It feels like an age since I wrote about outdoor activities for toddlers at Center Parcs, so it’s high time I ticked off things to keep young children – that’s babies, toddlers and preschoolers – busy indoors. While I focussed on our stay at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest last time, I’ve covered several different villages below. We’ve stayed at all of them so they tend to merge into one in my mind, plus the activities – unless mentioned – are the same wherever you’re staying. Just bear in mind the bookable sessions fill up quickly, particularly at peak times, so it’s a really good idea to book in advance.
Free indoor activities
It has to be top of the list, of course. The subtropical swimming paradise – AKA the indoor pool – is the highlight at all Center Parcs villages, and for good reason. They’re all based on a similar model – a huge, greenery-filled dome with different swimming areas including a wave pool, lazy river, flumes and water rides, pools for babies and toddlers and outdoor rapids. There’ll be a few extra features, too, depending on where you’re staying, and they all have a restaurant inside the pool area itself, so you can basically spend all day there if you want to.
My favourite pool for babies and toddlers is the one at Whinfell Forest because there’s a separate splash zone with cushioned flooring, loads of sprays coming up from the ground and plenty of watering cans and buckets for kids to play with. The Girl was crawling when we went and it was lovely to be able to put her down without having to worry about her. She enjoyed the freedom, too – as did The Boy who seems to think he can swim (he can’t) and is therefore a bit of a liability around water.
The pool at Woburn is my favourite for slightly older kids – it has a big pirate-themed structure for them to climb on, with sprays, chutes and tipping buckets. At 3 The Boy is just old enough to make the most of it, although he still needs a bit of help up the slippery steps.
All the pools areas have little life jackets for children (they’re free), and you can buy inflatables and towels if you need them. We always take our own – it’s the only time they come down from the loft – and you can ask the staff at the kiosks to inflate them for you (with their electric pumps, not their mouths – that would just be a bit rude).
2. Soft play areas
One of the great things about Center Parcs is that most of the restaurants have little soft-play areas in, so kids can play while they’re waiting for their food, or burn off some energy after a meal. They vary in size – from a multi-level climbing frame in The Lakeside Inn at Whinfell and a big soft-play zone right in the middle of Hucks at Sherwood Forest, to a little corner with a few soft-play shapes in Strada at Woburn, but they’ve always gone down a treat with our kids. There are also soft-play zones in all the Sports Cafes if you just fancy a drink rather than a full meal.
Paid-for indoor activities
3. Tots’ Fun Zone
We discovered the Tots’ Fun Zone one rainy day at Whinfell Forest and it turned out to be a bit of a godsend (not just because it meant the grandparents could keep an eye on the kids while we went for a spa session at Aqua Sana – honest).
For £4 per child the kids could use all the soft-play equipment, tunnels, ride-on cars, building blocks and tents for up to 2 hours. Considering Center Parcs activities aren’t cheap, I thought that was a pretty reasonable price. Plus, it was about 800 times more sedate than your average soft-play centre, possibly because the maximum age is 4.
4. Balance bike class
The Boy got a balance bike for his second birthday, but I think we were perhaps a bit eager – the poor kid didn’t have a clue what to do with it until he was closer to 3. Fortunately that was about when he took a balance bike class at Longleat, and although he still wasn’t exactly Bradley Wiggins, he definitely seemed to find his feet by the time the hour was up. The class was fairly slow, which suited him but probably wouldn’t be much fun for kids who are already a whiz on a bike.
5. Teddy Bears’ Picnic
I’ve cheated a bit here as, technically, this is an outdoor activity (which is why I covered it in my last post). But in the colder months – or if it’s raining – this is held inside, either in the sports hall or in one of the designated kids’ activity rooms. It’s no less fun, and the kids still go on a bear hunt – they just do it all under cover. Fortunately The Boy is very familiar with indoor picnics, so he didn’t bat an eyelid. I think he only came for the hat and the ‘free’ teddy anyway.
6. Baby Bollywood Class
I was initially a bit disappointed by the list of dance classes on offer, mainly because they only seemed to be aimed at girls (Mini Ballerinas was for ‘fairy princesses’ only, apparently – I wrote a bit about my issue with that, and other randomly gender-specific things, in this post).
Fortunately Baby Bollywood was less specific, so we went along to that at Longleat instead (and there was another boy there and everything). They wore jingly skirts, danced around like peacocks, and were generally fascinated by the studio’s massive mirror. Just be warned – there is an element of parental participation, so you’ll either need to feign a leg injury pretty early on or be prepared to get involved.