Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Merry ‘Center Parcs’ Christmas 2015!

A Merry ‘Center Parcs’ Christmas 2015!

Here is a very belated (year overdue) write up about my christmas stay at Center Parcs, 2015. Unfortunately, due to spending the week before christmas in hospital last year we were unable to make a repeat visit for Christmas 2016 (I was most perturbed as I was hoping to add a second CP christmas bear to my one from last year).

Her t-shirt reads 'I spent Christmas 2015 at Center Parcs' and it was a gift in the room.
Christmas 2015 was fast approaching when mum and I found ourselves alone as the rest of our family were spread out over England and France, again, so we decided to spend 4 days at Center Parcs in Woburn forest, it was fantastic. I have already reviewed the spa break and the treatments separately here. I have also reviewed the restaurants we ate in at the end of this bog post, if you want to skip ahead! We have been to CP in the past, but not for many years and I had heard how fantastic the spa was for disabled people so seemed perfect for a relaxing festive celebration.
A little christmas spirit before the 'drive through' check in lodges!

As were staying in the hotel we could park our car in the spa car park until 10pm on our arrival night to unload. My wheelchair came in very handy to precariously balanced some luggage and presents on my lap as we headed quickly into the warmth of hotel. Before you enter the complex, you get checked in whilst in your car and are given wrist bands, that act as a room key, so we didn't have to queve at a reception desk which was very handy after a tiring drive. Apart from the usual heavy doors the access to the room was flat and luckily I didn't even need to use the lift on this occasion to our floor. We had a twin-bedded hotel room that didn't have a kitchen, but after inspection we were happy to see a small fridge under the TV which we could store some of our food in we had bought to eat christmas evening (as there would be no catering available on site after the christmas lunches). After having a short rest I was eager (yes, pacing went out the window just a tad) to get out and explore the park and all of its lovely christmas decorations.

It was dark, so all the decorations looked beautiful lit up, unfortunately I didn't manage to get any pictures because I was truly exhausted. A short walk or push in my case from the hotel was the plaza where some of the restaurants, shops and the swimming dome are located. We opted to go to Cafe Rouge, which luckily had a table as it was quite a cold few minutes walk across the park! After dinner we briskly pushed our way back to the hotel room, it was freezing by then, to snuggle down and watch some christmas TV, eagerly awaiting Christmas Eve which was to be spent entirely at the spa!

Christmas Day itself!!
Cute table decorations.
We booked The Venue for christmas lunch. They don’t really advertise how great their conference facilities are at christmas which is a real shame as it is hundred times better than eating in the restaurants around the park on Christmas Day. For the same price you get beautiful white table cloths, fabulous decorations and a live band-who were just great! It was a buffet but the food was fresh and plentiful. I can’t really drink alcohol but there was no option for a single glass of champagne on the menu for my mum, so we asked our waiter if there was any way she could have one as she really didn't want to drink a whole bottle, and the manager very kindly sent over a glass of champagne complimentary. This was just one example of the great customer service we experienced through out our stay. My allergy meal started off fairly well with the staff in my area all being made aware I was GF and DF and a hot butternut squash soup appearing from the kitchen, unfortunately there was no bread roll for me which was odd as it’s not hard to provide and everyone else could have one with their starters. I was not that bothered though as I didn't want to fill up on bread. My mum opted for a cheese soufflé, which she said was good. All of the courses were a buffet but my main meal was also bought from the kitchen. I had lovely moist turkey, special stuffing and special sausages and gravy. I went up to the buffet to add my accompaniments and I was slightly worried but there was no chance of any cross contamination as all the vegetable dishes and potatoes were suitable and no spoons with gluten were any where near them. Slightly oddly they served my meal on a child's plate, so it was a bit of squash having a little of everything. My mum opted for turkey and beef. The beef was cooked perfectly and even though she cannot eat potatoes there were lots of options for her sides too. Then my meal fell down, my dessert was an uninspiring sorbet and some fruit, which was refreshing but not fun to eat whilst everyone else is eating glorious desserts. Everyone else also got a mince pie and a piece of christmas cake. I got nothing, apart from they did go across to another restaurant to get my some mint tea (not fresh mint though). We did have a fantastic meal but bear in mind I had missed out on a bread roll, a decent dessert, mince pie, christmas cake and the gift on the table was a box of chocolates that I was allergic too, it was disappointing that they didn't cater for me better. None of those things are hard to provide, especially as chances are there would of been a few of us 'allergy' people eating in such a large venue. They even have GF and DF chocolate on site in the Pancake House, so it seemed a bit inconsistent not to provide it on a special occasion meal, especially when paying the same amount as everybody else. I think we paid £65 a head. Having said this I still had a fantastic time in the Venue on Christmas Day with the live music and happy atmosphere created by the staff and other guests. 
Table present.

My Gluten free, dairy free roast dinner!

I bought a cardboard christmas tree with me so we had some christmas cheer in the room.
After lunch we nipped back to the room and grabbed our hats and coats for a whizz around the park before it got dark. It was quiet, with a few families walking off their lunches, so it was pleasant looking at all the decorations dotted around the park- they even had an area with reindeer!
Even with their fur coats on the reindeer were huddled up, so we quickly headed back to the warmth off the hotel room after our walk.

Another treat we enjoyed on Christmas Day was a coffee from Starbucks whilst we got ready! We were not sure if anything would be open for breakfast and had taken small provisions but mum popped down after our stockings and found the area buzzing with people and Starbucks staff friendly and ready to serve us delicious coconut milk (YIPPEE) decaffeinated lattes! 

Boxing Day!

Mum and I continued our christmas celebrations in the luxurious spa. After our pampering day we went out to dinner at the Shearing House, but before we headed out much to our surprise (as we had failed to read the activities notice board) there was a fantastic firework display over the lake.

People were piling down in the pitch black to watch the display, the great thing for us though was from our hotel room balcony we had a great view. This really is perfect for being disabled as you get to experience the festivities without having to plan and use up valuable energy or miss out. I really can recommend the hotel over the lodges for this reason.

Food and Beverage - a round up!

  • Cafe Rouge: I am not usually a fan of Cafe Rouge as I have always had bad meals, apart from at their airport outlets, which feel like they are completely different restaurants from the chain, and hoped the Centre Parcs outlet would be of the same ilk. It was. We were seated away from long family tables but it was very bright, echoey, loud and chilly. The main problem was there was no soft furnishings and it felt a bit ‘warehousey’ but it was beautifully decorated and the staff were very good and after some debate managed to find some gluten and dairy free dishes to choose from. We had a fairly decent meal. Unfortunately, I couldn't have a dessert but they now do a gluten free lemon tart and a gluten free chocolate dessert- if only it were three years ago when I could still eat dairy, and sugar, and about a million other foods!!! (Update: We visited again at Easter and the music was quieter and the restaurant less echoey)
  • Dinning In: We ordered from the takeaway menu in our room for dinner on christmas eve and it was delivered to our room. We ordered at peak time so it was about 45 minutes before our food arrived which was fine. You can actually put your order in from 4pm on the day you want it to guarantee a particular delivery time, and of course you can order and pick it up from the shop if you so wish. We had previously checked and they had a huge allergy book but no menu I could take to my room to browse over. I would have to call up and check every option- not much fun! However, I did find on CP’s website an older copy of the allergy booklet which gave me an idea of what dishes were GF and DF, so I was able to peruse the menu in room and cross reference it to the allergy booklet online. There are a lot of allergy friendly options. Even gluten free pizzas. Amazingly, most of the Chinese/oriental dishes were GF and some DF. I haven't had a Chinese meal since I was about 5 years old, so of course went for this option. We ordered some prawn crackers. So good. Singapore noodles and a Thai Green Curry with rice to share between the two of us. It was lovely and far too much too eat. I was really impressed by their allergy awareness, the first question they asked was did we have any allergies and then wrote down our options to check in the allergy book and luckily they were all suitable. What made us even happier as a phone call five minutes later to say the chef had recently changed the recipe of the thai green curry and now thickened the sauce with potato flour, was this okay or should chef leave it out? We asked for it to be left out as I’m fine with potato flour but my mum can’t eat it, so their concern worked out really well. Also, I was impressed that the food was prepared fresh enough that the sauce could be adapted. They bring china plates and cutlery for those staying in the hotel, so all in all it was a fab meal.
  • Pancake House: They have separate gluten free and vegan menus, but can do a gluten free dairy free pancake with appropriate toppings. I was not overly impressed with the pancake mix. it was a bit tough and insipid. It is best not to order the large, as by the time I got through it the last third was cold and chewy and I had to order extra sauce to cover it. However, it as fun to have something different and means everyone can enjoy a meal together at somewhere a bit different. I had banana, sorbet and melted vegan chocolate on mine. When I asked for extra sauce, it came in a pot as hard chocolate drops so it was a bit annoying to have send back for them to microwave. But that is a small niggle. It was very crowded on 27th December, so perhaps a little more attention to detail would be taken on quieter days! (Now, I am 95% of the time refined sugar free, but I make exception on rare occasions and christmas was one of those, hence indulging in a coconut milk latte christmas morning, and then chocolate log cake at the Spa on boxing day, a sweet pancake at the Pancake House before we left at the end of our holiday!)
  • Shearing House: Classed as their 'smarter' restaurant the name implies, to me anyway, that there would be lamb on the menu, or more interesting meat dishes, but there was no lamb or any dishes that were particularly different. The food was good, and the manager went to a lot of trouble to give me suitable options for my main course, but for the price I would rate it as average. However, if you sit at the back of restaurant overlooking the park, it makes for a pleasant meal. The chef did my chips in the oven, as they do not have a dedicated gluten free frier. A bit of tweaking to the menu and it could be a great restaurant. They also do a good breakfast. My main criticism though is that is open on to the shopping/communal/sports area downstairs and it is very loud, so it doesn't really match the smarter image they are going for which is a real shame.
  • Cafe Vitale (spa cafe): See my separate spa review for more details but there was lots of healthy and delicious food including jam packed salads, tapas boards and some cakes. They were able to cater for allergies quite well. I did not feel left out!

  • Starbucks: There are two starbucks on site and they carry the usual items you would expect

Final day Pancakes

I can't recommend CP enough for a wonderful christmas, or indeed any time of year. The staff were all friendly and helpful. There was lots of food choice and above all it was so disabled friendly I still cannot quite believe it, and I'm sure we will be going back time and time again!

edit Janury 2018: The Shearing House is now Las Igunas 

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