CENTER Parcs is an incredibly clever place to holiday, writes Graham Smyth.
Everything about the Sherwood Forest resort is clever.
From the drive-in check-in system, to the ‘no cars parked at the accommodation’ policy, to the cycle hire, to the activity booking systems.
It’s mind boggling really, the logistics behind the whole thing.
There are around 1,000 lodges, so you’re looking at several thousand guests being on site all at the one time, all wanting bikes to get around on, all wanting to stay busy, all wanting to have fun.
And somehow, it works.
The site is spacious enough, with a sufficiently varied range of activities, to keep everyone happy for the duration of their stay.
From the moment you pull up to the check-in window, to the moment you leave your lodge to go home, the staff make a special effort to make you and your family feel welcome.
On our first day we remarked more than once about the attitude of the staff, whether they were giving us our keys, our bicycles, keeping us safe in the pool or serving us Starbucks coffee. They all went the extra mile, with a cheerful disposition.
The lodge we stayed in comfortably held six adults, and an infant. It was clean, modern and well stocked with a welcome grocery pack and very decent facilities.
One room had a whirlpool bath, there was a barbecue on the patio, four televisions and a sauna.
Perhaps the most clever aspect of the resort is the layout of the lodges. When sat in our lounge, looking out at the animals (rabbits, ducks, squirrels, stoats, etc) roaming close by, we couldn’t see a single other guest, or their accommodation.
We felt like we had all the room in the world, or at least the forest.
Until you get down to the bike hire centre (another feat of logistical genius), you have to foot it around. Which doesn’t feel like much of a chore if you’re located close to the centre of the village.
But once you have two wheels to pedal, life becomes so much easier. Get on the bike, cycle a short distance, lock up the bike, have fun, or food, get back on the bike and cycle ‘home’.
You get into a certain rhythm, everything becomes familiar.
When it came to having fun, the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’ was probably king in my little’uns eyes.
Water slides, rapids, waves, kiddies’ pools, pirate ships, indoor or outdoor swimming. And it was clean - bonus.
The outdoor playgrounds were also popular, with all age ranges catered for. Big kids could even get in on the act on a high ropes course.
For water sports enthusiasts, there is more than enough to keep you busy with kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing and windsurfing.
Plenty of sports facilities mean the competitive dads can blow off some steam while the very adventurous have all kinds of sources for their adrenaline fix.
Two of our party tried their hand at fencing, and raved about it.
My wife and I were more in the market for a relaxing weekend.
So the Aqua Sana Spa was a real highlight.
They offer a number of indulgent treatments, like massages and facials. And the spa hosts more sauna options than I knew existed, with relaxation gardens, a swimming pool devoid of screaming, splashing kids and a really, really good cafe.
There’s even a ‘Time Out’ club to entertain the kids while you get pampered.
On the subject of eating, we tried one of the 12 restaurants on site, with a meal at the Indian option, Rajinda Pradesh. Great service and even better food gave us an authentic ‘night out’ feel, just a few hundred yards from our lodge.
A modern styled bowling alley provided another highlight for all the family, despite a slight element of competitiveness.
But all in all, Center Parcs is the perfect place to take the family, whether close or extended. You can split off at any time, or bond with the activities.
And no child should have any energy left at the end of the day.
Leaving, although not as pleasant as arriving, was just as efficient. Ride to the cycle centre, leave the bike, walk to the car, drive to the lodge, pack the car, drive to the gate and simply chuck your lodge keys in a box on the way out.
It’s the simple things that make it so clever.