We have just returned from spending Christmas at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest. The resort is just over an hours drive away from Blackpool on the edge of the stunning Lake District National Park. As first timer’s at Center Parcs I really wasn’t sure what to expect and as we had paid nearly 3 times the amount we normally pay for Haven and i prayed Christmas Day wouldn’t fall flat being away from home. We travelled with our friends, so altogether there was 4 adults and 4 kids all staying in a 4 bedroom Executive Lodge in the Seven Pines area of the resort. As we were staying over the busiest time of year we pre-booked all our activities and most of our restaurants.
We arrived on site at peak time along with another 100 cars in front of us. My heart sank until I realised that the queue seemed to be going down very quickly. Center Parcs has a very nifty way of checking you in from the comfort of your own car. The whole process from arriving on site, to checking in, to arriving at the lodge took less than 1/2 hour. We prepaid for early check-in which was £50 and meant that we could unpack the cars straight away and get settled in. Once you have unpacked you then take your car to a holding car park where it stays until you depart.
The lodge was a great size with plenty of space for 2 families under 1 roof. All 4 bedrooms were en-suite with either a bath or a shower in each. As we had the older children we took the upstairs rooms while our friends with the younger children took the lower floor bedrooms. The kitchen was big and well stocked with utensils. We didn’t plan on doing any cooking, preferring to eat out but we did stock the fridge with enough for breakfast and afternoon snacks. We also took a selection of alcoholic beverages for the evening along with board games and Christmas films. We pre-paid for a real Christmas tree, lights & decorations that were waiting for us in the sitting room when we arrived. I think the price was £55, which was expensive but well worth watching the kids decorate it on the first night and collect their presents from beneath it on Christmas Day.
At the back of the lodge was a seating area with BBQ but due to the time of year, we never used it.
We spent a whole afternoon at the subtropical paradise enjoying the many pools and slides on offer. Harry was able to go on most of the slides with Lee while the three girls all under 4 had a large designated area they could splash around in. For any non-swimmers or like Harry who doesn’t wear armbands but still needs a bit of extra support the pool provides a selection of buoyancy jackets to fit all sizes.
We choose to prebook a cabana (£90.00) so we had a private area in case any of the kids got tired and needed a sleep. It came with a selection of soft drinks, safe & TV. This would have been perfect apart from it was up 2 sets of stairs on the other side of the swimming area so in the end no use at all to us. Had the cabana been poolside this would have been a must for any family but due to its location, it was a pain to get too while trying to carry a wet & tired toddler.
I also found the staff here a little rude. On a couple of occasions when we asked for help with the safe or directions to certain slides, they looked put out by the questions. I do have to add this was the only place we found this and all other locations and members of staff bent over backwards to assist us during our stay.
A particular favourite of mine was the outdoor lazy river & pool area. Even in the cold December weather you felt nice and toasty in the water and looking out onto the star-filled night’s sky in late afternoon made it feel rather special.
Center Parc’s had pulled out all the stops for the Winter Wonderland. The whole resort was illuminated with lights and decorations and felt very festive as you walked around. As a treat for the 3 older kids, we pre-booked a pony trek to Santa’s grotto on Christmas Eve ( roughly £15 per child ). The guided trek lasted about 10 minutes as the kids rode through the resort towards the Winter Wonderland and Santa’s Grotto. Once we arrived we went straight over to the grotto to go and see the ‘Big Man’. As with most grotto’s you walk through Santa’s workshop and look at all the lovely moving animatronic elves making all the presents. It was roughly 10 minutes until we got to see Santa, who was set up in a nice big room with 2 seats in front of him. Harry merrily started talking away to Santa ( who had a very soothing Scotch accent ) while Charley sat just saying ‘WOW’ over and over again. Father Christmas was extremely good and had both of the kids in a trance while he spoke, so much so that when we went to leave Charley got a little bit overwhelmed and started to cry. As her mum, I knew she just needed a minute to take in meeting Santa and calm down from all the excitement but the grotto staff through she didn’t like her gift so went off and came back with a penguin teddy bear for her.
The Winter Wonderland had lots of things to see and interact with. They had staff dressed up as elves guiding you around and lots of areas for family photos. We only stayed for roughly an hour as all 4 kids were exhausted with excitement but there was plenty to see and we could have easily stayed another hour exploring. The Wonderland was pushchair friendly and had a good-sized area to park your buggy if the little ones wanted a runaround. The return walk back up to the village area was between 10 – 15 minutes so I would definitely recommend you take a pushchair or buggy if you have tiny ones with little legs.
As I mentioned early we choose to eat out for most meals so we tried a good selection of the restaurants on site . For any ‘foodies’ out there Centre Parc’s is not going to give you cordon bleu standards. The food is on par with a Frankie & Benny’s, which there is nothing wrong with but you are still paying restaurant prices for your meal. All the restaurant are set up for families so they either have a play area or plenty of space to park sleeping children in prams at your table. The selection of food at each restaurant was great too. We ate at Hucks on Christmas Eve and they had a children’s buffet that Harry could help himself from. It was a nice mix of beige food with vegetables and fruit so while Harry did choose a hot dog and chips, he also brought back a big pile of carrot sticks and blueberries which he picked at between chips.
There is no easy way to say this but if you like a ‘drink’ be prepared to remortgage your house before you go. A pint of lager was between £4.50 – £6.00 and a single G&T with a mixer was around £7.00. I think there was a clear strategy behind this from Centre Parcs:
1. You are in the middle of nowhere so you can’t just pop off-site to a local pub for a pint, so really they can charge what they want.
2. Centre Parcs isn’t the type of place to go and get drunk at. It’s very family orientated and they like to keep up their very clean image so the high price deters you from having more than 2 drinks.
As a guide price, 2 pints of larger, 2 G&T’s & 4 soft drinks cost £32.00 ( 4 adults & 4 kids ). This wasn’t a huge deal for us as we had brought a few bottles of wine with us and quite enjoyed returning to the lodge after our evening meal to play party games and watch Christmas Movies with a nice glass of wine but for the sake of the review, I wanted to forewarn you.
There are about 200 different activities on offer during your stay so whether you want a relaxing and gentle break or an action-packed few days they have it all. As it was our first trip and we were there for a relax we only took advantage of the swimming and bowling but after a good walk around the resort and see what was on offer, we would definitely book more activities next time.
If you are looking for a total relax during your stay then I can 100% recommend the Aqua Sana Spa on site. As a Boxing Day treat me and my friend booked ourselves into the spa for pedicures, facials & massages along with taking advantage of the facilities. There is a large selection of saunas and steam rooms along with relaxation area’s and also beauty demonstrations throughout the day. All the areas are spotlessly clean and the staff are well-educated and very helpful. We were supposed to stay for 3 hours before going back to the husbands and kids but slightly extended it to around the 6hr mark as we were in total bliss. The standard of the spa and treatments was very high and I really did shed a tear when it was finally time to go back to ‘ mummy life’
I give Center Parc’s Whinfell Forest a 9/10. It’s expensive to book, it’s expensive to eat and drink in and the activities aren’t cheap but ( and this is a large BUT ) I loved every second. The whole resort is family friendly so we didn’t need to worry about disturbing adult only guests with noisy kids. The set up of the accommodation also meant that 2 families were able to share 1 four bedroom lodge without getting in each other’s way. I would definitely return and already thinking about booking a short break in summer & next Christmas
The 2 big things I would do differently on our next visit would be to make full use of the kitchen in the lodge and book onto more of the outdoor activities, including hiring bikes. Both families who travelled enjoy dining out regularly but as the food and prices weren’t really that great it would make more sense to use the lodge more for meals. Most of the lodges have BBQ’s so I could envision using that a lot during a summer stay. We didn’t book too many activities due to the age of the 4 kids and wanting to have a relaxing trip but to get the full Centre Parcs experience I would like to try a selection of the outdoor activities.
So yes, for me it’s 100% worth the price you pay. Stock the car up with food and a few bottles of wine. Make use of the free swimming pool and running around the woods making dens. Book a few of the outdoor activities and enjoy a game of bowling with the family. We got quite jealous of the families riding around on bikes so next time we would book them in advance and go exploring. Hand on heart staying at Centre Parcs Whinfell Forest was one of the best holidays I have ever had. I went with no expectations and was truly blown away with the high quality of our whole stay. So if you are looking for a UK break with your family I would recommend you look no further than Centre Parcs.