The Gazette’s Damien Lucas explains why his holiday at home to Center Parcs proved the perfect getaway during a troubled time for his family.
When me and my small family had to return home early from a much-anticipated and needed holiday to Portugal earlier this year we went from fun in the sun to something of a living nightmare.
Out of the blue doctors suspected my mother-in-law had cancer and after weeks of tests, waiting and worry they were proved correct.
More weeks of tests, appointments, worry and tears passed as our small but loving family tried to focus on being positive and the future.
Now off work, my mother-in-law did not know what to do with herself, sat all day everyday thinking the worst and worrying about all the ifs and buts.
In a bid to try and inject some positivity into our lives and get the family away from the gloom that has been closing in around us, I looked at somewhere we could go on holiday closer to home.
I had never really been the biggest fan of the idea, but we had to go somewhere and do something and with all the appointments and tests we could not venture abroad and let me tell you nor did we need to.
Center Parcs was a place that had always caught my eye and searching on the net I discovered plans are in full swing for a brand new Center Parcs at Woburn, how perfect that would be I thought, just down the road and from what I saw it looked a remarkable project, but it will not be finished for a few years yet.
Seeing the pictures and reading some brief reviews, I plumped for Center Parcs at Elveden Forest.
Before I would not have keen on the suggestion I would go away somewhere where I needed to ride a bike to get around but I am holding up my hands and proudly saying: “I love Center Parcs.”
And that’s just it. I loved it. We loved it. The natural, beautiful surroundings – helped by a couple of days of nice weather – were the perfect tonic for my mother-in-law and us as a family.
For a start the accommodation was the best I have ever experienced, tucked away in the woods with deers, squirrels and rabbits bouncing around so freely.
Center Parcs is not cheap but you most certainly get what you pay for — which is quality, brilliant service, choice and to be at one with nature.
There was a buzz in the village centre and everything we did, from playing on the beach as we were blessed with a week of unexpected sunshine, to enjoying wonderful food in the restaurants (Hucks was our clear favourite) and riding around as free as birds on our bikes were nine and 10 out of 10 experiences.
So take the word of a convert, for a family with young children wanting a short break away, but still wanting all the comforts of home, you cannot beat it - everywhere we went it was geared to children.
Every restaurant we ate in, every break we took from cycling, there was a play area nearby.
If I was to select one word to encapsulate our stay at Elveden, it would be choice.
My mother-in-law, who loves nature, was putting her worries to the back of her mind and enjoying long walks and hand-feeding muntjak deers who – normally far too shy/scared of human contact – were just wondering around us without fear.
Meanwhile, we were off playing badminton and squash or swimming and eating. With the fantastic American-style bar and grill, Hucks, offering a children’s buffet and an amazing soft-play area complete with slides and ball pools and a bank of Apple Mac computers for the older children to play on. Even Bella Italia on site had a small play area, and the Jardin de Sports had a dedicated indoor and outdoor play area too.
Because that’s all children want to do, play and eat. And we as parents get to watch and eat, which suited me and the rest of my family down to the ground.
But apart from eating and playing, there is stacks of stuff on offer for adults and children to do, either separately or as a family.
The Center Parcs website allows you to book activities and we also did face-painting, horse-riding and visited the nature farm.
If you wanted to you could be doing something from dawn to dusk. If you didn’t want to, like my mother-in-law, you could simply enjoy the surroundings and the peace and quiet it brings.
And you can book things in on one of the many touchscreen booking points dotted around. It takes only a matter of minutes and means no queuing to book things at a central area or waiting on the phone, but there is certainly no pressure to do stuff.
How much our stay and our view of it has been made more favourable by the unseasonally hot weather we were lucky to get I cannot say. But, conversely I cannot imagine a few days of rain would really have affected us in any way.
There is as much fun to be had indoors as there is out and with the swimming paradise mostly indoor, you don’t live in fear of a rainy day spoiling your best-laid plans, something which is an issue on any holiday in the sun abroad where everything is geared to outside.
There are miles and miles of cycle tracks to discover. Me and my brother-in-law suddenly became teenagers for a few days as we went off exploring every nook and cranny of the place. Having the little one giggling away as she relaxed in the trailer attached to my wife’s bike was a joy to behold and made their holiday.
There are no cars allowed apart from arrival and departure days, which means most people bring their own or hire a bike, or walk, to get around the site and it makes the experience all the more enjoyable especially for families.
What Center Parcs does best, and has been doing for 25 years, is encourage you to switch off from everyday life, turn off the TVs and computers, put down the mobile phones and just get out in the open air, to share stress-free activities and meals with your family and enjoy quality time with your children like it used to be in the good old days. Now we’re back, of course the worry and stresses associated with a member of your family having cancer have returned. But we hope our break has given us renewed strength for the battle ahead.
From November, each Center Parcs village is transformed into a magical Winter Wonderland with Christmas lights, festive activities and events for families to enjoy. This is an opportunity to experience Center Parcs during the most enchanting time of year.
For more information on Center Parcs call the Contact Centre 08448 267 723, or visit Center Parcs Center Parcs