For the uninitiated, Center Parcs is the epitome of organised fun AND efficiency on a grand scale. Here’s how to get in the groove and get the most out of your stay
Center Parc Whinfell Forest Lake
Part of Center Parc's Whinfell Forest’s appeal is that it’s a car free village (except for service vehicles) so it’s safe for cycling or scooting around. Cycle tracks weave through the forest so guests can bike from activities to the restaurants, pools and lodges – a popular concept that has Whinfell at 96% capacity year-round.
Bike Hire: We’d say hiring bikes (or bringing your own) is a must as activities and accommodation can be spread out. Bikes are hired from the Cycle Centre, a vast warehouse with thousands of bikes (every kind, including step-throughs, stabilisers and tow-alongs) neatly lined up in rows.
We’ve never encountered queues, only marvelled at the German-like efficiency – within minutes we all cycled off.
Tip: There are a lot of cars on the roads on changeover days, if you have young children it may be worth returning bikes the night before.
Writer Emma and her family
Dry Activities: We advise booking up your preferred activities the second you’ve booked your accommodation - as the most popular timeslots get booked up early. Also, once there allow plenty of time to find your activity, as it can take longer than anticipated!
Tip: Activities tend to be grouped by age 3-7 years and 8+, which is tricky if your children straddle two age brackets. However, read the 8+ activities carefully, some allow younger children such as the climbing wall (age 4+).
Wet Activities: The Subtropical swimming paradise is open 10am-9pm daily, however you can access changing rooms before 10am, which may mean shorter queues for the most popular flumes. All ages are catered for; there are water slides for tots, mid-size slides, large flumes and a wave machine. There is also a poolside café and seating area, handy for leaving a bag with drinks and snacks/towel for rest breaks. Be prepared that your children won’t want to leave.
Tip: The lazy river’s current is quite strong and it’s crowded (in an exhilarating way); my seven-year-old (a confident swimmer) preferred to wear a life jacket (provided) and float along. Our kids loved the drying machine; step inside and the job is done with no tears.
Eating-out: Book restaurants early as popular dinner timeslots go quick.
Tip: Many restaurants have small soft play areas inside, ideal for very young children. Whinfell Forest’s Lake House has a larger soft play.
Eating in: Remember you will be biking around, possibly with heavy wet swimming kit, so unable to carry much. If you order a grocery pack (£52.50) from the Parc Market, or home delivery (orders over £40), your food will be delivered direct into your fridge (even when you are out). Alternatively, go to a supermarket en route.
Tip: Takeaway can be ordered from some Center Parcs restaurants.
The Activity Den has friendly staff, a secure system and, at Whinfell Forest, is next to cafes, restaurants and pool if you prefer to be close by.
Tip: Book your child into the Children’s Den and both parents can receive a discounted spa session at £26 each (full price £44).
HOW TO GET THERE:
Arriving by train: Surprisingly easy, Whinfell Forest is close to Penrith train station (west coast main line), which has a Morrison’s supermarket a stone’s throw away. One visit, we stepped off the train, did a quick food shop and jumped in a taxi (£12) which took us straight to the lodge door.
Tip: Arriving by taxi meant skipping the check-in queue – the entire arrival process was a lot quicker – a win with tired children.
Arriving by car: Gates open at 3pm to drive your car to your villa, which inevitably means queues. Alternatively arrive early, leave your car in the car park, use the pool and facilities from 10am, and unpack the car later.
Tip: Guests can also use the pool and facilities after 10am check out on departure day.
WHAT IT COSTS:
A three-night weekend break in a four-bedroom new Exclusive Lodge (for up to 8 people) at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest starts from £1,649*, including access to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise.
(*Prices start from March 2018, correct at time of posting.)