Center Parcs Ireland Winter Wonderland

So back in August I was trying to decide what to get my husband for his upcoming 40th birthday. I had been chatting with friends about Center Parcs and I thought oh wouldn’t that be a nice idea to head away for the week and get some unexpected family time. Some people suggested a weekend trip but Johns birthday was falling on a Tuesday and I used to hate working on my birthday so I said “no we will go for the week!” It meant taking the boys from school which I know isn’t really ideal but hey ho I went with it anyway (plus the price difference when I compared is insane so if I was doing it again I would).

The researching began and when I checked out the dates I wanted, I couldn’t believe my luck, it was the same week as winter wonderland was starting! Being a huge Christmas fan, this was just incredible news lol so it didn’t take me long to make my decision and book it up! I paid a little bit extra for accommodation which was central and when I got my lodge number I messaged them for bed guards for the boys and asked for a different lodge which I thought looked even more convenient. They did both no problem at all. I had to wait a few days for a reply but found them very accommodating.

Now the next thing was to browse through all the activities and decide what we would do when there. I found this a bit stressful as you didn’t know exact prices or if there would be availability at the time of holiday etc. Yes there are guides but its only guides until the morning that activity booking becomes available. So I added all the ones that I thought we would like to ‘my favourites’ on the website and kept the faith that we would get what I wanted on the booking morning.

Keeping it all a secret from John and the boys was tricky, I was dying to tell them all about it but also wanted to keep the surprise for as long as possible. I had the boys looking at activities without them knowing why and they picked an activity each that they would love to do with their Dad ‘sometime’ as I felt some one to one time with each of them would be the most special present of all, as after all its all about presence not presents.

One month before the start date of our holiday, the booking of activities was due to go live on the website. This is when I decided it was time to tell so John could help me finalise activities and help me book them. Early one morning, Aaron, Caolan and I were in the sitting room while John and Jamie were still sleeping so I decided to fill them in and they got to work. The two boys looked at pictures of Longford Center Parcs on my phone and started to draw their own version and place the drawings around the house for a treasure hunt for their Dad to follow the clues and discover what we were going to be doing to celebrate his birthday. When they had all done, they went and woke him and the fun began. It was such a relief when everyone knew, I no longer had to be excited all by myself lol!!

Booking morning came, John and I got up and logged on by 6.45am and got everything we wanted booked, we had difficulty paying for all as it kept freezing but eventually after many attempts it was all officially booked and paid for. Now we just had a month to wait. We didn’t book any activities for arrival day (Monday) or departure day (Friday). For the Tuesday morning I booked the Mini Captains Adventure for John and Jamie (aged 3), the Pancake house for lunch, swimming in the afternoon and dinner in Hucks in the evening (dinner was a bit later than usually would have it but was the only available spot for the 5 of us). For the Wednesday I booked Adventure Golf for John and Aaron (aged 6) and Teddy Bear Making for John and Caolan (aged 5). For the Wednesday afternoon I booked the three boys into the three hour Festive Chocolate Chefs Academy (unaccompanied activity) and myself and John into the Aqua Sana Spa and then dinner in the sports cafe. For the Thursday morning I booked us into swimming, the three boys into the Off-Road Explorers and then into Santa’s Workshop.

I kept researching and reading posts that people would share in the tips group on facebook ‘Center Parcs Ireland Tips/Reviews’. This group is incredible if you’re planning a Center Parcs holiday, loads of great reviews, tips and advice but like everything you need to go with own gut and try things out for yourself as we are all different with different opinions but it’s a great guide.

When booking we were only allowed to book two swimming slots but the week prior to arrival I got an email to say could book an extra two slots and the pool was now open in the evenings from 6-9pm with no booking required so I booked up a swimming slot on the Monday and Friday. I ordered the boys Christmas jumpers online and started getting things packed throughout the week. I bought bits and pieces that I thought we would need and I made a list of the food shopping I wanted to get to bring with us.

Monday morning came and I still had to pack all our clothes (wasn’t sure I’d fit the kids in the car as well lol) and we had to sort all the pets etc before going away. Thankfully we had family move into our house to mind our dog, kitten, cat, rabbit, hens and stick insects! The Christmas jumpers were due for delivery that morning so I rang the postman and met him on route for my package! So off we went, the start of our 3hour 15min journey. When you add in me running a couple of errands in Letterkenny, stopping off for lunch along the way to break up the journey for the boys, and a couple of slight detours with sat nav, we arrived at the front gates around 5 hours later. It was a long journey down but boy were we excited to get checked in. Even driving in as it got dark and seeing all the Christmas lights in place was magical. The boys didn’t know about winter wonderland so when the man at arrivals told us that Santa was there they just could not believe it and the excitement level increased by 100 lol! We drove to our lodge, unpacked the car and then John took it back to the car park. Arrival and departure windows are the only times that cars are permitted around the lodges and this is actually a great idea. We changed into our swim stuff and headed to the pool. When we were finishing up I asked what time the shop closed and they informed me that it had just closed at 8pm. I hadn’t actually stopped on the way down to buy the essential food groceries like milk & bread etc that I had on my list so tip 1, shop before you arrive incase you do be later than expected. After swimming I said I would check if there somewhere we could grab some food. When I got speaking to the lady at the Sports Cafe they were so good and gave us a table so we could order our dinner (we hadn’t booked as we had planned to cook ourselves on Monday and Thursday).

The sub tropical swimming pool is incredible! There is a pool with a wave machine, a water play area with slides and lots of other features, a kids pool, a lazy river and other water slides and then 3 large slide experiences for the older kids and adults. Caolan was able to go on the smallest of these, the twister, accompanied by John and they had great fun. There is a heated outdoor pool which we got to experience in the dark and the rain the first night which was fun. It leads onto to a fast flowing water rapids loop but the boys were too young for this also. The two-hour slots weren’t long flying by, you really could spend longer if you wanted to but they were still plenty for us. The changing rooms are all family cubicles which was great so John could help me with the boys. The wristbands you get on arrival for unlocking your lodge door also locks and unlocks the locker doors in pool which is a great system. Our car was jam packed so I didn’t bring towels for the pool but we hired them there instead for 2euro per towel. You can take pictures in the pool area also which is lovely for capturing some memories but to be honest I only took my phone in once and then left it back in locker so I wouldn’t be worried about it.

The Sports Cafe was spacious with loads of tvs, friendly and helpful staff. Our service was quick and food was lovely. The boys were wrecked so it was home then to get ready for bed, they didn’t feel like their dessert so the lovely waitress put their brownies in cups to take home so they could have them the next day.

Our lodge was warm, but I def recommend a firelog in the evening for that cosy feeling and look. We had a three bedroom lodge (one double and two twin rooms), a main bathroom and an ensuite in the double room. The kitchen had a dishwasher, oven and fridge with small freezer on top. Tip 2: bring dishwasher tablets, bin bags (which I also used for the dirty clothes) and a clothes horse to dry swim gear etc. We had wellies, waterproof trousers etc with us but thankfully we were extremely lucky with the weather that we didn’t need any of that. I secretly dropped three letters addressed to the boys in the lodge by the door stating that they were on the nice list and when they pulled back the duvets on their beds that night, they found their Christmas jumpers that ‘Santa must have’ left for them.

A couple of weeks before our holiday I booked us all bicycles but decided to cancel them again and I am so glad I did. We stayed in Pine 728 and it is right beside everything we wouldn’t have used the bikes at all. We did benefit from having our buggy for Jamie when going to the pool and dinner etc but other than that the boys managed the walk no bother and all our other activities were right beside us. If we had more time we may have used the bikes to go deeper into the forest but we didn’t have time or really a want to as we live near a forest at home.

Tuesday morning was Johns birthday. We decorated the house and had cake for breakfast. John and Jamie did the mini captains adventure (25euro) which Jamie loved, it lasted around half an hour and he got to keep his captains hat and got a wee pin.

The other two and I had played on the beach while they were doing that (tip 3 bring buckets and spades for the beach). We went to the shop which is called Parc Market and got all our groceries. I found the shop had everything we needed, my middle child is a birdseye chicken dippers man and waffles man and they had both so we were winning and I felt it was reasonable prices. We went to the pancake house then for lunch which was a fab treat cost and around 45euro for the 5 of us. We had some time to spare and decided to book bowling (26euro but I saw the price depends on the time you are booking it for) which they enjoyed. We went for the 45min slot but half hour would have been long enough for my three. Afterwards it was off swimming again. The boys just loved going swimming and I had been bringing them to the pool all October (holiday was the week of 8th nov) so they were confident in the water and enjoyed all the splashing and water pouring on head etc (pre bringing them to pool often Jamie wouldn’t have liked this). We then went for dinner in Hucks (they charge a 5euro deposit per person to secure booking which is then taken off your bill so it was like an extra 15 on top of that). Dinner again was lovely and they gave the kids colouring sheets and crayons to keep them busy while waiting on food. Again though the service was quick and the staff very friendly. We stood out by the road then to await Santas arrival (every tuesday eve he does a tour of the forest which was just fantastic. It lasted just the few seconds as he passed by but their wee faces showed it was enough to just add to the magic. When we arrived back to the lodge the boys found three Kinder surprises waiting for them, the boys think santa must have dropped these there also! I just love adding to the magic of Christmas and seeing the wonder and awe. John was going to have a tough month toning down Christmas a bit again when we got home!

Talk about getting into the festive spirit, the whole place is lit up with beautiful Christmas lights and there is Christmas music playing the whole time. There is fake snow in places and its just like you’ve been transported to the North Pole when you bump into elves along the route also. There are cute singing reindeer and loads of photo opportunities for magical Christmassy pictures. There is also a snow blower thing outside the pool but it doesnt last long so we never really got to experience the full effect of it.

On Wednesday it was adventure golf (u12 €7.50 and over 12 €8.75) and teddy bear making (€29.50). Both activities thoroughly enjoyed by both boys. I had read the teddy bear making wasn’t great but I have to say he loved it and his teddy is fab! He picked a mammoth and santa outfit for it and was as proud as punch to show it to us after. We played on the beach and walked around the shops in between both activities and posted our very important letters in the special post box. This is a lovely touch by Center Parcs, you get the letter on arrival, post it before 2pm on the wednesday and the next day we woke to three personalised letters from santa hanging on door outside the lodge.

We went back to the lodge for lunch and then dropped the boys off at their chocolate activity (this was €35 per child, suitable for 3-6year olds). I was slightly nervous about how this would go but the three were so excited and waved us off so we went on to the spa with the reassurance that if they needed us they would call us. The spa is fabulous, so well designed and I’d say it has everything you could imagine for a spa experience. My favourite was the water beds, the sauna and the outdoor hot tub. Oh and relaxing in the basket chair thing. I was well ready to leave after two hours though but that’s a personal choice. I am sure others could spend the full day in it. When I had heard of the spa it was like 35euro or so but on booking it had increased to €51 each, to me I wouldn’t pay the latter for it again but that’s totally my own personal thing, if you’re really into spas you will love it, I would have benefited more from a treatment. We walked back for the boys, told the staff member our password to check them out and they were so excited! They had designed their own chefs apron and hats as well as baking lovely wee treats that they got to take with them and they played games also. They really enjoyed it. We went to the park beside Sports Cafe then for a play before going back to our lodge for dinner and to play with the toys they had bought from their holiday money in the Just Kids shop in the centre. Lego was normal price around 30euro but some of the other toys I felt were expensive so be prepared. On tv, Center Parcs were showing short stories from 6pm to 8.30pm each evening so we tuned into that for half hour and they loved the stories that much that I bought the books for them (8euro each) and they got a Nutmeg (€18) teddy and Clove (€15) teddy, to keep the experience going at home.

Thursday was our last day and the week was flying in! We had brought our picnic blanket and a bushtucker jelly bug sweet thing to play in the woods behind our house so we did that first in pjs before going swimming again for our last day. (swimming is free) Again a really enjoyable morning in the pool.

We then went to the park behind Caras kitchen to play before going home for lunch and play with toys again. I had also bought little colouring sets on amazon (£8.99) that had markers, blank paper and colouring pages within a case and they got loads of time out of them. We went then to the Off road explorers (€17 each). One adult has to be with each jeep so Jamie sat on with the boys which worked out great as he wouldn’t have managed himself to be honest and they really enjoyed this activity. Tyrone here was lovely and so nice to all the kids.

Back to the lodge then for dinner and get ready to see Santa (€21 each per child and €1 per adult). The moment they had been waiting hard for all week. We walked to the workshop where we were greeted by elves and we got to watch animated elves from the north pole on the tv screen while waiting to see santa. The boys had coloured pictures for him so they were holding on tight to them. When our turn came there was a knock on the big double door and the elf appeared to take us in. Santa was behind a big glass screen but that didn’t matter. He chatted away to the boys and was so nice. They told him all their news of their holidays and what they hoped he would bring on Christmas eve, The elf took a photo of them and give them all a lovely gift. Santa was so good and took their pictures and thanked them very much (I had thought they would have to leave on the floor beside him so they were delighted when he took them and commented on them etc). We went to the next room then where we got our photos (one photo included per child). John had been allowed in the workshop and photo shop with us but only 4 are allowed in the room with santa.
We went then to check out the enchanted lights trail which is incredible. It’s only a short walk like 15min max in and out but its well worth a wee walk in to watch the lights and hear the music, its beautiful!

Back to lodge for a Christmas movie and to pack up for going home on Friday morning. You have to check out by 10am but can remain in the park for the day if you wish. We decided it was best to just get on the road early though so we cancelled our last swim slot and did that. It really was a magical week, a celebration we will remember as a family forever.

Things to bring – Toilet roll, clothes horse, tin foil if cooking at home, activities to do in the lodge and snacks/food if eating there, firestick or equivalent for tv(there is all the normal tv channels in the lodge). Its totally cashless so don’t forget bank card and for kids if going again I would maybe put their spending money on a gift voucher so they would have fun spending their own money (these can be as little as five euro and you can check the balance of them online). Goggles are good idea for swimming pool and extra swim stuff if you decide you want to go twice in one day. I also saw a lot of people bring float seats for kids and there are a heap of buoyancy aids in the pool for people to use, we had brought our own for Jamie. The buggy even for good wee walkers is handy, as with the busy days and late nights it can make them too tired to walk it all. Buckets and spades I would bring again as a lot of people stopped to ask where we got ours so they mustn’t be for sale on site. Christmas jumpers/Santa hats (I hadn’t thought about anything festive for us but plenty adults had hats on). Listeners if you use them as I was bed hopping between kids most nights so I liked having listener with me for reassurance. A blanket for snuggling on sofa in eve/morning. Your festive spirit of course, go soak up every minute and enjoy the lovely adventure you’re about to embark on. Having done it now I can’t see us going back for a few years but it certainly is somewhere you could return to every year I’m sure and still experience new things together.

A long read but hopefully it gives a bit of an insight into Center Parcs at this time of year. Oh and keep eye out for the deer at night!

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