Guilty Pleasures. We all have them, right? I have loads. Including but not limited to: watching reruns of Diagnosis Murder and Judge Judy, adding extra salt to Pickled Onion Monster Munch and drinking Snowballs. Not always at the same time, although that sounds like a pretty good night in to me.
Towards the end of last year, my husband deployed. To the other side of the world, for six months. Departure date: early December. Not the best start to the festive season, I think we can all agree. The silver lining to this, apart from being able to indulge my aforementioned guilty pleasures whilst star-fishing in bed? Being justified in booking a pre deployment family break to my guilty pleasure destination. I really, really like going to Centre Parcs.
The centre piece of Centre Parcs is the Dome. That always makes me think of the Stephen King novel but its nothing quite so dramatic. What the Market Dome is, however, is a stroke of genius that makes Centre Parcs an all-weather option. Housing a village of shops and cafes, this is a heated social space complete with tropical greenery and wildlife. Think turtles, birds and fish all housed in a landscape of ponds and winding pathways cleverly designed to create an escape from reality and from the conditions outside, whatever the time of year. FYI, many of the birds that live in the Domes have been rescued and adopted.
And then you have the fun of Aqua Mundo. What’s that, I hear you ask, the swimming pool? Think more, water based mini theme park replete with tropical decor and exotic plants. The heart is a lagoon style pool perfect for families as the water is warm enough to potter in with even the smallest visitor. Up for something a little more adventurous? Try the water slides, lazy river and wild rapids. Or glide around the snorkelling pool with aquarium tanks. You don’t even have to get wet, you could just take a seat pool side and relax. I’m told some people do this.I wouldn’t know. Travelling with a six-year-old means snorkelling until the mask shape is imprinted on your face and riding the Rapids approximately 2659 times. Luckily, Centre Parcs has reduced chlorine usage in the pools. So even keeping pace with a small boy who wants to be a fish, shouldn’t take too much of a toll on the skin and eyes.
When you aren’t swimming, shopping or admiring the residents of the Dome you are going to need a home from home. That comes in what is generically referred to as a cottage. From a traditional holiday park style chalet ( but we won’t call them that. This isn’t Butlins) to a tree house , a house boat or even a Jungle Cabana . Lodgings vary from park to park but always come in a range of luxury levels and with various optional extras. Being a pre-deployment break, I felt justified in booking a VIP cottage that came with some lovely touches including a sauna, a fancy coffee machine and a Jacuzzi bath. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have thanks to a nasty bout of tonsillitis. But I had somewhere lovely to feel ill and sorry for myself.
And when I did feel up to getting up, it was time to get outdoors. The Centre Parcs experience is based on the idea that you should ‘immerse yourself in Nature’. Let’s be honest, there is a contradiction here. The parks have a beautiful woodland setting but it is a manicured wilderness. This is getting back to nature in distinctly unnatural setting. That’s fine for me, I’m not known for being hugely outdoorsy. I like my wilderness, well, tamed.You don’t even have to leave the cottage to engage with nature. Nature will come to you. We saw so much wildlife during a previous visit I started to feel like I might be in a Disney film. Think red squirrels, rabbits and even a couple of ducks that were canny enough to tap on the patio doors with their beaks in search of breakfast. Wildlife, but not so wild.
If waiting around for the wild(ish)life seems a bit of a gamble, you are guaranteed to find an animal friend at the petting farm. Goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys all waiting to be adored. Go along at feeding time for a meet and greet where younger guests can handle smaller creatures. Older guests who get in there quick enough might get a hold, too. Just saying. I defy anyone to spend an hour on a mini farm with a handful of animals vying for attention and not walk away feeling cheerful. And making plans to keep goats in retirement. Well, maybe that last bit is just me.
You’d be forgiven for wondering if its worth visiting Centre Parcs time and again. Or if its worth visiting different parks. Doesn’t it get a bit bland? Honestly, no. Each park works to a template and that makes for a reliable break but also has its own features. The European parks are spread far and wide across Germany, Holland, France and Belgium making them a good base to strike out and explore a little bit, during in your stay or en route. We have explored Aachen and Eindhoven this way. Works a treat.
Centre Parcs is not resting on its laurels, either. With a new site in the Ardennes, a flagship park in Southern Germany and a destination park in the form of Villages Nature Paris, the options continue to grow.
So, Centre Parcs. Bland? Butlins for the middle classes? overpriced step above camping? Not at all! More all ages, all-weather, all fun family break. A little bit of escapism into a world where everything is just lovely. And who wouldn’t want a little bit of that?
Until Next Time,