Travel: Center Parcs is the place to go for a relaxing break
Center Parcs is the place to go for a relaxing break, but Nigel Williams’ wife has other ideas
IT'S WHEN I see the blackboard that I realise the military precision with which my wife is planning our supposedly relaxing break at Center Parcs.
She's covered the floor-to-ceiling blackboard, intended for occasional messages, with neat lines of chalk and the timings of the activities organised for our stay, from 'collecting bikes' to 'getting takeaway'. And eating out too – Friday Italian, Saturday American.
As regular visitors to the holiday village in Elveden Forest in Suffolk, I thought the organisation stopped the moment we unloaded the suitcases into our villa. But my wife has other plans.
Our routine works pretty well – leave home early on the Friday to beat the entrance queues and notorious A11 junction, unload, park the car and pick up the hire bikes before it gets too busy.
We’ve already booked most of our activities and meals out online and with the blackboard ‘battle plan’ there’s no excuse for our teenage son and his friend forgetting their 11am Saturday pro-karting activity or afternoon 10 pin bowling or wall climbing, or us being late for our early Sunday spa session. As my wife says, having a plan means you don’t waste time and have more time to do the things you enjoy.
But when, I wonder, will there be time for that other favourite activity – just sitting back and taking it easy?
It’s easy to do just that in our Executive Lodge where we find ourselves in an upmarket enclave of detached two-storey villas handy for the village centre and the car park.
Almost as soon as we arrive and the teenagers have checked out the en suite bedrooms with TV, they set themselves up in the games room with its pool table and big screen games console, emerging just for food. It isn’t long before they discover the outdoor sauna and would colonise that too if we didn’t insist on a strict 20-minute limit. That still leaves the rest of us with the open plan living space with LCD TV and the patio – great for breakfast on a sunny morning.
Tempting as it is to stay put, we have to stick to the plan. We know that Friday afternoon/early evening (and Sunday) is a good time to head for the dome-covered subtropical swimming paradise (the one activity you don’t pay extra for) as it's quieter on a changeover day because many people have either left or not yet arrived. This avoids the peak time hassles of waiting for a changing cabin and queueing for the popular flumes.
The boys seem to be on an almost permanent loop of the outdoor rapids and, I have to agree, it is a lot of fun swimming outside (especially at night) and even risking an icy plunge pool before you’re tumbled and swirled down to the rapids exit.
It’s water therapy on Sunday morning too – at the village Aqua Sana spa. We’re up early to beat the rush and cycle through a mostly deserted village to get there by opening time.
My wife has been telling me of the joys of the ‘spa experience’ but I’ve only had a couple of brief visits before. Now there’s time (thanks to the plan) to explore the spa, with its steam rooms, relaxation areas and outdoor pool.
We start with a reflexology foot bath – where your feet are supposedly massaged in a stone-filled basin of bubbling warm water. This is supposed to relax my whole body but I have to say it doesn’t live up to the hype.