Saturday 20 January 2018

Gareth Morgan: My experience in Center Parcs (and the big glass dome)

Back to nature, with the help of a big glass dome and water slides

A family on the edge of the 45 degree drop in Tropical Cyclone
A family on the edge of the 45 degree drop in Tropical Cyclone
A family enjoying a cycle through the forest
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

Holidaying in the Irish countryside would be paradise, if only there was a roof to keep out the rain.

That's pretty much what Center Parcs is proposing with the major development plans announced for Ballymahon. For those of you with memories of Mosney, note that Center Parcs can make the British middle classes go all gooey despite their natural aversion to the words "holiday camp".

Parents love it because it is a back-to-nature affair, there are no cars, it is safe, and child friendly. The kids themselves love it because there is a massive swimming pool and mega water slides.

The Longford site could soon join the likes of Woburn and Longleat forests in the UK, in that it will feature hordes cycling around and parents blissfully drunk out of their minds on all that fresh air, wilfully trying to escape the stresses of modern life. Although the main attraction is the big glass structure AKA 'Subtropical Swimming Paradise'.

I enjoyed a weekend at Center Parcs in the UK a few years back, dumping the car and taking to a quaint wooden chalet.

I fulfilled a childhood dream of archery in Sherwood Forest (I could almost see the ghost of Robin Hood doffing his velvety green hat) and went sailing on the lake (displaying all the grace of an elephant on a jet ski and regularly falling in).

But most of all, I got to bask in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise.

A Centre Parcs resort in the UK

Centre Parcs: The Subtropical Swimming Paradise

Or the big dome as everyone calls it. At almost 26C it is positively balmy inside, and the frosty November darkness was forgotten. This is not a pool for ploughing boring lengths - it is made for bombing down a slide while trying not to offend the posh people by shouting "Yeeeee haaahhhh!"

Of course not everyone will agree with any plan to build or develop on forestry land. And last December a demonstration in the Chambaran forest, France, got heated as environmentalists protested against the construction of a Center Parcs there.

Read more: Centre Parks: How much will it cost to holiday at Longford's €100m holiday resort?

Ironically the whole concept was dreamed up by an environmentalist, Dutchman Piet Derksen, who brought it to Britain in 1987.

The company says it promotes sustainable tourism - and the sites are unobtrusive, with wooden walkways, swans on the lake, and squirrels skipping among the wobbly adults struggling to remember how to ride a bike (or was that just me?).

And you'll likely need a bike, because cars are effectively banned from the site apart from arrival and departure day. This limits getting out and about in the wider area - I recall it was a bit of a rigmarole trying to access the motor for a day trip, and most families elect just to stay on site.

A family enjoying a cycle through the forest

Cycling in Center Parcs

Center Parcs has a captive audience, almost literally.

It has its own shops, restaurants and cafes - although it's typical family fare and not the place for a gastronomic experience or a wild night out. You do get a little bit of cruise ship-style claustrophobia where you bump into the same folk again and again. And my sister did clatter me in the face with a club on the mini golf course after three days of "family bonding" - although I can hardly blame Center Parcs for that. For the most part, we were too exhausted from all the activities on offer to waste energy squabbling.

I can, however, blame Center Parcs for the somewhat eye-watering price tag placed on their small slice of serenity.

But in the in UK, 1.7 million people a year are happy to pay it. It carries a certain premium to swing into work on a Monday and say: "Ah y'know... I just took the kids to Center Parcs."

You'll probably be saying it too, come 2019.

Irish Independent

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