TEN years ago we went on holiday to Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest.
It was the first time we’d gone in summer and we’d hoped for a flaming June. We ended up flaming sodden as it threw it down all week, temperatures plummeted, we had three children at the time and 66.66% of them were ill. Work that one out.
After that we vowed we would go to Center Parcs again, but never in summer and have since gone on winter breaks and have been to Whinfell Forest in the Lake District several times since.
Although cold, it has often been frosty with clear blue skies.
So we thought we’d give Sherwood another try – see if it’s changed.
Let’s remember this was one of the first Center Parcs. A decade ago we were in a flat-roofed concrete lodge set in the forest. Although perfectly fine for its time, I remember those wooden beds and sleep never seemed to go that well together.
This time we were in a luxury lodge that sleeps eight. It’s called an executive lodge and, if executives really do live like this, I want to be one.
Although some distance from the ‘village’ centre, they are new build two-storey wooden lodges with open forest back and front. As soon as we walked in we faced a huge photograph on the dining-room wall showing a path through a wood. You felt you could set off down it in the style of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Ideal fantasy stuff for our resident wannabe dragon-slayer, four-year-old Harry, or should that be Sir Harry.
Not only did our lodge have its own pool table – yes, pool table – in a games room complete with giant plasma TV, Playstation and outside sauna, the kitchen had every mod con – even a lit wine chiller – and each of the four bedrooms had its own en-suite. Two had ultra-powerful walk-in tropical forest showers while the others had baths with lights in them. Yes, lights.
Some of the toilets are made by Villeroy and Boch (established 1748). Now I’m no toilet anorak, but I know this lot are king of the throne.
A couple of the bedrooms even had balconies.
These executives must be doing very well for themselves.
One problem – our boiler couldn’t handle the pressure, quite literally, and the radiators failed the second morning. We called for help. The man with the tools was there in under 10 minutes. That’s customer service.
Compared to Whinfell Forest, the pool at Sherwood is smaller but still has a couple of tube slides, an action-packed pirates ship with slides for the tots, outdoor rapids that end up back in the pool and a newish addition, the grand cascade where you sit in dinghies and shoot down rapids in a huge tube. Granny laughed all the way down.
The jewels in the Center Parcs are the Aqua Saunas – and Sherwood is no exception. Built on two floors around an outdoor pool, it gives a taste of a whole range of different saunas from the hot, steamy and humid Turkish Hamman through to the ultra dry Swedish. Treatments range from a herbal lavender repair to an exotic coconut rub and milk ritual wrap. Not for me, thanks.
At Center Parcs you are in a forest and there’s lots to explore, especially on bikes.
George, 16, is disabled but loved the bikes with a wheelchair on front – and it wasn’t too bad trying to peddle uphill with him. It was so much quicker than walking him to the swimming pool but a minibus taxi is available for disabled holidaymakers and ageing grandparents with around 20 minutes notice to go anywhere.
Sally and Rosie had a go at the aerial adventure. That meant climbing up to a tree house and then clambering on wooden obstacles slung between the trees, but always with a safety line hooked to a wire. If they fell, they weren’t going far. It’s quite a challenge – one of those that’s scary to do but with a real sense of achievement once you’re back on terra firma – via a tremendously fast zip wire.
We all went 10-pin bowling.
The beauty of Center Parcs is that you can do as much or as little as you want. If you want to just go swimming, walk through the woods, cook your own meals – or even have a barbecue – and visit the site’s nature centre and explore its trails then it will cost you nothing extra.
But if you’re looking for adventure, thrills or experiences you’ve never tried before then the cost can quickly rack up – or as a certain generation would say, it’s “an expensive do.”
When the paperwork comes through a few weeks before you go, take a good look at it, work out how much you want to spend and if there’s something you really want to do then that’s the time to pre-book.
Don’t assume everything will be available when you get there because a lot can get fully booked.
It is the kind of holiday that would be such a memorable experience in so many ways – one the kids will no doubt always remember.
So we’ll be going again – and on that I’m making an executive decision if not staying in an executive lodge.