Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Center Parcs

We spent last Monday - Friday at Sherwood Center Parcs, we had a great time as usual. I have to wonder though where they expect everyone to go, at times the dome is overcrowded fit to burst and the car-park is overfull. I have two maps, a new one and one that gets left in my ‘Center Parcs swim-bag’ which must be about 8 years old now. Comparing the two, there are at least 200 extra ‘villas’ aka cabins, chalets, huts and sheds - depending on their size and how peasanty you are, and everyone has to be somewhere, seeing as the dome is the only free activity, that's where most people hang out.

We had been in our villa before and really liked the views so chose it again [we paid extra for the choice]. Unfortunately it had been upgraded from a ‘comfort 1 bed studio’ to an ‘executive lodge’ which meant:

  1. It cost a lot more.
  2. There was a telephone.
  3. Complementary towels [but not to take in the dome]
  4. A Philips Senseo coffee maker.
  5. Philips blender.
  6. A dishwasher.
  7. Microwave.
  8. Clock radio
  9. Wifi access.
  10. 2 TV’s
  11. DVD player.
  12. Toiletries.
  13. Hairdryer.
  14. Wine cooler.
  15. And worst of all maid service.

It’s all very well having a maid come in but it meant that I had to tidy up, empty the bins and find somewhere to hide my shabby knickers and best bra [the T-shirt type that retains it's bumps, arrived in it's own suitcase, needs a shelf all to itself and appropriate supporting scaffolding] before she arrived. This resulted in me hanging the ‘No Service Today Thanks’ doo dah on the door to prevent the above. We went out and left the villa with a ‘lived in’ look [ok, untidy], came back a little later, took the sign off the door thinking the cleaner [maid, whatever] had been and gone, went out again, came back in a snow blizzard - oh dear, the bins were empty and everywhere was tidy - my face glowed with embarrassment.

The storage space for one couple is appalling, 5 coat hangers in a wardrobe that can’t properly accommodate anything hanging up as the rail went across, the space wasn’t even a foot deep so everything was skewiff. The rest was open shelves. Looking back at old photo’s I see that our clothes then were on a shelf above the bed, so no real improvement. Oh and there was a safe - which didn’t open, not that I'd got anything valuable to put in it, but that's besides the point - I could have hidden my underwear in it.

We had everything in the kitchen a professional chef could require - except somewhere to put food, if it didn’t fit in the fridge, it obviously wasn’t meant to be there, I can only deduce they must have wanted somewhere to store their extra pans, Pyrex dishes, etc and for us to go and eat out - not on your nelly! I'd seen their price lists for eating out.

It was blissfully quiet in our ‘villa’ - except when my family was visiting. There was no noise from the neighbours as even though we were adjoined both sides, the buildings have a double wall. The only sounds we heard were the smoke alarms which were very sensitive, very noisy and very frequent, you only had to wave a slice of bread at the toaster to set them off. But I suppose in the middle of all that woodland, fire is a big hazard.

The villa was clean [until we arrived] and warm at all times, the heating automatically adjusted throughout the day but you could turn it up if you wanted to. The radiator in the bathroom was in a stupid place - or the toilet was, twice I burnt my leg on it - but it certainly woke me up properly. The bed, ahhh, the bed - I wanted to bring it home with me, I've never been away and spent a more comfortable night, I will be buying a mattress topper as the bed there had one.

Compact and bijou was how my sister described our pad, they had a bigger but more peasanty villa with a lake view, [they still got a dishwasher and 2 TV's] we spent our evenings there with them playing cards until my brother-in-law finally won a game - late Thursday night. This villa was also their regular choice, for which they had to pay extra with it being in the central area.

One day we went for a walk around the lake and ended up at a bird hide, as we walked in to the semi-dark I had a quick glance around and noticed a man with a ‘proper’ camera at the far right sat with all the quiet people so I immediately tucked my compact ‘point and shoot’ job in my pocket and turned left to join the small noisy people doing their exaggerated whispering - as this was more suited to my grumpy old man [he doesn't do quiet]. Gradually everyone left except us and the photographer chap. My GOM carried on whispering at 60 decibels about which birds he could see while I'm trying to shush him, when this man started ‘whispering’ as loud as us. ‘Oi! Will you two be quiet?’ It turned out to be my brother-in-law who was trying - with great success [no thanks to us] to get some decent photo's of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, unfortunately the Jay wasn't nearly as obliging.

There aren't many shops [more than there used to be though], but we went in them all to laugh at the price labels, there weren't many customers in any shop except in the Parc market and Funtastic [toy shop], presumably everyone else had already been in to laugh at the prices or maybe even part with their money - not everyone is as mean as me. A browse around ‘Natural Elements’ resulted in me going back to the villa and stashing the complimentary toiletries in my case.

Between booking and arriving I received about a dozen emails trying to get me to pre-book bikes, meals out - or in [£2.50 delivery charge], and my activities - they obviously don't know me very well, the most active thing I wanted to do was press the button on my camera. I didn't go there to recklessly spend my money - when I go on a cheap holiday, then I spend lots of money.

We have been on a cheaper and much more ‘activity’ filled Center Parcs holiday, we were then eight sharing a villa, booked well in advance, made no choice where it was, but we did need bikes to get around.

There are some people I know who tried to sneak extra people in the boots of two cars, they got caught because they were daft enough to ‘stow them away’ in the pub car park just around the corner from Center Parcs. When they finally got to the ‘Arrivals Lodge’ they were ready and waiting for them - it made excellent Father of the Bride and Best Man speech material as it was a hen party that committed this particular offence.

Expense apart, I like Center Parcs, for us it's a ‘chill-out’ holiday where we go for the peace and quiet and a few mad dashes down the rapids, chutes and grand cascade [I love playing in water]. I am already looking to book another mid-week break for later in the year. The down side is that all the activities - with the exception of the dome aka sub-tropical swimming paradise - are outrageously expensive when you consider how much you've already paid just to be there.

If like me, you're prepared to pay extra when you book, rather than on activities when you get there, you can have the villa you want - it's all down to personal choice, I'd rather pay more for views and location than for swinging through trees, being smothered in a volcanic mud wrap in the hope of regaining my youthful skin [my GOM has offered to do that for free] or whacking at a golf ball.

The wild life ... well it isn't, it's tame and pops by for a snack or in the case of the swans and one squirrel, knock on the patio door and come in. In fact the only money we spent was on feeding the little blighters.

What number villa? I'm not telling you - or it may be booked when we want it again ...

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