Center Parcs was the pinnacle of my childhood

Every day was Pancake Day there

Hidden away like a Narnian forest, Center Parcs was the holiday break that drove kids into over-excitement – leading to tears of joy on arrival and sobs of disappointment on departure. And it didn’t even involve a two-hour wait in an airport.

The thrill-seeking

Center Parcs delivered the thrills we sought as children, more than any rollercoaster. Where else could you start your day on a Segway and end it on a cable ski, with a spot of paintball over lunch? Nor was it staffed by killjoy “you can’t do that” instructors: these guys were thrill-seekers too. Dangling 70m in the air on an unstable high ropes pole was not the time to call my Kiwi activity instructor, who had full control of me, a South African.

For those who assumed Center Parcs was a haven for families looking for peace after a stressful school term, the revs of the quad bikes and swipes of the sabres suggested differently.


Heaven on Earth

The ridiculous food

Like a Cadbury’s Creme Egg or a thick mince pie, the pancake is usually saved for a specific time of year. However, Center Parcs appreciates that this is needlessly limiting: it has a year-round pancake house.

The menu offers a selection of savoury options, as well as piles of fatty, sugary ones. Personal favourites included the “Ultimate Chocolate” served up with chocolate ice cream, Maltesers, chocolate sauce and a flake, and the “Cookie Monster” – a masterpiece of chocolate chip cookie dough, caramel ice cream, crushed Oreos and whipped cream.

The chefs were literally record-breakers: a team of Center Parcs visionaries created the tallest pancake stack ever – 213 slabs, and standing at 101.8cm.

Delight American Pancake Stack. Credit:

Just look at them

The glamping factor

Its locations are usually in the depths of the English countryside, but Center Parcs is not a trumped up camping holiday. Firstly: you stay in wooden cabins, not tents. Second, the Wi-Fi was free, and there were DVD players, so you could fall asleep to and wake up to Disney favorites.

For those who preferred the lavish lodgings, you could stay in treehouses and executive suites, including games rooms and saunas.

I loved it then, and equally now

I loved it then, and equally now

The intense swimming sessions

The “subtropical paradise” swimming complex was a gladiator arena made for over-excited children. Promised an ice cream for afters, we’d throw ourselves into the freezing plunge pool, emerge and race to the Royal Rumble-esque wild water rapids.

There were corners as sharp as a lumberjack’s axe and flumes as powerful as Atlantic waves – this was the test of the true champion. To master the rapids was to master nature.

Emerging victorious we ran (against all rules of course) to the final hurdle: the white slide, hurtling down in a burst of adrenaline with the aim of making the biggest splash. The exhaustion was worth it.

And of course, the bicycles

There was a tangle of roads, which provided countless combinations of routes to explore. The woodland setting provided the materials for building ramps. In the dark, when all the lodges looked the same, the potential of finding a new place to hang out meant excitement trumped fear. As long as you remembered to lock your bike up.