By Tara Hevey
When Center Parcs initially announced they were going to open up in Longford we were all so excited, as Longford really seemed to have been a town that was completely overlooked.
I thought it would be something really positive for Longford, and I can honestly say without prejudice that Center Parcs Longford Forest really is a magical place for families.
I’m Tara Hevey. I’m a teacher. I live with my husband Frank and four children in Meath. Our children are Emily (15), Grace (12), Charlotte (6) and Anthony (3) (pictured below). I’m originally from London but have been living in Ireland permanently for around 20 years.
When we got the opportunity to go to Center Parcs as part of the opening celebrations I obviously was delighted to go.
I was familiar with Center Parcs as they have five Parcs in the UK, so had a rough idea of what to expect, but I have to say it really was a fantastic weekend for us as a family, one which I definitely plan to repeat.
We made the relatively short drive to Ballymahon. It’s a lovely drive through the countryside and Center Parcs is quite well sign posted from Mullingar. Somehow, we missed the last little brown sign for Center Parcs, perhaps a bigger sign would be an idea, and ended up in Ballymahon, my grandad’s hometown.
This was a nice little detour as it is a nice town with a really wide, grandiose main street. We did eventually find our way back, having spotted the sign we’d missed.
Anyway, when we arrived, we were greeted by a really lovely lady called Deirdre Doherty from Abbeyshrule. It was so nice to hear a local accent; we are in Longford after all.
We had the familiar chat and she very efficiently sent me to the check in booth. Another lady from the UK was there to ensure we got our armbands which gave us access to our lodge and told us where to collect our bikes etc.
From the get-go my first impressions were positive, the staff many of whom had been drafted in from the UK to train up the new staff were just so helpful. Once in, we drove to our fabulous four-bedroom lodge in the woods, we quickly off loaded our luggage and then went and parked the car in the vast car park.
Longford Forest is a car free zone, which makes cycling around so much more enjoyable, especially when with children.
The lodge itself was perfect. They even left us with a welcome back for all the essentials for a big Irish Breakfast and even gave us beer and wine. Once we’d unpacked and run around the lodge discovering the pool table and all the different board games and the TVs in every room, the kids were properly excited.
So, just to make them even more giddy we said we’d head over to collect the bikes. This proved to be another brilliant experience as the staff were so patient and helpful. Charlotte has literally just mastered riding her bike without stabilisers, so she was a little bit anxious at first, but her confidence really grew over the course of the weekend.
Bikes are a necessity at Longford Forest, there is no way you would walk around the park, our lodge was a good 5/6 minutes cycle to the shops, restaurants and the pool. If you don’t want to hire (Adults €35 and children €27.50) you can bring your own. Once we got the bikes, we really were free to ramble.
I think this was the highlight of the trip for us, it was just brilliant to be able to go around as a family. We have older children and then younger children. All too often we have to split up and one parent go with the older kids and then the other go with the “smallies”. For once it seemed we could all be together.
This for me was the magic of Center Parcs, they catered for everyone. After our ramble around the woods we’d worked up a bit of an appetite, so instead of dragging the children out to a restaurant we decided to order a takeaway. This proved to be a good idea as we all got a chance to relax before we joined the party for the opening night celebrations at the beach, beside the lake.
This really was a lovely occasion for adults and children alike. There was a bar for the adults and free pop corn and ice cream a plenty. There were entertainers walking around on stilts and forest fairies and best of all brilliant face painters.
The Manager welcomed us and then introduced us to Erica McGann, who then read us the most gorgeous story called The Fairy Trail, with the help of a huge screen the story and the fairies came alive. This was followed by an amazing display of fireworks which really captured the magic of Longford Forest. Once the fireworks finished, we headed back to our lodge with four very happy children, they all went to bed content and excited for the next day.
I was super excited too – I had a three-hour spa session from 9.00-12.00 to look forward to. Come Saturday I was up early and left Frank and the children getting ready to go swimming. My spa experience was fantastic. It really is superb. I didn’t pre-book any extra treatments, but to be honest I’m glad I didn’t as I had three hours of pure relaxation, to drift in and out of saunas, steam rooms, jacuzzi, foot spas and to lie down on warm water beds. I only actually managed two chapters of my book because I was so relaxed, I kept falling asleep.
The staff were so friendly and keen to help, one lady even gave us a facemask to try. There were also sessions where you could try out the different products they use in the spa. The spa was definitely a highlight for me, as I felt I actually got a little bit of me time and when I rejoined my family I was rejuvenated and generally nicer to be around.
We all met back at the house and made a big fry up, using our sausages, bacon and black and white black pudding and Pat the Baker bread, the perfect lunch. We discovered a gift from the Fairies, a book A Fairy Trail and our very own Fairy Door. This thoughtful gift kept Charlotte and Anthony thoroughly entertained.
The older girls were booked in to do Field Archery, so whilst they went off, Charlotte, Anthony and I read the story and then had a little nap. The Field Archery sounded great, the instructor Chuck was lovely, Grace was delighted with her certificate, particularly, as she came first, but best of all, she beat her older sister Emily.
We were all on such a high that we decided to all go swimming together. The pool was superb, the older girls had a ball on the different rides and I thoroughly enjoyed the lazy river with Anthony floating around. It was quite busy, but there were plenty of seats and the queues for the rides weren’t long by any means.
After the swim, we headed bowling. We were a little late, but this wasn’t a problem. This proved to be a bit of fun, Anthony literally had a ball, he used the stand so just had to push the balls off. For the first time ever, I won, thanks to Anthony being on my team.
Before dinner, we got to watch some of the Kilkenny v Limerick Hurling Semi Final on the huge screen in the Sports Bar. We had dinner in Chuck’s American Style restaurant, a large diner with a brilliant play area for the “smallies”. Only for that, we could have ended up going home as the little fella was getting quite tired by now and wasn’t too keen on waiting for his dinner. The service was a little slow, but the burgers looked so delicious I was sorry I’d ordered the macaroni.
The older girls had huge milkshakes for dessert. After dinner we made our way home to our lodge, with full bellies and tired bodies. The children went to bed again happy after their action-packed day at Longford Forest.
The next morning was a bit of a rush as we needed to be out of our lodge by 10am for housekeeping to get everything ready for the first paying guests that were due to arrive the next morning.
We weren’t quite ready, but the lovely Tina was really patient. Tina is from Devon and the minute I heard her soft West Country accent I recognised her. Turns out I’d met her before in Longford town a year ago, she’d been very kind to me, and I was delighted to see that she was happy in her new job in Center Parcs and happy with her life in Ireland.
It’s strange, because as I child I always heard my Dad, every time he met someone with an Irish accent, have the chat of ‘where are you from?’ and we used to get so irritated with him as he would literally ask them Twenty Questions. Now, I find myself doing the exact same thing, only this time I was asking all the English staff where they were from, much to the irritation of my loved ones. Perhaps I’m turning into my Dad.
For me though, it was really nice to hear the mix of English and Irish accents. To me Center Parcs represents the best of English and Irish collaborations. There is nothing like it in the whole of Ireland. There has been much talk about how pricey a Center Parcs holiday is, and, yes, I agree, it IS pricey – but I think it is worth it.
Prices are much cheaper out of high season, so if you can be a little bit flexible with your dates you could bag yourself a bargain.
If you are travelling home to Ireland and you fancy a little break away from visiting or staying with family relatives it really is worthwhile considering. I would certainly recommend you bring your kids to Center Parcs Longford Forest, to me it beats Disneyland hands down.
It captures the magical enchantment of the forest without all the irritating Disney characters and merchandising. I hope to go back again with my family, but next time I hope to bring my parents so that they too can experience the magic of Longford Forest.