Monday, 26 August 2013

Center Parcs Whinfell Forest


You may recall that back in April we were selected as Center Parcs Family Bloggers and so a few weeks ago in July off we went on our Center Parcs Family Bloggers adventure to Whinfell Forest. As we are still (just!) blessed with two pre-schoolers we opted to take a midweek break to take advantage of the extra day and night this includes. Since my sister first introduced us to Center Parcs when V was 7 months old we have visited Whinfell Forest each year in winter. I would like to say that this is because we love bundling up for walks on frosty mornings and coming in to hot chocolate in front of a roaring lodge fire, and those things are most certainly true, and it is also cheaper. So we weren’t quite sure what to expect from our Center Parcs Whinfell Forest break now that we would be visiting in the summer…



ARRIVING

Approaching Whinfell, even if you do take the Motorway option, you can’t fail to notice the splendour of The Lake District that surrounds you. Whinfell Forest is accessed via a long twisty drive flanked by majestic Pine Trees. It is possible that before I first visited Center Parcs four years ago I *might* have thought that it actually was a resort in a huge glass dome. Logically of course I knew this couldn’t be the case, but when I did visit to discover that it actually wasn’t I would have to say that metaphorically it sort of is. Once you’ve arrived through the ultra modern drive – through check in where I marvel for the millionth (ok fourth) time how on earth they know my name already when I’ve only just wound my window down (you provide your car reg in your pre arrival online check in) you park up in the Car Park and if you so wish that is the last you see of your car for the rest of your trip. You are in fact in 'The Dome', all be it one made of fresh air and forest rather than the glass one the advert led me to believe in. It is that feeling of being cut off from the rest of the outside world and being able to, at last, completely relax.


The weather reports leading up to our trip suggested that we could hardly have picked a better week for it what with the now infamous July heatwave then in it’s early stages but where British weather is concerned, and in particular Lakeland British weather, you can never be sure until you are actually there. When we stepped out of the car into the hot dusty car park after a just under 2 hour car journey from Liverpool if felt like we were stepping off the plane when you land somewhere hot and sunny abroad. The scent of Pines filled the air peppered with the gentle sounds of wildlife. V immediately donned her sunhat and sunglasses. Yes, we had arrived. And the slathering of small people in factor 50 commenced.


THE BIKES

First stop was to the Cycle Centre for our bikes. Heat, small people and walking do not mix so luckily we had included a trailer for the children. They absolutely loved it from the outset and V spent a lot of her time in there practising her Royal wave for when she is a real Princess obviously.

The bikes are one of my favourite parts of a Center Parcs break. I had probably not been on a bike for almost 20 years when we first visited and I always come home wanting a bike of my own. I love that cars are not allowed on site as it adds to the peacefulness and makes it safer for the children to play unrestricted.  The darling husband may not have felt quite the same way about them on this occasion having to lug both of our girls around in the trailer in the intense heat but we did make it out for a ride just the two of us on a couple of occasions. Sometimes there can be a bit of an uphill struggle but then when you can freewheel down with the wind in your hair it is all worth it. On these occasions I felt like Meg Ryan in City of Angels but without the great big truck running me over. Thankfully.

This year V also had the opportunity to practise on her own little bike with stabililisers and she did so well. It was one of her favourite activities of the trip and she couldn't go to bed unless she'd had at least one little ride out on her bike.


THE SUBTROPICAL SWIMMING PARADISE

Another of V’s favourite activities is the swimming. Many people believe that Center Parcs breaks can be too expensive once you factor in all of the extra activities but until this year (when some were very kindly provided for us to sample) we had never booked any additional activities. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is included for everyone and it is AMAZING!

Whinfell has various pools and slides at different levels, in fact it wasn’t until the third year of visiting that we discovered the outside pool and terrace! This was obviously perfect this year in the hot weather but even in winter it is magical to swim in the heated pool under the stars surrounded by Pine Trees – once you’ve braved the dash out into the cold night air in your swimsuit of course!



Our girls are too small for the big slides but V did enjoy the children’s slides this year, As always though her favourite things were the watering cans and little chairs in the children’s pool and she especially enjoyed introducing her sister to these. The baby darling was absolutely in her element crawling through the shallow sections but then she was a water birth so it must have felt like her natural environment!



Just a top tip; we have found over the years that a good time to go swimming is early evening when most people are heading back for their tea. It is much quieter with hardly any queues for the slides and not many others around at all really.

EATING OUT

On the Tuesday night we met up with Maria from Feisty Tapas and her family for a meal at Hucks. We were immediately struck by how hot it was in there but Whinfell Village Centre is effectively a huge glass house (so that’s where the dome idea came from!) and the heatwave was taking it’s toll. But soon the drinks were flowing and we managed to cool down a little.



For starter we chose the Surfboard Platter which was a fabulous selection of taste sensations including Goat's Cheese Empanadas, Crispy Mango Shrimps and Hucks BBQ Wings. All of it was delicious and I wish I could have eaten more but I was ever fearful of spoiling the main event. I had ordered the Ribs and they did not disappoint. The barbecued meat just fell from the bone and was perfectly accompanied by the homemade slaw and fries. The darling husband went for the Chicken Fajitas which was most impressively served on three tiers. The other adults opted for different types of steaks and there were clear plates and satisfied smiles all round so I am assuming they were good…

The children ate from the Junior buffet which meant that they could get stuck straight in – the baby darling especially enjoyed this as she does love her food! When the oher two girls finished eating and were happily drawing with the provided materials the baby darling was still eating – she quite possibly ate us all under the table!

I’m afraid I couldn’t face a dessert but I could not resist a dessert cocktail – The Barnamint Baileys was a scrummy mix of baileys, creme de menthe, vanilla ice cream and oreo cookies - it was the perfect end to a lovely meal.


We also ate Dexter's Kitchen and The Lakeside Inn  during our stay and all venues were very family friendly and all the meals lovely. The Lakeside Inn is a particular favourite of V's because she loves the soft play area in there. The darling husband and I are most fond of the Starbucks on site and make it our mission to fit in as many as we can while we are there!

ARCHERY

The darling husband chose archery as our activity. On the Wednesday morning as we headed off to the outdoor activity centre I felt rather nervous and wished that I was back at the lodge with the girls. I’m not especially sporty, or all that co-ordinated. Archery felt like a bit of a challenge, possibly a dangerous one. Not what I needed on a holiday.


But I needn’t have worried. The instructor quickly put my fears at ease and made me excited to try. Yes, my first few arrows went way out into the field but by the end I was thrilled to get an arrow in FOUR out of the FIVE colour zones on the board that we were challenged to. No one needs to know that I was aiming for the bullseye each and every time…

THE SPA

Now the Wednesday afternoon was definitely more me. The darling husband and I were booked into The Aqua Sana Spa session and I was also booked in for an Elemis Advanced Anti-ageing Visible Brilliance facial. I was looking forward to a little ‘us’ time and a chance to truly relax. As I looked around the Spa it looked to me that that was what everyone was doing in there – escaping their children for a few hours to have a nap, especially from the popularity of the waterbed corner!

As soon as you enter, wrapped in the provided fluffy gown, you are enveloped in the feeling of calm and tranquillity. Aromatherapy scents fill the air, relaxing music mingles with the sound of trickling water features. As the weather was so glorious we were drawn straight away to the sun loungers at the outside pool, books in hand. For forty minutes or so there we could have been on the poolside decking of a Turkish Spa hotel where we loved to holiday in the days pre babies. We had to force ourselves up to try out the rest of the facilities…

There is a fabulous selection of globally inspired spa experiences, in fact the largest in the UK. My favourite was the Japanese Salt Steam Bath as I loved the congestion clearing aromatherapy vapours and the gentle pink light given off from the rose quartz centre piece. I also loved the Tropic shower experiences with the soothing orange glow and scent of maracuja - it reminded me of being caught in a rain shower on tropical island.

My facial was amazing. I always feel a bit self conscious with things like this as I’m afraid I’ll be scolded for my lapse skin care routine but my therapist was quite kindly subtle when she stressed the importance of toning as well as cleansing. I’m not sure she would have been quite so kind had I revealed that some nights my ‘cleansing’ actually involves just a baby wipe. I left feeling rejuvenated with plump glowing skin and a firm resolution to stick to a strict cleanse, tone and moisturise routine which I stuck to at least for the duration of our break.

PONY TREKKING

I am not sure that it is pointed out quite clearly enough but to get to The Pony Trekking at Whinfell IT IS A TREK! When we went to the archery, which is at the top of a VERY steep hill, we saw a Pony Trekking sign opposite so thought it was just across the way. But it was actually so much further (especially with a hot and whiny four year old in tow) that we didn’t think we would make it in time! Luckily we did, and it was worth it because the views from up there are spectacular.


At the time it was hard to tell if V actually enjoyed the experience, she was so quiet when on the pony which believe me is a real rarity! The staff were lovely though and chatted away to help put her at ease and complimented her excellent technique which raised the tiniest of smiles on her face of intense concentration...

It was actually a few weeks later as her daddy was putting her to bed and he thought that she was asleep when she suddenly sat back upright and declared 'I really loved riding the horse' -  so at last we know that it definitely was a worthwhile experience for her!

THE WOODLAND CARRIAGE RIDE

While we were Pony Trekking my mum and dad were taking the baby darling on a Woodland Carriage Ride. It was the only activity my mum would consider trying and one that was suitable for the baby darling too. They enjoyed a leisurely trip around the village and the baby darling was especially thrilled shouting at passers by and practising her royal wave. She seemed most at home – possibly seeing it as a practise run for her wedding to the new Prince George, although she’ll have to argue that out with her big sister as she is most resolute in her ambition to be a Princess when she grows up ;)

BACK AT THE LODGE

We had a wonderful experience on all the activities that we took part in but I still have to say that there is a lot to be said about just hanging out at the lodge and I think that it’s important on a Center Parcs break not to overbook yourselves and take time just to enjoy the environment you are in.


The Woodland Lodge we stayed in was very modern with all the home comforts you’d expect, possibly even more since we don’t have the luxury of a dishwasher at home (unless the darling husband counts?)

We were provided with a grocery pack which I highly recommend as it means you can relax straight away instead of worrying about popping to the shop for essentials. We also brought with us a cool box full of bbq goodies and of course some beers and wine so our first nights meal was taken care of! If you do need any shopping the Parc Market on site is well stocked and reasonably priced. I especially recommend their cake counter J.


The beds are AMAZING, they are so comfy if it wasn't for the two little alarm clocks we have travelling with us these days I'm sure we could have had the best lie-ins ever! The views of the forest from all of the rooms are stunning and I could happily sit for hours just looking out. We were lucky enough to have the weather to enjoy sitting out on the terrace too and some of my most treasured moments were early morning cups of coffee and late night glasses of wine out there as I absorbed the sounds of the forest all around me. 

The girls loved the lodge too – from playing on the fabulous chalk board in the dining area, to feeding the ducks that came to visit us, to obligatory Gruffalo hunts in the surrounding woodland (V didn’t get to see The Gruffalo, but she did spot The Gruffalo’s Child, but he moved too fast for grownups to see. He did however leave great big purple poos for us to discover on the terrace every morning though so we knew he was about ;))

THE END

It is safe to say that we had an absolutely awesome time on our Center Parcs Family break. I apologise for the length of this review but there is just so much to say that I didn’t want to miss anything! It is true that we were already big fans but visiting in the Summer was a different experience to what we were used to and the darling husband and I are still torn on which we prefer. We are already planning our next trip and I would really like to take the girls to The Winter Wonderland as I have only ever heard wonderful reports on how magical it is which I think would be lovely for our girls while they are still so young.

Having the opportunity to try out some activities also gave us more insight on what else you can get from a Center Parcs break and if we could save a bit more then I’d love to do activities again but I don’t think it’s necessary for a fantastic holiday. Oh except maybe for bike hire if you don’t take your own as I do think that they are an integral part of the Center Parcs experience. Eating out is lovely and I don’t think it’s too much more expensive on site than you would normally pay but eating in is just as good and gives you more time to enjoy the woodland setting of your lodge. Especially if you take my dad, he  likes cooking and he's good at it ;)

There really is something for everyone at Center Parcs and to pinch their ad slogan, as corny as it is, it is so true for us! – it truly is:      
 ‘Where Memories are made”...




*Disclosure* - In our capacity as Center Parcs Family bloggers we were invited on a trip to Center Parcs staying in a 3 bedroom Woodland Lodge and we were treated to a grocery pack in out lodge on arrival, an activity experience each, bike hire, a meal at Hucks and an Aqua Sana Spa experience including Elemis Facial. All views expressed are our own and honest opinions.


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