Christmas last year wasn't, if I'm honest, the amazing first Christmas as a family that we've dreamed of for so many years. Samson was unwell for a lot of December, we went to at least one hospital per week every week for over 2 months - not all planned trips, we had a couple of overnighters in A&E - and when we weren't at hospitals or doctors surgeries we were basically housebound to try to protect him from infection and the cold weather. Which meant no looking at Christmas lights and decorations, and no visits to Santa.
This year is so different. Incredibly, wonderfully different. Samson is less vulnerable, stronger, and the hospital trips are less frequent. Christmas really is going to be a wonderful celebration this year, and in order to make the most of it we decided to kick things off early and book a Winter Wonderland trip to Center Parcs for late November.
We've never been to Center Parcs before, as it always seemed a bit extravagant and pricey for just the two of us - but perceptions change somewhat when you have children! Yes it's not cheap, but we figured we'd had a pretty harrowing first year of parenthood and we deserved a treat, so we even upgraded accommodation. We took my mum along with us as well by way of a small thank you for everything she has done and continues to do for us - without her, I wouldn't have been able to go to work and we'd struggle to get anything done at home. A third pair of hands makes a huge difference to us every day!
The Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest is only an hour and a half away from us, which was a big factor in us choosing to go there as we're all about the short journeys! We left home around 12.30pm and arrived shortly after 2pm. Checking in at the arrivals lodge impressed us - they knew who we were and how many of there should be before the car had even come to a stop! We couldn't access our lodge until 3.30pm, so we parked the car in the car park and headed to the village centre for a look around and a bite to eat to pass the time.
When the time came to go to our lodge, the four of us wandered along and we were so impressed with it. It was beautiful. We left my mum and Samson there while we went to go get the car so that we could unload, and we were again impressed with the village and how well signposted it is. You'd do well to get lost when driving to your lodge!
There were so many activities to choose from during the course of our stay, and many I was extremely tempted by for Samson, but in the end the only thing we did at extra cost was the visit to Santa. Not only was it Samson's first time meeting Santa, it was also my first time, so I was pretty excited and not only on his behalf! Santa's Workshop was decorated beautifully, and we'd chosen the 4.15pm slot thinking that it would be dark so we'd get the full effect of the lights, but less busy than the more popular early evening slots. It worked a treat; there was no queue at all when we arrived and we were straight inside to see the elves. Then we were called in to see the man himself - exciting! Samson was a bit hesitant at first to say the least, although the offer of a chocolate coin did persuade him to approach Santa. Only for long enough to grab the coin! We had a lovely photo taken, and then Santa gave Samson a little gift and we were on our way.
That evening was also the fireworks display, so we made our way up to the lake to watch. This was another first for Samson as he'd never seen fireworks before, and his reaction was mixed - he loved the sparkles and lights but wasn't so keen on the bangs. I don't blame him for that.
The rest of our stay was very enjoyable, if reasonably unremarkable. We had a few walks around the forest, ate in some nice restaurants, and finally (finally!!) managed to get Samson to see that swimming is fun and not the devil. We had a couple of really enjoyable afternoons in the subtropical swimming paradise - and, you know what, it's appropriately named! There's so much in there to explore and you could easily spend an entire day there.
Friday came around far too quickly, and we had to go home. Center Parcs has absolutely won us over though, and we will definitely return!