Center Parcs. A holiday park in Whinfell Forest, near Carlisle. Consistent of lodge-based accommodation and activity centres, it’s an overwhelmingly child-focussed place. Activities include nature walks, cookery classes (for under-8s), climbing, horse riding, and many others. The place is a family haven where the children can be exercised & entertained, and then the adults can collapse in comfortable accommodation in the evening. There are, of course, a few adult-relevant activities, but it’s mainly all about the children.
It’s also not cheap. The lodge prices for a week during school holidays start at around £500 for a small one on the perimeter, and increase proportionately as you go closer to the centre and take bigger properties. Our luxury 3-bedroom lodge (sleeps 6) close to the village centre cost £2,000 for the first week of the school summer holidays.
On top of the lodge cost are the activities. Everything except swimming is a cost-option. A moderate itinerary for the week for a family of 5 came to around £500. Suddenly this is starting to look like an expensive holiday, especially as we haven’t factored in any food or drink costs.
A trip to a nearby supermarket yielded a bill of around £200, but it could have been around £130 had we bought more frugally. Additional eating & drinking on an ad-hoc basis (including two trips to the Indian restaurant) came to another £500.
So, child-focussed and expensive. With me so far? The child-friendliness is important when children outnumber adults in the party. The theory goes that if you keep the monsters happy, then the adults can relax. It holds true in part, but the inescapable fact is that children will be children (i.e. demanding, bad-tempered and generally loud & annoying), and that maintaining this level of engagement with the children saps parental energy levels like nothing else. I was falling asleep on the sofa at 9.30 most nights.
The cost aspect is something we just have to deal with. Yes, it’s expensive, but everything’s clean, well-organised, well-staffed and equipment provided for use during the activities is both plentiful and of good quality. The staff are exceptionally pleasant, polite and helpful. And to provide this sort of service costs serious money.
All of this is pretty much in line with expectation. But the summary is that while the children are having a great time, the parents are being physically, emotionally and financially drained. It’s no holiday at all for the parents. Every minute of every day there is something either to be done, or gone to, or looked forward to. As the parents recover from the previous activity the children ask what’s next. It’s unrelenting.
At what point then do the Center Parcs management think it’s acceptable, justified or appropriate to build a fucking toy shop on site? And place it next to the only free activity on the campus, the swimming pool?
Every time the parents take children to swim, they have to walk past the toy shop. It’s a hundred square metres of despair, and it’s completely unnecessary.
It’s as if the management are saying to parents “we’ve got all your money, now your kids are going to ask for more stuff. Mwah ha ha ha ha”.
And it’s not even as if the placement of the toy shop is misery for the parents alone. It activates the avarice that every child has, sparking off legion “can I have” questions. Parents, appalled by the unfettered desires, must decline their requests, which then makes the child sad. This sparks arguments, because the child wants the thing and the parents have already paid quite enough for this week thank you very much. Amongst the park of many joys, lies a hundred square metres of disappointment.
The expectation that parents – having already shelled out handsomely for the holiday – will then dole out yet more cash for a toy that is unneeded and which will probably be unloved within the hour is despicable. It’s an unashamed attempt to grab yet more cash from the parents who are already sacrificing their all at the altar of their children’s happiness. It’s a cynical final nail in the coffin of parental relaxation.
I despise it.