The long awaited Center Parcs in Longford (the first in Ireland) opened this summer to much fanfare. It seems you can’t go anywhere now without seeing huge posters of happy kids in the woods, including one the length of the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport. Instagram is awash with posts of celebrities enjoying a walk in the forest, and the topic of conversation amongst lots of parents seems to be are you going and is it worth the money?
My natural curiosity got the better of me and I just had to check it out for myself, so I booked a long weekend and packed up my toddler, my parents and a slighty reluctant husband and we headed off for an October long weekend.
I booked about 4 weeks in advance so I probably didn’t get the cheapest rate, but the prices were about equal to a hotel stay. Luckily we can go mid-term, because a week later over Halloween break the prices more than quadrupled.
When you select your accommodation at an acceptable price almost immediately the site starts offering extras to upsell. For example if you want to check in early or guarantee accommodation close to the centre that all costs extra. I figured I’d already paid enough and just opted for random accommodation assignment and I don’t regret it.
Our accommodation was described as being a 19 minute walk from the village square which is the heart of all the action. However in actual fact it only took us about 8 minutes to walk and that’s with a toddler stopping to go the wrong way half the time.
You can unpack and pack your cars at your lodge but then they have to be returned to the car park. As people only arrive Mondays and Fridays it means the rest of the time the roads are car free. This makes walking or cycling around really enjoyable and it feels safe and relaxed, which is great with a toddler who isn’t great at going in the direction you want.
In the weeks up to going you receive a lot of emails encouraging you to book activities and restaurants which I didn’t mind, but I did find it odd I was also receiving emails encouraging me to book another break before I’ve even been on the first.
The drive down from Dublin was pleasant and well signposted from the N4. It took us about 1.5hrs and we arrived at 14.45. The check-in desk is quick and you don’t even have to get out the car. We were directed straight to our accommodation, and given our magic wristbands which double up as lodge keys and also operate the swimming pool lockers.
We had booked a 2 bed executive lodge and it was very nice with modern decor like a comfy hotel suite. I particularly liked the whirlpool bath. The coffee tables were nicely rounded so it felt safe for a roaming toddler. There were plenty of TV channels for early morning cartoons and a door painted as a chalkboard which was a nice touch. There was also a good quality travel cot and high chair as standard in each lodge, so it was very family friendly.
The lodges are packed pretty close together but they are designed well so you get a bit of privacy on the terrace and the view outside was of trees rather than other lodges.
The kitchen was very well equipped and we were very able to cook our own food a couple of evenings.
I had prebooked a table in Bella Italia on Saturday early evening and I was glad I had, because they were turning lots of people away. On Sunday lunchtime we had prebooked at Cara’s Restaurant but it wasn’t as busy at that time so we probably could have got away with just turning up, and we did just turn up at the Pancake House for Monday brunch with no problem.
All the restaurants are well designed for children with plenty of high chairs and colouring crayons. In the toilets there’s a low sink for hand washing and a fun colourful soap dispenser. Some have play areas but they were pretty manic with older kids so not really suitable for a toddler.
In two places they had free Ella’s kitchen baby food or set three course children’s menus. For our toddler we probably needed something in between, but she enjoyed what she ate even if there was a bit of food wasted.
For adults the food was good, but nothing spectacular, just what you’d expect from a high street chain type family restaurant.
We had booked our toddler into a couple of activities, a messy play session and a little soccer class. They were well run, but she was perhaps a little young for them, and preffered putting the cones on her head to kicking the ball.
There’s a great range of activities for every age group, but they could add to up to a lot of extra money if you had mutiple kids wanting to do things, so I would recommend checking out the activity prices before booking. The website to book things can also be a little confusing, but you can always go to the booking desk on site.
The tropical paradise swimming pool doesn’t cost any extra, and it is great. My toddler loved the wave pool and the little toddler area with a pool, slides and water fountains and sprays. She would have stated for hours.
She also loved the multiple play parks and just walking round exploring.
At the end of each day she was tired and happy and had a great night’s sleep.
The one disappointing thing we didn’t do was walk in the woods like on all the posters. Funnily enough there aren’t that many untarmaced paths in the woods, and the information book advises against going off the paths. The newly planted pine trees are also a bit uniform and characterless. I had expected a bit more nature exploring, so if you are going just for the forest as seen in the posters you might be disappointed and better off talking a day trip out to another Woodland Trust managed property.
So what’s the verdict would I go again? Lots of people I know are booking their next trip as soon as they get home, and I can see why, it is a great place to go. However it is expensive and there’s only so much to keep you busy. For me I think I will resist the multiple marketing emails for now. I have no doubt I’ll be back, but I don’t think it will be straight away. I might wait until my little girl is over 3 because that opens up more fun activities.
Are you planning a trip? If you have any questions you’d love to ask please let me know and I’ll do my best to help!