One thing I have learnt over the last few months is never to keep a secret from my Mum, it turns out she HATES them, that and surprises!!
A couple of weeks ago it was a big birthday for her so we decided that we should surprise her with a trip away. Having never been before we settled on Center Parcs – Woburn Forest, just outside of Milton Keynes. We thought it would be a good place to go together as a family and would have plenty to do once we got there.
After a bit of wrestling and some Tetras skills we managed to fit most things in the car, mum had packed for every eventuality unaware of where she was going and we started our 4 hour journey to our destination. I don’t know how we managed it but she still didn’t know where we were going right up until Center Parcs was eventually signed posted on the roads, then our plot was foiled. She seemed pleased with where we had taken her and we were all relieved to have no more secrets, especially Dad!
At this particular Center Parcs check in was at 3pm, we made it there with 4 mins to spare, so we joined the queue awaiting the barriers to rise to let us in for our weekend of adventures. As we approached the queue the barriers had already been lifted and we were on our way to our lodge. We drove past several multi story lodges which looked just like wooden every day houses, they were huge, a few minutes later we located our lodge and pulled in to start the mammoth task of unloading our rammed car. My brother was arriving with his girlfriend a little later so we sorted out all our bits and then headed out to return the car to the car park (all Center Parcs have a policy in which you must return your car to the car park for the duration of your stay, which is a good idea as the park is full of small children). Once we found a space and checked we hadn’t left anything in the car we went to hire our bikes for the weekend (a must at any Center Parcs). Bike hire is £30 per bike for the weekend, which I didn’t think was too bad, it took the hassle out of taking our own, although we would have quite liked to have done that. Within an hour of Dave being on his bike he had managed to fall off in quite a spectacular fashion, nearly straight over his handle bars, in his own words – “nothing handles like a rental”!
We rode around for a little while exploring the park. We stopped off to book into one of the many on-site restaurants for dinner, we chose Hucks an American restaurant and booked in for 7.45pm, in the hope that my brother and his other half would have arrived by then. There were several other places to choose from, including Cafe Rouge and Strada, but we thought we would try something we didn’t already have at home. After this we made our way back up to the lodge for a well deserved cider. Shortly after my brother and his girlfriend arrived, we had never met before, so introductions were made as we helped them unload the car. Dave and I unlocked our bikes and they followed us back to the car park and we showed them where to hire there bikes… here is where the fun began, boys being boys, it was then a competition to see who could do the biggest skids, this was then the theme for the rest of the weekend! We rode back to the lodge, picked up Mum and Dad and made our way out for dinner.
Upon arriving at the restaurant we locked up our bikes and made our way in. We had to wait a few minutes in the bar before being seated but by the time we ordered our drinks our table was ready. The restaurant was a typical american themed restaurant with metal signs hanging from the walls and all wooden interior. We were given our menus which listed a wide selection of things to choose from. One thing I will say is that none of it came very cheap, a salad being at least £14.50. We all ordered our food which came out in good time, Dave had the biggest burger he could find and Dad had chicken wings, the rest of us went for a salad. It wasn’t the best meal we have had, it especially wasn’t worth it’s expensive price tag. Anyway being the British folk that we are none of us grumbled about the uninspiring food and we made our way back to our lodge.
The weather forecast for Saturday looked pretty dire so we decided to go tenpin bowling on Saturday afternoon, you will notice the running theme of this blog post… the expense of everything! We did come prepared but you definitely need to save a few pennies for your Center Parcs trip because not a lot is included for free! Bowling wasn’t too badly priced and we played for an hour with children screaming either side of our lane, although I can’t complain because it is a place for families after all!
After bowling we went for lunch at the pancake restaurant (again crazy prices!!) we all ordered something slightly different and all enjoyed them, they weren’t like your normal pancakes, they were a bit thicker and very fluffy. We then went a burned off our lunch with a round of crazy golf (yes you had to pay for it and no it wasn’t cheap) we all enjoyed whacking the dimpled balls with our battered metal clubs, even if we were holding up everyone else who were taking it slightly more seriously! I’m ashamed to say I came joint last with my brother, but we had a good laugh around the way so we didn’t mind! We even found some hobbits in their hobbit house 😉
After our game of golf we wandered back to our lodge on our bikes, with the boys in front skidding all the way back. They wanted to get back to watch the football and we thought it would be cheaper to watch it in our lodge with the keg of beer we had bought, rather than sit in the sports bar where beers were £5.10 a pint! Me, Mum and Arusha sat on the sofa and played cards while the boys were being lads and watching the football supping pints. We decided that evening to retrieve the car from the car park and pop out for Dominoes Pizza. At this point it had started to rain, Mum and I made the short journey into the town to collect the pizzas and then walked as fast as we could back from the car park, we’d considered taking our bikes but thought we would be devastated if our pizzas ended up on the floor, so thought it best to walk. We devoured every slice and washed it down with a few elderflower and gin cocktails (recipes to follow)! After the football has finished out came the cards, we decided our next game would be Cards Against Humanity, what an awful idea that is with your parents! However none of us were particularly offended and we certainly learnt a lot about our parents! Oh the horror. There were a lot of tears of laughter that evening, but that’s good for you right?!
Sunday was soon upon us and we had decided to check out the ‘Subtropical Pool’ – which just so happened to be free – Hoorah! Dave sat this one out as he’s not really in to swimming, he made use of his time in the Starbucks next door. But oh the fun he missed out on! My mum isn’t a huge fan of water park type pools after an accident on holiday when we were kids, so we went carefully with her 🙂 However Me, Dad, Adam and Arusha took full advantage of all the rides on offer. First up was the outdoor rapids which were hilarious! You enter through a bit of a jacuzzi type pool which is where we left mum, you then go through some pretty awful clear plastic flaps (a bit like the ones you see in a butchers shop!) to get through to the outside where the rapids begin. You start at the top of the white concrete trail push yourself off and away you go! Some parts are deeper than others meaning you bash your knees and legs a bit, it twists and turns and just takes you along. It’s great fun and very funny to watch your family members bashing into each other. We ended up with a few bruises from that one, one go wasn’t enough so we went a few more times!
The next thing we tried was one of the water slides, you could do this in a two seater ring or a single person ring. Dad decided to go on his own, while Adam and his girlfriend went in a double ring, leaving me and Mum, I am sure she didn’t really want to ride but I made her come with me and assured her she would be fine. We got to the top of the steps and entered the pool at the entrance to the slide, she still wasn’t sure about going but I hopped in the front making her get in the back with her bum in the air, the light went green and away we went with Mum screaming the whole way down, all went fine until we got to the end and our ring tipped up and she grazed her leg in the shallow landing pool. I did feel bad about it but I hope she was glad she did it. To make up for it we let her choose what we did next, so on to the lazy river we went! We did this a few times and then decided we should catch up with Dave and grab some lunch. We had great fun in the pool and wished we had done it earlier on in the weekend, especially as it was one of the only things that was free.
We went back for lunch and decided to carry on making the most of our bikes for the rest of the afternoon. We decided to give the Treasure Hunt a go, however it was again something you had to pay for, I asked one of the park rangers about it and he said there was a meeting point and we had missed it, so we just did it on our own. Dave took the roll of Treasure Hunt leader and off we went. You had to find 9 different wooden signs around the park which each had a clue on them as to how to find the next one, they also had a letter on each of them which you had to collect to spell a word. We spent most of the afternoon searching the park for clues, Dave got really into it while the rest of us got disctracted – we even tried hiding from him at one point! How mean!
We found most of them quite quickly but the last couple puzzled us, so we stopped for an ice cream. Eventually we found the last one and tried to work out the word, now I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that might visit in the future so I won’t give the word away 😉
Once we had finished treasure hunting we popped to the on site supermarket, which I have to say was very reasonable. We picked up two disposable BBQ’s and some BBQ’s packs and luged it back on our bikes, I was the only one to bring a back pack so I was the donkey that afternoon. As we got back it started to rain which wasn’t ideal for BBQing, however there was another football match on so the boys watched that and by half time the rain had passed. Mum and I lit the BBQ and got cooking. We all filled our bellies with chicken, burgers, sausages and some very BBQ’d ribs. We all obviously washed it down with lots of beer and yet more cocktails.
Sunday night we had a fairly early night because we knew we had to drive miles the next day. We woke up early Monday morning and packed up all our bits and collected our cars from the car park, a little sad to be going home so soon.
I think that Mum enjoyed her long weekend away with us all and it’s made me think that we should do it more often. Centre Parcs was great for what we wanted, it is very family friendly but maybe more so for younger families, although there were all sorts of people there, couples with tiny babies, older couples and even the odd hen do or two. It’s quite an expensive place to visit so I would recommend saving a few pennies before you do go, but I think you can make it as cheap or expensive as you like really, there is a fully equipped kitchen if you wanted to cook a few nights too. It’s also set in a beautiful location with lots of wildlife around, we saw squirrels most mornings, foraging on the patio.
Overall we had a fab time, despite my whinging about the price of things 😉