In this household we have 3 birthdays in as many weeks over the Winter period, with my birthday being in the middle. The only way I can manage to have an “ok” day for my birthday (as in one not entirely filled with tantrums or meltdowns, or even just excessively destructive behaviours) is to be on holiday. 2017 we did Disneyland Paris, but with the work and house purchase involved in 2018, something closer to home was in order. So, after much deliberation, we chose to go to Center Parcs Sherwood Forest, during the Winter Wonderland celebrations.
We arranged to stay in an Executive 3 bed lodge with private sauna and whirlpool bath, to pay for a specific lodge number No. 27 Maple Area (chose because of its almost direct access to the path along to the beach and lake area and Village Square. Meaning that we wouldn’t need to use Caitlin’s wheelchair as much. But also because we’d have the luxuries of the sauna and whirlpool bath at the accommodation if everything went to pot. We also paid for early check in so that we could avoid the rush (despite being able to be on site early, cars cannot be taken down to accommodation until check in time – and sitting in traffic in a one way system site is definitely worth paying to avoid with SEN children).
The accommodation was clean with a lovely welcome message from our designated cleaner for the week, Amy. And on the table, there were 2 bags, each containing a soft toy (Nutmeg and Clove) the deer from their Winter Wonderland story (we didn’t get the story or read it to the children as there seemed to be some implications about Nutmeg being responsible for his younger sister, Clove, but that’s a message we are definitely trying to not promote due to their history – children aren’t responsible for children, only adults are). They were super excited that they had a bedroom each and their own shower room each too. The lodge was well equipped with everything we could need from utensils through to coffee maker.
There was evidence of Christmas pretty much anywhere you went on site in terms of decoration and lighting. However, the areas around the lake and central village, and from Guest Services down to the village were the main general areas lit up. The children thought it was amazing. Any lights at all are amazing, but the way they were placed lighting up the trees and the forest were particularly appealing to them. But the Winter Wonderland strip down from the Village Square to Santa’s Grotto was where the magic was. Everything lit up, loads of little cabins with different Christmas related themes all the way down. Decorations everywhere. And a certain degree of interactivity (sensors/buttons to make certain parts of the display work). Logan particularly loved the singing reindeer, Caitlin particularly loved the Christmas-y cabins.
The park was lovely. So much nature, so much beauty. And one very big draw to places like this, due majorly to the children’s lack of danger awareness is that it’s car free (apart from arrival and departure of course). The beach area is a really lovely space for parents and children anytime of year – the park is available, the shallow water at the edge of the beach, the sand, the beauty. It’s great. And with the music over the loudspeakers, if your children are anything like these two, the park will get minimal use because actually they’ll be too busy dancing in sand! (Not even joking, I have some crazy children, but tbf they didn’t arrive to us this way, it’s all my influence so… I can’t really comment). The pathways around the park are largely accessible, and it’s quite easy to get around (exception being when the Village Square gets busy, and that’s less to do with the layout and more to do with people and their ignorance). The wildlife
The pool was amazing, a huge tropical greenhouse effectively, complete with wave pool, outdoor pool, a wide variety of different types flumes, and and outdoor jacuzzi’s, a baby pool and a slightly older child pool, wild water rapids (if you have experienced flumes and lazy rivers, and like both, it’s kind of a cross between the two) cafe and seating areas and not forgetting the cabanas, which I’ll talk about below. Both building and water temperature was kept quite warm meaning that the babies and slightly colder feeling older ones amongst us are kept comfortable The pool was mid upgrade though, so areas were closed off during our visit, you can see about their update plans here.
After a day of chilling out, and eating food for my birthday, we had hired a cabana at the pool for 5:15 to 8:15. This is a cheaper time slot due to it being an off peak swimming time so instead of being around £50 for 3 hours, it was around £30. But it’s definitely worth splashing out at least once on it, especially if you are going as a group and perhaps have some adults who won’t be swimming who could use it as somewhere comfortable to be based whilst others are swimming for example, mums with young babies who don’t want to be in the pool. You get towels and a chiller with a variiety of about complimentary 8 soft drinks in, a large screen TV and lots ample comfy seating. Oh, and not forgetting the giant rubber ring and inflatable pool ball. We didn’t get masses off use sitting around in the cabana but we did use it, and the towels and definitely enjoyed having a sanctuary to take a break in mid swim. Our top tip would be, if you are getting one… head to the pool an hour or so before you will want the cabana, so you can then enjoy the pool area and then take a break at your cabana when it’s ready.
Foooooooooooood (Cause. Um. Food).
Whilst we did a bit of self catering, it was a holiday for a relax and respite (wherever it could be found) so naturally, a lot of eating out took place, especially on my actual birthday day – there was no way I was cooking a darn thing then. The eateries are all high street chains, which is something that I do feel is the slight let down – I do love a place that has its own independent restaurants with locally sourced produce. However, that doesn’t stop us from being able to enjoy what is on offer.
On our arrival day, after check in, we went to the pool… and then we were a bit hungry when we got out. Dexter’s Kitchen was reasonably priced, and allowed us to have a light meal (salad instead of chips) as we had eaten quite heavily over the weekend of adventuring so didn’t need a great deal. Although, the children saw the dessert tray on the menu and absolutely had to try it. The food was freshly cooked/prepared, without much of a wait. I wouldn’t go out of my way to call the food amazing – for fast food, it was pretty average, but definitely not bad.
The Pancake House
We had arranged to go to the pancake ahead of time, the children were particularly excited by the idea that their main course could be pancakes (they couldn’t quite get their head around the idea of a savoury pancake). However, once seated and given their options they were very keen on the options in front of them; Caitlin especially had very, very definite ideas about what she wanted – as in, something that was on the menu… but with cheese, which our waitress really went out of her way to accommodate – having seen there was only a small amount of cheese cooked in with it, she went and got her a kids sundae pot and filled it with more cheese, just to be sure she had enough. The food was definitely “different” to what we would normally have, and I can’t rate it in terms of how good it was, because it’s not comparable to other places we frequent. But I would say, it was definitely loved by all, and we had no complaints about any of our food. And definitely none about service. The waitress again, very attentive, even ensured that the children were given a little gingerbread man each when our coffees arrived. Plus points for having fruit kebabs on the dessert menu, these two love fruit for pudding but get bored with having fruit salad on repeat. They like a bit of variety.
Huck’s American Bar and Grill
With Huck’s we paid for the “Early Dining Experience” which would cover our dinner, minus extra drinks and any required desserts. For the children this would include bottomless soft drinks and access immediately to the children’s buffet area where they can choose what they want from a varied selection of commonly accepted “children’s foods” like nuggets and hot dogs. The biggest hit with Logan and Caitlin was the fruit cups. Which they kept going back up for. For adult it means a single drink (including some selected alcoholic beverages) a sharing platter to start (nachos, jalapeño fritters and bbq wings) and all followed up with a choice of main from a set menu. It was average sort of american grill food, but it was most certainly not small portions. Bruce and I took the approach to share some Mexican dishes off the menu as we were already in the business of sharing anyhow, and we honestly were glad it was a flat walk back to the lodge… although rolling downhill would have also worked hehe.
There was a kids play area that was free for the kids to use, it was a bit of an indoor wooden den/park. The kids enjoyed running around it, it certainly broke up what could have been a mundane experience of waiting for us to finish our mountain of food. I didn’t get any photos of that as it was covered in children when we arrived and we are obviously very conscious of security issues with public photos.
For breakfast on my actual birthday, it was always planned that we would not eat at the lodge, that instead every meal would be prepared by someone else. So. Breakfast was at Cafe Rouge. The boys did the traditional breakfast thing. Caitlin is very much a pastry and fruit kind of girl so she had a pain au chocolat and a fresh fruit salad and I had my fave avocado, tomatoes and sourdough. Everyone loved breakfast. It was highly rated.
The big birthday lunch was Bella Italia. We pulled the stops out for this one. Nothing was boundaried for the children They had a 3 course kids menu with a variety of options available to them. And us adults had free reign over anything on the menu. Everything came out in a reasonable time (it wasn’t fast food by any means, but if food like this came out quick I would be worried about how fresh it was, that being said we weren’t kept waiting too long). The kids could have a trip to the ice cream cart for their pudding instead of a traditionally served pudding, which involved an ice cream of their choice with a sweet topping of their choice. The topping did not make it back to the table (or all of the ice cream for that matter) for a photograph.
The restaurant building is actually connected to the swimming pool, and our table was next to the window above the main pool area, which got the kids even more excited about the impending cabana experience. The waitress was very attentive, and didn’t even judge that, as birthday girl, I felt that my dilemma between two puddings (strawberry panacotta or tiramisu) could be solved by just having two puddings! hehehe The only thing that could be remotely complained about at was the lack of knowledge of what a babycino was (my daughter was literally served a cappucino in an espresso mug (effectively a reverse macchiato – switching the coffee to milk ratios). The look on her face as she went to neck it was priceless. Aside from that there were no complaints, everything was awesome.