Planning a trip to Center Parcs Longford Forest? Check out my ultimate guide – it has all you need to know about activities, dining, Ireland’s largest spa, and answers the big question: – Is it worth the hype?
Despite getting lost en route on a few occasions (perhaps Longford County Council could help out with some road signage!), it only took us 90 minutes to get to Center Parcs Longford Forest from our home in Dublin. Check-in time is from 10am, so if, like us, you happen to be going for a short break, it is a good idea to arrive early. You may not get access to your lodge until 3pm, but you can explore the campus in the meantime and organise your bikes. I say campus, because that’s what it really felt like…
Cycling at Center Parcs Longford Forest
Center Parcs is virtually car-free. The idea is that you drive to your lodge to unload your luggage, but then park-up in the expansive car park and don’t return to your vehicle until you are leaving. It was strange to see so many people cycling, regardless of age or mobility status. Despite my daughter Alex not being a keen cyclist, we decided to embrace the whole Center Parcs ethos and went straight to the bike hire place.
Almost every variant of bicycle was there: toddlers bikes with stabilisers, adult bikes with baby trailers, tag-a-long bikes, and a wide selection of mountain and classic bikes for adults and children. They also had mobility scooters for anyone with walking difficulties. The staff were extremely helpful (I found this the case throughout our stay), and assured us that if Alex wasn’t able to master the child’s mountain bike, we could come back and exchange it for a tag-a-long bike instead. Bike-hire is €35 per adult and €25.50 per child for three or four night stays, but you can bring your own bikes if you wish.
See how to save money at Center Parcs here.
As it transpired, Alex mastered the art of cycling in no time, I was really surprised at how much she enjoyed it. We tried on numerous occasions to bring Alex cycling around Dublin and she had no interest. I would go so far as to say that if you are having trouble getting your child interested in cycling, bring them to Center Parcs!
Accommodation at Center Parcs Longford Forest
We were allocated an executive three-bedroomed lodge, which was very impressive. It was spacious and very well equipped. There was a full kitchen as well as a BBQ and table and chairs outside. I expected Center Parcs lodges to be well equipped for families, but the extra touches such as stair-gates, high-chairs, and toddler steps in the bathroom, made it extremely child-friendly, even for younger children. There is great space in the front and back gardens, and despite the fact that the lodges are side by side, we really felt as if we were in a country lodge, rather than in the grounds of a hotel.
All rooms in the executive lodges are en suite. These lodges also come with a housekeeping service and TVs in all bedrooms. There are other accommodation options too, the less expensive Woodland lodges or the luxurious Exclusive lodges, some of which have hot tubs and games rooms. See all Center Parcs lodges here.
We were invited by Center Parcs to the official opening, which was a two-night event. We didn’t have a huge amount of time to explore its 395 acres or the 100+ activities on offer, so we decided to leave our lovely lodge in search of the Village Square. Cycling past the lake and the man-made beach, it felt almost like we were in the middle of a sustainability project. There were no cars or traffic lights anywhere – it was like a ‘Stepford Wives’ world, but in a good way! You can choose to walk everywhere but, depending on where your lodge is situated, it could take up to 20 minutes to get to the Village Square
Dining at Center Parcs Longford Forest
The Village Square is full of shops, bars and restaurants. We parked our bikes in one of the many bike parks and went to suss out the restaurants. After a brief stroll we opted for light bites in the Sports Café. The menu was extensive but we opted for toasted sandwiches, as we had early dinner plans. This massive bar / restaurant has screens over each table that show live sporting events. There are also snooker and pool tables, as well as a games room. This is a lively restaurant and you don’t need to pre-book so it has a more casual vibe than the others.
The Coffee House was another popular spot. It was nice to see that Center Parcs has opted for an independent coffee house, rather than the Starbucks chain that they have in their UK parks.
We enjoyed a delicious meal at Bella Italia that evening. The fritto misto starter, lightly battered prawns, calamari and cod goujons with aioli, was very tasty, as was my Cacio E Pepe pasta, a mix of roast chicken, pancetta and pecorino cheese in a tasty wild garlic and black pepper sauce. The pizzas were perfectly cooked and were a big hit with the kids. We were very pleased with all dishes and the prices were reasonable too – similar to what you would pay in a city-centre Italian restaurant like Milanos. I’ve since been told that the Carbonara isn’t great – so best to avoid that!
The following evening we ate in Hucks. This is a typical American diner and the kids enjoyed it, although I felt the food was mediocre. The desserts were the exception – it is probably worth a visit for the hot fudge sundae alone!
The children’s play area is superb in Hucks. There is a soft play section and a games room, so there is something to cater for all ages. I don’t know why more restaurants don’t have these in Ireland. To be able to enjoy a drink after your dinner without the constant ‘can we go’ ringing in your ears is fantastic for parents. My kids, Luke (11) and Alex (8), are past that stage now, but I’m sure parents with younger children will love this! With the exception of Rajinda Pradesh, the Indian Restaurant, Center Parcs has play areas in all other restaurants.
Cara’s Kitchen and the Sports Cafe have large playgrounds attached to them, so if you want to catch some live music on a Saturday night in Cara’s, or watch the latest football match in the Sports Café – you can relax knowing your kids are playing happily outside. This is such a simple, yet brilliant idea!
As much as I like to dine out, the lodges are so nice in Center Parcs it would be a shame not to enjoy a cosy night-in. There is a terrific dine-in service whereby you can order Italian, Asian or American food to your lodge. However, if you want to cook, there is a great supermarket on site, ParcMarket. I found prices similar to Spar/Centra, certainly not overly expensive, although if you are planning on cooking a lot during your stay, you could always pop into Aldi or Lidl before you arrive.
If you are planning on doing most of the cooking, don’t miss a trip to the Pancake House for breakfast. They have an enormous selection of sweet and savoury pancakes, omelettes, Belgian-style waffles and American pancake stacks. I enjoyed the Spanish Fiesta pancake, with chorizo, paprika potatoes and spicy salsa. Cormac had the all-day breakfast pancake and the kids built their own – they had a huge choice of toppings available! I wouldn’t say it was the best breakfast I have ever tasted, but it is a novelty, especially with kids, and worth a visit once during your stay.
Activities at Center Parcs Longford Forest
The amount of activities available in Center Parcs is remarkable, I don’t think I have seen such a wide choice available in any holiday resort, anywhere else. However you do have to pay extra for all activities, except the Subtropical Swimming Paradise and the playgrounds. Luckily the subtropical pool is where kids will want to spend most of their time – it is superb. It is heated to 29.5 degrees all year round, so regardless of the weather, you can enjoy some quality family time here. We loved the slides. Tropical Cyclone with its 45-degree drop was superb, and it was a slide that the four of us were able to go on together.
We also loved the river rapids, even though they have strong currents, they are great fun. There are three slides suitable for older kids, as well as wild river rapids and a lazy river. There are also play areas with mini slides, fountains and splash pools for younger children. The swimming pool turns into a wave pool every half hour, but if you want to relax and enjoy the warm temperatures, there are jacuzzis and even cabanas available. It is Ireland’s largest indoor aquatic park and it is superb.
If you manage to tear your kids away from the aquatic park there are over 100 other activities to occupy them. Considering meals, drinks and the shops at Center Parcs were pretty much on a par with what you would find elsewhere in Ireland, I was surprised that some of the activities that are in Center Parcs were quite expensive. However, there are activities available in Center Parcs that I haven’t seen anywhere else, so my advice would be skip the everyday activities such as adventure golf and table tennis, and go for something unique that your kids are likely to remember for a long time.
We tried the Aerial Adventure – something that not only the kids will remember, but myself and Cormac will too! It was A LOT scarier than it looked, and I would like to publicly apologise to the family behind us who had to endure our state of panic for two hours – the course is supposed to take 45 minutes!
After trekking through the trees, across wobbly steps and bridges and sliding across a few zip lines, the course ends with a massive zip line across the lake. Surprisingly I enjoyed that part, perhaps it was knowing that the aerial course was almost over! The kids loved it and it was something that we will all remember together. This costs €32 per person but personally I felt the experience was priceless.
We also enjoyed Laser Combat, which is similar to the indoor game Laser Tag, but in true Center Parcs style it takes part in the forest. Two groups try to shoot each other in various games of stealth and strategy, among mock ups of a truck and various ‘combat cover’ fences. It’s a fun game of close-quarter combat trying to avoid the shouts of ‘Man down’ from the laser tag rifle you use. Just make sure and “check your six” – I had to be told what that meant! Price is €88 for two adults and two children and it lasted 75 minutes.
There are so many other activities, you can see the full list here. Some of my favourites were the archery activities, laser clay shooting and the many water activities on the lake. You can learn how to use a paddle board (€32), take out an electric boat (€27), go kayaking or raft building (€26). Children over 12 can enjoy the Segway Experience (€30) and bowling is always a good idea on a rainy day (€34.50 for up to six people for one hour).
The activities for young children are superb too. The Chocolate Chefs Academy, Pirate & Princess Adventure and Wizard Academy are all suitable for children aged three to seven years and the cost is €33 for a three-hour session. There is a pottery painting studio, a teddy bear making studio, a rock climbing wall, multi-sports courts and roller skating. Mini crossbows are available (€13.50) and Off-road Explorers (€12), where toddlers ride mini Landrover jeeps. It was great to see young children enjoying the Mini Captains’ Adventure too (€23.50).
There are also organised wildlife walks (€8.75) and Creepy Crawlies sessions (€8), both 90 minutes, which I think are great value and in keeping with Center Parcs’ outdoorsy culture. There is sensory play for babies over eight weeks (€9) and a crèche available from 3-23 months (€28 for three hours). The crèche is ideal if you fancy doing a yoga, pilates or zumba class (€9.50), want to visit the spa or work out in the gym. Sadly you have to pay for the gym too. It is relatively cheap at €15 per pass, which allows you visit up to two hours per day during your stay, but I really think they should offer this free of charge.
It is important to remember that Center Parcs is situated in 395 acres of woodland. You can enjoy forest walks, go cycling at any time or use the free Subtropical Swimming Paradise – you don’t have to partake in the paid activities.
The Aqua Sana Spa at Center Parcs Longford Forest
One thing that I would definitely pay for is the spa! At €42 for a three-hour session I think it is worth every penny. I was really impressed with the facilities available and could easily see myself spending three hours there. It is Ireland’s largest spa and has a wonderful outdoor pool with hot tubs in a forest setting. I loved the Nordic Sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows. It looks out onto the forest and manages to bring the outside in. There was also a Scandinavian Snug, complete with arctic blankets and a blazing fire. There is an Ice Cave, a Rain Forest Shower, Rain Forest Walk and amazing relaxation rooms. I would have loved to try the waterbeds and the Forest Garden, but I’m sure I would have been asleep in minutes.
The cost of Center Parcs and is it worth it?
I have seen many comments on social media from people giving out about the price of Center Parcs, mostly I might add from people who haven’t visited! Yes, Center Parcs is expensive, but aren’t most good holiday experiences? Center Parcs spent €233 million on Center Parcs Longford Forest – there is nothing else like it in Ireland and it was never going to be ‘cheap’.
The facilities are top-class and everything is fine-tuned to perfection. The attention to detail is superb. Center Parcs really has thought of everything and has something to offer children of all ages. I love the play areas in the restaurants, toddler steps in the bathroom – they even have FREE Ella’s Kitchen food pouches in the restaurants.
I don’t imagine Center Parcs is going to replace a sun holiday for most people, I actually think it will compliment it. A three or four-night trip to Center Parcs is a super family break. I don’t think I would go during peak season, but I’m sure lots of families who can afford it will. I foresee many families including my own, going during the autumn or winter time. Did you know there are prices from €299 for four nights – now that is cheap! You don’t have to book lots of paid activities, we enjoyed two activities over three days and I think that was plenty – remember the Subtropical Swimming Paradise is superb and included in the cost of your stay.
A short break in Center Parcs is a great way to enjoy precious family time in a wonderful setting. In Center Parcs we all cycled together, we enjoyed pool time together and took part in great family activities.
As we drive home from a magical weekend in Longford Forest, I look at the Center Parcs ‘come back soon‘ offer. I wonder if we can make it back for their Santa Experience in December. Suddenly I hear Alex calling me from the back seat – “Mom, can I get a new bike?”
For pricing and availability visit CenterParcs.ie
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