At the beginning of December we visited Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest in Cumbria. It was our third visit to the Winter Wonderland and it’s always a lovely way to start our Christmas celebrations.

It was a shame that the day before we went the girls both started to feel ill, with temperatures over 40 degrees, so they were both pretty tired and off their food for the first few days. They didnt let it stop them having fun and joining in. The In-laws joined us there as they have in previous years – it gives the kids chance to see them near Christmas as they live a few hours drive away. It also meant we had babysitters too!

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We always try new activities when we go. This year Izzy tried balance bikes, which she enjoyed and roller skating, which she found ‘awesome’ (her words) yet her face said she was more terrified! The jet skis in the swimming pools didn’t go down well though and she came off after ten minutes. I think she was too tired and not really in the right mood with still not being back to her usual self. What she loved most of all though was getting badges after each activity, which we have put together with a pine cone and made it into a bauble for the Christmas tree.

The Princess and Pirates party was 3 hours of dressing up, playing games and doing crafts, although last year Izzy went to the Elf Academy and we would definitely recommend that. Izzy still tells everyone that she is a real Elf (she has a certificate to prove it!) and getting an elf outfit to take home was a nice touch.

Clara didn’t get to do quite so much as she is too little for most of the activities.  However she was only 6 months old the last time we went so it was nice to see her actually be able to join in this time.

Of course no trip to the Winter Wonderland would be complete without a trip to see the big man himself. It’s a lovely Santa’s grotto, with real reindeer, friendly elves and Christmassy displays. Izzy loves it and of course chatted away to Father Christmas like a long lost friend, telling him that she would like some Ninjago Lego, Disney Princess Lego and a Spidergirl dress. He was rather confused when she told him that Clara would like a Ninky Nonk! Weirdly, Clara is not a fan of jolly strangers with beards. Not sure why but they make her howl in fear. So it was disappointing for me as I wanted to get a nice photo of the two girls with Santa. Instead she would only sit on her Daddy’s knee so we all ended up getting in on the photo, big bulky coats, windswept hair and all.

Hubby and I always try to do one activity on our own. Last year it was the Ariel Tree Trek, the year before Archery and this time we tried Laser Clay Pigeon Shooting. Which quite frankly I was a lot better at than I ever thought. I beat Hubby, much to his amazement! It was good fun though and you can’t beat a bit of deadly serious friendly competition.

Most of all it was just really nice to get some quality family time, watching Izzy get excited about squirrel spotting and seeing Clara happily splashing around in the pool. I’ve got to admit, before we first went three years ago, I wasn’t really sure about the whole concept. I just didn’t get why people raved about it so much. I mean, why would I want to go on holiday an hours drive down the road, somewhere cold and predictably wet? But after being convinced to give it a try I am very much a Center Parcs convert!

Here’s our top tips to get the most out of your stay.

1. Popular activities fill up fast and some only run a couple of times a week, so any you have your heart set on, book first. We then spread our other bookings out over a few months so we weren’t paying for everything all in one go.

2. Book restaurants beforehand, especially for the last night. We never had any problems getting a table until the Thursday night when it was a 3 hour wait. We got takeaway and headed back to the cabin that night!

3. Don’t try to do too much. It’s tempting as there is so much available, but it’s nice to have some time to just chill out, go for walks, have a coffee and visit the pool, rather than rushing from one activity to the next.

4. Definitely visit the swimming pool. The girls absolutely loved it and you could easily spend hours in there. If you don’t want to carry your towels and costumes around all day, leave your bag in a locker at the swimming pool in the morning while you go off and do other activities.

5. Take some DVDs, board games and of course some wine to enjoy while the kids are in bed – and make the most of having no mobile signal and no distractions!

6. Pack the wellies and waterproofs, and don’t expect to be sporting anything more glamorous than serious hat hair and a nose to rival Rudolph’s. This is winter in Cumbria after all.

7. If you get the chance, try to visit the Aqua Sana spa in the evening. It might sound crazy but swimming in the outside pool, in the dark was very relaxing – yes, even in December!

8. Try something you have never done before. There’s lots on offer so just step outside of your comfort zone and pick something you’ve either always wanted to try, or even something you’ve never really considered before. You might just find something you really love or are good at. (Just a reminder, I did win at Laser Clay Pigeon Shooting…)
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