My husband and I first visited Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest with our twins back in 2020, just before the UK went into national lockdown. Our twins were just four months old, and we didn’t yet have any idea that they were both ASD. I remember us having a great time at a baby sensory session, and having some beautiful walks through the woods.
Now the twins are almost four and we decided it was time to go back to see what Center Parcs could offer us as a family with two ASD, non-verbal children. The answer is lots, and it didn’t break the bank either.
What to do at Center Parcs
Center Parcs offer all kinds of fun and exciting activities for all ages and all abilities, but we decided to play it safe and keep things simple by just pre-booking bike and bike trailer rental for our stay. While the activities always look amazing, they can quickly get expensive, and there are plenty of free things to do around the resort. We found that there was more than enough to keep us busy without having to book onto any activities.
The twins love to be outside, and they love swimming – a good start when visiting somewhere like Center Parcs. There are loads of bike paths around the woods, and there is a huge swimming pool complex on every CP site – the Subtropical Paradise. We spent most of our time exploring the area by bike, or having a splash around in the pool. There are some super (and free) playgrounds and adventure playgrounds, as well as a little beach too, so there really are plenty of things to do that won’t cost anything.
Safety on site
When it comes to feeling safe with disabled kids, CP hit the mark for us. Every woodland lodge has a wristband locked front door, safety catches on all of the windows, and the standard cabins are all single floor dwellings. There are adapted lodges available too if you need them, and when booking you have the option to choose a lodge without stairs. CP policy is that you can only drive your car up to your lodge to unload and load up at either end of your trip. Not only does this mean that nature can often be found coming straight up to your lodge, but the whole site is very peaceful with no traffic. This was a dream for my twins who are dysregulated by loud noises!
When out and about, I made sure that the children had wristbands with my phone number on just in case (God forbid) they were separated from me for any reason. However, there were lots of CP staff and stewards all over the site so I have no doubt that they were all on high alert for any lost looking children. My daughter is sometimes very adverse to physical touch, which includes hand holding. For these times, we always have a harness with us, so she can explore freely while still being safe. We found that almost all of the paths and trails across the site were wide enough for a child bumbling around on a harness not to get in anyone’s way.
Across the site there were good disabled facilities, including disability adapted lodges and changing places facilities. All the staff we encountered were kind and friendly, and we spotted many other families sporting sunflower lanyards, ear defenders, and other clues that they may have been fellow ASD families. This was lovely to see and made me feel like the whole resort is ASD and disability friendly.
Eating out at Center Parcs
Eating out is definitely one to avoid if you want to experience CP on a budget, but we decided to take the plunge one evening and book ourselves in at Huck’s American Diner on site. On arrival, I asked if we could be seated in a booth where we would be able to ensure the children couldn’t escape. Our request was accommodated straight away, probably helped by the fact that it was only 4:45pm and not very busy.
While very expensive for what it is, we did think that the kids’ menu was very good for ASD eaters. There were all of the standard kids’ meals like chicken nuggets and chips, but we were very pleasantly surprised to see plain pasta on the menu too.
Huck’s is one of a couple of eateries on site with a built in play area. Children can explore and play in what is essentially a tiny soft play room while they wait for their food. Because we had visited at a quiet time, we found that we had the whole play area to ourselves – perfect for ASD children who are easily overwhelmed. As it happened, our food arrived very quickly and we soon had full tummies.
On our final day, we decided to try something new – we rented a pedalo! We hadn’t booked in advance, but I noticed that rental was under £20 for half an hour which I thought was quite reasonable compared to some of the other activities. Staff helped us find life jackets in the right sizes for the children. This was a whole new experience for the twins and they took it all like champs, but the CP staff were incredibly kind and patient too which helped.
We were guided onto our pedalo by another member of staff and I explained that I did have a slight concern that one of the twins might launch themselves into the lake. He explained that we could easily operate the boat with just one adult pedalling, so one of us could always be holding on to the twins. He also told us that if we were able, we were welcome to pedal with them in our lap. All of this was a great help, and my daughter was also on her harness the whole time she was in the boat.
What could have been a very stressful boat ride was actually great fun thanks to the helpful advice of the staff. We had a lovely half an hour and without any incidents thanks to one us always being able to keep a close eye on the twins.
Finally, thanks to Center Parcs’ car policy, we were able to bring the car right up to the lodge once we were packed up and ready to go. This meant we didn’t have to worry about wrangling children and heavy bags to the car park.