Our First Center Parcs Adventure

I was going to call this ‘Our Center Parcs Adventure’ but as we already envision a sequel to this Winter Wonderland trip I’d better make this post title less generic to distinguish against next year’s.

This post is also be an ambitious one as I try to capture our entire trip in one hit. I started this post on the Friday evening of our return so that all the memories were fresh. However I decided as I wrote to go into more detail on some activities in separate follow up posts, but still ambitious in my eyes!

And so I start the tale with our arrival. We are a mere 1 and a half hours from Elveden so arrived around 11am on Monday morning. The postcode Center Parcs gave for Satnav users sent us straight past the gates. “Look, it says Center Parcs there,” a welcoming sign with the well known logo covered in fake snow. James flies past listening to sally Satnav, “It says it is a little further up, it should be just….here…ah.” We circle around and second time lucky make it into the gates.

We were ready with our written up registration form, I was sure I’d done this online but didn’t want to be caught out. Along the motorway as I filled this in I realised I had no idea of James’ car’s registration number and neither did James. So as we queued in our car at the arrival lodge I jumper out to take note. With the form in hand we pulled up to the happiest employee on Earth to find we had done it all online. Being in the hotel we were advised to park up close to the bottom on the car park and it would only be a short walk.

Our first morning consisted of table tennis, our home made cheese sandwiches, a debate over paintball and the eventual booking of it, and a wander around the village. I came across this yellow tree which mesmerised me, it stood out amongst all the green and brown, James thought I was crazy but I needed a picture of it.

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At 2.40pm we thought we’d chance by the hotel to see if our room was ready. Lucky for us it was and after only a morning walking around in the fresh, forest air we were knackered!

We had an early dinner at Huck’s, an all American burger bar. Early dinner means surrounded by children, and being school term time the majority of kids were toddlers. We still managed to enjoy our meal though, most of it, I loved the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich but James was disappointed with the Classic Burger. I also tried a great Jam based cocktail. Being referred to as a Jam Jar cocktail I was disappointed to see it come up in a regular tumbler but could taste the strawberry jam all the same.

By night you get to experience the beautiful Christmas lights. These twinkle lights were scattered around the park with many small displays in hotspot location like this one outside Starbucks;

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“Which Starbucks?” You wouldn’t sound stupid to ask. There is one in the sports plaza, one by the swimming pool but this one is by the lake. If we missed any Starbucks please let us know!

Day two began our pre planned activities. We had Field Archery booked for 2.30pm so started the day at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. This amazing indoor water park consists of a wave pool, three varied water slides, hot whirlpools, a cold plunge pool, water rapids and a full theme park style water ride with vertical drop and high speed. The water ride is the same as what you would get in Florida but my favourite was the rapids. You had to brave the outdoors to get to them and if a bunch of people were all at it at the same time it could get ugly but aside from that this super fast super bumpy experience was so much fun.

With damp hair and cold skin we had a wander around the site after swimming and took on my biggest challenge of the week – a hot drink! I am not a hot drink drinker. “Even hot chocolate?” I hear my colleagues ask each time a new person becomes aware of this shocking revelation. Well, this Tuesday I attempted a hot chocolate. James was more excited than I was. It took close to an hour for me to drink it. It was too hot at first but the cream on top did help lure me into it.

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For lunch we headed back to the hotel room and devoured our sandwiches before heading out again for Field Archery. This version of Archery uses 3d targets that are shaped like animals which vary in size and distance. I think I’ll go into the activities in more detail in individual posts but I’ll say here that Field Archery was fantastic even for complete beginners like myself. In our group of 7 I scored the lowest but it didn’t matter I just wanted to shoot the arrows. I got one target in the kill zone too so I was happy with that one!

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For dinner we had the Indian Restaurant Ranjinda Pradesh. This was probably the least welcoming of the restaurants and was aimed more at the adults. I felt out of place in my hoodie with my hair in a scruffy ponytail but being at Center Parcs how could you look any different? (Except by using the Aqua Sana which I’m sure you can guess isn’t a place you’ll be finding me!) We had our standard Indian order, Korma for me and Tikka for James with rice and naan, after poppadums and a platter of starters. This happened to be a set menu for £20.95 per person including a drink- a great deal – but as we hadn’t specified that we had ordered these same items under the offer we were charged £10 extra. This was corrected but we were made to feel we had mislead them when all we had done was order the food on the offer that other people would receive at the cheaper rate. Anyway…

Day Three we had a lazy morning getting to the Segways for 11am. I was slightly nervous of this as I had a bad experience with Quad Bikes as a child. Not that I was hurt or anything, I was just so rubbish that the instructor had to help me around and I was so embarrassed. James reminded me I now drive a car. So off to the Segways we go! These were very easy to master and very strange to ride. It is almost natural in a way that it just took the slightest lean forward and backward to control them. We were kitted out in very fetching helmets, elbow pads, knee pads and orange high visibility jackets before parading around the forest to the confusion of many toddlers. The max speed was 8mph so we couldn’t really race but I felt adequate that I could keep up with the instructor. Going up and down slopes was the biggest challenge on these monsters and this was mastered by the end of the session.

We had badminton in the afternoon. One thing we learnt, which we felt we already knew but didn’t want to risk, was that you do not need to book badminton or table tennis in advance. Just turn up. The bookings people were fine with us adjusting the time of our session and we had a sweaty 45 minutes playing badminton. By playing badminton I mean myself whopping James’ backside at badminton. I used to play a lot with my friends so this is probably one of my best sports. It was only fair I beat James as he is a pro when it comes to table tennis. Notice I avoided table tennis altogether on this blog so far?

Before dinner we headed down to the firework display by the lake. It was a great show using some lovely Christmassy music. I’ll admit fireworks aren’t really my thing but I’ve seen a lot in the last few years and this was a good show.

We couldn’t get a seat in Bella Italia after that so we headed next door to Café Rouge. This is a restaurant I wouldn’t usually go for but was pleasantly surprised with my garlic and thyme chicken (when I wasn’t throwing all my chips over the table, of course). Over dinner we discussed our plans for the next day and got into the Center Parcs spirit – we had put together an itinerary.

10:30am – Paintball. This was a lot more fun than I expected. Though my aim was rubbish I wasn’t afraid by the end to go charging into the middle of the battlefield, full post coming soon.

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1:00pm Table Tennis. This hour session really showed James’ skills. We had a few games, all won by my pro boyfriend, but we were just having a laugh with it by the end.

2:30pm Bauble Painting. This was something we had read about before arriving but was unsure how it would work and if it would be a room full of babies. The pottery painting studio is located within the hotel so we passed by on several occasions and found a range of people taking part. While there were plenty of children colouring in animal models there was also mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends and parties of  8 plus adults all working away on designing and painting so we decided that this would be a great way to add to our bauble collection. You pay a standard fee of £5 for use of paints and then choose what you want to paint for additional cost. My bauble was based on the forest and I turned the yellow tree from earlier this week into a Christmas Tree. James went for designs of holly, a cracker and a tree with a very cute (I mean manly) Father Christmas and reindeer flying in the distance.

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4:00pm Swimming and Water Slides. Another dose of indoor watery fun.

6:00pm Time for a drink at the bar.

7:00pm Bella Italia. After being turned away the night before we got our table booked and had the best meal of the week. Antipasti to start, a Calzone each and a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on top to finish. Yummy Yum.

Which leads onto Friday, and the finale of our Winter Wonderland adventure. We started the day with another dip into the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. We took several turns on the ride in the hope of a good photo (and ending the ride with James facing forwards) but at a cost of £8 we were against buying the souvenir.

For lunch we had Starbucks, a cold drink for me and we both had a Panini and cake. This was followed by collecting our finished Baubles and a final wander around the village. We took the opportunity to go camera happy and here are a few of the sights we saw.

The reindeer, while a beautiful animal we weren’t too impressed with the girl who was due to give a talk about the creature. “We normally do a talk at 2pm but… well…its just you two…so… but if you have any specific questions I can answer them…” Not exactly as advertised.

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There were ducks. Our neighbours would feed them their leftover bread every morning so we would watch as an army of ducks would waddle past. At the duck pond the ducks are very happy to see humans despite us not having any bread ourselves. I was a bit freaked at them charging at us, but to prove I was there here is a duck:

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We also saw lots of squirrels. On the last day we tried to get lots of photos but this required being quiet and moving slowly. We caught a couple of nice close ups. Next year we will have a competition to see who can take the most squirrel photos!

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There was also a lot of beautiful winter decorations. My favourite photo, amongst the pretty lights and festive greenery, was the Nativity with the Water Ride in the background. The true meaning of Christmas.

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And it wouldn’t be a British holiday with a trip to a cold, miserable beach. While it was deserted by the humans it was nice to see the ducks enjoying the sand between their webbed feet.

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We left the village at 2:30pm and while we were sad to leave we felt content with our adventure. Especially as we spent the journey home planning our return visit. Paintball and Archery are a must, more table tennis and badminton sessions, and a full week planned itinerary!

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