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Last week we enjoyed another lovely week at Center Parcs – I think this is the fifth time we’ve been in the last three years.

For the second time we went to Whinfell Forest, in the Lake District, and were lucky to reap the benefits of the unseasonably sunny and warm first week of spring, in fact the best weather we have ever experienced at Center Parcs I think.

Make A Memory

For the first time we tried out quite a few activities – Lilly did Make A Memory (making a handprint in clay and decorating the box to keep it in), Little Kickers football, Active Tots (which, at three years old was probably a bit too babyish for her, but she still enjoyed it) and Party Hour in the Time Out Club (they play party games while the parents get an hour to themselves – in theory. That was, of course, the one hour of the holiday when Isla decided to throw a bit of an “I-don’t-want-to-sleep-in-my-pushchair wobbler). We also did the usual swimming and had a game of bowling, which Lilly loved.

Little Kickers

Other highlights included spotting frogs by the edge of the stream and Lilly helping me with the shopping by pushing one of the little trolleys (she was a little bit better at steering it this time!), and the animals we spotted from our window – all kinds of birds, red squirrels, rabbits and even a deer.

Visitor to our garden

 

Looking at frogs on the boardwalk

Sleeping wise we had much more success than last time. We learnt the lessons from staying in a two-storey house where Lilly wouldn’t sleep because it was a strange environment and because mummy and daddy were too far away (i.e. downstairs). We went for a single storey villa this visit and Lilly went off to sleep great every night and (except the first night) slept right through. (In fact, both girls even slept through my unfortunate setting off of the smoke alarm incident – a tip for other visitors: use the extractor fan while cooking…) It took Isla a little while to get used to the new place – the first night she went to sleep fine but then started waking up crying every hour. For a few days she protested loudly about napping in the cot. But it wasn’t a major issue and after a few days she was fine. As for Tony and I, we were so exhausted after all the walking and activity with the girls during the days we were asleep by 10pm most nights!

We decided not to hire bikes for ourselves this time, because it is a bit expensive and Isla is a little bit too small to go in the back of one of the carriages. But we hired one for Lilly and we were both impressed how good she was at riding it. Our main error was not hiring a helmet – our theory being that she wasn’t going to go very fast – but obviously we hadn’t accounted for the park being quite hilly in places and Lilly having not yet mastered the art of braking. Thankfully there were no accidents but in order to prevent them we had to stick close by her and hold onto the bike whenever we were going downhill – but to be fair we would’ve been doing that whether or not she’d had a helmet! But all in all the bike was a real success, she loved riding it and never complained about being too tired (which she always moans about when walking, even a short distance). In fact it even became a useful ‘exit strategy’ when trying to get Lilly to leave playgrounds etc without tears – “do you want to ride your bike now, Lilly?”

This time I really expected Isla to LOVE the swimming, because she really enjoys bathtime and splashing with her sister. But, just like last time, she remained very serious faced throughout the experience with an expression that seemed to say “Er, mum, you sure this is safe?!” I think it is the noisy atmosphere that she’s unsure of, rather than the actual pool. But there was less crying and screaming when it came to getting dressed again at the end, which made the experience less stressful than when we went in September! Mind you, they have the changing rooms so hot that by the time we were all dry and dressed Isla had gone redder faced than I have ever seen her before and we were actually a bit worried about her so dashed outside to cool her down.

Watching Lilly playing was a joy – she is such a sociable little thing and just loves other children. Whenever we went to one of the softplay areas or playgrounds she was making friends – all I could hear was her chatting away to other children and introducing herself saying: “I’m Lilly! I’m three!” She still doesn’t entertain the idea of sliding down any “tunnel slides” which she is scared of, even if one of her new found friends tried to persuade her to try it. She is brilliant at taking turns, to the point where she will happily let several children overtake her! There was one incident where a little boy was nasty to her (we didn’t see what happened) and she said she was going to “run away very fast” but apart from that it was all good. Isla had a little sit in the soft play areas too – there’s only so much she can do as she still can’t quite crawl yet, but she seemed to enjoy watching what everyone was up to.

And Tony and I remained steadfastly on the Weight Watchers – we expected we would fall right off the wagon and although we did drink wine every night we managed to resist the numerous chocolate, doughnut, cake, pizza and bread shaped temptations that were winking at us in the supermarket. We packed salads for our picnics everyday and because we were so active and too busy to sit and snack we actually both managed to lose a few pounds – result!

All in all we had a really great time with only a few tantrums from Lilly (including two in the car on the way back – making us worry a bit about our road trip to France in a few months time, but hey, that’s another story!) and we wished that we were staying a full week (although it is so blinking expensive to do that!)

With a three year old my recommendation would be to book plenty of activities for every day – one for the morning, one for the afternoon (allowing time for swimming of course) because plenty of activity and stimulation tired our little one out nicely. Take or hire a bike but beware of the hills! If you’re worried about them sleeping, go single storey. Don’t pay to reserve a villa in the central area only to realise that if you have bikes you have to go the long way round anyway to get to the village centre because the direct footpaths don’t allow bikes. Take some chalks for the blackboard in the villa if you are staying in a “new style” as it will keep the kids entertained for quite a while (and they never supply adequate chalks themselves)

But yes, we remain big fans of Center Parcs and I am already persuading Tony that we need to book another break for later in the year, when Isla will be a little older and able to join in the fun even more.

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Last week we spent Monday to Friday at Center Parcs in Cumbria – Whinfell Forest.

We are big Center Parcs fans, and have been twice to Elveden Forest (East Anglia) and once to Sherwood Forest (Nottingham) since Lilly was 10 months old.

This was our first time at Whinfell – Elveden being our favourite so far, but also being a ridiculously long drive from where we live in the North West. Whinfell is a much more civilised 1 hour 45 minutes away, and even that felt long enough! In fact, we made our first parental error of the holiday on the journey there – waiting too long before stopping at the services meaning Lilly fell asleep in the car and napped for 40 minutes – which came back to haunt us later!

Arriving at a rainey Whinfell Forest Center Parcs

First impressions of Whinfell were very good – plenty of parking (unlike Sherwood) and we really enjoyed walking in the rain in our waterproofs through the trees to discover the  Village Centre for the first time.

The Village Centre is all undercover, unlike Elveden, and, as there was plenty of rain showers the week we were there, it was just as well. We spent our first afternoon enjoying a rather large (and expensive) beer in Bella Italia and admiring the indoor water fountain before having a wander to see the Sports Plaza and enjoy a Starbucks on our travels.

The villas are a little different at Whinfell – as they were built when the park was an Oasis – and ours was a two storey wooden house. It looked lovely from the outside – much more aesthetically pleasing than the standard issue Center Parcs bungalows – but inside it could have done with a bit of a revamp – the white goods were a good 10 years old and the decor a little bit tired. We didn’t really mind that though, but could’ve done without the super creaky staircase and no downstairs loo which meant we spent most of our evenings trying not to need a wee in case going upstairs would wake up a very light sleeping toddler….

Our first night was not to be a peaceful one, as that illegal in-car nap formed a lethal cocktail with ‘First-night-in a new bedroom syndrome and resulted in, yes, you’ve guessed it, “I’m NOT tired!!” “I don’t LIKE my new bedroom!” There’s a squirrel at my window!!” “I’m SCARED!!”. We ended up bringing Lilly downstairs with us, which wasn’t too bad as she was chatting away and making us laugh. When 10pm came around, Lilly still wouldn’t go to sleep in her own bedroom alone, so Tony had to sleep in with her before she would settle.

When she woke up the next morning, early, lack of sleep had transformed her into A MONSTER with absolutely zero tolerance for anything and with with her emotions balanced on a knife edge…

But, before we fully comprehended just how terrible a mood she was in, we took the two girls swimming first thing in the morning. It was the first time Isla has been swimming, and she remained very serious looking throughout her short experience – then promptly fell fast asleep!

Tony took charge of Lilly while I got out with snoozy baby. In a fit of unusual recklessness, he decided to take Lilly on a rather big waterslide, which she seemed to enjoy first time around, despite getting water in her face. Second time around I watched – only to see both of them go right under the water in the plunge pool. A screaming Lilly soon emerged from the water – Tony (who was frantically holding Lilly up above the water while trying to steady himself) took another five seconds – Lilly was terrified!! Not a very good second waterslide experience but quite funny for a spectator (bad mummy!)

It all started to go a little bit wrong after that. Lilly wanted to go for a wee, so I walked with her to the changing rooms. On the way there, she slipped and managed to take me down with her, so that I landed right on top of her foot! She was screaming and I was panicking because I thought I’d broken her foot. I managed to carry her to the disabled toilets where Lilly said she couldn’t stand on her foot and then, in all the upset, did a wee all over the floor, all over herself, all over me! I had visions of hospital visits and plaster casts, but luckily after a while she calmed down and was able to walk again… phew.

Soon afterwards we decided to get out and have lunch. Bad mistake at 11.30, as every other family decided to do the same, so there were no changing rooms available, and people queueing waiting for them to become free. Isla started wailing – she wanted her bottle. Lilly started whinging – “I’m hungry, I want a snack, I’m hungry, I want a snack, I’m cold, I want a snack…” on and on and on.

In the end, I took Isla into the disabled toilets to dress her while Tony and Lilly found a too-small cubicle to get dressed and I fed Isla her bottle standing up – not very comfy!

We thought the worst was over once we got out of the pool – oh, how wrong. Lilly’s mood was awful, we couldn’t go five minutes without a tantrum. We had screaming, lying on the floor, “NO! NO! NO!”, hysterical crying, refusal to walk anywhere, running off, you name it, we had it. We gamely attempted a coffee in Starbucks and some soft play near the bowling alley (they have an big open area in the bar where they play CBeebies on a big screen all day!) By about 3 O’Clock we couldn’t cope with anymore public tantrums so we all went back to the villa and prayed Lilly would go to bed ok later. Luckily, 7pm came and she went to bed fine, on her own, so we breathed a massive sigh of relief and poured a large glass of wine…

I’m happy to report that the rest of the week passed off much more harmoniously. Better sleep meant we got our good girl back, for the most part, and we had lots of fun in the playgrounds and back at the CBeebies bar (genius idea, Center Parcs!) One of the other highlights was shopping in the supermarket with the mini trolley – Lilly absolutely loved it, and looked just too cute pushing it around the aisles and loading all the items onto the checkout.

Back at the villa, we hung out three bags of peanuts on the tree outside our window and watched all kinds of birds feast on them for three days. We also had pheasants and a red suirrel come to visit – and spotted a rabbit emerging from a large rabbit hole outside once too. While we were there we had loads of fun spotting different plants and trees with Lilly on mini ‘nature walks’ – there were loads of different types of mushrooms growing everywhere. Typical though, that the main thing that Lilly remembers from these little walks was an old discarded baby dummy: “we saw a dummy, didn’t we mummy?!”

On Thursday, we had my pretend birthday (it was my 30th on the Friday, when we were travelling back), so we ate our lunch at Bella Italia (delicious) and had a takeaway for our evening meal.

We also learnt, while out and about during the week, that Lilly can do a wee in the bushes if neccessary!

All in all, we had a great time, bar an extremely stressful second day. Sleep is absolutely the MOST important factor in determining Lilly’s behaviour, and Lilly’s behaviour is the one and only key to whether or not we have a wonderful day, or the day from hell!

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