We have not long come back from our very first family holiday where we spent 5 days (8th-12th December) at Centre Parcs Winter Wonderland, Longleat Forest with our 1 year old son, Noah.
It was truly magical. A friend told me it hurls you into Christmas head first and she was right! From the moment I saw the snow clad entrance signposts I was catapulted into all things Yuletide.
We had to queue a bit from the main road to get checked in but the queue moved quite swiftly until we got to the arrivals lodge where there are about 12 check in ‘windows’. Check-in was quick, friendly and hassle-free, no need to get out the car. We were greeted warmly by the arrivals host and gave our name and lodge number as we’d forgotten our reference number. She toddled off to check us in and returned with our keys and welcome pack, showed us in a map where we needed to go and sent on our way, the whole process took no longer than 10 minutes.
Luckily we arrived a few minutes before 1500hrs so didn’t have to wait to drive to our lodge. Due to the nature of Centre Parcs visitor vehicles are only allowed on site between 1500 and 2300 hrs on the day of arrival (Mondays and Fridays) and only up until 1000hrs on day of departure (Mondays and Fridays). Outside these times it’s only site vehicles and the land train allowed.
Getting to the lodge was a bit of a bun fight. People seem to forget how to drive in there so be careful, cars all over the roads and drivers too concerned with looking at signs to lodges than the road, it was a bit hair raising. We found our lodge fairly easily, we had chosen Woodland Lodge 416 in the Pine Area on booking as it was on the outskirts of the park and in an area fairly close to the main arenas. I would highly recommend these peripheral lodges as we seemed to have more privacy when it came to windows… The main living area windows just looked out onto forest and in a lot of the inner lodges you could see right into the kitchen/living areas from the roads.
We pre-booked the Woodland Lodge 416 in the Pine Area and were suitably impressed.
On arrival we were amazed how big the lodge was. You entered the lodge into a hallway which had a separate toilet and a huge storage room which housed a vacuum cleaner and other cleaning implements, boot rack and a proper drop-side cot. We chose to use the travel cot we brought with us but the instructions on the one provided were easy to follow and it looked spotlessly clean. This was a great room to put the pram in too.
This hallway lead onto the main living area with the kitchen (on the right) and dining area (on the left) at the front of the property and the living area at the back with sliding doors opening onto a patio with chairs and a brick built barbecue area. We didn’t use the barbecue (for obvious reasons) but there were instructions stating to only use the barbecues supplied at the Parc Market. All that could be seen from this patio were pine trees and a small window into next door’s living room. This main area had wooden flooring with a rug in the lounge area.
There was a big chalkboard in the kitchen/diner area with a nice welcome message from housekeeping plus a bowl of chalks which Noah enjoyed (probably less than we did though).
The kitchen was well equipped with four ring gas hob, gas oven, microwave, dishwasher and plenty of cupboards. 4 dishwasher tablets were provided as was a spare bin bag, a few tea bags, coffee sachets, sugar and UHT milk.
The bin has two compartments and a message asking to recycle. The recycling and general waste bins are located on the road outside the lodges, ours was right outside our lodge which was handy.
The bedrooms were either end of the lodge. The twin room located off the dining area and the main double and bathroom off the kitchen. Both rooms were carpeted and had hair driers as standard at a small vanity area. The bed linen was of good quality and despite the fact there were only two adults all beds were made up and towels provided for four.
The lodge had gas central heating that was controlled by a thermostat in the main living room. We thought it was on a timer initially until we read the lodge’s ‘instruction’ manual and realised that by upping the temp on the thermostat the heating would kick in, I think it’s set fairly low. There is also an open fire which can only be used with fire logs again bought at the Parc Market. We pre-ordered a pack of three which were there on our arrival and just happened to have a free one so had enough for the week.
The lodge was spotlessly clean and in good working order, no real signs of wear. If I was to find fault I’d say the cushions on the lounge could do with being removed and the sofa hoovered, also underneath the sofa… I only discovered this whilst checking for any toys Noah may have posted somewhere.
The highchair was really good too, though I did have to put a cushion behind Noah so he didn’t slip and slide everywhere but this was no issue.
We had hired two bikes, a trailer for Noah and helmets prior to arrival and when we parked the car we went to the cycle hire on the way back to our lodge. As we’d pre-booked we headed straight to the front where we were quickly assigned bikes and helmets. Criticisms to be made were that we weren’t given any instructions on how the bike worked and pretty much sent on our merry way with no information or safety talk. Helmets didn’t fit neither my partner nor Noah (too small and too big respectively). It wasn’t until we got back to the lodge we realised we had no bike locks, something we had read were provided. We popped back the next day and told to help ourselves from a big bin at the collection point. It would have been nice if the guy had told us this on collection, but no real harm done.
A nice additional service they could provide would be to deliver (and collect) your bikes to your lodge for you, with a baby it was a bit of a mission and we would have gladly paid a little extra for such a service.
The Subtropical Pool
Wow… Just wow! What an arena!
Changing areas were spotlessly clean providing individual male and female cubicles. Separate male and female communal changing and family changing cubicles (with pull down changing unit and nappy bin) which all had two doors, one in and one leading to pool. Lockers were huge and plentiful. Take £1 coin for these. There were two giant body driers (like at Alton Towers) which were a novelty. Showers plentiful and powerful and leading into pool through a foot trough.
The pool area itself is really impressive, lots of plant/tree coverage giving it a jungle feel and this main pool has a wave machine, Tarzan would call out five minutes prior to activation. Off the main pool there was a little swim through ginnel which lead to a whirlpool area which Noah loved, this opened into the flume landing pools too.
Next to the main pool is a toddler and separate baby pool area with mini slides and warmer waters… Only criticism is the areas were largely taken up by lounging parents watching their older children meaning us with teeny tinies couldn’t get in until they vacated the area.
Taking a little jaunt upstairs you will discover a café, cabanas which you can hire, flume access and the entrance to the outdoor pool which had a ice plunge pool and entrance to the rapid ‘ride’. This area was truly magical amd I can imagine in the evening even more so. In true Winter Wonderland style it was highly, but tastefully decorated and there’s something decadent about being in the cold outside but in warm steaming waters.
All the flooring was cleverly cut stone meaning it was totally non-slip. Considering there were a lot of people there the pool never felt crowded and we took Noah into all areas (bar the rapids and slides, of course) in an inflatable seat with no real difficulties.
Also, point for parents, photos are not prohibited in the pool area… Something we missed out on as assumed it would be banned as is the case in so many public swimming areas.
The resort is beautifully kept with plenty of staff keeping everything in tip top condition. Included in the price of the holiday are Adventure Playgrounds, Children’s Soft Play Area, Subtropical Pool, Cycle Paths and the Beach (yes, there’s a beach). There are dozens of bookable activities from indoor and bar sports to outdoor and water sports and activities. My only criticism is that there isn’t anything for the really tiny ones to do, everything seems to be geared to the 3 years and up.
We spent a lot of time walking (for N’s naps) and cycling around the Parc. The cycle paths are very well maintained and where there is a steep road for vehicles there is always a wooden cycle way which either goes into the forest, as the road drops away into a dip, maintaining a flat path or where a hill does need to be climbed they are sloped nicely, obviously at a gradient acceptable for wheelchair users, even I managed to cycle up from the Lake to main area without breaking a sweat.
There is a land train that runs around the Parc every 20mins to half an hour which is quite sweet, not that we needed to use it. Apparently you can’t take a buggy on board so be wary of this. One day they did have an issue with one where it leaked diesel and obviously hadn’t been discovered until it had driven around the Parc a few times meaning everywhere reeked of diesel and the roads (having just rained) were a tad treacherous under foot/wheel as no one did a clean up operation on it. A little annoying as everything we wore seemed to smell after cycling.
There are a vast array of restaurants to eat at. We only ate out twice and did this at Hawtons as it was close to the pool, open and friendly (despite the bottom of my water glass falling out soaking me in ice cold water). The vegetarian food there was lovely and fairly reasonable.
The Parc Market
In reviews this got quite a lot of negative comments due to price. We didn’t find it that horrific to be fair, living in a seaside town we have local shops that charge more than they do so I think a little unfair to criticise. You can pick pretty much everything you need up here though if you’re in a rush and there’s a queue, don’t expect it to move quickly.
This is set up in the Market Square and is truly magical. There are lights in nearly every tree, snow, real reindeer aswell as 4 singing reindeer, Glühwein, Santa’s Workshop where you get to meet Santa himself and lots more. Noah was totally mesmerised despite being able to really get involved with it all.
All in all we were blown away by the whole experience and intend to book again for next year. It really does throw you head first into Christmas.