Center Parcs On Cheese

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

House Swap

Selling our house, so that we can take a year away to travel round the world, was just one item on the pre-departure checklist, alongside more mundane activities such as organising vaccinations and buying some suitable rucksacks. The house selling process, however, is still ongoing and the reality is dawning that we will not achieve our hoped for departure window of July 2016.

We have now got some buyers lined up, and all being well we should have sold our family home by some time during May. This should help us to get back to planning our year away, which will need to start with a re-working of our itinerary  based on a new departure target of Spring 2017.

It will be a relief to sell our house so that we can start making some firm travel plans, but there is also some sadness in leaving our home behind. We have to sell our current home to fund our trip, which in our minds is a good trade-off to enable us to follow our dreams.

We do still need somewhere for the kids to sleep when we get back, so we are buying a smaller house nearby that we can hopefully rent out when we go, but which does at least give us a base for when we return.

Choosing somewhere to live for the next 6-9 months, that we can then also rent out, was trickier than I expected. We started with a very logical plan to buy a more modern property than our current 1900’s house, on the basis that we wanted something low maintenance and hassle free. What we found was a lovely stone cottage, which was modern once, around about the time of the Crimean war. On the plus side the house has managed to remain standing for the last 150 odd years, so with a bit of luck it should be ok for one year while we’re away.

All we need now is for everything to run smoothly with the final stages of the home moving process so that the real fun can commence!

 

 

 

The Lull Before The Storm

Life feels relatively normal at the moment. On the surface there isn’t much to show that we are slowly approaching a major change.

We are still quietly planning our family gap-year, but our departure date of July 2016 feels an incredibly long way off. I suspect, however, that we will look back in nine months time from the runway of Heathrow airport and wonder where all the time went.

Anja has started to tell her friends at work about our plans, with lots of encouraging reactions and a few  very kind offers to look after our dog while we are away. We haven’t yet finalised any plans for Hugo, but it is encouraging that we at least have some potential homes for him when we go away.

The kids are loving school at the moment, with Alexandra settling really well in her first year and Kiera enjoying the step up to Junior school. It is clearly one of our biggest worries as parents that we are disrupting the kids’ schooling by taking them away from their normal routine. We sincerely believe that the kids will learn more from travelling the world than they would from one year in school, but we also know that it is going to be hard for them to leave everything that they know behind.

I am managing to keep busy as usual, with a combination of work and decorating our house so that it is ready to go on the market before Christmas. Selling our house will feel, to me at least, like the point of no return on this journey.

Despite my insistence on saving money for our trip, we have also squeezed in a few family days out to avoid cabin fever. We had a lovely weekend in Lincoln, visiting my brother and sister in-law, and we have just returned from a day trip to Legoland, Windsor.

We had not been to Lincoln before, but my brother moved up there a few months ago and it was past time that we invaded their peace and quiet with the kids in tow. Lincoln reminded me slightly of my old university city of Exeter, with an imposing central cathedral and castle combination that meant you really could be transported back in time by several hundred years and not lose your bearings.

My brother twisted my arm to join him for a day at the races at Market Rasen, where I just about managed to escape from the bookies at break even, and Kiera particularly enjoyed putting some new found maths skills into practical application by helping me calculate odds. Vegas here we come. (Don’t worry, we only gambled with my money, so no laws were broken).

Legoland was more of a spur of the moment trip as the weather was dry and the kids have just broken up for half-term. We have been once before and the rides are just about perfectly suited for a 7 and 4 year-old duo, albeit with fewer options in the 36 year-old bracket.

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First Day At School

We are settling back into home life after our summer holidays, but we have reached a major milestone this week, with Alexandra’s first day of school.

This has been an eagerly awaited day for Alexandra, involving several short visits to school earlier this year and many attempts at wearing her new school uniform around the house.

But yesterday was the big day and she made the most of it.

School uniform was on within seconds of her opening her eyes from sleep, and her big sister was in an extremely supportive mood, which was very sweet.

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Anja had the honour of taking Alexandra to school. There were a few tears, but those were from Anja. Alexandra is not lacking much in the way of confidence, so I fully expect her to settle quickly in her new surroundings.

I am not usually prone to writing poetry, but I did just want to share with you a few lines that were given to us by Alexandra’s new teacher, which I thought were a nice touch:

Dear Parents,

We understand that you are scared, to wave your child goodbye

and leave them in a teacher’s hands, don’t worry if you cry

We’re used to weeping parents, it’s hard to leave we know

But it’s time to share them (just a bit), to help them learn and grow

Let us reassure you, that we’ll give your child our best

We’ll wipe their tears, soothe their fears, and change their dirty vest

If your darling child is full of cold, we’ll blow their nose all day

Just like you, we’ll care for them in a special way

We’ll treat them like we would our own, we’ll catch them from a fall and

If there is any problem, we’ll be sure to tell you all

It’s true they’ll grow to love us, they’ll talk of school a lot

It doesn’t mean they hate you, and that you should lose the plot

We’ll tell you a secret, that when your child is here

They talk to us as much of you, of this please have no fear

You’ll always be their parent, whilst teachers come and go

To them you are their number one, this we truly know

Soon you’ll see some changes, in your little girl or boy

They’ll become more independent, and to see this, it’s a joy

We’ll teach them all we have to give, to share, climb and to write

But to you they safely will return, to tuck them in at night

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