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Test Driving Woburn Forest Center Parcs!

I know all you lovely British readers love a bit of Center Parcs.  My sister recently visited their Woburn Forest property and shares her thoughts below….

We enjoyed our first Center Parcs holiday a year ago, and decided to return with our 2 and 4 year olds for October half term.  Last time we went to Elveden Forest, but this time we opted to stay closer to home and try out the new-ish Center Parcs at Woburn.  

Center Parcs Woburn - ducks

Booking: 

We booked a three-bedroom lodge direct on the Center Parcs website.  This meant that the kids could each have their own room, plus we had space on the booking for my mother-in-law to join us for one night.  

We paid extra to choose a specific lodge in the Central area so that we could be a short walk from everything.  We were in lodge 885, in the Maple section. Even though we were in the Central area, we definitely needed the buggy for our 2-year-old.  Although we were very close to the Village Square (for the main restaurants and the pool) it was too far for him to walk comfortably to the Plaza, where most of our activities were based.  

Woburn location:

It took us less than an hour to get from NW London to Woburn, up the M1.  The journey was so short that it barely even felt like we were going on holiday.  

We arrived just after our checkin time at 3pm and it was all fairly straightforward.  We had already checked in online, so just drove up to the booth and collected our keys (electronic wristbands).  We were given two wristbands and were able to leave a third at the entrance for when my mother-in-law arrived a few days later.  

We then drove round the one way system through the park to our lodge.  Once you have unloaded the car you need to take it back to the car park before 10pm that night (unless you have a disabled Blue Badge). 

The Accommodation:

Our lodge had one double room with an en-suite bathroom, two twin rooms, a family bathroom, and an open plan kitchen/lounge/diner.  Each lodge has one cot and one highchair as standard (proper wooden cots, but bring your own sheets) and more are available on request (you may be charged extra for this).  There was a step available in the bathroom and they can also provide stairgates for accommodation that is on more than one level.  I had brought some travel blackout with us (a Gro anywhere blind, plus some bin liners and sellotape!) but didn’t need them as it wasn’t very light in the mornings.  I would recommend that you bring them in summer though.  There were some steps leading up to our accommodation (which I had been told when I booked) along with a narrow ramp suitable for bikes, but unfortunately not wide enough for a buggy.  

The main living area had a well equipped kitchen (microwave, fridge with a small freezer, induction hob and oven, kettle, cafetiere and dishwasher.  It all felt very new and well maintained.  They provided some initial supplies for us – a couple of teabags and dishwasher tablets –  and you can opt for a basic food package to be delivered to your lodge when you arrive.  There is a dining area with a table and a lounge area with a TV (all the basic channels including CBeebies) and two sofas.  

There were sliding doors from the lounge into the patio area with a BBQ.  We didn’t use the patio at all as the weather just wasn’t nice enough.  The mobile reception was very poor throughout Woburn, but the wireless internet was excellent.  It was nice to be a bit cut off from the outside world, but the lack of mobile reception did concern me while our children were in the crèche.  I wasn’t really sure exactly how they would contact us quickly in an emergency, although they do ask you to tell them where you will be during the session.  

Daytime activities

It’s definitely worth pre-booking your childcare, activities and meals.  It’s a bit annoying to have to plan your trip out in advance, but I saw a few disappointed people trying to book onto activities, especially on a rainy morning.  

If the weather is nice then there are two outdoor playgrounds and lots of walking and cycling to enjoy.  If the weather isn’t so great then the pool is great, and most of the food outlets have soft play areas.  In most cases you’d really need to be eating in the restaurant to be able to use the soft play, but there is one in the Sports Bar (in the Plaza).  This has more of an open pub type feel, so you could wander in and use the soft play there without really needing to have a meal.  

– Childcare (sessions where you drop the kids off)

Our son attended some crèche sessions (for under 3s) and our daughter attended some activity sessions (for 3-6 year olds) so that we could have a bit of time off.  If these sessions are busy then it’s worth turning up a few minutes early to check in your children as you’ll need to fill in some forms.  

The start and finish times of the different age groups are staggered, so if you are dropping off kids to different sessions you may need to wait around for 15/30 minutes between each drop off/pickup.  

For the under 3s you provide a bag with nappies etc, but basic snacks are provided.  When you collect them you are given a summary card showing feeds, nappy changes, how long they took to settle, etc.  We were also given some artwork that he had done.

Center Parcs Woburn - report

For the 3-6 age group you are invited back to a performance in the final 15 mins of the activity session.  This is a lovely idea – although selfishly it does mean that you lose a bit of your free time.  You don’t want your child to be the only one without a parent there watching the performance while you are still swanning around the spa.  

– Family activities

Our son took part in a football tots class and our daughter attended mini ballerinas.  We hadn’t intended to split them between such ridiculously stereotyped activities (!) but it was just what worked out for the timings and availability that morning!

Center Parcs Woburn - Golf

We also did a pumpkin carving session (which I did feel was too tricky for the age group of the children attending the session), adventure golf, and short tennis.  

Center Parcs Woburn

Overall we were very impressed with the staff and facilities for the children.  All of the staff we came across were kind, caring and enthusiastic, even though they have a very difficult job with so many new faces each day.  Our kids had a lovely time.  

– Swimming pool

The pool, or ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’, is one of the only activities that you don’t need to pay extra for.  It was great for our 4 year old, with a toddler pool with slides, a splash area with more slides, a pool with wave machine, and a lazy river.  There are a few bigger rides but we didn’t have a chance to go on them as she was too small.  The pool area felt clean and very well attended by lifeguards.  One of the pools had to be closed for cleaning due to a leaky nappy and it was dealt with quickly and efficiently.  The electronic wristband key for the lodges doubles as a locker key, and you can even charge it up with cash so that you don’t need to take money into the pool to buy food and drink.  There are two cafes in the pool area.  There were plenty of family changing rooms available.  My only complaint would be that the temperature of the pool wasn’t as warm as I would have liked, and it the whole area didn’t feel as big as it did at Elveden Forest.   

– Aqua Sana spa

We booked a three hour ‘World of Spa’ session while our kids were in the crèche.  We didn’t try out any treatments, but we were very pleasantly surprised by the spa.  I had assumed that it might just be a tarted up version of the main swimming pool, but it really felt like we had stepped away from Center Parcs to a ‘proper’ spa, with plenty of saunas, steam rooms and relaxation areas, along with an outdoor pool (although there is no proper indoor pool for proper swimming).  It felt very relaxed and calm, and it was very easy to use while our kids were in the crèche.  The entrance to the spa is in the same part of the Plaza building as the entrance to the crèche, and they have a noticeboard that they use to alert spa users if there is any need for them to contact the crèche at all.  

Eating and drinking

Eating in – If you want to keep it simple and cheap, just plan your meals and take everything you want to have with you.  You can BBQ on your patio (you are only supposed to use disposable BBQs purchased from the on site shop) or cook and eat in the open plan kitchen diner.  The on site shop had a good selection of food and drink, and will deliver to your accommodation if you spend over £40.  You can also order takeaways to collect or to be delivered to your accommodation.    

Eating out – There are plenty of picnic spots around the site, and a number of different restaurants to try out.  

If you need your coffee fix there is a Starbucks at the Village Square (open from 9am) and at the Plaza (open from 8am).  

Center Parcs Woburn - Village Square

For meals, we tried out Café Rouge, Hucks, Sports Café and the Shearing House.  We didn’t think that the food was great in the restaurants (apart from a nice lunch at the Shearing House) but it was definitely fine to keep us going.  You can book the restaurants in advance if you want to reserve a particular time slot, but you do need to pay a deposit of around £5 per head.  

Evening babysitting

We prebooked evening babysitting services for a couple of nights.  You are charged £1 per babysitting session by Center Parcs and then pay a fee of £6.50 per hour directly to your babysitter.  We had the same sitter each night and she was a lovely lady who worked in housekeeping during the day.  

Overall

This was our second trip to Center Parcs and I’m sure that we will be back.  The kids had a ball, although we were exhausted by the end of it and could do with having another holiday to recover!

Georgina’s Center Parcs Packing List (2 year old and 4 year old)

* Travel

Car seat, buggy, raincover

Scooter and helmet

* Sleeping

Cot sheet, cot duvet and Cot Canopy Breeze

Muslins and Grobags

Tomy starlight dreamshow

* Clothing

Kids – Underwear, day clothes, pyjamas, coats, shoes, wellies, hats

Us – Casual clothing, flipflops, wellies, trainers, swimsuit

* Feeding

Kids plates, kids cups, kids cutlery

Ingredients for easy kids meals – bread, cheese, tuna, mayo, sweetcorn, butter

Kitchen towel, Dettol spray, cleaning cloths, washing up brush, dishwasher tablets, washing up liquid, matches, teatowels, toilet paper

* Toiletries

Nappies, nappy sacks, wipes, hand gel, travel changing mat, nail scissors, bath thermometer, hand soap

* Swimming

Swimsuit, swim nappies, goggles, floatation vest, rubber ring

Swimming towels

* Toys

Baby toys, books, colouring

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