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The great escape: 1,000 guests plan visit to Center Parcs

Laura Lynott visits Center Parcs Longford Forest to see last-minute opening preparations with a reduced 40pc occupancy rate for the first fortnight

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Emmanuel Nwokeiwu at Center Parc’s Cycle Centre. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

Emmanuel Nwokeiwu at Center Parc’s Cycle Centre. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

Emmanuel Nwokeiwu at Center Parc’s Cycle Centre. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

Center Parcs reopened yesterday with around 1,000 guests expected - but face masks certainly aren't something many holidaymakers want to see on their itinerary.

The Irish Independent visited the resort in Ballymahon, Co Longford, shortly before the public opening and saw last-minute preparations to open with a reduced 40pc occupancy rate for the first fortnight.

Village director Daragh Feighery said: "There are some areas where face masks are mandated.

"But we have done a lot of research before we opened. We surveyed representative groups.

"The overall preference is not having to have masks but not to compromise social distancing. Social distancing is first and foremost.

"Generally speaking, we have left face coverings optional for staff, unless there's specific guidance to wear a mask or face covering," he said.

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Social distancing ‘champion’ Louise Harper. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

Social distancing ‘champion’ Louise Harper. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

Social distancing ‘champion’ Louise Harper. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

"Our aerial adventures requires staff to wear masks and visors and guests to wear masks and we've communicated that very clearly with guests.

"Social distancing is first and foremost. If a staff member isn't comfortable to wear a mask, that's OK."

Mr Feighery said the resort had to be "very sensible about the change" and a balance must be struck between providing a safe environment and a fun holiday atmosphere.

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Dermot Beggan working safely behind glass screens at the bowling alley. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

Dermot Beggan working safely behind glass screens at the bowling alley. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

Dermot Beggan working safely behind glass screens at the bowling alley. Photo: Shelley Corcoran

The occupancy rate will rise to 65pc after an initial two-week settling-in period.

Social distancing signs are dotted across the 400-acre site, on the floors of the restaurants, bar, leisure facilities and the supermarket.

But a fun element has been injected to stave off a clinical look. Animal prints and general knowledge questions sit alongside some of the signage.

A subtle signpost reminds guests the village square is one-way, while glass panels separate customers from staff at the supermarket tills.

Mr Feighery said: "What's key to us is our guests are coming here to escape all the pressures and stress they've had over the last couple of months, so we want to be subtle in our approach but make it easy to understand."

All guests must pre-book activities, including seats at the bar or restaurants.

Mr Feighery said despite the pandemic, the public have voted with their suitcases to holiday at home.

"We have limited availability after July 27," he said.

Incidentally this is when the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, popular with families, opens up.

"Up to September, we're busy. Every time Leo Varadkar made an announcement there was a spike," he said.

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Irish Independent