I've just returned back from a midweek break at Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest near Penrith in the Lake District and would definitely recommend the Center Parcs priority package.
It was the first time I've visited a Center Parcs, Becky had been to a couple when she was younger. We booked an apartment together with the priority package at Whinfell Forest.
The Center Parcs Whinfell Forest complex was really easy to find, literally 5 minutes off J40 of the M6.
Arriving is pretty straight forward, you queue up to the 6 drive through areas, where you're signed in, given your keys and told what to do. After which you basically park up and wait till 3pm when you can enter the complex, during this time you can get out and go explore the complex on foot if you wish.
We had paid extra, so we were allowed to drive into the complex an hour early at 2pm. Think of Center Parcs Whinfell Forest like a little village, with cottages grouped collectively in little cul-de-sacs around the complex. A smooth, one way, tarmac road round winds throughout the complex, the complex is simple to navigate round, just follow the signs. Cars are only allowed on the complex on arrival and departure days only, so having dropped off all your bags you then drive to large car park and bid farewell to your car till the end of the holiday.
The Cycle Hire Centre is located right next to the car park so we popped in, were efficently given two bikes and cycled back to our apartment. The bikes are all mountain bikes, and you can hire kid seats and little trailers you can pull along as well. They aren't the most amazing bikes in the world but will do you for cycling the short distances around the complex.
Center Parcs Whinfell Forest Extras - Priority Package
If there is one piece of advice I can give it is to take advantage of the Priority Package when booking your holiday! It is a fantastic package. For only £100 you get:
* Early check-in - hour early at 2pm which is quite handy as you can be getting on when people are only just entering the complex.
* Week long hire of 2 mountain bikes
* 2 free spa sessions on the Monday or Friday. (I would recommend to go Monday - it was dead)
* £10 gift voucher to use at the Parcmarket
* Visitor passes - ideal if you have family up in the Lake District.
* Welcome pack - which was fantastic - you get 2 pints of organic semi-skimmed milk, loaf of bread, butter, big bag of sugar, big bag of twinnings tea bags, big pot of Gold Blend coffee, big bottle of Volvic water, washing up liquid, loads of Andrex toilet rolls, big pots of strawberry jam and marmalade, a carton of Tropicana orange juice and a pack of Mcvities milk chocolate digestives.
How Expensive Is Center Parcs Whinfell Forest?
One of the concerns I had when going to Center Parcs Whinfell Forest was how expensive it was going to be, especially with buying food and drink from the supermarket at the complex. Another concern was how well stocked the Supermarket would be from previous holiday experiences aboard.
From reading some reviews, we went to Sainsbury's before we left and stocked up fearing it would be mega expensive, however we didn't need to at all. For one, the supermarket was very well stocked, it was fantastic - it had EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING. The prices were also very competitive, I would say exactly the same as the likes of Sainsbury's with maybe a couple of items being slightly more but nothing to make you conk at the till! The welcome pack also covered most essentials for the week too.
There is a good choice of restaurants, an American diner, Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, an Indian and Refresh, a little cafe. There was a Starbucks for a relaxed coffee by the lake which was nice. We decided to eat in 2 nights and eat at the American diner and Bella Italia. The food was good at the two restaurants, however the prices were slightly on the expensive side. Expect a main to cost around £10, with drinks head north to £3.
If you have little ones though you're in for a mega deal, for every adult spending over £10, children ate free in the restaurants.
There was also a takeaway/delivery service should you feel like staying in and doing nothing. There were pizzas, indian and chinese on offer, as well as drinks too. Again the prices weren't cheap but hey you're on holiday and you could get away with it as a one off.
Center Parcs is totally geared up for kids, I would say aged up to the beginning of High School and prodominantly little ones. There are tons and tons of activities available, in fact I doubt away from paragliding there isn't an activity you couldn't do. There is plenty to keep everyone entertained all week. The activities were good, lasting around 45-60 minutes. The activities are where they make a lot of their money so they can be quite expensive. The trick is to plan ahead before you arrive.
Swimming is strongly catered for, the large dome holds not only the restaurants but the massive swimming pool. Really nicely set up for all ages, really warm, well monitored by lifeguards. There is a wave machine, water rapids and loads of slides. All I would say is that if you want a quiet gentle swim then I would book time in the spa pool instead!
So is Center Parcs all about kids? What about couples?
Although kids do play a big part at Center Parcs I didn't feel they got under my feet at all due to the space available. The big swimming pool was a bit claustrophobic during the day but after 7 it was fine. There is no entertainment around really at all and the complex goes dead after 10pm,so prepare to chill in your apartment with a DVD. Becky and I would recommend taking the Friends box set, super relaxing!!
For couples I would definately 100 recommend the spa Aqua Sana, it is fantastic. It has 11 different steam rooms, foot baths, a hydrotherapy pool, waterbeds and an outdoor heated pool which was gorgeous. The way to do it is to take loads of books and magazines and spend a whole afternoon just chilling on the sofas, do a treatment and then chill some more. It was gorgeous. You can get a whole week pass for £50 each, or just an afternoon for £36. Expensive but worth it for the experience.
Additional treatments are available too, an hour massage session will be knocking on £60 while a haircut and highlights will be around £100.
There are loads of other activities available and we enjoyed crazy golf, quad biking and I loved the horse riding. You have a good hour ride through the forest and the complex, all supervised and it was great.
Booking is so simple over the internet and there are points around Center Parcs where you can look and book. The instructors were all very helpful and friendly too.
There is a range of accomodation available at Whinfell Forest from small 4 bedroom cottages with a jacuzzi attached to it to a studio apartment. We had a studio apartment and it was really nice, very spacious, the kitchen was very well equipment and the bathroom did the job. The TV and hifi were good and we looked out onto a pond and the dome behind. We made friends with the ducks and rabbits while we were there!
Other accomodation looks nice, and all look similar, I would advise to get as near to the centre as possible as the cottages looked much nicer. If you happen to book on the outskirts of the complex, don't worry as everything is really easy to get to and I would say you were only 5-10 minutes away by bike to the center.
Apart from the Lakeside Lodges and apartments I would say the rest of the complex have very limited views, either overgrown trees or looking out to the front of your cul-de-sac, so don't get over excited! In my opinion I thought the grounds needed more of a tidy up and a trimming back, but hey I suppose it's rough and rugged forest!
It was a great holiday I would recommend Center Parcs Whinfell Forest it to anyone, especially those with little ones. I would feel comfortable letting my son or daughter play on their bike around the cottage in the evenings. It was very secure and very relaxing.
Don't get worried about the supermarket prices, just plan ahead with eating out and activities.
Oh and if you have a road bike do take it as the tarmac road around the complex is fantastic to do some circuits on!