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When Barry Egan went to Center Parcs: 'A truly special place for a mini holiday'

A trip to Longford Forest finds this family spending hours in a 'Subtropical Swimming Paradise'...

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The ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’

The ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’

The ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’

'Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." - Ralph Waldo Emerson. We're on our second day in Center Parcs in Longford Forest; where nature, as well it might, is nothing short of breathtaking.

Our kids have yet to develop anything remotely resembling patience, though. They have, however, plenty of pace. After breakfast every morning it is an ordeal to stop them making their way at great speed to their new favourite place in the world: the Subtropical Swimming Paradise.

So, there we go in the morning for three hours before lunch and an hour in the evening before dinner. That is not, I'm almost embarrassed to say, an exaggeration. I have never spent so much time in my life standing around in swimming trunks that wasn't at an actual beach on the continent. But the resort's Subtropical Swimming Paradise is magical. We literally could not get the kids out of this indoor waterpark, possibly because it is heated to 29.5°C all year round, regardless of the weather, and it has slides for both them and grown-up kids too. There is also a special area for toddlers and a lazy river, plus an indoor wave pool - the giant whoosh of waves was heralded by a loud Tarzan-type call.

The kids also adored the heated outdoor pool. All of this is open daily from 9.30am-9pm. For bigger kids and adults, there was also the kind of terrifying (in a good way) Tropical Cyclone and the high-intensity and highly exhilarating rapids. The latter was my favourite. I used it about 20 times in three days. Do the math. I think I was working through my mid-life crisis. I felt like I was bombing down the Rio Grande in the Gulf of Mexico and not an enchanted forest in Longford.

Situated on 400 acres of woodland, Center Parcs is a truly special place for a mini holiday. It really is another world where only bicycles exist. This is because you leave your motor in the car park when you arrive at the start of your three-day stay and don't collect it until you leave.

It is quaint and wonderful to see kids and their mums and dads getting from A to B on the windy roads from their cabins in the forest on bicycles or on foot.

We stayed in a lovely, and very fancy executive lodge which has everything you could dream of: daily housekeeping services, flat screen TVs in all the four bedrooms, en-suite bath and shower rooms, giant kitchen with a great fridge (there is a supermarket called ParcMarket) as well as big dining table to match; and a games room with pool table, to say nothing of much-needed stair gates (we have a two-year-old), high chairs, and toddler steps in the bathroom.

We ordered pizza in on our first night in Center Parcs. On the other two nights we ate in the American restaurant (Huck's American Bar and Grill - for 'smoky New Orleans-style ribs or a steak cooked just like they do in Texas'), and then the Italian restaurant (Bella Italia) in the mini village opposite the artificial lake. We also had lunch (and breakfast on the final morning) in the Pancake House. They have a massive menu of omelettes, Belgian-style waffles and American pancakes.

When we weren't in the swimming pools (or swimming in pancakes with maple syrup), we also went for long, leisurely strolls around the forest and the woodlands, and enjoyed some of the myriad activities.

Our two young kids had no end of fun driving through the woodlands in mini Land Rovers as part of the Off-Road Explorers at the Outdoor Activity Centre. It was lovely to watch them steer a miniature 4x4 together along the bumpy, muddy tracks in the forest, while finding and collecting pieces of a puzzle as they went.

Later, while our two-year-old son painted and made shapes with pottery and paper in the pottery painting studio, our four-year-old daughter enrolled at Center Parcs's very own chocolate factory, for an afternoon of choppy craic at the Chocolate Chefs Academy. She looked extra cute as a mini master chocolatier, in her own chef's apron and hat. There was also a teddy bear making studio, Pirate & Princess Adventure and Wizard Academy as well as a rock-climbing wall, multi-sports courts and roller skating, among many other activities indoors.

Outdoors, you could zip line high above the lake. There was also trekking across the trees on steps and bridges, archery, laser clay shooting, paddle boarding, kayaking or raft building on the lake, the Segway Experience or bowling.

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One of the lodges at Center Parcs Longford Forest

One of the lodges at Center Parcs Longford Forest

One of the lodges at Center Parcs Longford Forest

Obviously, for all of these activities you have to pay, which can be quite expensive when you add it up. The Subtropical Swimming Experience is free though. (Did I mention there is even a cafe there where you can sit in your swimming gear and pretend you are in St Lucia or Mauritius and have a glass of wine or beer with pizza or burger and chips and ice cream?) To save costs on hiring bicycles, you can also bring your own.

All in all, Center Parcs in Longford was a fantastic mini-holiday for the family. It doesn't involve getting on a plane to go somewhere special. Just 90 minutes in the car down the motorway with two very excited kids.

Even when the weather was bad - it lashed solidly for two out of the three days we were there (last November) - you could imagine that the rain outside was a tropical downpour somewhere exotic.

And as good as anything you would get in St Lucia or the like was Center Parcs's extremely fancy and state of the art Aqua Sana Spa. It has 21 different spa experiences. I wouldn't know. My wife went while I in, my trusty trunks, ran after the kids in the swimming pools. When she came back, all Zen-like and blissed-out after her treatments, I - having changed out of my swimming gear and with a well-earned glass of wine in hand - watched a football game in the Sports Cafe in front of a TV screen, the size of which was like something you'd see in Las Vegas.

So, would we go back? Of course. We've scheduled a stay for March.

Getting there

Center Parcs Longford Forest opened in July 2019. Located amongst 400 acres of woodland, the resort is home to Ireland's biggest waterpark, the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, which is heated to 29.5C all year round, over 100 indoor and outdoor activities, a wide range of dining experiences and shops, and Ireland's first forest spa, Aqua Sana.

Open 365 days a year, Center Parcs Longford Forest accommodates up to 2,500 guests during each short break within its 466 premium lodges and 30 apartments. Short breaks to the resort, which run from Monday to Friday or Friday to Monday, start from €299. For more information, visit centerparcs.ie.

NB: This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.

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