We like Center Parcs! We'd previously visited all their other resorts and had had such a lovely time that we couldn't help but look forward to our visit to Whinfell Forest in Cumbria.
It's a bit of a trek to get to, but that didn't deter us. So off we set, nice and early, before the daylight had surfaced and were on our way.
The weather forecast wasn't good. The BBC had warned of a wet, cool and windy weekend, which meant that we had to convince the tribe that coats would be needed. Why do today's generation of kids have such an aversion to coats? Beats me!
The journey up proved to be far less challenging than we'd anticipated, bearing in mind that it was a Friday.
Our past experiences of the M6 on a Friday were far from pleasurable, but on this occasion, the traffic was quiet, and not only that, we managed to navigate a path up between weather fronts too, which was an added bonus.
We arrived slightly earlier than expected and approached the somewhat palatial welcome gates at Whinfell. At the other resorts there are log-cabin type reception areas, where you pull up and talk through a window but here you drive through some huge doors into a big closed individual reception room, where you switch off the engine and your receptionist is able to talk to everyone in the car without having to lean through a window. There was even free entertainment provided while we waited for check-in in the form of two little cheeky chipmunks in the car adjacent to us. Checking-in was completely painless and was done in a jiffy.
Before settling into our lodge we were off to the Aqua Sana Spa for a complete wind-down after the journey and to put us in the right mood for the rest of the weekend. The Aqua Sana spas at Center Parcs are some of the best spas we've visited as they offer a great variety of experiences, rooms, treatments and they are all offered in beautifully relaxing surroundings. This one was no exception. The Spa in Whinfell appears to be newly opened. It's in quite a quiet corner of the Village and has most of the same rooms and facilities as the other Center Parcs we've been to. The multi-sensory (their words) experiences are laid out on one level and there's a lovely, outdoor spa pool which was a bit too cold on the day we visited. The water beds are always a favourite when we go and it's got to be said it's difficult not to fall asleep when you reach them as you're inevitably totally chilled and relaxed.
My wife Kathryn and Helena went for a Bliss 'treatment'in the Aqua Sana Spa on the Saturday morning. They came out glowing and totally relaxed but I'm not sure how much of that was due to the full body Hawaiian wave massage or the champagne and chocolates afterwards! Maddie had an Elemis Facial and ended up spending an absolute fortune on some of their lotions and potions.
One thing we immediately noticed about Whinfell Forest when compared to the other Parcs was the fact that it's all very compact and getting from one area to another is very easy.
We had a bike each to help us get around, although because of the weather on this particular weekend they were used much more as a utility than a recreation. The network of pathways is extremely comprehensive and quite easy to follow although we did confess to struggling a couple of times when trying to find our way around after dark. Maybe that's just us getting old and not being able to see as well as we once did!
We arrived during November and as soon as we arrived the Parc had a really seasonal feel to it. There are hundreds of silver and white coloured reindeer sculptures scattered around, most of which are beautifully illuminated at night. Many of the buildings were decorated with artificial snow and everything had a lovely winter look. The 'Winter Wonderland' was in full swing, with Santa's Workshop and Horse and Carriage rides available for all. A parade took place on the Sunday evening that attracted huge crowds of onlookers, young and old too.
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise consisted of a network of different pool areas, complete with an array of flumes, slides, chutes, a circular 'rapids' area and of course a gigantic wave machine which actives a few times every hour to the accompaniment of piped Hawaiian music and dancing lifeguards. All quite surreal really when it was absolutely freezing outside. The 'Flume' was quite an experience too! When used to the comfortable, warm temperatures inside, getting into the flume is quite a shock to the system as you are hurtled in a fast moving, open slide straight outside the glass-encased environment into a freezing, dark torrent, finally ending up in the landing pool at the bottom. Because all this is outside, it is 'bracing' top say the least. However, getting back into the warm pool water inside was absolutely fantastic. There's a Flume Viewing Platform outside, where any sadistic spectators can watch each rider's expressions of distress as they brave the freezing torrent.
Most of the restaurants and shops are in an enclosed atrium, which is beautifully decorated with an array of tropical plants and trees. The 'Parc Market' is the main grocery supermarket, offering anything and everything that you're likely to need during your stay. There's even a DVD rental facility for those cold and windy nights. The prices in the Parc Market were very competitive too, with a free delivery option for those spending over Â£40!
On our Saturday night we ate at the Rajinda Pradesh Restaurant, where we shared a huge variety of Indian dishes and the service was excellent throughout. Our waiter was most confused
by the fact that the kids kept saying 'He looks like someone famous' but they couldn't put their finger on who it was. Celebrity lookalikes aside he was courteous, efficient and overall a really nice chap, who made the whole meal a memorable experience for us.
The fact that it rained and rained throughout our weekend made no difference as we were kept occupied by the wealth of activities available indoors in the very impressive sports centre. We played table tennis, badminton, ten-pin bowling, did a bit more swimming and then, when the rain refused to call it a day, we just sat back and relaxed in the lodge and watched TV for a while. The Executive Lodge we were staying at was in the 'Bilberry Wood' area and, as expected, was equipped to an extremely high standard throughout with all home comforts and more. We particularly liked the fact that each bedroom had its own bathroom. There was even our own sauna attached but only Helena, our eldest, summoned up the bravery to trek across the patio in the pouring rain to sample its pleasures.
Sunday saw us trying
our luck in the pub quiz at the Lakeside Tavern. Alas, our wealth of general knowledge was swamped by some real 'Quiz Professionals' who notched up a most impressive winning score, so we retired, content not to have to submit our Mastermind application forms for at least another year.
The whole beauty of Whinfell Forest, as in all the other Center Parcs, is that it would be virtually impossible to be stuck for what to do, regardless of the weather. No matter how much or little you like to do, there is almost certainly something available to please. Even after one of the wettest and dreariest weekends of the year we still all left refreshed, relaxed and smiling. It really was a tonic for the whole family. Nigel Crawford Co-Editor theBabyWebsite.com November 2009