Last month we went on our first holiday since A was born, to Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest, near Penrith. We first went to Whinfell last September, when I was pregnant with A, and I have to admit I was a little sceptical beforehand, because organised holiday activities are not my thing. However, I was won round very quickly – I think we’d been there less than two hours when I was trying to work out when we could go back!! It is so family friendly, it seemed like an obvious choice for our first trip away as a foursome.
In the end, we were a seven-some, as we were joined by our friends L and S and their little girl K. It’s the first time we’ve holidayed with another family (although we have been away with L&S minus children before!), but we were fairly confident we would get on well, as me and L have pretty similar parenting styles (although you’re never really sure until you’re living in close proximity to someone for a few days!!). K is 2 years younger than B and absolutely adores her, so she was very excited, and I hoped B wouldn’t think it was “babyish” (a new favourite word) to play with her. We booked up some activities before we went and reckoned we had a good mix of things the girls could do together and things we could do separately, so we wouldn’t be completely in each other’s pockets.
Here’s a wee diary of our trip!
We left Aberdeen just after 9am. The journey down went surprisingly smoothly – less than 6 hours including two stops (including one for lunch which saw B have her first ever McDonalds!!), which with three kids in tow is not bad going!
There was a bit of a queue to get our lodge keys, but it moved very quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to unload the cars. We had a four bedroom lodge, and we had decided in advance that our friends would take the downstairs bedrooms as K is an early riser, so it made sense for them to have access to the morning essentials (coffee and TV!!) without worrying about disturbing us. Needless to say the girls weren’t particularly interested in unpacking, and were also in need of some fresh air after being cooped up in the car, so the dads took them out on their bikes while me and L emptied the suitcases and sorted out the kitchen.
We had a table booked for dinner at 5.45pm, so we headed over to the Village Centre where the girls ran around the soft play area for a while before tea. We had A in the buggy in the hope he would have a nap, but there were far too many new things to look at! Dinner was at Café Rouge – one of the things I love about Center Parcs is that you know wherever you eat will have a great kids’ menu, and I especially like the options at Café Rouge. It also has a little soft play area that the girls pottered about in for a little while, but then some colouring sheets appeared and that diverted their attention until the food arrived. By the time we’d eaten, K was starting to flag and A hadn’t napped since before we’d arrived, so me and L headed back to the lodge, leaving B with hubby and S so she could have a pudding!
Despite the excitement and the new surroundings, all three kids settled reasonably quickly at bedtime, but the grown ups sensibly decided an early-ish night would be a wise idea all round!
One of the things B had wanted to do on our last trip to Whinfell that we couldn’t fit in was horse riding, so we’d booked for both girls to go on a pony trek on the Tuesday morning. When hubby was checking our itinerary when we arrived, he’d discovered that we had to be there half an hour before it started, and it was a half hour walk away!!! So we got everyone breakfasted and dressed, and set off just after 9am – hubby carrying A in the sling and the rest of us walking, although L&S took their buggy in case K got tired. Well, it was a walk and a half!! The riding centre is right on the edge of the site (and I believe in fact is an independently owned business) and to be honest meant the girls were tired before we even got there! K went on her dad’s shoulders for some of the way, and I ended up carrying B for a bit, but with hindsight we should have taken A in the buggy so hubby could take B on his shoulders. Thank goodness we hadn’t let the girls take their bikes as it was pretty hilly and would have been a nightmare! It was also FAR warmer than any of us had been expecting – I had no sunhat for A, no suncream or anything.
Anyhow, once we (eventually) got there, the girls were fitted with helmets then taken along to meet their ponies – Dinky and Harry! There was one other wee girl and her dad, but I can imagine during peak season the groups are a bit bigger. I had half thought B might not be so keen once it came to actually getting on the pony, but she was fine. She had a little handle on the front of the saddle to hold on to, and I just had to walk beside her – L had to actually hold on to the back of K’s jacket because she is younger. The trek itself was half an hour, just along the same paths that we’d walked half an hour earlier…..!! It was very gentle, but B really enjoyed it, although she was disgusted when Dinky stopped for a poo!! Half an hour was definitely enough though, especially on top of the long walk the girls had already had. Once we got back there were cuddles for the ponies, then we sat at the picnic benches and had a cold drink and a snack before starting the walk back to the lodge! So a great activity, but the distance and time to get there meant a half hour activity took up more than 2 and a half hours which would put me off doing it again.
B was desperate to go swimming in the afternoon, but she’d been complaining of a sore ear during the night so I said no pool (mean Mummy!). Instead we settled for face painting and an hour or so in a fab play park (kitted out completely differently since our last visit), followed by ten pin bowling over at the Village Centre, which was lots of fun. We’d decided just to eat at home that night, so we headed back to the lodge to let the girls have a wee bit of downtime while hubby cooked. Both girls were in bed early and even A settled reasonably quickly, so the grown ups got the Uno cards out – rock ‘n’ roll!!!
Lucky L was booked into the spa on Wednesday morning (she highly recommends the hot stone massage!), but that was the only planned activity, so we decided it was time for one of the highlights of any Center Parcs stay – the pool! B loved the pool the last time, especially the rapids and the kiddy slides (not so keen on the waves though!), and her swimming has really come on in the last six months, so she couldn’t wait to get going. A was due a nap, so the girls headed to the pool with the dads, and I followed once A had woken up.
The swimming pool is, well for starters it’s more than just a pool! Tropical swimming paradise is its official title I think! There’s slides (for the big kids as well as the wee ones!), wave machine, rapids, baby and toddler pools, outdoor pool, lots of seating, a poolside café…. You could easily spend several hours there, particularly if your kids are a bit older.
After getting A changed (another plus point with wee ones – the changing rooms always seem very clean and amazingly dry underfoot!), I caught up with hubby and B at the kids’ slides. We watched B come down a couple of times, then I took A into the baby section of the pool. The water is so warm it is like sitting in a bath! A had a happy time splashing in there, by which time the girls had had enough, so we all headed back to get changed. The one thing at the pool that doesn’t work for me is the showers – there is nowhere to hang towels, bags and other paraphernalia required when swimming with small children, so you either have to put them on the (wet) ground, or you have to leave everything through in the pool area, get showered then go back and get it, at which point said small children make a break for the pool again….!!
When everyone was organised, we headed to meet L at probably my favourite eatery at Whinfell – The Pancake House!!! Yum. The guys made this their lunch and went for savoury options, while me and L chose full on sweet pancake stacks – mine with bananas and cream (one of my five a day, and I did share with B!). Delicious.
B really wanted to get her hair braided, so on the way back to our lodge we stopped at one of the booking stations to see when we could fit that in. The machines are a bit clunky to use, but the system works very well and showed a slot for hair braiding in ten minutes. B was very pleased with the result, and I could already forsee a tantrum when the thing had to be taken out in a few days!
Our afternoon activity was something for all of us to do together – pottery painting! When we’d pre booked this a few weeks before, hubby and S had mocked and rolled their eyes; however I have some great pics of hubby, deep in concentration helping B paint a pink unicorn!! The price that we’d paid upfront only included the studio time and use of the paints, so depending on which items (ranging from egg cups, mugs and plates to unicorns and other ‘ornaments’) you select to paint, it could end up being quite expensive. You can choose as many items as you like during your 90min session, and they are then glazed and fired (or fired and glazed?!!?) and ready for collection the next day. B did the unicorn and a tile, and I did a ‘Family’ ornament that I painted in different colours then wrote our names on (here in progress!):
It was actually a great way to spend an hour and a half – both girls enjoyed it, and B amazed me once more with her attention to detail when doing something like that, and it was nice to do something creative as a break from the more physical activities!
At B’s request we’d booked another game of bowling, so we headed across to do that straight from the pottery studio. Being beaten at bowling by a 2 year old and a 4 year old – mildly embarrassing!!!
Our dinner plans involved takeaway – you can order takeaway food and either collect it or have it delivered to the lodge. The best part about the takeaway service is you can mix and match from Chinese, Indian and pizza, so there’s bound to be something to please everyone, and it also lets kids try something they maybe wouldn’t normally, with a pizza to fall back on if it all goes wrong! The quality of the food is great, and fair to say we could hardly move afterwards!!
Thursday morning saw us all head off in different directions for a couple of hours. L had booked a messy play session for K, so they left fairly early for that, with L hoping that the recommendation to bring a swimsuit to wear was only directed at the children….!! Hubby and S did an aerial assault course (or “swinging in the trees like monkeys” as B called it!!), and B was booked for a Tots Tennis lesson. She had done Tots Golf on our previous trip, so I knew parental participation would be required, but I was fairly sure A would fall asleep in the buggy on our way across….
Well, the best laid plans…. We arrived at the Sports Plaza, A was still wide awake, but by now tired and grumpy. Just as I was wondering how I was going to manage to help B with tennis while dealing with a grouchy baby, hubby appeared! Their aerial adventure hadn’t lasted quite as long as they’d expected, so he was able to take A off for a walk, while I attempted the tennis. Safe to say my hand/eye coordination is not the greatest, but we got on OK and B really enjoyed it. The instructor was very good with the kids as well.
A was now napping in the buggy, and L&S had taken K back to the lodge for a nap, so we decided to stay in the Sports Plaza for lunch at the Sports Café. This was definitely the most disappointing meal of the trip – nothing wrong with the food, but £35 for two salads, a kid’s sandwich and three drinks is pretty steep, especially when it comes with a 40 minute wait. There was a little soft play bit which kept B amused for a while, then she did some colouring, but a wait that long feels like forever to a 4 year old!
After lunch we headed back to the lodge to get organised with swimming stuff for an afternoon at the pool. A had slept for almost 2 hours, and K had had a good nap too, so everyone was raring to go. We spent about two hours in the pool area, including a stop for mini doughnuts and mocktails, and a go on the big slides for the dads!
We had an early dinner booked that evening at the Lakeside Inn, which serves pub grub and a carvery – I had a mountainous plate from the carvery which was very tasty, and B had a huge bowl of spag bol from the fairly extensive kids’ menu. None of the grown ups had room for pudding, but B and K made room for more mini doughnuts and chocolate brownies!
We then headed into the Village Centre for the kids’ disco, which the girls enjoyed (although B did sulk a bit when she didn’t get a prize for being the best dancer!) and was a nice way to round off our last evening.
We had to be out the lodge by 10am, so everyone was up early to get breakfasted and packed. The girls were getting under everyone’s feet, so L took them across to the soft play, and I followed with A shortly afterwards, leaving hubby and S to pack up the cars and repark them in the car park.
You can actually stay in the Village all day, even once you’ve checked out of your lodge, but with 3 small kids and a long-ish drive ahead, we didn’t hang about for too long – just long enough for B to spend her pennies in the toy shop and me to get some treats for myself from the sweetie shop!
We had a really fantastic holiday and can’t wait to go back. I think one of the best things about Center Parcs is that it grows with your family, so the next time we go B will be interested in a whole different set of activities, and there will be things that A can do, as well as things we can do as a family. There is more than enough to keep a family occupied for a full week, but with smaller kids I think the short break is a great option, as B was exhausted after four days of full on fun!!
Bring on our next visit! 🙂