Life

Center Parcs Ireland: Jenny Lee's verdict on the much-anticipated holiday village

Jenny Lee was one of the first guests to experience the adventure of Center Parcs Ireland. She and her family cycled through the woods, plunged down water slides and sailed across the lake at the new Longford holiday village

The lake and man-made beach at the brand new Center Parcs, Longford Forest, which Jenny Lee visited with her family
The lake and man-made beach at the brand new Center Parcs, Longford Forest, which Jenny Lee visited with her family The lake and man-made beach at the brand new Center Parcs, Longford Forest, which Jenny Lee visited with her family

IF YOU go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise. This was certainly true of our experience in Longford Forest – home of the new Irish Center Parcs. While a teddy bears picnic is one of the activities on offer, there is a whole lot else besides.

Set in over 400 acres of woodland in the centre of Ireland, the €223 million complex is modelled on the company's other parks across Europe. Created in the Netherlands over 50 years ago, it arrived in the UK in 1987, with the opening of Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire.

Once arrival day is out of the way, the whole forest is a car-free zone. You can of course walk everywhere, but there’s a thrilling freedom about whizzing through the trees on two wheels with carefree abandon.

The cycle centre is huge and we were provided with top quality Forme cycles. This is something for all ages, with tagalongs and trailers for young children and mobility scooters for the less mobile.

It was almost quite nostalgic to see so many families using bicycles to get around. However, this is 2019 and technology does blend into the park, with a strong free wifi signal throughout and wristbands that enable you access to your accommodation and pool locker. There were also three plasma-screen televisions in our accommodation – though we didn’t have any time to watch any of them.

With this type of break you can be as active, or as inactive, as you like, and tailor your holiday to the type of activities you enjoy. This is ideal if, like my pair, Noah (9) and Abigail (6), your kids have completely different interests and energy levels.

You can book nothing and just swim, walk, people watch, build a sandcastle, visit the two woodland-inspired adventure playgrounds or simply enjoy the nature around you. Alternatively you can pre-book an action-packed itinerary in the online planner before your arrival.

One thing that is included in all Centre Parcs breaks is unlimited entry into the the Subtropical Swimming Paradise and after a three-hour car journey from the north, we couldn’t wait to have a splash.

And it's no ordinary pool: this is the largest water park in Ireland. Heated to a temperature of 29.5C all year round, you can dream you are abroad and, on a practical level, it means you don’t need to worry about shivering once you come out of the water.

There is a wave pool, a lazy river, outdoor pool, wild water rapids and an area called Venture Bay and Venture Harbour which is specifically aimed at younger children. There are also thrilling slides for the adventurous.

There are 466 self-catering lodges and 30 apartments on site. We stayed in one of the two-bedroom woodland lodges and it had everything you could want – including a dishwasher, wine cooler and inside and outside dining areas. They cater for all seasons with a log burner and a barbecue.

While you can pre-order grocery packs or stock up at the resort's reasonably priced supermarket, the park has a wide range of dining options – including Indian, Italian and wholesome Irish fare – many of which have separate menus for those with gluten and dairy allergies as well as for vegans.

We dined in Huck's American Bar and Grill, where the food and service were excellent, with our waitress treating the kids like VIPs, even making them napkin sculptures. The restaurant caters superbly for children, with an all-you-can-eat children's buffet they can tuck into to satisfy unpatient, grumbling little tummies as well as a play area and computer games room.

We were blessed with lovely weather during our weekend stay but Ireland isn’t its lovely shade of green without the help of its fair share of rain. As well as enjoying the swim paradise on a rainy day, the huge Sports Plaza offers many options. There are craft rooms, fitness studios, indoor climbing walls, badminton and tennis courts, snooker tables, a roller skating rink, bowling alley and, of course, a sports bar.

It is also home to the Pottery Painting Studio. On arrival you choose a piece of pottery – I chose a cute squirrel, in keeping with our woodland setting, while the kids chose car and unicorn money boxes. I never heard our youngest so quiet as she worked on her sparkly masterpiece. I found the experience very relaxing and we were all proud of our creations when we called in the following day to collect our mementos, which were nice and shiny after their overnight fire glaze.

The kids began their second day experiencing something new at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. As Abigail took to the water in a motorised inflatable jet ski, Noah enjoyed aqua jetting in the outdoor pool, the motor-propelled Seadoos helping him glide and dive through the water like a fish.

Our next stop was the outdoor activity centre where dad set off on an off-road Segway tour and the youngest donned a tweed flat cap and took to the driving seat in a mini-Landrover Defender, tackling puddles and rumble strips along a bespoke track, collecting animal jigsaw pieces along the way.

Later that afternoon we took to the lake. I put my life in the hands of my nine-year-old but he proved to be a very able captain as he steered our mini electric boat, discovering clues hidden on buoys along the way to solve the clues on his treasure map.

On our final morning, with dad and the kids off to a build-a-nature-box workshop, I enjoyed some quality me time with a visit to the Aqua Sana Spa.

In the space of three hours I enjoyed a swim in the tranquil outdoor pool, a reflexology foot spa, lava-volcano sauna, a tropical thunderstorm shower, visited an ice cave, snuggled up in a Scandinavian snug, relaxed in the hot-springs garden and had 30 minutes of pure bliss in the sweet slumber water bed.

For a final adventure, Noah and dad enjoyed some laser combat action. All the fun of paintballing but with none of the mess, they ran about for over an hour pretending to be spies, cops and prisoners. Meanwhile, I whiled away the time shopping, getting my daughter's hair braided and introducing her to the game of pool.

For each activity, the children receive a pin badge, which is a lovely touch. We may have arrived home with achey legs, but we also came away with cherished family memories. And as I yawned my way to bed, my son was enthusiastically circling the what’s on brochure, telling me that next time he wants to try the aerial tree challenge and zipline, the archery, the clay shoot-out, canoeing, raft building and the willow workshop. Better start saving.

FACTFILE

:: Center Parcs Ireland is located at Longford Forest, Newcastle Road, Co Longford, N39 RH95. For further information and to book visit Centreparcs.ie

:: Center Parcs holidays can be a week long, a three-night weekend stay Friday to Monday, or a four-night midweek stay Monday to Friday.

:: The best way to save is to book outside school holidays and to plan in advance. You can book 18 months ahead.

:: Sample activity prices (per person) include: Aerial Adventure €32, Chocolate Chefs Academy €33, Indoor Climbing Adventure €17, Cheerleading €9.25, Aqua Jetting €17.00, Mini Jet Skis €9, Off Road Explorers €12 and Stand Up Paddle Board €32.

:: The Aqua Sana will be open to day visitors from September. Book online at Aquasana.ie