If you want to fit in a quick family break in December before the big Christmas day then Center Parcs Winter Wonderland is a great option. We have just come back from spending 5 days at their Elvedon branch in the heart of Suffolk (the reason I have been a bit MIA) and thought Id share with you our experience along with reviews of some activities, recommendations and vital top tips I learnt throughout my the trip.
Firstly we stayed in a 2 bedroom woodland lodge which for 2 adults and two children was the perfect size. The accommodation was well equipped and we made use of the cot and high chair provided which were adequate for our needs and meant that we didn't have to bring our own. You do have to bring your own bedding for the cot and if you need more then one you have to ring a request it in advance so bare that in mind if you are bringing more then one small child. In the living area you have a TV with a limited amount of channels and also a DVD player, what we did was bring a ton of Christmas films with us to watch in the evenings to get us in the festive spirit! A thing I would strongly recommend if you are a family with very small children is to pay the extra charge to have accommodation close to the centre. Even being in the lodges closest to all the amenities it was still a lot of walking for our 3 year old who does not use a buggy. The great thing about the accommodation is that you actually feel like you a situated in the middle of a woodland and the amount of wildlife that will greet you at your doorstep is amazing. I would suggest buying an extra loaf of bread just for feeding the ducks, geese, deer and squirrels as they will be waiting at your door every morning and the kids will love it. Each lodge comes with an log fire which is great to light when the children are in bed its so cosy sitting by it with a glass of wine watching a christmas film. One word of warning is that the door to the hearth is not lockable and within 2 minutes of arriving Eli had climbed inside it and got covered in ash! During the day we ended up placing the footstool in front of it to stop the boys playing with it which did the job. Annoyingly you can only burn special compressed woodchip logs on the fire which you have to buy from the Center Parcs supermarket at a whopping £9.99 for only 3 logs but you can preorder them so that they are already in your accommodation for when you arrive.
Do not expect to have great phone signal in the middle of the woods, in fact I hardly had any at all anywhere! Also our accommodation did not come with wifi and although I could pick up a tiny bit of signal again it was a bit iffy. If you need to make phone calls or emails going into the centre is your best bet for good phone and internet signal.
Weather and Clothing.
As to be expected it is going to be very cold in December and I would recommend not only taking lots of layers but water proof coats, hats and umbrellas for those walks to and from the centre and rain covers are a must if taking a buggy. Whats even more important are Wellies....everyone will need a pair of wellies....in fact you probably wont need any other footwear! Center Parcs is muddy.....Very muddy and trainers or fancy fashion boots just wont cut it and I learnt the hard way! One thing I wish I had for the kids was puddle suits....you know those water proof all in one suits which completely protect their clothes? I cant begin to count the amount of times one of the boys fell over and completely covered their clothes in mud....on the first day Eli fell over and got mud all over the only coat I bought with us. Another great thing to do is pack the kids christmas PJ's or Onesies to make it extra special and to keep you nice and snug at night.
There are endless things to do for people of every age at Center Parcs it may even be a little daunting to figure out where to start! Each activity is usually at a cost and it can be very easy to spend a small fortune so firstly make use of the things that are free! There are two large play parks which will entertain children for hours but make sure they have appropriate clothes as otherwise they will come out soggy, cold and covered in muddy woodchip. The swimming facilities are very impressive and are also completely free, they have a huge toddler splash park perfect for young children so make sure you take your swimwear even though that concept feels a bit foreign in December. You are able to buy swim nappies from the machine at the swimming pool for £1 each which is much better then buying a whole pack at their super market which I only ended up using a couple. Twice a week Center Parcs put on a free firework display which was absolutely magical they boys thought it was fantastic so i would definitely recommend checking that out.
When looking to book paid activities I would highly suggest booking them quite far in advance before your break as things tend to get booked up quickly especially the Christmas activities. Also when you get to your accommodation its a bit more awkward to find a facility to book as the wifi connection can be iffy in your lodge. We pre booked Santas grotto, horse and carriage rides and a family festive photoshoot not wanting to over do it but with we had booked maybe a couple more to fill the time. Santa's Grotto was one of the best I have ever been to with the boys, it was definitely worth the money especially each getting a gift and a photo incorporated into the price. The horse and Carriage rides were a nice and relaxing way to view some of the woodland but this activity has limited availably and booked up very quickly. The family photoshoot is a great way to capture not only your festive family break but also some of the beautiful scenery within which you are surrounded. We had some beautiful pictures taken in the woods and by the lake and you get sent all your pictures in a small printed booklet for you to keep and to choose one to be printed in an 8x10 size.
One thing I did find was there were a lack of activities that were suitable for both Eli's and Wesley's age, they were usually for under 2's or for over 3's which was a bit of a pain because I didn't want to have to take them to separate things. Next time I would definitely take advantage of the creche and babysitting facilities and have a child free outing!
Food can become quite a big expense at Center Parcs and unless your made of money I wouldn't eat out every night! We did a food shop before we left bringing with us everything that didn't need to be refrigerated and just using the Center Parcs supermarket for fresh bits such as meat, dairy or frozen goods. The Parcmart has great availability of products and stocks everything you would need but pricing does equate to that of higher end supermarkets like Waitrose, just a shop of fresh goods cost the same as my usual full weekly shop! There are a ton of restaurants to tempt you and most of which have children's play areas which can be very handy for impatient little kiddies! Ones I would definitely recommend are Dexters Kitchen for delicious reasonably priced burgers and the Pancake House for the most amazing pancakes I have ever tasted!! We also ate in Hucks American Diner which although was great for children with a large play area and childrens buffet I found the food average and pretty over priced. Again restaurants get extremely busy so I would recommend pre booking before your trip.
A lot of the time we just cooked in our lodge which was the cheeper and easier option with two children as the kitchen is well equipped and its much less hassle. We made sure we packed lots of festive treats and snacks like mince pies and not forgetting the boys advent calendars to open every morning.
Overall it was a fantastic holiday and we are already looking to book again for next year, it was the perfect destination for our first family holiday especially with two young children. I hope that some of my tips that I shared are useful to anyone thinking about booking a break with Center Parcs too.
Thank you for reading.