The Home of Center Parcs
Alongside some of their great contributions to the World, such as the Cruyff turn and Gin (“Dutch Courage”), the Dutch have somehow also found time to invent Center Parcs.
For the uninitiated, Center Parcs is a holiday camp aimed at families.
It is based around the concept that while it may be nice to get back to nature (woodland setting / no cars allowed on-site), it’s also nice to have stacks of pancakes for breakfast and then plunge head-first down a water slide.
We have managed a few trips to our local Center Parcs, at Longleat, and there’s not really too much that can go wrong from a family holiday perspective – unless you count the kids deciding that they need a loo break inside the lion’s enclosure at Longleat’s safari park.
After negotiating check-in and abandoning our car, we are generally allocated sixty seconds to unpack before heading to the water dome. The water dome is Center Parcs’ biggest selling point. A giant golf-ball shaped greenhouse, heated to tropical temperatures all year-round, and containing enough water based excitement to exhaust Michael Phelps.
When the kids were little and couldn’t swim, we might escape with a few gentle laps of the lazy river and an ice-cream. Nowadays, the kids can swim further than me, but they aren’t always tall enough to be allowed onto the water rides on their own. So my main role is to provide an appropriate adult so that the kids can chuck themselves down water chutes.
Before venturing further afield next year, on our round the world trip, we decided to play it safe this summer and let the kids run riot.
We opted to visit Center Parcs De Eemhof, which is around a 45-minute drive out of Amsterdam. Including the cost of flights from the UK, this was still a cheaper option than a week at any of the UK sites during school holidays.
Best Things About Center Parcs De Eemhof
1. Splashing about in the water dome
I couldn’t take my camera into the water dome, due to the oppressive humidity and my general fear of it getting slightly splashed. It is a new camera.
So you’ll have to take my word for it, or else pay a visit to Center Parcs, but the water dome is good fun. At least for a few hours a day, after which you might find it difficult to walk out due to the numerous bumps and bruises that are a feature of being dragged down the rapids on one too many occasion.
2. Splashing about in the canal
Advertised as paddle-boarding, I thought it would be a good idea to take the kids out on the water to experience some fresh air. Anja wisely decided to sit this one out.
Luckily they can swim.
Luckily the water was only two-feet deep.
Unluckily the water was filled with duck and goose shit.
The buoys in the background of this photo were designed to separate us from the local shipping channel. I would have preferred something more concrete to be on the safe side, but we all eventually found our way back to shore.
3. Taking a stroll around the medieval town of Amersfoort
After a few days of non-stop water slides, it was nice to “escape” from Center Parcs and visit the local town of Amersfoort.
The centre of Amersfoort is well preserved from medieval times and, as you might expect being in Holland, is crisscrossed by a series of canals.
The kids were slightly despondent at the lack of water features, but they soon perked up when they saw some shopping opportunities.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting if you are expecting vibrant nightlife, but it was interesting to wander the streets and observe a real Dutch town at work.
4. Chance to visit Europe’s largest marine mammal park
A tad pricey, but “Dolfinarium” is easily reachable from Center Parcs de Eemhof and is home to an impressive array of sea creatures, including Walrus, Seals, Sea Lions and Bottlenose Dolphins.
We were all especially taken with the Sea Lions.
It was, however, a culture shock to see some of the animals being asked to perform tricks. It was particularly unedifying to watch the Walruses being asked to play a trumpet, and it was hard to tell if they enjoyed doing this. But overall the animals appeared well cared for, even if it would be preferable for them to be in their natural environment.
5. Kids Entertainment
There can be few parental pleasures that beat enjoying a guilt-free cold beer after a long day of family fun. In the Dutch version of Center Parcs, the kids soft play area comes fully equipped with a bar, which feels like a massive design improvement over most soft play areas we usually visit.
So while the kids flit between soft play area and taking in the local entertainment (Orry and Friends, in case you were wondering), mum and dad can take a well earned rest.
6. Good food
We generally thought that the food options at Center Parcs de Eemhof were better than back home, but it helped that we were staying out by the Marina and there was an excellent local restaurant called Brasserie Zuiderzoet.
Service in the on-site restaurants was on the relaxed side of slow, but the food we ate was always pretty good.
Dressing up is definitely optional, and we managed to get away with post-swim clothing most days…but the girls had to dress up at least once! I didn’t feel the need.
We would definitely recommend Center Parcs de Eemhof for a family break. The site offers better value than a comparable break in the UK, combined with the chance to explore a small corner of Holland that we would otherwise never have visited.