As a new parent, holiday shopping can seem daunting. You want accommodation that offers the facilities you want, to maintain some level of normality with your routine (happy baby + happy mummy + happy daddy = happy days) and a resort that is family friendly and makes life as easy as possible for (new-ish) parents. Especially when you’re spending a hard earned wage.
For a relative’s landmark birthday, a small group of us recently stayed at Center Parcs, in their Elveden Forest resort in Suffolk. This was Henry’s first holiday and the first time we have taken him away from home overnight and in this instance 3 nights. As a first time mother, naturally the planning involved lists galore, lots of questions (thank you Center Parcs for being so responsive on Twitter!) and about a week to get ready and packed…
My Henry is 4 months old and what I would describe is at a “turning-point-age” where stimulation is key, a home-from-home holiday destination for a first time getaway is preferable and an element of “maintaining some level of normality and routine” is desirable (especially now we have conquered sleeping through the night).
Here are my five reasons why I felt Center Parcs worked for a UK holiday with a young baby…
1 – Home from Home
With a cot provided (standard these days I know) I was impressed with the fully functional kitchen complete with fridge, hob, oven, microwave and dishwasher. The microwave was my saviour for sterilising my MAM bottles (which is so much easier than cold water sterilising, IMO).
- TIP: Center Parcs don’t provide linen for their cots, which I wasn’t aware of, but nothing a single sheet can’t sort out (happily provided by Guest Services).
- TIP: I took our Sleepyhead, incase Henry wouldn’t settle in the cot. He did settle but as we know the Sleepyhead comes in handy regardless.
- TIP: There’s no washing machine in the accommodation, so take travel/hand wash incase you need to see to any smelly bibs, dirty muslins or wet/dirty baby vests/clothes (!) – if they can’t wait until you get home. 😉
2 – Activities
Not many holiday resorts offer activities for the teeny tiny members of the family and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Center Parcs offered a few options for my 4 month old including a crèche (Ofsted registered), craft sessions including hand and footprint keepsakes as well as pottery painting, swimming (and swimming lessons) and a “Baby Sensory” style class.
I booked Henry in to their 30 minute sensory play class, and it was AMAZING! I was so impressed and Henry was entertained the whole session, so much so that we took him back the next day. With dimmed lights, the session offered lots of colour and flashing lights, bubbles, songs and interactive play. We got to take away a small bottle of bubbles with us which was a nice touch.
We (Henry AND I) love his weekly Baby Sensory class – I think the stimulation and interaction is not only great fun but to encourage the use and development of their senses is so good for our little ones. The class at Center Parcs was only £7, so it’s money well spent, in my opinion.
3 – Swimming
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is one of the only free activities at Center Parcs and therefore worth taking full advantage off. With rides, rapids and wave machines to entertain older children and adults, there are designated pool areas perfect to take babies in for a dip. The water, as well as the temperature out of the water, are more than warm enough and pleasant for babies to enjoy.
The pools open at 10am. However, on some days, the pools open at 9am for those with babies, should you wish to enjoy the pool areas before they get too busy – highly recommended if you visit Center Parcs during peak times, especially as the locker areas can get very busy and there is high demand for a family changing room.
- TIP: Pack swim nappies! But panic not, the onsite supermarkets sells these (and everything else you may need during your stay).
4 – Surroundings
Fresh air and peace and quiet were huge plus sides for me. A dose of fresh air has so many benefits (including the assistance of getting a baby off to sleep) and our lodge was in a location so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I love a regular walk, with either my Mamas and Papas pram or carrying Henry in my Baby Bjorn, and Elveden Forest offered enough walking routes, with UK’s nature at it’s finest and with many sitings of rabbits, squirrels, ducks and more.
5 – Free baby food!
With thanks to a partnership with Heinz, every restaurant in the resort offers FREE jars of baby food next to a microwave, allowing for your weened little ones to enjoy a meal at a restaurant with you.
Henry isn’t weened yet, he’s still on a milk-only diet (and happily snoozed or played with Freddie the Firefly in his pushchair whilst we ate), but I was very impressed with this complimentary offering and will definitely take advantage of this on our next visit.
The Center Parcs concept is simple – a self catering holiday with ample offering where you can do as much or as little as you want. Whether that’s an active holiday with indoor and outdoor activities galore, a pampering spa break or to simply take advantage of the self-catering accommodation (ours included a BBQ, saunas, jacuzzi baths and a games room with a pool table) and to absorb the surrounding forest with ample bouts of fresh air and walking, cycling or jogging (if you feel up to it!).
On our recent trip we ranged from 4 months to 65 years old and there was something for everybody. I was impressed that everyone felt entertained enough and managed to enjoy their time away. I wasn’t relaxed, sadly, having a small baby doesn’t always allow for timeout (maybe next time I will get to the spa?) but I did leave feeling like we had had successfully conquered our first holiday with our baby son.
So with Henry’s feeding and nap times, the sensory classes, swimming and lots of walking through the forest, it’s no wonder he slept through every night and smiled his way through every day. 🙂
As with any holiday destination – location, style, concept and board type – it is very much each to their own, but I would definitely recommend Center Parcs as a suitable option for a home-from-home UK break with a teeny tiny tot. It’s certainly no surprise Centre Parcs has won Tommy’s Best Family Friendly UK Holiday Provider award for 14 years running.
Have you been to Center Parcs? And with a baby? I’d love to hear your thoughts!