It was my idea to spend £1200 between six adults and three children for a 4 bedroom lodge at Centre Parcs in Woburn for a weekend during half term in February. So I was feeling the pressure. What if it was shit? What if everyone hated it and I’d made them spend £400 each? As I was responsible for herding my family off to Woburn Forest I was desperately hoping that it would be worth every penny and impress us with its fabulousness. But did it?
It was my birthday weekend you see and since becoming a parent twice over I have been looking for new, family inclusive ways to spend birthdays that don’t include pre-kid celebrations like snorting chilli flavour vodka up my nose (don’t do it) or romantic city breaks with the husband (do do it. A lot!).
At Centre Parcs I figured that I could spend at least 3 hours of my birthday being polished in a spa, or sipping delicately on fine wine because the kids would be too busy jetting down water slides and building dens to notice. Then we could all go for a celebratory meal somewhere that embraced the noisy little beasts and provided entertainment for them so that we were not sitting on the edge of our seats counting down the seconds until the food arrived.
And so it came to pass. The kids spent the first morning (Saturday) in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise which is FREE (I probably won’t write that sentence again). “This is the best slide ever” said 7 year old Archie after going on The Tornado for the 16th time. Imagine being inside a washing machine on the spin cycle until someone opens the door and you burst out in a tangled heap. Well that. Heaven for thrill seekers. Bearable (just) for me. As for the more daring Twister – screw that, I thought. I’m off to the spa.*
*but not before noticing how sparklingly clean the whole pool area was including the poolside toilets – I am clearly a bit too used my local authority swimming pool.
Aqua Sana Spa (half) day
What can I say about the Aqua Sana spa? It is heavenly. There are six different spa “experiences” meaning each room smells a bit different, has different shaped chairs and a range of relaxation suggestions. But half a day was definitely long enough for me. There is only so long you can sit and sweat for. The best bit was the outdoor pool which allowed me to swim out into the warm water and from this privileged perch watch other families going about their holiday business. Relaxation feels so much better when you can watch other versions of yourself chasing their kids around. As the water jets pummelled my back I congratulated myself on this birthday treat and hoped that the kids were going absolutely mental for my husband so that by the time I got out of this nirvana they would be calm and serene and perhaps even napping (*snorts into tea, likelihood of this = 0).
On the downside though the spa was ridiculously expensive at £47 for three hours – and that was without any treatments (outraged emoji). The prices are reminiscent of those for food at motorway service stations – i.e 50% higher than they should be. In fact the treatments were so expensive that I didn’t bother booking any and neither did anyone else in our group. £80 for a facial? No thanks. And cunningly the spa and the treatment rooms are not connected so you can’t pay for a treatment and then use the spa. Although you may well have paid £115 for your total aromatherapy escape which has brought your mind and body back into harmonious balance using warm aromatic balms, you must still pay a further £75 for your spa day. Tightwads.
However on the day of my visit they were offering some express treatments that are not on the pre-booking menu so I had my nails done for a very reasonable £16. Annoyingly noone told me about the automated payment system that you really should use before entering. This allows you to pay for a coffee (not free – obvs) or additional treatments or lunch in the lovely café with a wristband. I therefore had to keep trecking back downstairs to my locker for cash (there were no pockets in the robes).
Having relaxed for the afternoon followed by some downtime in our lush lodge, which had two fridges by the way – nice touch, we went out for dinner at Strada. Like all activities, restaurants and experiences, we had pre-booked it. You can book online once you are at the resort but if you are going at peak times like school holidays I wouldn’t wait as the good stuff gets fully booked.
Anyhoo the husband called ahead to let them know there was a birthday girl in the party and as a nod to this the restaurant stuck a tiny candle in my tiny pudding. We sniggered at this underwhelming effort especially as we’d happily have paid for a proper cake or a bottle of fizz if they had suggested it. Their loss.
The kids loved their food though, their pizzas were shaped like rabbits. But more importantly Strada had a soft play. Why don’t restaurants do this on the high street? I can’t overstate how brilliant this was. In fact all of the restaurants at Centre Parcs had one. We used the ones in the Sports café, the Leisure Complex, and the Pancake House and it was great to know that the kids liked being there as much as we did.
The next evening we tried bowling at the Leisure Complex. Not only was it fun the staff were brilliant and even invited the kids behind the bar to mix their own drinks. Nice touch.
The last day
For a weekend stay you have to leave the lodge by 10am on Monday but you can use the facilities all day. So we packed our car and then headed out for a game of mini-golf and a lunch of pancakes. And what pancakes they were – the best meal we had in fact. The Pancake House is situated at the far end of the park, next to the spa and the mini-golf. My recommended itinerary is: Kids play golf, Mum or Dad have a massage and then everyone stuff their face with pancakes (savoury and sweet).
So did Centre Parcs win us over? Sort of. It was brilliant and the kids LOVED it. The staff were attentive and professional, the facilities were clean and modern, the activities were exciting and plentiful. Along with everything above the kids tried inflatable jet skiing (slower than it sounds – too tame for the 7 year old), pottery making (our dog got a new bowl), badminton, den building and table tennis. But on the downside high quality = high prices and nearly everything costs extra . Prices are also higher at peak times. Would we go again? Yes but not in the school holidays.
Our top tips
- Go off peak if you can
- Take food with you. The fridges and cupboards are waiting for it.
- Take bikes rather than hiring them.
- Make the most of the free activities like the walks, cycling areas, kids parks and subtropical swimming paradise.
- Have pancakes.
Disclaimer: All opinions are bloggers own. All reviews are based on personal experience and are not written in exchange for goods or payment. So don’t bother sending me things to review. Not that you would want me to.