Center Parcs: a Cyclone of the senses
Finding a short break to please the whole family can be tricky – particularly when there is a teenager in the mix. However, some clay pigeon shooting, a high-tech treasure hunt, a sumptuous spa and an adrenaline-pumping water ride might just do it…
After discovering the delights of Center Parcs a year ago, checking out the new water-ride at Elveden was the perfect reason for a return visit. Arriving very late (take a torch – finding the way to your accommodation can be challenging in the dark), the week's stresses melted away as we settled in to our warm, cosy lodge. With an en-suite to each bedroom, a comfy living room and a kitchen stocked with the essentials, these lodges are the perfect base for an activity-filled family break.
Wet 'n' wild
I’m not a big fan of waterparks in Northern Europe – they’re a bit too shiver-inducing for me – but the Subtropical Swimming Paradise in Center Parcs is nicely heated, so you can wander around pretending you’re in Florida and it’s 30 degrees outside (it was actually Suffolk in February).
From the steamy white-water rapids (yes, you really go outside) to the water flumes and wave pool, you can spend hours in here, and the newest addition to the Elveden Forest Parc means you’ll have to shoe-horn the kids out. The brand new Tropical Cyclone™ water ride (pictured) is a totally thrilling family raft ride, which involves moments of zero gravity, 30mph speed and a lot of shrieking. I won’t give out any ‘spoilers’ but our adrenaline-junkie teenager declared it 'sik'.
Slightly less pulse-raising, but immense fun, is aqua jetting, which takes place in the swimming pool. Hanging on to sea scooters (they’re a bit like mini torpedos), you zoom through the water, diving, turning and swimming through hoops. You do have to drag yourself from your (exceedingly comfy) bed early to take part in aqua jetting (before the pool opens), but I highly recommend giving it a go.
Bearing in mind you can also learn to swim, take scuba diving lessons and try your hand at aqua zumba, you could pretty much spend an entire weekend just in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. But we had clay pigeons to shoot and treasure to find, so we reluctantly wrapped up and headed out into the February chill.
Shooting and hunting
One of the biggest challenges you face at CenterParcs is choosing between the myriad activities on offer. We have a rule to try something new, but with three males in the family there is generally some form of shooting involved. Having previously tried out laser combat and paintballing, this time we turned our hands to the more genteel sport of clay pigeon shooting.
Our 9-year-old was too young for the ‘real thing’, so armed with state-of-the-art laser-adapted rifles we took our places and took aim. Those pesky ‘pigeons’ are a lot harder to hit than you imagine, and while most of us racked up a fairly pitiful score, the sharpshooting husband saved the family name.
So with our inability to shoot straight firmly established, it was time to test our sense of direction. Geo Cache is a kind of high-tech treasure hunt, in which teams use a global positioning system (GPS to you and me), to navigate around the Village and hunt out passwords. Armed with your GPS device and list of clues, you are led all over the Parc, and it’s actually a great way to discover some of the wildlife and peaceful spots. Be warned though – you’ll do a LOT of walking, so make sure you have comfortable shoes!
There is, of course, another side to Center Parcs: leave all the adrenaline activities behind and immerse yourself in the gorgeous Aqua Sana Spa. Wrapped in fluffy robes, we grown-ups floated blissfully between the gentle heat of the Laconium, the fragrant Indian Blossom Steam Room, and the ferociously hot Japanese Salt Steam Bath (45 degrees).
There are seven steam rooms in the spa, arranged around a central atrium area with water beds, loungers and even swings. If you are visiting the spa when it’s dark outside, be sure to experience the outdoor spa pool – floating around in the warm water looking up at the starry sky is quite wonderful. And if you are feeling very brave, try the Ice Fountain, which will certainly cool you down after the sauna as you rub yourself all over with ice flakes (not for the faint-hearted!).
Something for everyone
It was once again with great reluctance that we left Center Parcs, but a place that can please every member of my family will almost certainly draw us back again soon. We’ve yet to try out sailing, paddleboarding and canoeing; take a quad bike safari or a horseback ride through the forest; learn how to streetboard or fire a crossbow.
Center Parcs currently have four locations:
- Whinfell Forest, Cumbria
- Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
- Elveden Forest, Suffolk
- Longleat Forest, Wiltshire
- Woburn Forest, Bedfordshire, is due to open in Spring 2014
Short breaks start at £309. Visit www.centerparcs.co.uk for more details.
Day packages at the Aqua Sana Spa start at £69. Visit www.aquasana.co.uk for more details.
What’s new at Center Parcs
- Get caught in the eye of the storm: the Tropical Cyclone – a world-first family water ride at Elveden Forestwhich reaches speeds of up to 30mph with a 45 degree drop.
- Go underground: a man-made Caving Adventure at Whinfell Forest, complete with boulderfields and fossils.
- Try something new: the fifth village, Woburn Forest in Bedfordshire, is due to open in Spring 2014.
For more updates visit www.centerparcs.co.uk