Last Friday, we headed off to Nottingham, to enjoy a prize of a three night stay in a pair of three bedroom Woodland Lodges courtesy of Center Parcs Sherwood Forest. My two eldest children joined us which meant I had my family, including my 5 month old grandson, altogether for a few days. Thanks to Center Parcs' hospitality, we were treated to a wonderful long weekend with all the trimmings! Even the sun shone for us, which made for a perfect family break.
The Woodland Lodge was quite practical and utilitarian looking from the outside, being single story, flat roofed and built from brick and wood cladding. But inside it was modern, spotlessly clean and very well designed. The main living area comprised of an open plan, fully equipped kitchen with all mod cons enclosed by a bar-like counter, a six seater dining area and a lounge with corner sofa and built in TV. Patio windows opened out onto a patio area with a BBQ and six seater table and chairs. A full sized blackboard had a chalked on message welcoming us to Center Parcs which was a lovely touch. Lovely photo artwork was hung on the walls making the place look really inviting. Our lodge was stocked with some grocery essentials and a few luxury items to make our stay special.
The two twin bedrooms and double bedroom had very comfy beds made up in crisp white linen. There was adequate storage and a vanity area. The main bedroom had a TV. There was a family bathroom with over-bath shower and a second toilet. The accommodation included a cupboard where an iron and ironing board, cot and highchair were stored making this a very friendly family choice of accommodation. It was a perfect venue for baby Ted's first holiday with our family.
Bike stands allowed us to lock up our bicycles safely outside, and a large hall was perfect to store the pushchairs, hang our coats and store our shoes.
Our lodge was nestled in an area of woodland with a duck pond in its centre. The flora and fauna surrounding us was delightful. We had regular woodland visitors: swans, ducks, geese, moorhens, squirrels and rabbits, who came to our patio looking for breakfast every morning. The natural setting was a wonderful playground for Freddy to let off steam, explore and play. He made friends with children from neighbouring cabins and they enjoyed playing with sticks!! It was idyllic!
Although the lodges have full self-catering facilities, Center Parcs boasts a host of restaurants and takeaways to tempt you away from the kitchen. We were treated to a meal at Huck's where we were invited to eat, drink and be merry! We had a table overlooking the lake. The American style restaurant has an informal atmosphere and even has a play area for the kids. Children can eat from a buffet so they don't have to wait for their food. Adults can choose from the Tex-Mex menu which features delights such as burgers, burritos, ribs, fajitas and steaks.
To start we had the Surfboard platter that consisted of onion rings, a dipping pot of hot cheese and spinach sauce, goats' cheese empanadas, bruschetta, lime shrimp and buffalo wings. It was enough for us all, both veggies and non-veggies alike and brilliantly presented on a mini-surfboard at the table. For mains I chose the Portobella Mushroom sandwich served in a Brioche bun with salad, coleslaw and 'wet' fries (fries topped with cheese sauce). It was very good and the portion size was big! Freddy, being a little vegetarian, wouldn't have done justice to the kids' buffet of hotdogs, nuggets, fishfingers etc, so the waiter went out of his way to get him a cheese pizza from the next door restaurant. It really went beyond the call of duty and we were very grateful! For dessert, we had the absolutely massive Giant Sundae of Classics. It consisted of ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate brownie, marshmallows, sprinkles, sauces and loads of chocolate sweets in a huge bowl! We all enjoyed cocktails, including non-alcoholic ones for the kids. My Mudslide was gorgeous made with Baileys, Kahlua and vodka mixed with ice-cream and served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Megan had a funky Jam Jar cocktail which was brilliantly presented in a glass actually made from a jar. The restaurant experience was excellent. We ate loads, drank some fabulous cocktails and enjoyed a relaxed meal overlooking the picturesque lake. Perfect!
We also sampled the delights of Dexters where we had an excellent veggie burger and milkshake, and the Dining In takeaway where we had a pizza meal deal delivered to our lodge and the amazing Pancake House (their Banoffee pancake was simply fantastic). The onsite Starbucks provided a familiar setting for coffee and snacks. The local Parcmarket stock a great range of groceries. They have a lovely bakery section selling yummy cakes and biscuits!
During our stay we had bicycles from the onsite cycle hire shop. I have never seen so many bikes of all shapes and sizes in one place! We had mountain bikes for the adults. Freddy had a trailer that was towed behind one of them. He loved being ridden around the woodland setting and it was a very efficient way of transporting him around safely. It was lovely to cycle around the roads knowing that we wouldn't encounter traffic. Kizzy loved the freedom of being able to cycle around in a safe and beautiful environment.
Center Parcs Sherwood Forest has a lot of free activities to enjoy. There are several outdoor play areas which were great with a lot of very impressive and unusual pieces of equipment for the children to play on. The older kids enjoyed joining in the fun and "helping" their younger siblings climb up, slide down, swing and bounce! The lake has a lovely, sandy beach which was a hit with the little ones. They could build sandcastles and dig holes as if they were at the seaside.
The fabulously landscaped, sub-tropical swimming pool is brilliant! Freddy used one of the inflatable jackets that are free to borrow, so he felt confident in the water. The main pool has waves that go off every half hour. The outdoor pool was absolutely glorious in the lovely weather and I could easily believe I was somewhere tropical as I relaxed in the warm waters. The older children loved the flumes and slides. I was coerced into riding the rapids and instantly regretted my decision as I was tossed inelegantly through the water, not knowing which way was up, eventually sliding down with a huge splash into the plunge pool at the end. The children thought it was hysterical and I did eventually laugh at my misfortune after the event!! Freddy loved the children's pool featuring a pirate ship and a mini flume and slide. It was really fun for him to splash and play in the warm water.
There are a lot of paid for activities to try out including golf, archery, high ropes, pottery, sports, watersports and exercise classes. We tried our hand at a family game of ten pin bowling. We were pretty shocking but it was good fun and the venue was pretty cool with funky lighting and effects. Freddy and Ted scored best as they used ramps and bumpers to take their turns. The rest of us threw most of our balls into the gutter!
The Aqua Sana is the onsite spa. We were all treated to a 3 hour spa session where we experienced the different saunas and steam rooms and enjoyed the outdoor pool. Ian and I had a Serail Mud Treatment where we smothered ourselves in different muds and then steamed ourselves for 25 minutes before showering the mud off. It was very mucky but my skin felt lovely afterwards. My girls babysat Freddy while we were at the spa giving Ian and I some alone time, and Freddy some quality time with his doting sisters! While the older kids were at the spa, Ian and I had our first solo grandparenting task of looking after Ted on our own. He survived...so I guess we did OK!
Overall, we had an excellent short break, enjoying everything that Center Parcs has to offer. Even with the different ages of the children, everyone had a great time in the great outdoors.
Centre Parcs is not a super cheap holiday destination. Instead it is a high quality alternative to travelling abroad where family can get together in a stunning environment with great accommodation to suit every budget (from the more reasonable Comfort lodges to the luxury Treehouses) and plenty of activities to take part in. The facilities are excellent and the site is family friendly. It's definitely worth spending your budget on a Center Parcs holiday tailored to suit your needs. There are activities for every age group and the Subtropical Swimming Pool is excellent and free. You can spend a lot of money at the restaurants and on activities, but you don't have to. The self-catering aspect of the lodges means you can dine in cheaply if you choose. There are enough things to do that are free meaning you don't have to spend a lot on extras to have a good time. Although hiring a bike is great, it's not essential as everything is within walking distance.
Whatever your budget, Center Parcs is a great destination for spending quality time with family and friends. We loved it at Sherwood Forest and definitely hope to return.
Find out more at www.centerparcs.co.uk