Center Parcs Ireland – Longford Forest in Winter
Travelling and exploring Ireland and beyond, is what my husband Patrick and I have always had a passion for. And now that we’re a family of four (five if we count our dog Charlie), it’s what we do as a family. We have a grá for Ireland and all it has to offer, from its urban cities to its country coastlines. From luxury hotels to activity packed weekends, count us in. But our boys are still quite small, preschoolers in fact. So although the world is our oyster – planning and suitability is still a priority. I did my research before I booked our four night Winter Wonderland breakaway at Center Parcs Ireland. And I’m happy to report that although wintery, we had a fantastic experience and would happily visit during every season – so watch this space!
10 Top Tips for a Winter Stay at Center Parcs Ireland
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Cut Costs Easily
As with booking any stay away, if you book during peak season it will be more expensive. We booked within the first week of the Winter Wonderland season (early November) at Center Parcs Ireland. Compared to other times of the year I’d consider it off-peak, and pretty good value at €499 for four nights in a two bedroom executive lodge. This price included €50 for housekeeping, which I’m between two minds about. I’m fastidious when it comes to being neat and tidy, especially when travelling, so we really had no need for it. However the change of towels mid-stay was an advantage.
We dined out for dinner in a different restaurant every afternoon/evening. So five different eateries in total – Huck’s American Bar and Grill, Sports Café, The Pancake House, Bella Italia, and Cara’s Kitchen and Bar. All were pre-booked apart from the Pancake House and Sports Café. Bella Italia was our favourite, however I don’t agree with their policy of not opening up the booth area when its quiet. In my opinion you should be able to sit where you like. Especially when the restaurant can’t provide suitable highchairs. These meals averaged at about €65 for our family of four.
Top Tip: There are two sizes of highchairs in the Center Parcs Ireland restaurants. Unfortunately not all restaurants provide both sizes so keep this in mind.
We hired bikes instead of bringing our own (€105), and also hired towels for the pool (€2 each). We booked some activities in advance but not all. I treated myself to a spa session, treatment and products (approx €110). Overall we spent €600 on top of accommodation. Could we have cut costs? Of course. Did we mind at the time? No. Do we mind now? No, we had a wonderful time.
But with saying all that here’s what we learnt from our first stay and how we can potentially cut costs for future stays:
- Cut Housekeeping Costs – The staff are great, and I loved meeting them all on their bikes zipping around the centre every morning. But don’t bother with these additional costs if you’re neat.
- Cook at Home – We brought groceries with us and dined in our accommodation for breakfast and lunch. The shop onsite was great for grocery top-ups too. So instead of dining out all the time, make use of the fully fitted kitchen, and enjoy meals in your accommodation.
- Book Activities in Advance – By booking beforehand, your little ones know what they will and will not be doing. And you know how much you’ve already spent.
- Winter Wonderland is Magical even Without Santa – We visited the big man and the boys really liked the experience, and the gifts they got but it’s not necessary for a fun and memorable time.
- Bring your Own Bikes – An obvious saving. And more on this below.
- Bring your Own Towels for the Pool – Another obvious saving.
- Consider the Cost of Bowling – We found the price of activities at Centre Parcs Ireland to be favourable. However €40 for 45 minutes of bowling was too much in our opinion.
Get on Your Bike Straight Away
If you can bring your own bikes with you, do. Because depending on how many are in your family – you’ll save at least €100. We didn’t bring our own, we hired, and although it did increase our spending it’s one of the best things we could have done. We hired two adult bikes and a childrens trailer to carry our two boys.
Leaving our car in the car park on the very first day we made our way to the bike hire station next door. We gave our reservation number, and that was that. We brought our own helmets, but you can hire these too.
Having the bikes and trailer made exploring the centre so easy – especially on the first day before we could check into our accommodation. And especially on the one bad weather day we experienced (weren’t we lucky!) – where the boys were kept dry and warm. So apart from saving the boys little legs from tiredness, and tantrums, the trailer also provided protection from the elements – wind, rain and cold.
Top Tip: At the time of booking our stay, the bikes were not available to hire online. A little strange considering the amount of bikes in the centre when we arrived. I phoned and easily booked our selections. So, although the phone call did take some time (30 plus minutes, on hold etc), it was well worth it. And if you come across the same issue when booking bikes or an activity – give Center Parcs a call.
Book Festive Activities in Advance
Booking your activities in advance is a great idea. You can let your little ones know exactly what to expect and give them something to look forward to. You know you’ll have their place reserved, and there won’t be any disappointment. When it came to the festive activities, we pre-booked the Santa Workshop and Visit and the Festive Pony Ride for both boys. They loved both experiences but the pony ride was the winner for them – so thank you Teddy and Tir na nÓg.
As an extra treat because he was old enough to do so, Smith partook in an Archery Class. He adored it, and we did too. On his second try he loaded two arrows at once, because he had seen Robin Hood do it in the movie weeks previously. And it worked!
We went bowling on the last day of our stay, which we hadn’t pre-booked. I’m unsure as to whether this had an affect on the price but at €40 for 45 minutes – it was too expensive in my opinion.
Top Tip: There wasn’t a phone in our lodge, but the wifi was great – so you can go online anytime you like to book an activity. Otherwise keep an eye out for the phone boxes around the centre – they dial through to the visitors office, should you need help.
Be Ready For Your Photo with Santa
Getting a family photo with Santa was a great idea, but quite frankly the photos I took of the boys turned out better. Yes the paper and ink quality of the printed photo was a high standard but the subjects in the photo weren’t!
During our visit with Santa, when it came to our close-up we didn’t know where to look and weren’t given direction. And so the photo options available to us had our feet cut off, us all looking in different directions and Smith mid chew – he had decided to eat the chocolate coin given to him by the big man right before the shots were snapped. Perfect timing eh!
So to conclude, we won’t be framing our family Santa photo and placing it on the mantel this year.
Top Tip: Take initiative and pose, ask for direction, make sure everyone is in the shot and don’t let you littles eat their chocolate coins just before the shot!
Visit the Winter Wonderland Area During the Day and Night
The Winter Wonderland area is gorgeous, really it is. With the snow, decor, singing reindeers and real life elves. We loved it. But it’s just as gorgeous and even more magical when it gets dark so be sure to visit for all those twinkling lights. And when you’re done take a walk, or in our case ride, right around the centre for lots of photo opportunities. The kids will love it!
Top Tip: There are lots of real life elves at Winter Wonderland who should be happy to take a photo of you and your family together. Being the person usually behind the camera, I know how few and far these opportunities come around. So if you’re not offered this opportunity be sure to ask – ask and you will receive!
Get your Complimentary Santa Letter
We didn’t know anything about the complimentary Santa Letter until we saw a sign next to Santa’s Post Box. So the very next day we got ours from the visitors office, took it back to our lodge, wrote it and posted it.
The beauty of the package you collect is that you also receive a return letter from Santa, which you can surprise your littles with when you get home on the lead up to the ‘big day’. Our little wildlings will be receiving theirs ‘in the post’ any day now!
Pack Warm and Waterproof Clothes
This goes without saying but it can be easily forgotten. Pack your winter warmers and waterproof outerwear.
We always wrapped the boys up well when leaving the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. Because going from 29.5c to .5c might be refreshing for us adults, it could mean a chill for children. And also it’s Ireland, so it’s likely to rain at some point, especially during the winter months.
Make Use of Both the Inclusive Outdoor and Indoor Features
Just because ‘baby it’s cold outside’, doesn’t mean you can’t make use of the special outdoor features at Center Parcs.
From the outdoor pool at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise – this is open to all ages, so don’t miss out on it, to the BBQ at your accommodation. Yep we had a BBQ in November, nice! There are a number of playgrounds available throughout the centre. And the surrounding woodlands are always a hit for exploring and getting in touch with nature. We came across a squirrel, mushrooms, a stream, and the ruins of a very old herdmans hut.
Back inside and our lodge accommodation had the joys of a stove in the living room to give that extra cosy feel. And our ensuite bathroom had a jacuzzi bath – perfect for creating your own spa experience at the end of the day.
Weather Won’t Affect a Spa Day at Aqua Sana in Center Parcs Ireland
The weather will not affect your spa day, that is unless there’s lightning and then I wouldn’t advise the outdoor infinity pool.
Top Tip: Having a bike to get to and from the Spa was a huge advantage, so take this into consideration.
I booked an Aqua Sana spa session and went solo without Patrick my husband, as I didn’t have an option. The spa and creche session would have been lovely, and available for our two year old, Cassidy. However Smith was too old at four. Perhaps we’ll return to Center Parcs Ireland minus the boys some time! (Shhhh).
The spa at Center Parcs Ireland is gorgeous. And I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘me time’. I did think that there were a few things that could be improved upon.
- I forgot my swimsuit upon arrival. Yes I know the stupidest thing I could have done – perhaps the prospect of ‘me time’ was too overwhelming! Unfortunately, and although I was thankfully advised that I wasn’t the first woman nor man to have done this, I had no option but to cycle back to our lodge to retrieve my own. Perhaps an option to borrow or purchase a swimsuit should be introduced?
- When I entered the spa, there was noone there to greet me. Of course I didn’t mind exploring the spa for myself and working out where everything was. But at the same time, a meet and greet is always nice.
- When I decided to change the time of my treatment I had to walk through the changing rooms and out onto the shop floor to get someone’s attention to help me change the timing. Not a very relaxing experience considering I looked like a drowned slipperless rat in a soaked robe. And on that note:
Top Tip: You’ll be provided with a robe and towel. Bring both into the spa area as you’ll need the towel when getting out of the pool in the winter. Bring your own flip-flops, especially if you plan on grabbing a bite to eat – the café on site is lovely.
Top Tip: Keep an eye on the notice board for special complimentary talks. I attended one after my spa session and enjoyed learning about and sampling the beauty products on offer.
Make plans for Check-in and Check-out Days
I do love to organise travel trips, and having somewhat of a plan for both check-in and check-out days is important, especially when you have children to consider.
On our check-in day before we could actually check into our accommodation. We hired bikes, took a tour of the centre and ate out at the Pancake House.
On our check-out day, check-out is 10am by the way. We went to the Subtropical pool, enjoyed one of the complimentary playgrounds, dined out, played arcade games and went bowling.
Planning on visiting Center Parcs Ireland soon? Or perhaps you’ve already been? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Oh and watch this space on more family travel adventures.