up our feelings about our first family break at Center Parcs; we felt extremely lucky to be spending time together as a family in such a lovely place.
Our winter weekend break was a much-needed family treat in the run up to Christmas. It was a great time of year to visit: as we arrived, my daughters gasped at the twinkling fairylights in the trees and the huge Christmas tree in the entrance.
Winter Wonderland at Center Parcs sees the forest transformed into a festive paradise. After our Friday-afternoon drive, friendly staff welcomed us with chocolate coins. Our New Style Woodland Lodge was clean and comfortable, with a log fire and big warm duvets. The grocery pack awaiting us was hugely appreciated, as we'd arrived unprepared, and while the girls tucked into their coins, my husband and I enjoyed Dolly Mixtures and beer, setting the tone for the ‘something to suit all’ weekend. It felt like Christmas already!
After a meal at Strada, a good night’s sleep and an indulgent breakfast, we picked up our bikes from the Cycle Centre. Cycling around the forest as a family was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. Our five-year-old had only just got the hang of riding without stabilisers so we were a little apprehensive about her having her own bike, but the flat, car-free roads proved great for a learner and by Sunday she was whizzing past me, shouting, “Look, I’m winning!”. Her little sister felt like a princess as she was wheeled around the park in the warm comfort of her trailer.
First stop was the sparkly Village Square, where the girls had a very important date with Father Christmas in his Woodland Workshop. Wide-eyed with wonder as they walked along the corridor of sweets into the workshop bursting with presents, they were given a very special gift and a photo – and promised to be good for the rest of the year.
Next up was watching the real reindeer being fed, taking a family skate around the rink by the lake, and watching the Christmas carriage-rides over a hot chocolate, leaving just enough time for our first day of fun at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. By this point I was shattered, but I forced myself to ‘test’ out the Wild Water rapids to see if they were suitable for a five-year-old. It took years off me, and sharing the rapids with my daughter was an unforgettable experience – in fact, I found myself nagging my daughter: “Can we please go down again?”
The children also spent three very happy hours in the Timeout Club, Center Parcs’ OFSTED-registered club for children aged three months to seven years, which had an incredible amount of festive activities on offer. Ours chose ‘Festive Little Chefs’, in which they decorated an apron and made (and ate) Christmas treats (the evidence was clearly seen on their peppermint-cream covered faces). Other activities included designing a Christmas tree decoration, a cracker-making workshop, and the chance to create your own Christmas stocking. Some festive activities are free, others come at a small charge – money that was very well spent, in our opinion.
While the children were busy creating, my husband and I had three hours of ‘golden time’, of which every minute had been planned, military style, to squeeze in as much fun as possible. The Aerial Adventure injected just the right amount of adrenalin to kickstart our Sunday morning, as I found myself climbing over ropebridges 12 metres up in the treetops, shouting “Why am I doing this? I think I’m going to be sick.” But as soon as my legs had stopped wobbling, I felt very proud of myself for hurtling down the zipwire over the lake at breakneck speed. We followed this with a run around the sun-dappled pine forest, then headed home to read the papers uninterrupted. What a morning!
A spectacular firework display over the lake twice a week during Winter Wonderland is a magnificent way to finish off a wonderful break. How my five-year-old managed to learn to free-wheel, go down the rapids 20 times, eat broccoli, do two weeks’ worth of homework without complaining, and not argue with her younger sister in our two days is testament to the magic of Center Parcs Winter Wonderland. Let’s hope Father Christmas brings us all another weekend at Center Parcs next year – this break was just what we all needed to inject a little festive sparkle into the cold winter days.
Read more about Center Parcs family holiday and breaks and check out our hand-picked recommendations for family holiday parks in the UK and the rest of Europe.