This is the second year running that we have booked a holiday at Center Parcs over their festive period. We chose to go at this time mainly because everything is geared up for Christmas which is really lovely for the kids but also because its really nice and refreshing to have a little break away just before all the excitement and chaos of Christmas!
Last year we had an amazing time, it was bitterly cold but the Christmas atmosphere and fake snow made it feel so magical. We swam every day, had a log fire and really enjoyed ourselves so we had high hopes for this year too. Well, on the whole we had a really great time again. The Christmas atmosphere was even better this year, especially seeing Santa at his workshop. I highly recommend this if you visit over Christmas, its around £10 per child but its so well done and thought out and this year there were a few more personal touches which we were really impressed with. When we arrived for our holiday we were given a template letter for Max to complete and post in their special Christmas post box which would tell Santa who Max was on holiday with and what he wanted for Christmas etc. On the day of our visit to Santa (you have to book in advance) there was a letter left on our door addressed to Max from Santa to say he’d got his letter and who he was coming with etc, personalised to the answers he’d given previously. I thought this was a really lovely touch and great that it was personalised to him. When visiting Santa you walk through his grotto until its your turn to be called by his Elves and Santa is so warm and inviting, he really is the best I’ve seen so far. He really takes his time with the children to talk to them, tell them how much they’ve grown, confirming what they want for Christmas, what they will leave him to eat etc and give them a gift, its really lovely to see. At the end they take a picture of you all with Santa which is printed for free and you can buy more copies, keyring’s etc if you wanted. The whole experience is well worth it in my opinion and you really feel as though Santa has taken his time with you, you can tell a lot of effort has been made to get it right. The Christmas village where Santa is based is great too, they have real reindeer, singing reindeer and mulled wine, so definitely a good place to get in the Christmas groove!
So what else would I recommend? Definitely the swimming, the swimming is completely free and the pools are so good! We went to the Longleat parc and they have just finished a new toddler/children’s play area which was brilliant and Max really enjoyed it. They have waves, rapids, flumes etc and an outdoor heated pool which feels really special if you go more towards the evening as its surrounded by Christmas trees and lights and you can see the steam coming off of the water. Although we did think the water was slightly colder this year then last but really its still enjoyable. Our first day swimming was a bit of a disaster though! We went in the late afternoon and I for some reason had a bit of a low sugar level dip so felt a bit wobbly. Luckily I took some bananas but I still felt off, we still carried on as this was Emelia’s first time swimming and I can honestly say she cried from the moment we changed her into her swimsuit to the time we got her dressed again, I think we only spent 20 minutes in the pool if that before we decided it just wasn’t worth it! The next time Matt and Max went alone together so Emelia could have a nap (she really only sleeps well in her bed) and then we all went together one more time which was thankfully a success, I took my time taking Emelia in this time and it seemed to do the trick! Our only bug bear about the swimming is there’s not enough family changing cubicles, I think we only managed to get one once in all three trips and changing a baby in a tiny cubicle on a bench is definitely not fun.
Apart from the swimming nearly all the activities have to be paid for but there is loads of choice and they do vary in price so you can make your stay as cheap or as expensive as you like. We chose not to do any paid activities this year but spent time on the various walks and in the play areas. There is also a fireworks show mid week which is free and really worth it. The free land train which takes you round the park is a pretty good adventure for the kids too, although at times it can be busy and all buggies have to be folded down etc so I used the baby carrier for Emelia a lot to save the hassle of a buggy.
The one luxury thing we did get was breakfast passes which we booked before hand. It gave us the option of eating at 4 of their different restaurants including their Pancake House which was really delicious! This was really the best thing we could have done it was amazing to be able to have breakfast out each day and we tried 3 of the 4 restaurants and returned to our favourite one on our last day. All the food in each one was really good but our favourite was Cafe Rouge, Max’s favourite was the Pancake House although I think he pretty much ate pancakes at every place!
They only thing that made our holiday not quite as enjoyable (and I really mean only slightly but it cant be ignored) was Max’s behaviour. He really was so challenging at times, he’s been having tantrums for a while now but for some reason he was in full swing whilst we were away. I think it was a combination of all the tempting things on offer for him, plus a lack of sleep as he didn’t feel comfortable sleeping alone in our lodge and in the end Matt had to sleep in his room with him, whilst I had Emelia in with me, but jeez it was hard work. Screaming, shouting, feet stamping, crying, you name it he did it and no amount of time outs seemed to change anything. I know its probably a phase and he needs to learn how to deal with his anger like all of us and things have been so different for him this year with the arrival of Emelia, but its really bloody handwork at times. I just don’t know how to get through to him or help him apart from trying to guide him to talk to us about how he feels, rather then have a total meltdown. Have any of you experienced this with your 5 year olds? Is it normal for this age? He never had the terrible two’s or three’s so is this our punishment now?!
Regardless of how well behaved your child is I highly recommend Center Parcs for a family holiday! If you’re thinking about it but aren’t sure or want to know anything about it just let me know and I’ll see if I can help. : )
Love Michelle xx