As a Center Parcs aficionado I have been meaning to write a review of them for some time. I had struggled to find one about their Winter Wonderland weekends so I thought that I would base my review on that as it's a really special occasion so if you are thinking of booking I know you want to get the most for your time and money
I'll start with why we love Centre Parcs so much. This was our 7th visit to Centre Parcs and what we love best about it is that it is just so child friendly. I know that some people have children that they can happily pack up and take anywhere in the world with minimal moaning but we soon discovered that was not to be with our two and basically the rule is... if they are happy we are happy! Centre Parcs caters brilliantly to children. There are playgrounds everywhere, every restaurant has a cafe with high chairs, play areas and a children's menu (and there's usually a child making more fuss than your own). The staff seem to genuinely like children (or are very good actors) and all the accommodation is child friendly and safe. We also love the fact that for once we can't get a mobile signal there and so we are forced to actually interact with each other which is really quite nice.
We usually stay in the Woodland Lodge which is modern, comfortable and cosy. You can get more luxurious options but they are quite a bit more expensive and, as we don't usually spend that much time in our lodge, it doesn't seem worth the extra money. We like the woodland lodge. They have comfy sofas and large patio doors looking out over the forest. They also have log burning fires which are brilliant for toasting giant marshmallows over and give a very cosy feeling on a winters evening. Our lodge was clean and practical and we all thought the beds were very comfy!
Top Tip: you can pay a bit more to get a lodge closer to the plaza. We think that with children this is well worth the money as it saves ware and tear on little legs and mummy and daddy's arms. We were about 3 minutes away
Paid For Activities
There are so many activities at Centre Parcs that it's hard to choose which ones to do. There is a good range from more sedate crafts to zip wiring across the lake (and yes I have promised my daughter we will do this next time). Some of the activities seem to be better value for money than others but of course you can decide this dependent on your budget. In previous years we have done the little farm, pedalo on the lake and bowling. some of the craft activities seem rather expensive though so we have given them a miss as I try to do things we wouldn't normally do at home.
For our Winter Wonderland weekend we did the Christmas Carriage Ride which was lovely and the children really enjoyed meeting Zeus the Horse. We also did the Christmas Pantomime. I will admit I had my doubts at first as I had imagined that it would be in a theatre but it was really a small stage in a conference room. However it was actually a brilliant experience for my children. They were able to sit on a mat at the front and so they got a front row view and the acting was really enthusiastic and interactive. Everyone had a great time and the actors came out at the end to do photos with the children which was a lovely touch.
Of course we also did Santa's Woodland Workshop. This was fabulous and totally magical. You enter through a magical snowy garden into the workshop of Santa complete with Mrs Christmas making a Christmas pudding. You then get taken by a friendly Elf into Santa's workshop and the children get a good amount of time to Chat to him and tell him what they would like for Christmas. You then get a photo taken and the children get a chocolate coin and a gift bag. The price includes 2 photos and the gifts which I thought were quite good quality and it's a lovely experience. You don't feel rushed at all and when you come out you can take a look at the real reindeer outside.
Top Tip: for a really magical experience book Santa's workshop in the early evening as it's even more beautiful at nighttime as you get the full impact of all the fairy lights.
Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise
Of course the main draw of Centre Parcsis the large swimming pool which has it's own sub-tropical climate. Again it's really child friendly with large family changing cubicles - which make life a lot easier when you are getting ready. We love the swimming pool and although it was busy it never felt too packed. You really can spend hours in the pool. There are 2 tube slides, a drop slide, hotpools, a lovely warm lagoon pool, a lazy river, a wave machine, rapids and our favourite is the outdoor heated pool which is a real novelty to go in. This year my daring husband even tried the new Tropical Cyclone ride and he reports back that it was extremely frightening!
Top Tip: The quietest time at the pool was late on Friday afternoon - it felt like we had nearly the whole place to ourselves. The busiest times seems to be Saturday morning as I think everyone heads there.
Winter Wonderland Events
During Winter Wonderland there are a number of free events which add to the seasonal feel of the weekend. The whole place is decked out with glorious lights and animals it really does look gorgeous especially by night. You can visit Santa's reindeer for free and there are talks twice a day and on the Sunday evening there is a wonderful fireworks display. The display is amazing and finishes off with a surprise visit from a very special guest! From 3-7 on the Sunday there are also stalls and street performers in the village and plaza and an opportunity to have a sneaky glass (or two) of mulled wine
Top Tip: The crowds at the fireworks get very busy to get there 20 minutes early to get a good view!
There's a large selection of restaurants from a takeaway where you can all chose your favourite food Chinese, Thai, Indian, Pizza or chips! to Hucks the American Diner, Cafe Rouge and Bella Itallia. There is also a Starbucks in the main plaza and our favourite one where you can sit by a roaring fire having your hot chocolate and marshmallows and look out over the lake. They are all fantastically child friendly with children's menus, drawing paper and pens and a soft play area to keep the children amused whilst you wait.
Top Tip: You can book your restaurants online in advance. This is a good idea as they get booked up especially after the fireworks on Sunday.
So all in all is Centre Parcs Winter Wonderland worth the money? Yes I would definitely say so - we love it and will be back again next year!
To find out more you can go to www.centreparcs.co.uk