For October half term week, we booked up to Center Parcs in Whinfell Forest, Penrith with our friends and their little boy. We had gone away with them last year in November for the Winter Wonderland and had a fantastic time, the place was just so magical and I swore at that point that I didn’t think I would be able to visit at any other time of year. Admittedly I do love Halloween though, so I soon reconsidered and was ready to embrace all Hallows Eve Center Parcs style.
It just so happened that after booking up for Center Parcs, our friends decided to get married the Saturday before we were due to go, also with it being their little boys 10th birthday on the Monday that we were due to arrive, we ended up with lots to celebrate!
So off we went with a car packed full of Halloween decorations, fancy dress outfits and sweet treats
So off we went with a car packed full of Halloween decorations, fancy dress outfits and sweet treats. I promise we did take everyday clothes and food with us as well, not forgetting alcohol, there was quite a bit of that!
Now most of you will have heard about Center Parcs or will have visited yourselves, but for those of you that haven’t, I would describe it as a tranquil holiday village hidden away in a forest. Once there it feels like you’re on a much needed break from normality, the air feels crisp and clean, there is wildlife to spot around the area (squirrels, badgers and pheasants) and the whole break is family orientated.
Upon arrival, you unpack your car and then leave it in a car park for the duration of your stay. This means that it’s safe to walk and ride on bikes around the vicinity, with only the odd Center Parcs maintenance or security van slowly driving around.
You can make it as cheap or as expensive as you would like by deciding on which activities if any you would like to sign up for and whether or not to eat out. You can book and pay for these online before your arrival or whilst you’re there, but they do book up quite quickly and nobody likes FOMO, so the sooner the better. I always pack a couple of bags full of essentials, teabags, milk, breakfast cereal, bread, butter and a few other bits which are handy to have in. There is a Parc Market there though where you can purchase all of these things though anyway and I don’t really find it much more expensive than my local corner shop.
When booking our stay, we paid a bit extra so that we could stay quite central and the location was spot on, just around the corner from the play park and 5 minutes walk away from the village centre in Seven Pines.
The lodge was lovely, but upon entering it, we did notice a slight foisty smell. I did hope that it would soon disappear, but it lingered and became quite strong in different areas of the entrance and sitting area. Nothing to worry about though I thought, as we could always pick up some air freshener from the Parc Market or ask the cleaners to give it a good spray.
By the time we had unpacked and settled in, it was starting to get dark. The lads drove the cars back to the car park and we stuck some pizzas in the oven. Afterwards we went for a wander to the bar near the Leisure Bowl and sat down for a few drinks whilst the kids spent all of our loose change in the arcade.
Despite thinking we were really organised and had remembered to bring everything that we needed, I realised that I hadn’t packed the kids toothbrushes. So we had a quick trip to the Parc Market to pick up some new ones, whereby the kids took full advantage of the mini shopping trollies, almost knocking people off their feet as they sped around the shop floor and bickering between themselves to see who could put the most in their trollies. This then resulted in us emptying the contents of Mollies trolley before we reached the till, which had been filled full of useless crap that she collected on the way round the store.
The kids took full advantage of the mini shopping trollies, almost knocking people off their feet as they sped around the shop floor
The next morning saw us get up fairly early with a view to go for a swim. After we’d had breakfast, we decorated the lodge with Halloween banners, we blew up balloons and I draped fake cobwebs over the bannisters and the tops of the curtains.
Just then it dawned on me that I had not packed the kids swimsuits, yet another fail on my part and so off to the shop we went. £35 later, Oliver had some new Star Wars swimming shorts and Mollie a polka dot frilly little all in one number.
Finally looking the part, we ventured inside the pool area, we went on the rapids, had fun with the wave machine and spent time in the outdoor heated pool. We suffered mum and dad guilt at the fact that we hadn’t yet got around to sorting out swimming lessons for Oliver or Mollie, especially when Oliver was reluctant to go on any slides and seemed generally nervous in the water.
Mollie on the other hand wanted to go down all of the slides. She was a little bugger, constantly telling us to get off her so she could swim on her own, telling us she didn’t need us to hold on to her and resisting our attempts and parental instincts to protect her and ensure her very survival! Thank goodness for the lifejackets that come as standard for the kids! I’m sure I recall us saying this after our visit to CP last year, but we must get them booked in for swimming lessons very soon.
The kids could make their own broomsticks and I could watch on encouragingly whilst secretly wishing I could take over
That afternoon, I had booked us in for broomstick making with the kids. A fab Halloween themed craft session where the kids could make their own broomsticks and I could watch on encouragingly whilst secretly wishing I could take over and perfect the mish mash of twigs, glitter glue and feathers which were congealed in to something resembling a sparkly bog brush. The kids loved it though and they were able to run about on their brooms outdoors once the session drew to a close, before being packed off with a Halloween themed chocolate lolly and a cute little ghost cuddly toy.
The men weren’t daft, knowing that us girls would probably enjoy an hour of crafting possibly more than the kids would, they booked themselves in to the Sports Plaza for a game of Snooker for a couple of hours, which is where we met them afterwards, along with our new broomsticks.
We were greeted with the news however, that once they had finished their game of snooker, we would have to head back to the lodge, pack up our things and move to a different lodge. It transpired that prior to heading off to the pool that morning, the cleaners had popped by. Dean had mentioned the iffy smell in the hope that they might be able to mask the smell with some air freshener but after witnessing the damp smell for themselves, they arranged for the maintenance team to pay a visit to the lodge that afternoon. They in turn discovered that the boiler was leaking and in order to fix this, they’d have to vacate the premises and pull up the floorboards in the living room area.
They could see from our itinerary that Dean had booked in to play snooker and they were able to meet him there to deliver the news. We were given til 6pm and advised that a van would collect our belongings and take us to our new lodge, which was at the other side of the village centre.
We then set off back to the lodge to pack up our things, but Mollie had other ideas and decided to run off through the Sports Plaza and back upstairs towards the bar area and the Snooker tables. Now this is a sporting challenge that every parent dreads, do you sprint after them and inadvertently change it in to a game of chase? Or do you act like you’re not bothered and follow them slowly in the hope that they might soon give in, whilst secretly panicking each time they disappear from view? Well I did a combination of both somehow, I sprinted whilst she wasn’t looking to keep up with her then slowed down if she glanced behind her. As she headed upstairs, I did the whole ‘bye then, I’ll see you later’ act and sure enough, this unleashed a barrage of tears as I hid around the corner from view. I snuck upstairs the back way to find her sat crying at the top of the stairs but then came more tears cause she wanted a carry and when I tried to stand my ground by telling her no, her legs became like jelly and she then insisted on sitting in the middle of the walkway crying.
When I first became a parent, my anxiety would have kicked in in full force and I would have hoped that the ground would swallow me up
When I first became a parent, my anxiety would have kicked in in full force and I would have hoped that the ground would swallow me up in situations like this but now I’ve become less bothered about what other people think and will not give in as easily to let them have their own way and admit defeat. Thankfully our friend Sam came to the rescue and sat her on his shoulders for the trip back.
It felt like we were fugitives running away by packing up our things quickly in such an unruly manner and it was kinda fun!
So off we went to pack up all the Halloween décor that we had put up just that morning and everything else that we had brought with us. We threw everything in a disorganised fashion in to bags, knowing we would need to put it all away again once we were in the new lodge. It felt like we were fugitives running away by packing up our things quickly in such an unruly manner and it was kinda fun!
We finished packing a lot earlier than we thought we would, so sat round the telly for an hour while we waited for Center Parcs security to arrive. Once they did, we piled all of our belongings in to the van. The boys walked over to meet us at the new lodge and us girls went in the van with all the bags.
We stopped off at guest services to pick up our new wristbands and then headed towards the new lodge. Thankfully it was still quite central and we were now positioned quite close to the Sports plaza. The little cul de sac we were put in seemed nicer somehow and when we entered the new lodge, it felt warm, clean and cosier than the previous lodge had been.
We managed to unpack within an hour, by which time we were ready for some food. We managed to get a table in Huck’s and had a lovely meal in there which included steak, fajitas and a couple of bottles of wine whilst the kids made the most of the children’s buffet.
When trying to encourage her to walk, I was met with crying, screaming, her clinging on to my legs for dear life or simply sitting down in the middle of the pavement and refusing to move
The next day was Wednesday. We managed to arrange for some bikes for the remainder of our stay and we picked these up on the morning. This turned out to be a god send, as Mollie had decided that she did not want to walk anywhere for the duration of our stay. She weighs over 3 stone now and I am struggling to carry her for more than a couple of minutes before my arms feels like they’re going to drop off. But when trying to encourage her to walk, I was met with crying, screaming, her clinging on to my legs for dear life or simply sitting down in the middle of the pavement and refusing to move. Oh the joys of parenting!
Being a little small for a bike of her own, I stuck her in a trailer which I pulled along behind the bike that I was riding. This meant Oliver had his own bike and Dean was able to ride alongside or just behind him, to make sure he was OK. Well, Oliver did have a meltdown to begin with as the anxiety of riding a strange bike overcame him slightly and he cried when the bike toppled over sideways with him on it. We soon swapped it over for one with stabilisers though and we were off on our way.
We stopped at the park for a bit to let the kids have a good run around and grabbed some coffees and hot chocolates from Starbucks.
I decided to pretend I wasn’t bothered about how they might end up looking, whilst secretly wishing I had paid for an extra pumpkin for myself
That afternoon we had booked in for Pumpkin carving with the kids, this time I decided to pretend I wasn’t bothered about how they might end up looking, whilst secretly wishing I had paid for an extra pumpkin for myself. The pumpkins already had the tops sliced off but the insides needed scooping out, I thought the kids would love doing this themselves but no, that was a task for mummy apparently. The kids then each drew their designs on to their pumpkins in felt tip. Oliver’s was Harry Potter complete with a scar and according to Mollie, hers was a ballerina witch.
Once the pumpkin carving session was over, we ordered a takeaway to be delivered to the lodge for later that evening and then went to the Sports Plaza for a few games of Pool. Dean was able to teach Oliver how to play which was lovely to watch, I mean that’s life skills right there isn’t it?
We had put up the Halloween decorations again that morning back at the lodge and whilst the kids were getting ready, I hid sweets all around, kind of like an Easter egg hunt. Once our little Ghostbuster, unicorn and killer clown were all suited and booted, they each grabbed a trick or treat bucket and ran around collecting fun size treats with a Halloween playlist playing along in the background.
We had a few visits from trick or treaters to our lodge, so it was lucky I had come prepared with extra sweets
We had a few visits from trick or treaters to our lodge, so it was lucky I had come prepared with extra sweets. Dean decided to take the kids round our little cul de sac as well to knock on a few doors. At home, I don’t like to take the kids out trick or treating, possibly because my parents never took me and it’s never really appealed to me that much. I’d much rather get the kids dressed up and let them answer the door to trick or treaters, whilst having a little Halloween party at home and hiding sweets for them to find.
After trick or treating, it was time for the Halloween Disco. We got there just in time to get a seat as it became quite busy quite quickly. It was great to see so many kids and adults dressed up too! We saw an amazing Ghostbuster, with a light up proton pack (it must have cost a bloody fortune!), a lady dressed up as Chucky from Childs Play and an amazing Cousin It!
I didn’t realise how much sass and confidence my little girl actually had
Whilst the boys favoured the arcades, Mollie just loved dancing and I didn’t realise how much sass and confidence my little girl actually had until I watched her on the dancefloor at CP. I was the complete opposite at her age, so it was amazing and funny to see!
Once the disco had drawn to a close, it was time to head back to our lodge to await our takeaway delivery. Between us all we had opted for Indian food, pizza and chicken nuggets, chips and beans and it was soooo nice.
Myself and Dean had taken fancy dress outfits along with us and decided to get dressed up when we were back in the lodge too. I was Eleven from Stranger Things and Dean was the Phantom of the Opera, a last minute borrow from his mate. Oliver and Mollie also decided they wanted to get changed in to different fancy dress outfits, Oliver switched from being a ghostbuster in to the red Power Ranger and Mollie became a pink and grey cat.
We had a great night which included a few pomegranate and rose gins and fruit wines with lemonade
We had a great night which included a few pomegranate and rose gins and fruit wines with lemonade, but thankfully not too many to result in me having a bad head the next day.
We had visited the day before, where everything had been geared up towards Halloween, but now it was Christmas!!
The next day was our last full day, we went off on the bikes and stopped at the play park for a bit followed by a Starbucks. We had visited the day before, where everything had been geared up towards Halloween, but now it was Christmas!! It got me feeling so excited and OBVIOUSLY I had to get us all the limited edition Salted caramel Brownie hot chocolate, along with a mince pie, some banana bread, a chocolate chip cookie and a salted caramel chocolate cupcake to share!
After lunch, we had all booked in for a game of crazy golf. Despite Oliver having a tantrum at the second hole, the kids absolutely loved it. We laughed at Mollie making up her own rules and we each did a celebratory victory dance when we got the ball in the hole, which I managed to capture on boomerang (standard).
Mollie informed us that she’d done the one thing that most parents dread, especially in public. Yes, she’d shit her pants
On the sixth hole, Mollie informed us that she’d done the one thing that most parents dread, especially in public. Yes, she’d shit her pants. Our lodge was not far from the crazy golf course and as we were all enjoying the game, we asked Mollie if she could hang on for five minutes to enable us to finish the game before taking her back to get her changed (bad parents I know, but we were all having such a good time!) This meant however, that Mollie smelt like a mouldy cabbage and was walking around like, well, like she’d shit herself!
So there’s me, carrying her back to the lodge at arms length, with no idea of the horror that was about to unfold, I will never look at another pair of tights in the same way again. 20 minutes, a change of clothes and half a pack of baby wipes later, we were able to finally venture back outside and join the others. We made our way to the Lakeside Lodge where we had an early evening table booked and we had the most amazing carvery.
Afterwards we headed to the Leisure Bowl bar area for drinks and a disco, then we went back to the lodge, to get into or pyjamas, to have a few additional beverages and to watch the Neverending Story on DVD. Nostalgic bliss right there.
The Friday saw us wake up early to get packed, which didn’t take too long. We took the bikes back and collected our cars to load them up with our belongings and then rather than rush off home, we said goodbye to 15 Fell View and took our car back to the car park so that we could stay a little longer. We went for another swim, which allowed Oliver’s confidence in the water to grow rapidly and Mollie’s (although she didn’t need it).
She had spotted a larger version of it on the first night as we had walked past and she had ran in, grabbed it, legged it out of the shop and had wrestled it to the floor
After swimming, we visited the sweet shop and the toy shop, we had some vouchers to use which we were given as an incentive for booking up again after last year, so Oliver ended up picking out a Transformer toy whilst Mollie picked out a couple of TY’s. One of which she had spotted a larger version of on the first night as we had walked past and she had ran in, grabbed it, legged it out of the shop and had wrestled it to the floor, refusing to let go of it or allow us to put it back. It was mortifying yet hilarious at the same time!
We popped to the Pancake House and as there was a slight wait for a table, we were given a pager to carry so we could have a wander round close by. We had a walk over to the Winter Wonderland where staff were putting together the last final touches before opening it to the public. We couldn’t really see much as it had been closed off while the work was being carried out but it looked lovely and got me all excited to go back next year.
I paid one last visit to the Parc Market where I bought some Krispy Kreme doughnuts to take home and we sat by the lake until our pager went off, at which point we were all starving and so ready for our Pancake House visit!
I opted for a Spanish Omelette and Dean had a Mexican one. Oliver had a sausage and bean pancake and Mollie had a savoury cheese pancake. The kids then had a chocolate pancake stack which was included in their kids meal deal. When it was time for desserts though, Mollie had laid down and fallen asleep on one of the leather sofas, which meant that myself and Dean, OK well more me, were tasked with eating her chocolate pancake stack which was such a shame. Somebody had to do it though!
We had toyed with meeting our friends for one last game of Pool in the Sports Plaza before heading off home, but as Mollie was flat out and Oliver had decided to be a bit cheeky, we decided to give it a miss and head home.
Oliver was whinging that much (he was crying cause he wanted us to turn around so he could play Pool) and I was so busy sending a text to tell our friends that we were heading home, all the while trying to drown out the incessant whinging coming from the back seat, that we realised we had forgotten to deposit our wristbands in to one of the pillar boxes on the drive out! I have since posted these back to Center Parcs in a jiffy envelope, as didn’t want to hang on to them until next year in case we lost them.
Overall, we had a fantastic time and whilst it would have been lovely to have had a week without any tears or tantrums, would that have been real life? No it wouldn’t
Overall, we had a fantastic time and whilst it would have been lovely to have had a week without any tears or tantrums, would that have been real life? No it wouldn’t, so it comes part and parcel of a family trip away and yet more amazing memories that we’ve shared.
Yes Center Parcs can be quite pricey, especially if you want to immerse yourself in the experience and book in for everything whilst you’re there, but after visiting four times now (once to Sherwood Forest in Nottingham and three times to Whinfell Forest in Penrith) my love continues to grow for this place, which allows our little family to escape together and just enjoy being in one another’s company. A home away from home.