If spending quality time with the family and rediscovering your sense of adventure are on your new year to-do list then a short break at Center Parcs could be the answer!
Recently I had the opportunity to spend a long weekend at the newly opened resort in Woburn Forest, with my wife and young sons. We arrived filled with expectation and excitement and left elated with many fantastic memories, as well as the knowledge that we had barely scratched the surface in terms of all of the activities that were on offer.
Prior to going, my idea of a good family holiday would probably have entailed a plane trip abroad, and the thought of a vacation in England wouldn't have featured. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Center Parcs is everything you could want from a holiday, with the added advantage of it being right on the doorstep – less than an hour's drive away from London.
On arriving at the entry gate we were greeted by the cheerful, professional staff and given a map of the park and directions to our 'lodge' (although you can stay in a hotel at Center Parcs, most of the accommodation are detached forest dwellings resembling log cabins, with all of the mod cons of a luxury family home). Each family member was issued with a waterproof green band containing a chip, which can be held up to an electronic pad to open your front door – doing away with the need to carry keys. This ingenius device can also be used with the swimming lockers or to make payments via the terminals dotted around the campus.
Cycling is also part of the healthy outdoor way of life at Center Parcs, and once we had driven to our accommodation and unloaded, it was time to say goodbye to the car and consign it to one of the large secure car parks on the outskirts for the duration of our stay. We hired bikes and had great fun whizzing down hills and exploring, taking my wife and I back to our childhood years.
Our lodge was a three-bedroom with en-suite shower in the master room, amazingly comfortable beds, a kitchen with fridge and cooker, dining area and living room with sofas and a large flatscreen TV and DVD player. Before long my youngest had started referring to it as our 'holiday house', and it really did feel homely. There is an extensive range of restaurants on campus catering for all tastes, from Italian or Chinese food to the luxurious Rajinda Pradesh Indian restaurant where we dined one evening and were impressed by its tasty, authentic and filling fare, and service. We found out that Huck's American diner is the most in demand restaurant and the hardest to book.
It's quite possible to eat out somewhere different each day and night of your stay, but we were grateful for the option of home cooking also as this allowed us to conserve our spending power for activities. As well as the oven and hob, every lodge has a barbecue and indoor and outdoor tables, and there is even a supermarket on site if you need to stock up. You need never leave the resort.
My wife and I were keen to try out new activities and signed-up for laser clay shooting and archery. We enrolled our boys in the kid's club while we attended a laser clay session, and were joined by another family of a father and three sons – all of whom were a lot better at shots than the two of us, and romped to victory despite our best efforts to take them down a peg. In our defence it was our first time, at least that's what we told ourselves, and you can quickly get the hang of it. No birds or china plates are harmed, a disc is catapulted by the instructor you use a rifle to fire a laser beam at it.
The archery was fun for the whole family and we enjoyed a lot of one-to-one attention from the instructor, who was very patient and professional – a trait we found again and again during the break. We also spent and enjoyable hour on the crazy golf range, and the children very much enjoyed spending time in the various parks, with their assortment of climbing apparatus.
The high point for my eldest son was the subtropical swimming paradise, complete with a wave machine, under glass dome with jungle fauna. It is fantastic fun for the children, but adults can feel like they are standing on the sidelines. There is a choice of waterslides for older kids and the parents and one in which you're seated in a four-man raft and encounter drops and spins, and its an experience you won't forget in a while. Another popular attraction is the 'moving river' that sweeps swimmers along, outside the dome. You have to keep your wits about you and keep the children close, although thankfully there is no shortage of lifeguards.
Other things on offer include indoor climbing, a sports zone and outdoor tennis, rollerskating, bowling, laser combat and watersports (to name a few – in fact there are around 100 activities). Each time we passed the waterfront area somebody would zoom overhead along a high-raised wire, from the tree tops to a landing point on the other side of the lake. It looked like great fun and something we would like to do on a second visit.
A great way to cap off a very enjoyable break was, we found, to check in at the Aqua Sana. It's adults only so again we found ourselves calling on the services of the kids club to keep our boys entertained with arts, crafts and games for three hours. The Sana was one relaxing treat after another – combining the best European innovations, the leaflet said – from steam rooms to the snow and ice room, rain walk, bubble tubs to massage your feet to outdoor jacuzzi pools. If we had more time we could have taken advantage of a Swedish massage, aromatherapy, face and nail treatments, and reflexology.
Center Parcs exists in a number of European countries and arrived in the UK in 1987, with the first resort being in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, and as of 2014 there are five villages – the others being Whinfell Forest in Cumbria, Elveden Forest in Suffolk, Longleat in Wiltshire and of course Woburn Forest in Wiltshire. Each village is typically set in 400 acres of natural woodland, with trees, streams and wildlife surrounding the apartments. I was pleased to see young trees being planted all over the resort at Woburn to replace those that will have inevitably been lost creating the facilities we had enjoyed.
So if you are in need of a fun-packed, enjoyable break with family and friends in 2015, and want to try out new a sport or hobby, or the thought of your own log cabin in the great outdoors appeals, you'll find a stay at Center Parcs in Woburn Forest thoroughly rewarding.