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Apr 10 / Caro

Our Week at Center Parcs, Elveden Forest

We spent the middle week of March on a mid-week break at Center Parcs in Elveden Forest, Suffolk. We booked this trip more than six months ago, and at the time I commented that I could be as much as six months pregnant by the time it came around. How little I knew! As it turned out, the timing was perfect for giving us some space as a family to move past our loss. It was a much needed break, offering us some quality family time and a chance to reconnect with what’s really important in life – each other, health, happiness and fun!

Center Parcs featured quite heavily in my later childhood. I was lucky enough to spend a week at Sherwood Forest the year it opened – and it’s hard to believe that was more than 25 years ago now! We also stayed at several different Parcs across Europe. Not all of these trips were entirely successful, with a broken arm, a broken finger and a broken tooth amongst our tally of Center Parcs injuries. Nonetheless, it somehow never completely lost its appeal. My last visit was actually for a conference (although we stayed for the full mid-week session) almost ten years ago. This time, therefore, was my first trip as a parent. It struck me almost immediately how little has really changed in 25 years, but I also saw it in a whole different light by virtue of having a small person to supervise and entertain as well.

Elveden is ideal for us to visit, since it’s just under two hours from home, which is a good journey time for a toddler. We timed our arrival for just before lunchtime and took advantage of the sunny weather for a spot of exploring and duck chasing on the beach.

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This may well have been Thomas’s favourite part of the whole holiday. Certainly if you ask him now about what he did on holiday he will say that he went to the beach, and talk endlessly about the ducks, and in particular the white duck!

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One of the most loved features of Center Parcs is staying right ion the heart of the forest, often with views over water. Our villa this time did not disappoint, and we had plenty of visits from the resident wildlife including rabbits, ducks, geese and even a young deer on our first night. Thomas absolutely adored feeding the ducks on our patio, and it was a race each morning to see who would be waiting by the door first – him or the birds!

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We hired bikes, as to my mind no trip to Center Parcs is complete without them. We’ve not had a lot of success in getting Thomas to wear a helmet previously (and helmets, for this family, are a non-negotiable part of getting on a bike). Surprisingly he loved his “hel-met”. He also loved being in his seat – and was comfortable enough that he even fell asleep in there after one exhausting afternoon!

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We also spent a lot of outdoor time in the play areas. After the beach, this was Thomas’s top destination. We couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without plaintive requests for both the beach and “the park”.

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If you read online reviews of Center Parcs, the “tip” that comes up time and time again is not to book too many activities. No one ever seem to define what “too many” actually is, and although we scheduled quite a lot for our stay, I think it was about right. Activities we attended included a toddler music session and a children’s magic show on the Tuesday, a multi-activity stay-and-play type session on the Wednesday, and a messy play session and teddy bear’s picnic on the Thursday.

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MessyPlay

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This still left plenty of time for our outdoor exploring and some time in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The toddler area here is absolutely awesome, with multiple water slides, and even kiddy-sized flumes, and lots of water jets and squirters, all themed around a pirate cove. Thomas is still going through a phase of not really enjoying swimming (not helped by the fact that our local pool has unfortunately been closed for three months) and he was quite clingy in the main pool, but kept requesting to go back to “Pi-wate cove” and could have stayed playing with a series of pouring spouts for hours! It also worked out well for me because Ian is a bit of a water phobic and won’t go in water deeper than mid calf. Since there is no water deeper than mid-calf anywhere in the toddler area, he was able to supervise Thomas there whilst I went off to try out all the slides and rapids, and Elveden’s newest attraction: The Cyclone water ride, which was fantastic, but can basically be summed up as like being flushed down the toilet! (And of course, none of these things would have been possible had I still been pregnant!)

On the Wednesday afternoon, I took myself of to the on-site spa for a bit of much needed relaxation. I had a full body exfoliation and massage, which was heavenly.Meanwhile, Ian took Thomas pottery painting, which resulted in my Mother’s Day gift. I just love the thought of them enjoying this activity together, and the fact that they did it behind my back still makes me feel all gooey and sentimental (but I’m blaming hormones of some description!)

On Wednesday evening, we took advantage of the babysitting service. This was actually the first time that we’d left Thomas with someone he and we don’t know. This is partly because my parents usually fulfill any need for babysitting, but also because I’m a little bit funny about having people in my house without me there. I don’t really know why, but it makes me uncomfortable. Since we weren’t in our own home though, this concern didn’t hold me back. Thomas was exhausted from such a busy day (including play session, swimming and pottery painting) that he had his earliest EVER night. He was fast asleep by 7pm, leaving us time to get ready before our sitter arrived at 7.30pm

We enjoyed a drink, followed by dinner at Cafe Rouge, and a bit of drunk cycling home! It was lovely to have a bit of couple time, and apparently Thomas did not even stir, other than to mumble some things about trains and ducks which were audible over the monitor!

Other highlights included a meal at “Huck’s” restaurant (complete with a soft play area in the centre, and Macs for older children) and shopping in the Parc Market with the child-sized trollies. Thomas is obsessed with buying milk, so each time we passed near to he shop he would rush in, grab a trolley and try to stock up with milk (that we didn’t need!)

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Our relatively short journey home meant that we were able to make the Friday part of our holiday, with a final trip to the Swimming Paradise, and a picnic lunch.

Overall we had a fantastic week. There is so much to keep children occupied, even without booking the extra activities, and plenty for adults too. Although supervising a toddler is always hard work, it’s easier when there are so many great distractions for them. We will definitely book another trip at some point, although I think we may try leaving Thomas in the creche next time and trying out a joint activity. Or I may just spend twice as long in the spa…

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