Wednesday 21 August 2019

Gareth Morgan: 'Thrills aplenty as laid-back Irish learn to run on Center Parcs' time, although costs quickly add up'

Lucy Murray (10 months) enjoys the pool with her mum Denise. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Lucy Murray (10 months) enjoys the pool with her mum Denise. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

As we traipse towards the exit of Center Parcs Longford Forest on a sunny afternoon, my eldest child is insisting he won't leave while my wife frantically calculates the estimated cost of bringing the kids for a short break next year.

Perhaps not the image that Center Parcs has in mind when it pushes the ideal of a perfect family break, but there can hardly be a better example of the chain's magnetism in drawing repeat custom.

After just two nights in Ireland's newest holiday destination, we can immediately see why 30pc of their UK customers return every single year.

Just 48 hours ago we'd pulled into the secluded forest resort, only a 90-minute drive from Dublin - despite my sat-nav's best efforts to bring us down every boreen in the Midlands.

I had happy childhood memories of Center Parcs breaks in the UK, but my wife and two children were novices.

Dumping the car and picking up the bikes was an interesting experience as we aren't exactly regular cyclists (I think Center Parcs Nottingham, autumn 1995, was my last time on two wheels).

At first we cautiously wobbled down the forest roads - by the end of the day we were whizzing around with new-found, carefree abandon.

The lodge was modern and stylish. While not huge, it made clever use of space with plenty of light and woodland vistas to combat any cabin fever.

Rory Best enjoying the Mini Captains’ Adventure with his son Richie (4). Photo: Naoise Culhane
Rory Best enjoying the Mini Captains’ Adventure with his son Richie (4). Photo: Naoise Culhane

The famous Subtropical Swimming Paradise was next on the list and stepping into the 29.5C heat, it became apparent why Center Parcs can be a holiday destination all year round.

Attractions such as the Tropical Cyclone raft ride and the Wild Water Rapids are genuinely white-knuckle experiences. My son, almost eight, loved it all and made me ride the rapids until I felt thoroughly battered. But there are also smaller slides and play areas for younger children.

Indeed, the family focus is key to the Center Parcs experience and any parent can appreciate the little things.

We've so often thought: If only they had baby-feeding rooms. If only they had a soft play area in this restaurant. If only there were flotation aids for the pool. Center Parcs Ireland has you covered on all of this.

For the weary parents a short trip to the spa was essential - and it is truly world class, with an array of saunas and steam rooms. Expect to pay extra for this, though, and pretty much any activity aside from the swimming pool.

The kids enjoyed their activities, including football, archery and cupcake decorating. The instructors were unfailingly friendly.

But this place has to run like clockwork in order to function - and there was no hanging around for latecomers, something which might clash with the more laid-back Irish approach to holiday time.

The British firm has even made an effort to don the green jersey. As the All-Ireland semi-final took centre stage in the Sports Bar on Saturday night there was no doubting that we weren't in Nottingham. But in search of the promised "Irish pub" on site, I could only find Cara's - which was more trattoria than tavern.

Food and drink on site (we ate at Cara's, Huck's, and The Pancake House) was decent, if a little mass-produced in style.

Prices were akin to what Dubliners might expect to pay in the city centre, but in the resort's supermarket the costs were reasonable. Even the alcohol was priced similarly to what you'd find in your local supermarket.

At the end of the weekend, we are desperate to return but conscious of the costs involved: booking accommodation is one thing (and this alone can get steep during peak holiday season) but add in activities, bike hire, spa time and meals.

However, the children swam and cycled more this weekend than they might do during an entire year in Dublin. We enjoyed solid family time, and barely switched on the TVs or looked at our tablets. For many families, that's going to be priceless.

Irish Independent

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