Some thoughts from a Center Parcs first-timer
Heading to Longford Forest this year? I'm just back from four nights at Center Parcs and, as a first-timer, I had some questions before the trip. Are swimming hats required in the so-called Subtropical Paradise? (They're not.) Should I get a trailer or a bike seat for my kid? (More on that later.)
Luckily, I was going with seasoned Center Parcers, so I didn't need to spend hours on those Facebook groups that give advice on everything from the standard of frying pan in the lodges to the best menu item at The Pancake House. You can find information on the minutest detail of the resort before you go, but if like me you're happy with some top-line tips, these were my main takeaways from my first time there.
Got some insider tips of your own? We'd love to hear them in the Instagram and Facebook comments.
Trailer or bike seat?
I initially booked a child's seat for the back of the bike I hired, thinking my toddler would prefer to be up high taking in the view as we cruised around the forest. But the realisation that I'd have to fit everything we needed on my back made me wonder if a trailer would be best, as there's a compartment in the back for bags.
The forecasted rain sealed the deal and I switched my booking a few days before. I'm very glad I did, as the trailers were all booked out when we arrived and I soon discovered that I couldn't have carried everything I needed for swimming trips in a small backpack.
It barely rained as it turned out, but a trailer would really save the day during a downpour as they can be safely sealed to keep the rain out. #teamtrailer
Use the pool lockers, even if you're not swimming
This might be an obvious one to Center Parc lifers, but save yourself dragging changing bags and lunch boxes around by ditching them in the pool lockers. The whole resort is set up to be as handy as humanly possible for parents, but little people require a lot of stuff. Not having to lug it around the Village Square during the day is a winner.
There is no hay fever in the Subtropical Paradise – Yay!
The pool at Center Parcs is indoor and therefore 'all weather', but it's not just rain-proof. My fellow pollen princesses will be delighted to know that the air in the pool is practically free of the pesky stuff.
It feels like you're outside, with the sun shining through the glass and trees everywhere, but you won't want to rip your own head off, which is a delight.
The best bits are free (for toddlers, at least)
My kid is three, so I didn't book a single activity for him. I know he could have done arts and crafts or inflatable football, but I knew him well enough to predict he'd be glued to a water slide for five days straight. And indeed he was.
We're not even 'full day at the pool' Center Parcers, but when you factor in some soft play action, a playground visit, and a trip to the sandy 'beach' on the lake, your itinerary is pretty much packed and doesn't cost a cent. We did end up going on a pedal boat, which was great craic and only €20 for four people.
By the way, the beach was the kids' favourite thing in the whole place. And the parents loved it too because it's small, contained, clean and has a coffee van. Perfect. You can buy buckets and spades at the hatch beside the beach for a tenner a pop, so bring your own if you can.
You might not need a bike
The no-car rule at Center Parcs makes everyone's stay more peaceful and safe. You have a window of opportunity on your first and last day during which you're allowed to drive to your lodge to unload or pack up. The rest of the time, your car lives in the car park with everyone else's. So, how do you get around? Most people bring or rent a bike. Or a mobility scooter, if required. But do you absolutely need one? Maybe not.
My lodge was a 3-minute cycle to the Village Square. As a result, I was barely on our bike. But I still had to pack the carrier with our stuff, strap my wriggling child in, unlock the bike, reverse the bike and carrier out of its spot (I was NOT good at this) and do all of that in reverse on arrival a few seconds later. It was grand, but a lot of faff for such a small distance. But could I have done without it? Absolutely not. My kid would have walked/scooted/cycled every way but the direction we needed to go in and our pool bags were heavy. So my bike was more carrier mule than a pleasure cruise vehicle. If your kids are older and happy to scoot – or if you have a buggy with you anyway that you can load your bags onto – depending on where your lodge is, a bike might not make sense.
You can pay an extra €61 to be placed nearer to the village square, subject to availability.
Kids have no way out
That sounds a bit ominous, but as the parent of a child who likes to wander off and occasionally leg it away at top speed into the distance, it was a vital part of the trip for me. The playgrounds and soft play areas have one way in and out, meaning they have to pass you to escape. Result! I actually got to eat my lunch without having to constantly run after/scream at a toddler to come back.
I have thoughts about the no-car situation
Controversial I know, but I don't think it would hurt to leave cars at the lodges. A no-car rule is absolutely a great idea, don't get me wrong. But would it harm anything but the aesthetics for them to be parked outside (in the plentiful car parking spaces) for the duration of guests' stays? It would save all the back and forth on your first and last day.
I'm dying to hear other people's takes on this so please do let us know on Facebook and Instagram. Would people take the piss and drive around? (Where would they even park if they did?!) Would the mere sight of an SUV really ruin the forest woodland vibe? I'm all ears.
If we're being extra picky...
I'll definitely lose the crowd here, but there's no Diet Coke at Center Parcs. It's Pepsi products only in the shops and bars and let's face it, this matters to diehard Diet Coke fans like myself. And even all you Coke Zero wrong 'uns. I came prepared and the lodge fridge was fully stocked. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Overall, it's hard to fault the setup at Center Parcs. It's a beautiful place and it's clear at every turn that it's set up to suit how families holiday.
As you probably know, a holiday with kids' is no holiday. I'm absolutely banjaxed, but my son enjoyed every waking second in the place and we'll definitely be back.