Sunday, November 27, 2011

Centre Parcs - first impressions

When Mr Traveller first suggested Centre Parcs a couple of weeks ago I was of mixed opinion. I'd been as a child, and again as a teenager, and loved it on both occasions. But I'd heard more recently about how overpriced it was, and a quick visit to TripAdvisor confirmed that, as well as reports of tired old damp accommodation (a huge no-no with our allergy-ridden gang), and rude, surly staff, and I became quite skeptical. But I had a look on their website and saw some reasonable last-minute, low season deals and got swept up in the romantic notion of riding bikes through the forests and swinging a giggling littlest hobo around in slow motion to a tinkly floaty soundtrack etc, and before I knew it I'd booked it.

So here we are, and first impressions, not so bad actually. The check in staff were great, polite, helpful, and really speedy. Our cabin, although one of the furthest points from the dome - a good 15 minutes walk at least - is warm and damp-free, and after the exploding house, quite a relief that we could be warm and cozy without constantly tending to a temperamental log burner. We've got a 2 bedroom Eden premium cottage, which sits just on the upper side of average within their ranges, and is the smallest size available. It's quite a cozy size, but it's plenty big enough for the three of us. The layout is a bit odd, and slightly annoying, with the littlest hobo's bedroom off the kitchen, and ours on the other side of the cabin, off the dining room - cue banging into the dining table in the middle of the night. The bathroom is off the kitchen too, through a door which on first impressions we assumed was a large kitchen cupboard (there isn't enough room for a large kitchen cupboard) and to get to the toilet from there you need to go through the kitchen, dining area and across the cold front porch. Again, fun at 2am. And while I make that sound like a logistical nightmare with a toddler in tow, it is all quite compact and relatively close together and the living areas are all open plan, so it's not as huge a chore as you might expect.

We hired bikes the moment we had dropped our car off in the car park, given the trek from our cabin to the dome. It was really easy and the littlest hobo loves riding on the seat in front of her daddy. Our first challenge was finding our way back to our cabin down the trails in the dark... a couple of wrong turns but we made it in the end, and laughed so much on the way. We were trying to imagine another scenario where we'd have the littlest hobo out on a bike in the dark in the cold riding round a lake. We couldn't!

The swimming pool is great, pretty quiet, as you would imagine at this time of year. They provide free flotation jacket thingies which all children without their own flotation aids and without a swimming certificate are obliged to wear. They're good, but a little big on the littlest hobo, who is still only around 10kg.

We also went in the experience factory, which is a giant warehouse typed space filled with bowling, mini golf, a huge indoor soft play area, a stage, squash, tennis and badminton courts, etc etc. It was pretty impressive, although you have to pay for most of the activities on top of your stay and they're not particularly cheap. I also noticed that there are quite a few things that are from age 3+, which is a bit of a pain with a 2 year old. I noticed people around who were clearly bending the age restriction rules though. and nobody seemed to be stopping them.

So far, I think we've been pretty impressed with our experience, everything has been clean, well run and we've had a lot of fun. There are a few little niggles, but nothing major, and it's probably worth putting up with them for the overall experience. We're feeling very virtuous after 4 bike rides (6 for Mr T) and 2 swims today, and looking forward to more of the same tomorrow.

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