Centre Parcs Whinfell Forest is not cheap but overall it’s good value for money. There is simply so much to do for the kids and for families to do together while still remaining relaxed. You never feel like you’re just ferrying the kids from activity to activity.You can join in with many sessions like football or rock climbing or tennis or drop them off for a lesson or one of the kids activities clubs and spend the afternoon in the luxurious Spa. You can eat in or dine out, book a babysitter and go the pub or enjoy a sauna and an early night… We just love these kind of weekends where the kids are worn out having the time of their lives, then we can collapse on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a movie.
The staff, mostly recruited locally too, are really superb which makes such a difference.
We have visited Whinfell Forest three times and have stayed in two different self-catering cabins in different areas of the parc within two contrasting price brackets.
The lodges around the parc are arranged cleverly in nests of 6 or 7. So although you have neighbours, it’s quiet and you never feel overlooked. The first was a 4 bedroom in Seven Pines, the furthest away zone from the pool which was a 15mins walk. These are large two story lodges designed for two families sharing with a good size kitchen and living area. They are pretty basic but comfy enough and everything is designed for heavy use by young kids – one wall has a large chalk board for example.
The other lodge we had was a 3-bedroom Bilberry Wood . These are much closer to the village centre and so are more luxurious with a private sauna and daily maid service for example. It was smarter and better appointed but was it worth the extra money? Probably not on balance.The closer location was handy though as I always seem to forget my swimming trunks but if you have bikes then really, the location doesn’t matter too much at Whinfell Forest. Getting from AtoB is perfectly pleasant as it’s a wood so there are red squirrels and hungry tame ducks wherever you go.
The cheapest way to enjoy Center Parcs is to book well in advance, share a big 3 or 4 bedroom lodge with another family, bring all your own food and visit off peak (eg. school holidays) and if you can, visit mon-thurs. As I write this they are advertising their basic, two bedroom Comfort Lodges starting from £229 for a mon-thurs break in 2014. After that you can have as many add-ons as you like: spa sessions, sports sessions, private hot tubs and saunas in your villa etc. and so can end up with a top class, luxury break that could easily cost you £1500 for a family weekend.
Food & Drink
The cabins are all self-catering so the cheapest way to experience Center Parcs is obviously to bring all your food and drink with you. Although there is an on-site supermarket it’s marked up too much so just use it for essential such as milk/bread etc. There are a number of restaurants on site too including Café Rouge, Bella Italia. There’s an American Grill, a few snack bars, a pub and an Indian restaurant who will deliver a carry out to your cabin if you prefer. On both our trips we brought our own food but ate out on Saturday nights. Café Rouge was excellent as was the American Grill – and they both have play areas for the kids- including iMacs.
On site Activities
At the heart of Center Parcs Whinfell Forest is the Village Centre with the the pool or ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’ plus the watersports lake, the restaurants, reception, crèche, kids clubs and shops. Around the village centre is a spiders web of footpaths, cycle tracks and roads connecting up all the cabins and lodges of varying sizes and degree of luxury.
The range and variety of things to do are amazing. You can book your sessions before you arrive which is advisable as many of the activities have just a few spaces or there are online web points at most of the hubs where you can browse and book something you might have recently come across. Just about every sport you can think of is catered for- indoors and outside. Many activities can be done as a family or you can put the kids in for group lessons while you go for a massage.
The indoor sports include 5-aside football, tennis courts, mini tennis courts, table tennis, badminton, rollerblading, a climbing wall etc. Outdoors there’s archery, quadbikes, a golf range, pony treks, Segways, go karting, an adventure climbing centre with abseiling etc. Laser tag was our favourite outdoor family game and the kids probably enjoyed the climbing walls the most. Except for the pool of course.
Swimming. The ‘Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise’ is massive and can apparently hold more than a thousand people if required. It’s made up of lots of interconnected pools, oases of different sizes and on different levels each with something new like wave machines, rapid currents, slides, flumes, baby pools, hot tubs and there’s also a heated outdoors pool which we enjoyed in -3 degrees last winter. The whole pool area really is a joy for the little kids and the older kids soon head off to the flumes or find others of their own age to hang with. The pool is the highlight of the parc and access is completely free at all times of the day. You will probably find yourself here at least twice a day.
Many people have complained that the ‘extras’ at center parcs, the sports and activities can really rack up the cost. This is true up to a point, they are very creative at finding ways to part you from your cash. So if the kids do see something fun while you’re just wandering around you’ve suddenly spent another £20. But in fairness, there are so many ‘free’ activities ie. activities that are included in the accommodation price that you can still have an amazing time without paying too much more on top of your lodge. The pool can keep them busy for hours, there are quite a few play areas in the woods and in the activity centres and if the kids have bikes (highly recommended to bring your own as they are about £10/day to rent) they can explore to their hearts’ content. We restricted our kids to choosing one paid extra activity a day. (Pony ride, lazer tag, climbing wall) and that worked out fine.
The Center Parcs concept is all about making things easy for families and nothing embodies this more than the superb staff who really could not be more welcoming and helpful, especially with the kids. I pulled out my parc map twice and both times a passing laundry van pulled over and the driver asked me if I needed directions. Each of the instructors we had for the various children’s sporting activities were enthusiastic and patient. It was really quite heartwarming seeing so many young people so friendly and enthusiastic in their work.
See www.Tripadvisor.com for more feedback on Center Parks, Whinfell Forest.