Rainy Weekend at Center Parcs, Whinfell Forest | Family Friendly Weekend
Our review of a rainy weekend at Center Parcs, swapping buggies for bikes at Whinfell Forest.
For young families looking for a first adventure away from home with toddlers and babies, Center Parcs is the undisputed king. It’s like a rite of passage in parenting. We went a couple of time when the children were really small and visited both Whinfell Forest at Christmas and Sherwood Forest.
However, the memory of changing three tired, hungry and cold children aged 2, 1 and 1 in small swimming pool cubicle at the end of the day will forever be etched on my brain. One of those parenting moments you look back on and shudder.
So when we had the opportunity to go back to Whinfell Forest for the weekend with the girls, Lily now aged 7, and the twins almost 6, I was not sure what to expect now that we had swapped the buggies for bikes.
Whinfell Forest is huge and the location of your lodge can mean a 20 minute or 2 minute walk to the Sports complex or swimming pool depending on which side of the lake you are. We were fortunate to have a 3 bedroom new executive lodge next door to the main complex and next to the adventure playground, number 91 Bilberry Wood if you’re interested as I would say it was a pretty perfect spot.
We arrived around 6pm on Friday evening and immediately went off to the Swimming Pool for 2 hours (it was fantastically quiet at that time of night) and returned to make pizza for tea. I had taken with me a few bits of shopping from home (I usually do when we stay anywhere) but I need not have done. The grocery pack that had been pre-ordered was huge for the 5 of us for the weekend, and we ended up taking home a lot of it!
The next morning as Lily was celebrating her 7th birthday and had brought along her new bike for the weekend, everyone was keen to go and collect our bikes which we hired from the bike shed by the entrance. There are 1,800 bikes and in peak months all can be hired out so best to book before you go. Picking up the bikes took no more than 10 minutes and we were off!
The girls had only really learnt to ride a month or so before so we were a little anxious but Whinfell was the perfect place for them to hone their skills. Be warned it’s not a “flat track”. Quite the opposite and we had a couple of wobbly narrow escapes before we decided to do some concerted “braking downhill” practice sessions!
It was a great morning. I remember years before looking jealously at families cycling past us as we pushed the double buggy and coaxed a toddling Lily up and down the hills. Well now it was our turn to glide past the buggies and strong-willed toddlers and it was fab.
One of the things going with older kids and bikes is everything is much nearer than it used to be, even if you are staying on the periphery. It wasn’t a 20-minute walk to the sports plaza. Instead now everything was just a 5-minute cycle away.
One of the highlights of any trip to Center Parcs is the swimming pool. On our last visit we spent 90% of our time sitting in the toddler pool waiting for them to appear out of the gentle slide, scoop them up and put them back on the steps to go back to the top of the slide. Endlessly . . . . . . for hours! No one was interested in attempting any of the more fun slides or venturing into the outdoor pools.
Not this time. Once they had nervously climbed into the two large tube slides and rocketed out the other end with huge beaming smiles that was that. Round and round we went. Although they are all very good swimmers we still accompanied them everywhere but the whole time in the pool was a lot of fun.
And guess what we were the smug family next to over-crowded cubicle with the stressed parents wrestling with tired and screaming toddlers. We just wanted to open the door, give them a hug and tell them “It’s all going to be OK”.
While we were there we had a couple of activities booked this time. The first was the Chocolate / baking experience for the kids. We dropped them off at 1.15pm and picked them up at 4.00pm for nearly three hours of chocolate making, craft, dancing and chocolate eating.
What to do now. Mrs Mini Travellers headed off to the Spa (fab back massage and great steam rooms) for a couple of hours while I went to the sports bar for a couple of pints of Guinness, some salty snacks and a little snooze in front of the rugby, football and cricket on the big screens!
The girls had loads of fun. We picked them up and were invited in to see what they had made and to join in with their new dance. They made and decorated cakes, invented special recipes, learnt the chocolate song and at the end got to dip their marshmallows in the chocolate fountain. They gave it 5 stars! However, be aware that booking fees apply to most activities and Centre Parcs and it is always advisable to book in advance.
After that it was back in the pool before dinner at Bella Italia. Dinner was just as you’d expect from a Bella Italia. Friendly staff, average food, but served quickly and enjoyed by the kids.
After dinner, we had some very tired children on our hands.
On Sunday our main activity was Den Building for a couple of hours but before that there was plenty of time for a bit of zip wire and slide action in the adventure playground. The main playground next to the centre was perfect for our three. Lots of ropes, slides and challenges and they again had lots of fun before we jumped on the bikes and went for another ride around the site for a an hour or so on the way to den building next to the main complex. The lessons from the day before had obviously sunk in and our bike ride around most of the forest was incident free!
The den building was next to the Sports Plaza and just a short hop around the lake. During our busy weekend we didn’t really have time to explore the sports plaza but there is table tennis, climbing, badminton, a gym, exercise classes, high ropes course, racing buggies and crazy golf all available. Again, all of these activities come with a charge and need to be booked in advance.
We met in the forest and were given the challenge of building our den as a family team. It was great fun but be warned if you are National Trust fans like us where den building, like the play grounds, is all part of the admission price, there is a £46.50 charge per person for this activity. It was fun though and the girls, accomplished den builders, had fun creating their house complete with (pretend) campfire, sofa and chairs.
The challenge at the end of staying dry whole a jug of water was thrown over the den. Although completely drenched our competitive three were adamant that they remained bone dry and so got their certificate.
And that was us done. We had a great weekend and managed to pack a lot into our two days and we didn’t even have time to do any of the activates on the lake like the paddle boarding or canoeing. Now the kids are a bit older and we have swapped buggies for bikes there is even more to do but as always some judicious booking of activities so you don’t have to sell the house when you get back will make the visit.
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NB: With thanks to Center Parcs who invited us to visit Whinfell Forest and tell you all about it. All thoughts and opinions are however our own.
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