Our top tips for staying in a new style woodland lodge at Whinfell forest

We are Center Parcs Family bloggers and have just returned from the most amazing break at Whinfell forest in Cumbria. It was everything we expected it to be and more. Center Parcs provided us with a complimentary short break in a new style woodland lodge, a grocery pack on arrival, a meal at the restaurant of our choice, an activity of our choice, complimentary bike hire for the duration of our stay and a separate spa break for two. How amazing is that! Center Parcs set monthly challenges for bloggers to enter where you can win the chance to be a wildcard blogger yourself. Visit the Center Parcs family bloggers club page to keep up to date with details of their monthly challenges and for all the information you need on how to win your very own break for your family.

We absolutely loved our accommodation. It fit the needs of our family and more perfectly. We were very excited when we first entered our lodge and made a video tour to show you around.

Isn't the lodge wonderful! It really had everything we needed and had hints of luxury (super comfortable beds made up for arrival, dishwasher, wine cooler, cafetiere....) to make your stay extra special.

Here are our top tips for staying in a New Style Woodland lodge:-

*No need to worry about carrying keys around - your wristband will open and lock your door. You are given 3 wristbands on arrival and extra bands can be purchased from guest services for £2.

*There is enough tea, coffee, washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets in your kitchen to last you your first day or so. You can pre-order a grocery pack which will be waiting for you in lodge and contains all the essentials you need (such as bread and milk), locally sourced breakfast essentials, drinks, snacks and more,

*The lodges feature a fantastic BBQ area below the decking. Make sure you pack a few disposable BBQ's as they are so much easier to light and clean away.

*The lodge's bathrooms are stocked with plenty of fluffy white towels and enough shower gel, soap and shampoo to last your stay so that's a few less things to pack!

*There is a corner sofa around a flatscreen TV. We took some of our own DVD's and enjoyed a family DVD night one night. You can order takeaways and even cold beers direct to your lodge (leaflet and ordering details in welcome pack)

*The best time to spot wildlife for us was mid-morning. We managed to spot three red squirrels, a pheasant, a bunny and a woodpecker outside our lodge. If you aren't having much luck then head to the ranger's lodge and animal feeding stations - there is a notice board for guests to write what animals they have spotted, where and when that may help you. The ranger informed us if we stopped by the lodge at about 9:30pm (which was a bit late for us) then there was a high chance we would spot some baby owls.

*There is an in-room safe to lock your valuables, always make sure you lock your patio doors and windows when you leave your accommodation.

Our lodge at Whinfell really helped to make our stay special. We also thoroughly enjoyed some of the activities on offer. They were the perfect opportunity to spend some proper time together and learn a thing or two as well. Highlights of our stay included:-

*A baby owl experience where we had the chance to hold, stroke, meet and learn all about some charismatic baby owls.

*A fantastic meal at Hucks American diner. Our children chose to dine from the 'All you can eat kids buffet' and could dig in straight away while the grown ups enjoyed a cocktail and contemplated the menu. We decided on sirloin steak and fajitas and both were well cooked and plentiful - the service really stood out and was discreetly attentive - perfect!

*Our children loved the huge adventure playground

*We enjoyed a morning in the subtropical swimming paradise where we hired our own private poolside cabana complete with fantastic views, flat screen tv, magazines, comfortable loungers, a stocked and chilled drinks cabinet, inflatables for the children to take into the pool, our own safe and an in-cabana dining option. Hiring a cabana really was the height of luxury (we loved having our own private staircase).

*On our last day we booked our children into the woodland warrier adventure in Time Out Club. This was a 3 hour fully supervised session (£22 per child) for 3-7 year olds. I was pleased that all three of my children would be together so it is ideal for siblings and I was reassured by staff and felt confident enough to leave my children in their capable hands. While they enjoyed making head dresses, mini archery, making outdoor art, learning woodland warrier songs, eating party food and making a wooden pendant we enjoyed some much needed chill out time. This would be the perfect opportunity for mum and dad to escape to the Aqua Sana Spa (full review of spa here - you will not be disappointed). When we picked our children up at the end of their session they were full of energy and stories and had really enjoyed themselves. In fact they said it was the best part of Center Parcs!

As you can gather, we absolutely loved our short break and would like to thank the lovely people at Center Parcs for their hospitality and all of their help. I believe that actions speak louder than words, so please take a look at this video which really sums up our break.

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How to enjoy Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs on a budget

*This is a collaborative post

There are two standard responses you get when you tell people you are going to Center Parcs. Either "You'll have a fabulous time" or "I hope you're taking plenty of money as it's very expensive." I have just returned from a fantastic break so the first phrase is definitely true for me. I really did not find it to be as expensive as people had told me it was and I believe the break can be as expensive or inexpensive as you make it. Once you have paid for your accommodation, everything else is an optional extra, therefore you are in control of your budget. Here are my top tips to making your money spread further at Center Parcs.

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs

Firstly, there are lots of free activities included in your break. We absolutely loved the subtropical swimming paradise which is a million miles away from the normal experience I dread at our local pool. The subtropical swimming paradise is designed to make swimming as fun and stress free as possible. There are rows of family changing cubicles, free hot and clean showers with complimentary shower gel and you use your Center Parcs wristband to access your own personal locker which is fab. Once inside you can stay as long as you like and enjoy the waves (every half hour), child and baby pools (with free toys to borrow), lazy river, spa pools, outdoor lagoon, splash pools, swimming pools and numerous flumes and slides. There is so much to explore. We spent 3 hours in the pool but could have stayed longer. Center Parcs have thought of everything - you can borrow swimming aids and buoyancy jackets for free which is a lovely touch. My advice would be to either head down for the pool opening at 10am and leave for lunch or visit after lunch and spend the whole afternoon there. If you did wish to purchase food from the cafe I didn't find the prices too bad if you chose carefully - our children enjoyed a children's meal and drink deal for £5.95 and I shared a portion of large fries (£2) with hubby.

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - free swimming pool

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - photograph of indoor swimming pool

Another part of the park which we weren't expecting was the huge adventure playground. It was fantastic and there were lots of interesting climbing frames and nets, slides, wheels, treehouses and sand pit's to keep my 3,5 and 7 year old entertained for hours. I was offered advice on my facebook page to take a picnic for our first day and I'm really pleased we did. There is a lovely picnic area next door to the adventure playground and we spent the whole afternoon here before we could enter our accommodation at 3:30pm. Definitely pack a picnic for your first day if you are planning on arriving before 3:30pm - there are picnic tables by the lake too.

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - free play park

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - adventure playground

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - picnic at park

The ranger's lodge is situated in the heart of the forest and is a free area to explore. We spent a few hours here reading and learning about the various animals in the woods, looking at the insect hides, trying to spot wildlife and completing the 'spotter's board' with details of the animals we had spotted. There are a few little toadstool picnic tables here too which are the ideal place to enjoy a snack (plan ahead and take your own snacks in a cool bag).

A break at Center Parcs would just not be the same if it didn't involve cycling. You are welcome to bring your own bikes from home to keep costs down (remember a bike lock). We decided to hire our bikes - you can hire for 24 hours or for the duration of your break. This is an ideal option if space in your car is limited. We also took our children's fold up scooters as these did not take up much room in the car and they loved playing outside our lodge on them. Our children loved going on a family bike ride around the forest. It was something we did every day and thoroughly enjoyed so definitely worth the cost.

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - bike hire

There is a small beach at Whinfell around the lake. Make sure you pack your buckets and spades as it is the ideal place to relax for a few hours for free.

You can pick up a 'What's on during our break' leaflet from guest services or the village centre and it will detail all of the activities available during your break. There is a free children's disco a couple of times per week in the leisure bowl or if you prefer something a little more low key, make sure you pack some DVD's and popcorn to enjoy a family DVD night in your lodge.

My last free activity I would recommend would be to make your own nature trail or wild scavenger hunt for you family. Our children loved running around the woods collecting pine cones, feathers and leaves.

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - lodge garden

There are many low cost activities you can book on your break and it can be tempting to book too many. My advice would be to book nothing for your arrival day while you get your bearings and leave one other day completely free of pre-booked activities so you can relax. On all other days I would book one or two activities. Activities can be booked and paid for up to six months in advance which is great when planning your budget. Maybe book something every month to spread the cost or do what I did and use some of your Christmas money to pay for your activities. Our top low cost activity pick would be the baby owl experience. This is only £6.50 per person and is suitable for all ages. The experience lasts 45 minutes and we all got the chance to hold, stroke and learn all about owls. This is a great activity for families and you can take as many photo's as you like so also great if you are a budding wildlife photographer. Other low cost activity options include mini crossbows and mini ballerina's (both £6.50 each) and the teddy bears picnic (£9.75 per child inc lunch).

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - owl experience

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - owl experience

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - baby owl experience

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - baby owl experience

There are a few free softplay's dotted around the park. We tried the softplay inside the lakeside inn. Our children enjoyed it and I found the drinks prices to be very reasonable - a child's juice (with lid and sparkle straw) was only £1 and a glass of wine/pint was just over £4 each. A round of drinks for 5 came to just over £11. Considering this included softplay and free wifi I found this to be excellent value for money.

When it comes to shopping, the on-site supermarket was expensive (a loaf of bread was £1.79). We would advise planning your meals and bringing your own shopping with you. Plan picnic style lunches to enjoy when you are out and about and definitely pack a couple of disposable BBQ's to enjoy if the weather forecast is good.

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - lodge bbq

There are lots of restaurants located around the site and as you are on holiday it is nice to have a break from cooking and plan a couple of meals out if your budget allows. Make sure you pick up the 'inspirational dining offers' leaflet from the village centre which details the offers of the week in various restaurants. During our break, Bella Italia were running a 2 courses for £9.95 deal if booked before 5pm and kids could enjoy 3 courses plus a drink for £5.25 which is a bargain. There were also buy one get one free deals on burgers and fish n chips at the Sports cafe on various nights which would work out fairly inexpensive. If you can never fill your children, there is an 'all you can eat kids buffet' at Hucks for £8 including a child's cocktail and dessert which we found to be excellent value.

Our children were given spending money from their grandparents and of course wanted to spend it in 'just for kids'. I hate paying over the odds for something and quickly googled the prices of toys whilst in store. I am pleased to say that they toys our children chose were actually cheaper in store than they were on amazon that day (a cuddly owl, Thomas trains and Ninja turtle shell).

Top Tips for saving money at Whinfell Forest at Center Parcs - prebook kids club

So, these are our top tips for making the most of your money at Center Parcs. As you can see, you really don't need a lot of money and you can still have lots of fun on a smaller budget. Check out our flipagram on youtube for more top tips and please comment below if you have any other tips to share.

Looking for somewhere cheaper to stay? Check out the following reviews:

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Kirkley Hall Zoo

It has been a few years since we last visited Kirkley Hall Zoo*. My children thoroughly enjoyed a school trip there last year so we decided to visit again during half term to see what they had to offer.

Firstly, I was very surprised at how much the zoo had to offer. It is easily a place you could spend the whole day if you explored the whole site.

Parking is free and plentiful and entry is a very pocket friendly £6 per adult, £4 per child or £17 per family (2 adults and up to 3 children). You can come and go as you please and your entrance fee covers everything Kirkley Hall has to offer.

Kirkley hall is different from other farms we have visited as there is not an option to purchase animal food - this did not detract from our day in any shape or for though and if anything it was one less thing to carry!

You are handed a map and activity schedule on entry and we arrived just in time to help groom a goat. The keepers were friendly and patient and made sure everybody had a stroke.

Then it was straight to some more hands on fun in the petting bar. Small animals are placed in the pen for children to stroke. The assistant here was lovely and gave us some hints on how to make the most of our day.

We took a few hours to explore the 130 species that live in the zoo. Here are our highlights:-

There are different zones the explore and such a wide variety of animals. As well as outdoor enclosures there is an aquarium and a monkey and repltile house.

What really stands out at Kirkley Hall zoo is how much they want to educate you. There are lots and lots of signs and information boards around the zoo detailing their work or giving you extra information about an animal. My 7 year old loved reading them and telling his brother and sister some facts.

I loved this informative display with lots of advice about caring for your pet at home.

There are also QR codes next to some of the animals to give you even more information - unfortunately our phone had very little signal (well we were in the middle of the country) so we weren't able to use these, however it is fantastic to see an attraction like this moving with the times.

If you need an immediate break from the animals, we noticed lots of children taking part in treasure trails and on toy tractors. There are also picnic benches dotted around the zoo.

In the afternoon we decided to attend a Replile class. This was included in the admission price and lasted about 30 minutes. An expert explained about different types of repltiles and how to care for them/how to behave and also let everybody have a stroke. We loved this part of the day and really did feel like we were learning something (adults as well as children).

After sitting still for 30 minutes, we decided to go for a walk through Kirkley hall' beautiful gardens. In total there are four hectares to explore and you can take part in a forest trail if you wish. I would definitely recommend bringing your camera and you will walk through some stunning wildlife.

Throughout your walk you will see signposts for a play area. We were very pleased to find this little park hidden away. There are seats for mum and dad and a drinks machine too.

There is even an indoor area filled with toys for children should the weather turn bad. We also opened a secret door to find small pools filled with turtles which was a nice surprise.

If I was going to take a picnic to Kirkley hall I would definitely take it out of the zoo and eat in the gardens as they just have a completely relaxing feel and it is a lovely way to break up your day.

Kirkley hall also has it's own orangery tea room and gift shop - we didn't visit today but it looked lovely from the outside and there is a zip wire as well but unfortunately we ran out of time!

I was so impressed with all of the conservation work Kirkley hall does, in particular it's role in preserving red squirrels. A grey squirrel hasn't been spotted in their grounds for a number of years now so the red squirrels can thrive. What a fantastic achievement!

Kirkley hall is definitely the place to visit if you want to enjoy an educational day trip. £17 for a family of 5 is just such an amazing price. There are lots of special events throughout the year including zoo school, princess and pirate weekends and 'conquer that spider fear' weekend. Check out their website for further details.

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