Friday, 1 April 2016

Sublime spa at Center Parcs

Last year my family were spread out over England and France for Christmas day so mum and I decided to go away for Christmas and ended up booking eleven days away! We spent the first half at Center Parcs and it was fantastic. I feel I need to break this blog post into more than one as I have quite a lot to say, so this first part will be all about our time in their Spa. I will link my second blog post about Centre Parcs in general when its ready!

I had heard how fantastic Center Parcs’ new spas were, being a keen spa-goer, and I really wanted to try it out. After a lot of research I found out that they were completely disabled friendly (yay) and the newest park, which is located near Woburn in Bedfordshire seemed the ideal one as it was supposedly only a two hour drive away (ever hopeful the motorways would not be jammed), the park is fairly small and flat, so therefore easy for my mum to push my wheelchair and most importantly the hotel and spa were in the same building, meaning I could just pop a dressing gown on instead of wasting precious energy getting dressed and undressed to go to the spa. The other big incentive to book our break was that I found in small print on their website it says that if you are disabled and need a carer every spa session you book (whether it be the 3 hour spa slots or the full day or the full day 9am -6pm) your carer gets in free! This is almost unheard of at spas so this persuaded us to go for it and book our Christmas stay. After booking the break online, we followed it up with a phone call to the Aqua Sana spa to book the times we wanted in the spa, this was very easy and quick. They are clearly used to having disabled people and filled us in on other useful information that might be relevant to my time at the spa. It is worth taking a look at this document before you go

Area between the changing rooms and the spa

So we arrived for our four night stay over Christmas slightly frazzled as of course we had got stuck in some Christmas motorway traffic and I had half an hour to get to my Lava Shell Back Massage, which I had booked to try and stop the pain from the car journey getting worse. It is important to note that once you staying at Centre Parcs in the hotel or lodges you do not have to book into the spa for a certain amount of time to access the treatments, nor do you have to book a treatment to buy a spa day or session. You will be given a dressing gown (take your own flip-flops if you want to wear some as they don’t provide these free) and access to a locker. After your treatment you will be shown to a relaxation room to make the most of your massage, facial etc… and you are allowed to use Cafe Vitale as well. I have a lot of massages so am somewhat of an expert and sometimes find that these big chain-sort-of-spas have a bit of ‘factory’ like feel. I had several treatments which were generally good but struggled to shake off the large company generic type feel at times.

Lava Shell Back Massage- very similar to a hot stones treatment, I think as a customer there isn't that much different but the therapists all said how much easier they were to use during the treatment. I had half and hour and the lady was quite good and I definitely felt relaxed after my car journey for my stay
Elemis Brighten and Glow treatment- this was hour treatment which both my mum and I had on Christmas eve during our full day spa. It was a hot stone back massage, followed by a lovely facial. I did feel the girl was somewhat doing things by the list, but it was a good treatment and I couldn't fault it as such, I suppose I just didn't feel that special. I felt like I was in a long line of people for that day, but I did feel relaxed at the end of it. My mum also enjoyed hers and we ended it by lying in the candle relaxation room for a bit. There is a lighter relaxation room for reading but we never tried that one.
Dry Flotation- now I was really looking forward to this but I didn't really enjoy it. I was slathered in a frangipani and coconut oil, which was lovely, but I think it could have been done in more of a therapeutic way, more of a massage technique should have been used to apply it to make it relaxing and I really disliked being wrapped in plastic. I know, I know its supposed to keep the oil on your skin but it was uncomfortable and every time I moved in made a loud sound, again not relaxing! They use so much oil a towel wrapped around the body would have been fine. My therapist then (after having difficulty working the machinery- again not very relaxing) lowered me down. Now, I thought this is what I need, a weightless environment to take the pressure of my sore joints and muscles, as the air mattress defeated and felt the water below the mattress move around my body (despite floating you never get wet, hence the name). Unfortunately I was uncomfortable, my neck hurt in the position I was in and it was difficult to move. I'm not sure whether the treatment just isn't for me, whether it was the set-up of getting me ready to ‘float’ or whether I was just not well enough to enjoy it but I had to call her back in before my time is up (although I managed most of the 15/20 minutes). I was disappointed that I paid out for something that I just made me feel worse and was not relaxing at all- especially when I could have just continued to lie on the water beds in the spa which I had already paid to use that day. If you have a limited budget or can only have one treatment I really suggest a massage or a facial as you can relax during those and are not just paying to lie in a empty room after being man handled. Having said that, my therapist was very friendly
Pedicures - we just had a file and polish which took about 20 minutes in comfortable chairs and were very nice.
Mii Make-over- My mum enjoyed having a make-over before we went out to dinner and she did look lovely after. Mii make-up is a natural mineral based range, free of parabens and other ‘nasties’. My mums only criticism is that she would have like to have seen what the girl was doing to lean some of the techniques, however, this was not how the treatment was described in the brochure. Mum purchased a couple of the products after as they are really good quality.
Indian Head Massage- Very thorough and the therapist was highly skilled. Sometimes it hurt a little when my hair was pulled but only a couple of times. Otherwise it was very relaxing, especially as I had it before my long car journey home. You will come out with a lot of oil in your hair though! (A tip I've learnt over the years is when washing oil out apply and rub in a good amount of shampoo BEFORE you add water or the oil is difficult to get out. Also no need to condition after the shampoo if you have had lots of oil your hair.)

Treatment waiting area

We had booked to go to the spa three times. The first day, Christmas eve, we went for the whole day and it was practically empty. We then had a three hour spa session on boxing day in the afternoon and on our leaving day, after we checked out and had lunch at the pancake house, a final three hours in the spa (plus a cheeky pre-journey head massage). My first impressions and last impressions of the Spa were 'WOW, WOW, WOW'! I love Aqua Sana. I have been to lots of spas in England and round the world and this beat the majority of them. It comes in equal first to Penny Hill Park (which is seriously expensive) and both CP and PHP have different pros and cons. To be honest I would expect a fantastic spa experience from a purpose built spa, which Aqua Sana at Woburn is, it is split over two levels and is huge. It cost twelve million pounds to build, yes that's right TWELVE MILLION POUNDS! I could spend hours talking you through every part but that would be one long blog post so I will just stick to the basics and my favourite parts!

What’s there?
  • Six spas: Fire and Ice, Blossom, Herbal, Sensory, Mineral and Gemstone and Salt
  • Reflexology Foot baths
  • Rain walks
  • Spa showers
  • Water beds
  • Indoor/outdoor infinity pool
  • Seminar area
  • Most things are disabled friendly/adapted/accessible 
Fire Sauna (the hottest one in the spa)

Corridor through to the fire relaxation area
My favourite Parts
I loved the reflexology foot baths. There are eight in total, so I can imagine when its busy they are hard to get too but we managed them several times over. They have three different settings and have different massage settings, oils and colours. They last about 15 minutes each.

I spent a bit of time on the water beds downstairs whilst my mum went through all the rooms I was too tired to get too. Apart from the downside of them not changing the blankets more regularly (disaster if someone in a wet swimming costume has been on there before you), they are really relaxing. Your body just melts into them and tucked up under a blanket with a lovely wooded view and candles around you, its easy to drift off whilst reading your book.

It was fun trying all the different heats, steams and smells in the different saunas and steam rooms but my favourite was The Sensory Experience Sauna. It was quite large with wooden moulded seats all the way round. It was pleasantly warm and over about a 20 minute period went through all the different seasons by changing the images on the LCD screens, complimentary music and different relaxing smells sprayed out in a mist at the change of each season. Not too hot and a perfect length of time to unwind.

The area we kept coming back to was The Blossom Spa and we mainly stayed in the Blossom Heat Room with ‘undulating seats, gentle warmth and uplifting floral essences’. It was the perfect temperature to relax in without getting sweaty and we were able to read our books in there. Its important to remember to have a drink of water after extended periods in that room though as its very warm but because it is not as extreme as a sauna or a steam room you don’t quite realise how dehydrating it is! There are a few points through out the spa where you can get water and there is always someone on hand to get you a dry robe or towel. I really hate going to spas where you get one towel and one robe for the whole day! 

One of the many relaxation areas

I wish
Even though we spent one whole day and two three hour sessions there I didn't manage to do the The Salt Spa experience, which is a real shame, as I forgot it was something I wanted to do but I was just too tired to experience everything. My mum said it was lovely especially the Salt Inhalation Room which has partially cocooned loungers to lie in whilst you breathe in ionised Himalayan salt air. She only meant to try it quickly but ended up dosing off!!

After some very lovely and helpful staff got out the hoist for me to get into the indoor-outdoor pool, I was disappointed to find it far too cold to relax it. The whole point of those sorts of pools is to be in a fresh cold air but your body immersed in hot water. It was too cold to even sit around the edge in the jacuzzi areas and it is not really suitable to do serious swimming, so in my opinion, is pointless in the winter. I'm sure its great in the summer when you can sit outside in the Zen garden after a dip in the pool. There are also no other jacuzzis or heated hydro whirlpools which I would have really liked, I believe the Aqua Sana's at other park locations have these facilities. This is where Penny Hill Park is better than Aqua Sana, as when we went over New Year there the year before we spent ages in the inside-outside pool and jacuzzi just sitting around and even having drinks from the bar. It is a shame with a twelve million pound investment Centre Parcs can’t turn up the heat in their swimming pool doing the winter!

Side view from one of the water beds

Useful Information
I used both the female changing rooms (which were very well looked after, no wet towels or mouldy smells) and the disabled changing room depending on what my requirements were at that time. I was so impressed with the disabled changing room. It was a large room with a lock on the door. It contained several lockers to leave your things in just like the normal changing rooms. The lockers are operated by your Centre Parcs wrist band, so no need for fiddly keys. It had a long, lowered, vanity table and mirror. It had a chair, plus all the things in the standard changing rooms, like hair dryers, cotton pads and complimentary toiletries. It had a lavatory that had all the appropriate bars for support and an immaculate shower, with a decent shower chair to fold down underneath. Despite the lavatory and the shower being open into the room, it didn't smell and the floor was not soaking wet. I certainly didn't feel like a second class citizen. Usually disabled areas are an afterthought which staff 'forget' to clean and maintain, not the case here. Also the disabled loo upstairs by the spa and spa cafe was large and equally clean and fine to use. No disabled loo in the downstairs spa, but a large ladies loo which I could use fine if I needed to.

I used my wheelchair around the spa and then would leave it outside each room, which the staff were perfectly fine with. Unfortunately the whole spa was a bit to big to just use my sticks, but each themed area is small enough to just use my sticks to wonder between the rooms in which ever area I was using. Lots of places to hang robes and towels up too. Nothing was that inconvenient for me as a disabled person, apart from the waterbeds were up two steps, but I managed to crawl up them when I wanted to have a lie down in a darker, calmer area.  If you are unable to transfer out of your wheelchair, they have special wheelchairs that do not rust or have exposed metal that could potentially burn you. I did not need to use these but was informed that most of the sauna/steam/heat rooms had spaces in them to sit in the wheelchair or room to transfer out of them onto the benches or seats. This is fantastic thinking and they really are a head of the game. Even wellness spas that look to attract people with injuries or illnesses are not this well set up. So a huge pat on the back to whoever made sure the design of this spa was as accessible as possible.

You do not have to pre-book to pre-warn the staff if you want to use the hoist to get in and out of the pool. There were always lots of staff around to ask, and they happily got it out for me and waited patiently until I wanted to get out again. Just make sure you have your dressing gown/towel handy as you will be pretty cold after your dip and slowly coming out of the water!

Spa Cafe/restaurant
Vitale Café Bar was located next to the spa and near to the treatment zones. And yes you can go in to it in your dressing gown, stay to use after the end of your allowed time in the spa and before and after any treatments you may be having. They had a lovely menu ranging from pastries to sandwiches to platters. On our whole spa day we had been told we got our lunch included but what we had forgotten was that we also got a welcome drink and cake, so glad we did not have a big breakfast that day, there were gluten free options and also soya milk. Our lunch that day was also very good. We each choose a salad and a drink included in our deal, you can upgrade for a little extra to include a glass of wine and some extra food if you want to celebrate or indulge. However, the portion sizes are fine for the average person. Both the chicken salad and morocco salmon salad were delicious and full of chicken/salmon all the way through, which was a surprise as we expected mostly a bowl of iceberg lettuce. Another highlight of their menu is a tapas type platter, which they allow you to order the dishes separately from if you wish. On the last day my mum had a drink and a bowl of olives whilst I had a treatment and said they were lovely. I think the cafe have really thought through their food and beverage options to be healthy, fresh, filling and something for everyone. My only criticism was on all three days we were there, there was no gluten free bread which was unacceptable! However, I can forgive them based on the fact I had such a good time and I could eat quite a bit.
Afternoon refreshments!

I feel like there is so much more I could write on the spa but I hope this has given you a good overview and especially useful for people with disabilities or those who love to spa! Please comment if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer.

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