JUST three days after arriving back home in Cork, having enjoyed a memorable short break in Center Parcs, Longford, we logged on and booked our 2020 summer holiday there.
Was it impulsive? Probably. Was it pester power from the kids? Hell ya! Was it pricey? At peak summer season, some would say ‘yes’. But any regrets? None whatsoever.
Having got a taste of the 400-acre woodland resort at the launch weekend at the end of July (a two-night stay), we knew we wanted more — with 100 indoor and outdoor activities on-site, there’s so much to go back for, so booking a seven-day week was a no brainer.
The forest resort is home to 466 high-quality self-catering lodges and 30 apartments and I’m curious as to how many of these will be booked out in the weeks and months ahead. Right now, the hype following the recent launch, the curiosity about the new holiday resort and FOMO (fear of missing out) has everyone talking… and booking it seems (we already know several families who have their deposit placed!)
For anyone looking to enjoy a family staycation next summer, it’s just a three-hour drive from Cork — with lodges of all sizes to accommodate you and whatever size your brood is.
As to the jewel in the crown of the resort? The Subtropical Swimming Paradise. They’ve called it a ‘paradise’ for a reason — simply because it is one. We are not talking any old swimming pool here, or water activity center. It opens daily from 9.30am to 9pm and does exactly what it says, which is providing families with hours of fun.
We had to tear our five-year-old and seven-year-old away from here after two and a half hours each day! It’s got something for all ages and I’m not kidding when I say I think their dad got as much enjoyment scooting down the tornado slide and whooshing down the rapids, as the children did.
I even got a bit carried away myself and in return got very politely reprimanded by one of the lifeguards for taking off down one of the kiddy tubes. Can I be blamed for getting caught up in the moment? Young or old, there’s a part of the swimming paradise for everyone.
The big plus is that unlimited entry to the pool is included in the cost of your break. And believe me when I say you will use it EVERY SINGLE DAY you are there. After all, it’s weatherproof too, something needed with our Irish weather — autumn, winter, spring and even summer!
Sticking with the free activities, there are also playgrounds dotted around the park, another asset which won’t cost you an extra cent, and another way to while away a half hour or an hour.
Another big plus is that the woodland site is car-free so again you and kiddies can spend endless time cycling safely around the entire woodland resort. You can rent bikes or bring your own. Again, all ages, abilities, and mobilities are catered for with everything from trailers to child seats too to help cater for families. And for anyone who hasn’t been on a bike in two decades or so, I can attest that it’s like learning how to well, ride a bike… you don’t forget.
A lot has been said — online and offline — about the cost of the breaks and whether it is within everyone’s budget. And also the extra cost of activities when you get there.
Right now you can book an autumnal three-day break at Center Parcs Longford for as little as €399, midweek, which sounds amazing — but that’s off season. As for what you can expect to pay for a family of four — we’re talking around €2,000 in August, peak season, at least. What Center Parcs stress is that it is value for money. Having stayed in their lodges, used their facilities, witnessed their customer service and their attention to detail (this place looks like it runs like clock-work, every big and little detail has been thought of to help make the whole experience seamless), I have to agree about value. You get what you pay for.
Right now, Center Parcs are offering 20% off early bookings next summer. They take a deposit and you have up until 10 weeks before arrival to pay in full, so that can help you budget.
For those who want a complete break away and want to keep out of the kitchen, Center Parcs Longford Forest features a wide range of delicious dining options. We ate in the Indian restaurant Rajinda Pradesh and Cara’s Kitchen and Bar, both really pleasant and family-friendly. But if you want to keep costs down, self-catering is the way to go. And with each lodge having its own kitchen indoors and BBQ outdoors, there’s no excuse. There’s a Parc Market on site (small supermarket) which has your grocery basics, convenience foods and frozen options — as the fridges can be small in the lodges.
The Village Square also has gift and clothing shops, a sweet shop and toy store, if you fancy a browse.
There are more than 100 activities to choose from. I admit that we got a bit overwhelmed when examining the choice online. But now having seen what’s on offer up close we have more of an idea as to what will be on the wish list for next summer.
You don’t have to go too crazy picking activities either, just choose wisely and plan in advance. We tried our hand at kayaking on the lake, adventure golf and ten pin bowling in the indoors sports arena. The children (ahem, and parents!) would loved to have done the climbing wall and the tree top adventure, which culminates in the zip wire across the lake, but alas they were booked up, but are on our wish-list for summer 2020. Lesson learned. If you do want to try out some activities, booking in advance is advisable, to avoid disappointment.
Are the activities pricey? Some yes, others no. Here’s an example, for you to decide yourself:
Archery €10.75 (30 mins)
Indoor Climbing Adventure (55 minutes) €20 (aged 12 plus) and €17.50 (under 12s)
Ten Pin Bowling €31.00 up to 4 people (45 mins) or €34.50 for up to six people (60 minutes)
Adventure Golf - 9 holes 1 round 12 years+ €8.00, Under 12s €6.75
Aerial Tree Trekking, one circuit €30
Laser Combat (6 years+) 1 hour 15 minutes 12 years+ €24.00 and under 12s €20
Segway Experience (12 years+) 45 minutes €30
Canoe Capers (8-11 years) 1 hour €22
Stand-Up Paddle Board Tuition (10 years+) 1 hour €32
In my opinion, between the swimming pool, cycling, playgrounds, even one extra paid activity a day, would be suffice to keep everyone happy.
And if you want to tear yourself away from all the above, I can’t forget to mention Aqua Sana Spa for those in need of some ‘me’ time — it’s worth an article in itself, with it’s amazing facilities. If you are looking for a new spa destination, it’s worth checking out, with value to be had on overnight spa packages.
Center Parcs in the UK welcomes more than 2.2 million guests each year — 96% of guests express an intention to return. I’m guessing the same boomerang effect will ripple across that lake in Longford too fairly rapidly.
For more information, visit www.centerparcs.ie.