Last week we were on holiday at Center Parcs in the Lake District.
It feels like a second home whenever we go back.
Over the past few years we’ve been nearly every year.
My kids love the place and show no sign of getting bored of it.
There’s always something to occupy their time.
A Big Cheer
Whenever we cross the border from Scotland into England I let out a big cheer.
It always feels good to be back in England.
There’s a comforting familiarity about the place.
And spending time there lifts my spirits.
Be England what she will, with all her faults she is my country still. – Charles Churchill
Unless you’ve paid extra to get into your accommodation early, you can’t drive into the park until after 3.30pm.
If you arrive between 10am and 3.30pm you have to leave your car in the car park and walk onto the park.
You can’t use the Subtropical Swimming Paradise until after 2pm on your arrival date though.
If you have young children you may want to arrive after 3.30pm so you can drive straight to your accommodation.
We arrived around 4pm and the queues to register at the Arrivals Lodge were minimal.
There are two lanes to get to the Arrivals Lodge at Whinfell Forest.
Most people use lane A so if you see that lane B is clear use that one because you’ll get through much quicker.
As a family, we’ve stayed in a variety of lodges at Center Parcs.
They range from being fairly basic to modestly luxurious.
Some of them even have their own sauna if that’s your thing.
They have various floor configurations and numbers of bedrooms depending on your requirements and budget.
Some of the lodges are looking a bit tired inside and out but Center Parcs do refurbish them from time to time.
They are well equipped and have most things you’d want.
We’ve learnt from experience that it’s worth upgrading to include wifi and a dishwasher as a minimum.
No-one wants to wash dishes on holiday and the kids are lost without wifi. As am I.
The TV in the lodge we stayed in was in need of replacement for a more modern alternative.
It’s a shame the choice of TV channels is also sadly lacking.
You’d expect for the price of a holiday at Center Parcs that they could sort out a better TV package for their customers.
If you have young children you’ll need to bring along some DVDs and make sure you book a lodge which has a DVD player.
The TV channels they have available don’t really cater for young children.
Subtropical Swimming Paradise
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is the centerpiece of the park.
And other than walking around the park, it’s one of the only free activities you can do at Center Parcs.
There are plenty of changing rooms but it can get very busy at times.
The pool areas are expansive and can be a little bewildering when you first go in.
Once you’ve got your bearings though, there’s lots of things to do.
There’s an area for babies and younger kids with shallow pools, water slides and a fountain play area.
The main pool starts off shallow, designed to be like a beach, and then gets gradually deeper.
On regular occasions the wave machine starts up and everyone packs into that area.
It can get crowded so hold onto your kids and get stuck in!
At Whinfell Forest there are two water slides; one of which goes outside.
The inside slide is incredibly fast and is mostly in darkness; not for the feint-hearted.
The outside one is a little more sedate although it’s still quite fast.
There’s also a rapids area where water jets make the water travel quite fast and propel you around a section of the pool.
If the weather’s not too bad outside there’s an outdoor pool and an outdoor section close to the lake where you’ll see passers by walking to and from the Village Centre.
For anyone who actually wants to swim, there’s a pool at the top of the steps next to the café.
It’s also where a lot of the kids activities such as jet skis happens though so you need to check the times when these aren’t happening.
If you’re planning to spend most of the day in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, it’s possible to hire a Cabana.
They include comfy seats, towels, a safe, complimentary soft drinks and a TV.
There are a variety of options when it comes to eating out at Whinfell Forest.
Over the years I’ve tried all of the restaurants and it’s mostly been a positive experience.
You can choose from:
- Bar Italia
- Café Rouge
- Dexters Kitchen
- Huck’s American Bar and Grill
- Leisure Bowl
- Rajinda Pradesh
- Sports Café
- The Canopy Café and Bar (in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise)
- The Lakeside Inn
- The Pancake House
- Vitalé Café Bar (in the Aqua Sana Spa)
Best way to get rid of kitchen odors: Eat out. – Phyllis Diller
The Sports Café does a great breakfast that’ll keep you going the whole day.
And Starbucks is always great for a pick me up during the day.
My experience at Bar Italia hasn’t been great because of the small kids’ play area they have in the restaurant.
It draws kids to it and seems to be a place for squabbling and general bad behaviour.
It’s a shame as the food was fine.
The children’s menu at Huck’s features a buffet but the food quality wasn’t great.
It was hot dogs, chicken nuggets and fish stars with chips.
There was also pasta with a tomato sauce but it wasn’t very inspiring.
Again, the food for the adults was really good though.
The Lakeside Inn is Center Parcs’ take on a pub and they serve your typical pub food.
That includes a carvery and of course fish and chips.
The last time we were there, they’d run out of many items on the menu so we didn’t go back this time.
If you don’t want to eat out and you’re not in the mood for cooking you can also check out the Dining In menu located in your lodge.
There’s a range of food available and they’ll deliver it right to your lodge.
Things To Do
When you’re all swum out and can’t eat any more, there’s loads of other things you can do around Center Parcs.
The ones we chose to do this time around were as ever focussed around the kids.
I’m not a spa kind of guy!
My daughter had a great time painting a pottery horse, with a little help from my wife and I.
The staff were very helpful and welcoming and explained everything we needed to know.
My wife’s an art teacher by profession so we couldn’t go too far wrong in any case.
But they made us feel at ease and were around if we needed to ask any questions.
You pay for the activity itself and then separately for the item of pottery you choose to paint.
After you’ve finished it gets fired in a kiln overnight and you can pick the finished object up the following afternoon.
If you’ve got a spare hour or so, there’s a crazy golf course near the Sports Plaza.
You can play 9 or 18 holes depending on the time you have available.
My parents took my son and he loved it.
You didn’t used to have to book this activity but this time around we had to.
I guess it means at least you won’t be disappointed when you get there and there won’t be a huge queue.
My son’s keen on football and spends much of his spare time kicking a ball around.
So we thought it would be nice for him to get involved in a football tournament and training.
It didn’t quite go to plan.
He took part in the tournament but felt quite left out of it as many of the other boys involved already knew each other.
The guy taking the activity didn’t really seem to know what was going on either.
He didn’t register any of the kids so anyone could have joined the session and he wouldn’t have known.
My son decided to give the football training a miss the following day and we got a refund.
If you’re going to Center Parcs as a group of families, the football activities are great because the kids know each other.
They’re not so great though if you’re the only kid on a team who doesn’t know the others involved.
Teddy Bear Making
Another one of my daughter’s favourite things to do, teddy bear making went down a storm.
It was a bit disorganised, like the football, but we got there in the end.
You choose a bear, stuff it with your kids, insert a wishing heart, sew it up and then choose an outfit.
You can’t go wrong.
Other Things To Do
There are loads of other things you can get up to at Center Parcs.
Most of them are paid activities and we didn’t get around to doing many because we spent so much time in the swimming pool!
Here’s some of the other things you can do at Whinfell Forest:
- Horse riding
- Aerial tree trekking
- Bike hire
- Boating lake
- Spotting red squirrels and other wildlife
- Badminton, tennis, table tennis, bowls
- Ten pin bowling
- Quad bikes
- Paintball & Laser combat
- Indoor climbing wall
- Pantomimes and other shows
- Visit the Aqua Sana Spa
- Adventure Playground
You can get a full list of activities on their website.
Have You Been To Center Parcs Before?
We had a really enjoyable time at Center Parcs with my parents.
The kids loved spending time with them and it was a nice to be able to stay together in one lodge.
We’ve been many times before and the kids enjoy it every time.
Have you been to any of the Center Parcs sites before?
What did you think? Would you go back?
Please let me know in the comments section below.