Center Parcs – A Review for Children with Coeliac Disease

…And now for something a little different…

Before I go any further, I must state that Center Parcs have in no way asked me to post/blog or sponsored me in any way for this post. These are my own views and the holiday was ours to enjoy.

Now we have been to Center Parcs several times over the past few years – Longleat, Sherwood Forest and Whinfell Forest, bearing in mind we once said we would never go back to the same place twice, is kind of weird.  Life is to short we said, I guess we are just creatures of habit after all. But each year has seen our Center Parcs (CP) experience change and grow as we too have grown as a family.  We can do as much or as little as we choose,  challenge ourselves to new experiences – Segway, Archery, horse riding or just spend most of the day in the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’.  The time is yours to do as you please. The lodges are clean and well equipped and you can self-cater or treat yourself to a meal out in the several on-site branded outlet.

This year for us was no different, with one exception we had previously  stayed for 3 or 4 nights, but this year we went and splashed out for a full on treat of 7 nights!  And decided on Elveden, Suffolk, just on the edge of Thetford Forest.  I decided that I would write a post about our experience for other families with children who suffer from Coeliac Disease.

So how did we get on?

Arrival (change over day) is rather chaotic. Cars, bikes and people everywhere. Common sense goes out of the window, ordinary people who drive to and from work suddenly lose all control and drive the wrong way, enter ‘no entry’ signs and don’t look in rear view mirrors and ignore everything else, just to be able to park just outside their lodge…oh wait, probably no change there! 😉. But after we had unpacked and put the car away for the week, we had a little stroll to get our bearings and see what’s what.

Oh and the wildlife? Literally, is everywhere! It’s fantastic, the children (and us) love it. And Elveden is no exception…

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Now experience has told us that whilst the ‘Parc Market’ is very well stocked, it is a little more expensive, and because we were not sure on the Gluten Free stock, we have started to visit a nearby supermarket prior to arrival. But there is some stock on site, breads, pasta, cakes but it is indeed more expensive again!  But I’d baked a couple of cakes anyway 😉

We have previously pre-cooked and organised dinner, but our first night this time was pre-booked in Cafe Rouge. Now there is a children’s Menu, but nothing specific for children with Coeliac Disease.  But this did not deter our server – Jenai,  she was extremely helpful and her product knowledge was fantastic.  Ultimately this would be the first time we have tipped in CP,  she was able to talk confidently about the food on offer and able to ensure Noah ate safely.  We went for the Chargrilled Chicken, fries, peas and sweetcorn.   HOWEVER and it’s a pretty big however she was unable, because Cafe Rouge was unable, to tell us if the Ice Cream was safe. Ice cream!  Apparently the supplier does not include an ingredient list, so they are unable to safely declare it as containing no gluten.  Now I thought this goes against current labelling laws?

Our stay was scattered with activities – Aqua jetting (the thumbs start to ache after 30 minutes, but it only lasts 30 minutes)  mini jet skis (could do with more obstacles to make it more fun) tree-trekking, swimming, cheer-leading (if parents don’t read the small print, they get in free – which isn’t so great if you have read the small print properly and paid!) archery, fencing, sailing a dinghy, a touch of the Spa and more swimming.  All pretty fun, but the stay was more about chilling out and having a break from rushing around.

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And now it gets a little interesting in the eating out stakes.  All in the aid of the Blog we then tried the ‘Foresters Inn’ for Sunday Lunch. Again there is a children’s menu, but nothing specific for Children with Coeliac Disease.  The server was not as knowledgable but we were able to order a chicken breast with veg and roasties – because the chips are not gluten free!  Probably down to cross contamination issues.  But why can’t all the outlets have the same policies and procedures? I for one am more than aware of brand standards and specifications, but when you are on one site with multiple outlets surely this would make more sense?  Value for Money? Not compared to Cafe Rouge.

One that does make us smile is the Sunday morning chorus of smoke alarms.  As everyone burns the sausages and bacon for Sunday breakfast 😊😉

It was a joy this week to see the children in the pool, grow each day with confidence.   Each time we spent more and more time in the Swimming Paradise, More Rapids, Cyclone and Venture Cove.  The ‘Canopy Cafe’ serves Gluten Free chips and the staff here are most helpful too.  A couple of things though, here in Elveden, there doesn’t appear to be enough changing cubicles and certainly not enough family changing cubicles and the cleanliness of the changing area – could do with more frequent checks and a clean. Some folk are very untidy #dirtynappies

Now whilst we certainly self catered, far easier and less hassle, we also enjoyed the fact that eating out meant less washing up!  Which on holiday can only be a good thing.  So after reading an in-house magazine about the chef in the ‘Huck’s’ outlet , learning about Coeliac Disease, this was to be our next venture.

Now, this does indeed boast a children’s menu, but it does also boast a children’s Gluten ‘sensitive’ menu!  Which is a great sigh of relief. Noah was in fact made up. Something for him, not something made up. Included at last.  But there is certainly more work to be done on presentation and portion size…

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Not it sure there are many 4-year-old who can plough through 6 sausages, a full portion of chips and a tin of beans! Overall though our experience was not the best, it is over priced, and a little salty.  Not great value for money, based on our other visits.  And yet again desserts and paying the bill always slip down the service cycle.

And then as suddenly as our week began, it comes to a close.  Our last night though was to see us return to Cafe Rouge and return to Gluten Free food safety (but no ice cream, he had a ‘Chilly Billy’ lolly instead), value for money and great service. We were not disappointed.

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Our wildlife friends came everyday, it added to the magic.

Just as arrival day is chaotic, the morning of departure is a little subdued.  The men folk appear to be the first out to get the cars and pack them up.  Some will stay for a few more hours to enjoy the extra swim and use of the facilities, but we made our move early to hit the road ‘to beat the traffic’ – and did. Bags unpacked, washing on, cat picked up from the cattery, lawn to mow, kids to unwind and the dread of the Sunday night blues as we prepare to return to ‘normality’.

Now, where is my voucher code to return again….😀😀

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