I’ve been looking forward to our first family holiday to Center Parcs since before Pickle was even a twinkle in my eye! Every time LPD (Little Pickle’s Dad) and I have been together, I’ve spotted all the various families of all different make ups there and imagined a time in the future when that might be us. Well, that future is now the past as last week, the three of us ventured to Center Parcs Longleat for a much needed holiday and some fun in the forest.
I always knew it would be a very different Center Parcs experience than we were used to… No impromptu games of squash (or games of squash at all!), no romantic spa evening for the two of us or joint fun in the wild rapids. We’d be swapping that for the joy of seeing Pickle splash around in the pool, family snuggles in front of the fire and crisp Autumnal walks with the pram. There were some things I didn’t expect though, and I definitely learned a few lessons for the next time we visit as a family!
To start with, I’d definitely begin packing a lot sooner than the morning of our holiday. I’ve never been one to pack in advance, but that flurried frenzy of frantic packing last Monday need never be repeated. It was a good job we were going on holiday as I felt I needed one by midday. We just about managed to squeeze everything we needed to take into LPD’s big CRV car but there’s no way we’d have managed in my car. Note to self: pack more efficiently and always make sure you’re in the biggest car possible! Thank goodness Center Parcs provides a cot bed and highchair in the villa as standard otherwise we’d have been really stuffed.
Amazingly, we timed our arrival perfectly as we didn’t have to queue for check-in at all, and the security team offered to let us through the gates a tiny bit earlier than normal (people are so kind when they see you’re travelling with a baby!) so we could drive straight to our villa. It was a welcome stress-free arrival that completely combated the madness of the morning. It really felt like we were on holidays… except for poor LPD who had to walk a good 45 minutes back from the car park in the pouring rain. Without his raincoat. Whoops.
As it continued to chuck it down for the rest of the day, we forwent our usual explore of the holiday village in favour for just settling into our new home. I think we popped a Disney film on and it was lovely just to have chilled out time as a family.
Tuesday was my birthday and after an early morning start from Pickle (an unusual 6am wake up), we had some breakfast, opened a few presents and made our way to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise for Baby Dolphins. They opened the pool half an hour early for children under 3 years old which was a brilliant idea – meant they can get used to the pool before it got too busy. All those swimming lessons paid off big time as Pickle was so happy splashing away, kicking his little legs and just loving life in the water. It really was a memorable birthday morning, and I couldn’t have felt prouder. It was absolutely CHUCKING it down with rain so not only did we get soaked on the way there, but soaked again on the walk back. We’ve always hired bikes on our Center Parcs holidays but this wasn’t something a) we could afford this time round and b) we weren’t sure if Toby was quite ready enough for the cycle buggy trailer. We’ve also never paid the extra to choose a villa closer to the centre of the village (as we preferred the excuse to cycle!) and in hindsight, it definitely would have been worth the additional fee to pick somewhere a bit closer to the pool! It takes much longer to get anywhere with a baby and once we’d factored in the 45 minute trek, a quick half hour swim takes up half the day.
I didn’t mind too much though as Tuesday afternoon saw my favourite Center Parcs staple: The Pancake House. LPD and I always share a savoury pancake, followed by sharing a sweet one. The perfect combination. Pickle stole the show again, however, as we made very good use of the free baby feeding station and picked him up some baby porridge which he WOLFED down.
My birthday ended with a very generous fireworks display (thank you Center Parcs!). They always do a cracking display, and this year was no different. Annoyingly, we underestimated how long it would take us to get out of the villa with Pickle and we ended up missing the start of the display but we managed to watch most of it through a gap in the trees from the wrong side of the lake. Better that than nothing and it was still magical! Pickle quite enjoys fireworks – with his ear defenders on, the bursts of beautiful colours really capture his attention. Definitely a birthday to remember.
Thankfully, the weather picked up on Wednesday and was nice and dry (hooray!) so we bundled Pickle in the pram and had an explore around, introducing him to all the Christmas magic. He seemed mesmerised by the twinkling lights, which makes me so excited for whenever we manage to get our own Christmas tree up – we have multicoloured flashing lights for the tree which I think he’s going to love!
I particularly enjoyed seeing all the other families enjoying time together too. I’d offered to take a photo for a family in the swimming pool earlier in the week as they had an underwater camera with them and the good deed was returned when another family offered to take a photo of the three of us in the Christmas village!
Whilst we didn’t get the chance to partake in the usual activities we’ve previously enjoyed at Center Parcs, we did get a bit of time to ourselves to enjoy. We found Pickle wasn’t the best sleeper whilst we were away – I think the change of scenery un-nerved him a little bit. But we made the most of one afternoon’s naptime to play a game of cards together which was fun, and I was VERY lucky to have been treated to an afternoon at the spa as a birthday present from my best friends. If you’ve never been to Aqua Sana at Center Parcs, I can’t reccommend it highly enough! It’s a whole world of relaxation with a wonderful variety of steam rooms, saunas and meditation rooms that is the perfect escape. I particularly loved having a little swim in the outdoor pool and a well deserved nap on the water beds!
Thursday was a bit of a write-off as LPD and I both came down with colds (walking so much in the rain on my birthday may have had something to do with that!) but even a duvet day at Center Parcs feels more of a treat than it would at home. And then all too quickly, our five days came to an end with a final swim in the pool.
I’m already looking forward to visiting again, although we’ve not yet booked it yet. I can’t quite get my head around how big and old Pickle will be next time we visit… if we go this time next year again, he’ll probably be walking and maybe even talking a little bit… how scary is that?! I wonder what he’ll make of the magic of Center Parcs then? I can’t wait to find out!