Have a splashing time... in and out of the pool
takes her kids to the family-friendly retreat in Longleat Forest, Wiltshire
Getting into a two-person inflatable raft — in a swimming costume — is one of the most ungainly things you can possibly do. But as I straddle the figure of eight-shaped rubber rings, gripping on to the handles and waiting for the green light of the Typhoon, I can’t say I really care. We’re all here for a bit of family fun, and trying out Center Parcs’ newest water ride is making me feel a bit giddy.
I’m not much of a water-slide fan any more. There’s definitely something about getting older and having kids that makes me less able to enjoy the sensation of feeling like my stomach is going to fall out my behind. But the Typhoon, I have to say, is great. It’s family-friendly, so me and my eight-yearold Rosie go down together (there is a height restriction of 1.22m, which she’s only just over). It’s fast and quick with a bit of splashing, but not so scary you lose your stomach or get washed up and spat out at the end.
For those needing something a little more exciting, the Tropical Cyclone has also just landed here at Longleat Forest.
Up to four can go on a raft at any time and there are mega drops, adrenaline pumping twists and turns, and a world of swearing coming down the shoot, despite the same height restriction. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but i saw hole heap of fun.
But there is plenty more to do. The great thing about Center Parcs is there’s an abundance of activities going on and you can choose how much, or how few, you fancy doing.
We try out Den Building and Decorating — one of the newer family activities. Unlike the usual sofa and sheets affair that goes on at home, we head out into the woods where three thin logs have been tied together to start us off. We have a massive pile of twigs, branches and logs, a tarpaulin, some leaves, and four pairs of hands ready to get dirty.
At the end, all the families go round inspecting the different dens, and one person from each clan has to sit inside while the waterproofing test takes place.
It costs £46.50 (however big your party) and lasts for an hour-and-a-half. We had a really good time getting stuck in, but there are oodles of other activities too, from sports and quad biking, to 10-pin bowling and photography lessons. They all cost extra, but there’s no pressure or upsell to do a thing.
Adults also get to have fun. The Aqua Sana spa can be used by day guests, as well as anyone staying at Center Parcs. The spa itself consists of 25 ‘experiences’, from the Indian blossom steam room and the hydro pool, to the tyrolese sauna and reflexology footbaths.
A three-hour session costs £39 per person, but if you’re going with someone, book the experience for two people and save £8.
Treatments are worth splashing out on. If you’re short on time (and cash) try one of the new Elemis express treatments, lasting 20 minutes and costing around £45.
Or, for a more indulgent experience, the brighten and glow treatment (£79 for 55 minutes) offers the perfect combination of a relaxing, knot-melting hot stone massage, combined with a mini tailor-made facial, complete with dreamy head massage.
You can time spa sessions to coincide with kids’ club sessions too. Mine spent an ecstatic three hours in the activity den doing the Chocolate Chefs Academy (£26pp) which they couldn’t stop talking about all night.
Of all the Center Parcs locations, Longleat always feels the most sprawling, so hiring a bike is an ideal way to get about (though you can save your pennies by bringing your own).
It is pretty hilly, as Poppy — my five-year-old — finds out on the first day. But although it’s hard work for little legs, it’s the perfect place for practising those cycling skills sans stabilisers, as there are no cars allowed on the roads and paths except on changeover days (Mondays and Fridays).
GOING FOR A DIP: the pool at Center Parcs. Above right: a family cycling at the resort, and the spa facilities