*Updated 09/11/17 with dates for Christmas 2017!*
Earlier this week we got back from a visit to Center Parcs Sherwood Forest, as part of the Winter Wonderland season. We’ve been on lots of Center Parcs breaks before (more about those here), but never at Christmas, and it’s fair to say they go all-out on the festivities front. We returned from a 7-night stay well and truly ready for Christmas, having sung carols, met Santa and worked our way through an inordinate number of Starbucks red cups (we won’t talk about the bottles of red).
We stayed in a 4-bed woodland lodge with another family, so we had 4 preschool-age kids between us. It worked out just right with the kids sharing 2 rooms, and we cooked at the lodge every night bar one, when we ate at Huck’s (the soft play area in here is brilliant – if you sit in the right place you can watch the kids play as you eat your dinner in peace).
Activities at Center Parcs Winter Wonderland
Center Parcs is all about the activities at the best of times, but they really go to town at Christmas. Aside from the pool, which is what most people spend most time using, there are loads of things to do that don’t involve swimming (but do cost extra).
I’d recommend downloading the Center Parcs app before you go, and pre-booking any activities you definitely want to do while you’re there, as they do get booked up. The only thing we pre-booked was Santa’s Woodland Workshop, at £13 per child. We chose a slot at 4.30pm one afternoon so that it would be getting dark as we came out, and it’s worth knowing that adults don’t pay and you can take babies through for free – they just don’t get a present.
The visit itself was fairly sweet – everyone walks through an elves’ workshop full of toys and decorations together, and then you’re ushered in to Santa’s little room in individual family groups according to your booking. My eldest happily chatted to Santa, but the youngest flatly refused to go anywhere near him, which was no huge surprise. After a couple of minutes our elf returned with presents (a plastic skittles set for the 4-year-olds and a wooden puzzle for the 2-year-old) and took a photograph of us all, which turned out to be included in the price (you’re not allowed to take your own photos in Santa’s room, but you can up to that point).
In the area surrounding Santa’s grotto the trees were lit up with fairy lights and the walkways lined with cute little animated huts and loads of ‘snow’. Festive activities aside, we also hired bikes with Burleigh trailers during the week – a brilliant way of getting around with young children – and the older kids had a go on Mini Trekkers, which is basically a mini version of the aerial adventure course. If you want to know more about things for young children to do at Center Parcs outside of the Winter Wonderland season, take a look at this post on outdoor activities for toddlers at Whinfell Forest.
Festive fireworks at Center Parcs Winter Wonderland
Another great feature of Winter Wonderland is the free fireworks display on the beach. It happens every Tuesday and Sunday at 6pm, and because we were there 7 nights we got to see it twice. There’s a brilliant choir singing Christmas songs for about 15 minutes beforehand as everyone arrives, and the fireworks themselves are set to a soundtrack of everything from Coldplay to Frozen, and last about 15 minutes.
My top tip would be to get there early to get a good spot – although the announcer kept asking everyone to move closer to the Pancake House to get the best view, it turned out if you get too close your view is actually obstructed by the Pancake House (see the video above). The second time around we ignored her advice and got a much better view, and we also made sure we didn’t rush off, as the choir carried on singing for another ten minutes and it was much more pleasant than trying to squeeze our way back through the crowds.
Center Parcs Winter Wonderland – would we go again?
That would be a big fat yes. The husband and I have done both summer and winter breaks at Center Parcs and we both prefer the landscape in the winter. Sherwood Forest looked so beautiful covered in frost by day, then lit up in twinkly lights at night, and it made for a really festive setting. But don’t just take my word for it – take a look at our photos from the week below and let me know in the comments if you’d choose a winter break over a summer stay.
For 2017, Center Parcs Winter Wonderland is running across all five villages from Monday 6 November to Monday 1 January 2018. If you’re going, take a look at these self-catering essentials to take from home (and save a fortune) then read my mega-list of 34 tips for taking toddlers.