Center Parcs is bold in its mission. They want to revolutionise Irish short holidays. Without doubt, the resort offers a getaway unlike any other on the Irish market - but what exactly can visitors expect? Here’s everything you need to know before you pack up the roof box and hit the road.
At last weekend’s invite-only launch weekend, before its official opening last Monday, CEO Martin Dalby and general manager Daragh Feighery stood firm - their prices might be high in peak season, but quality will never falter.
“Come back in five years,” Dalby says, “and everything will look exactly the same. Just better.” The cost has been one of the biggest talking points since Center Parcs acquired the site at Longford Forest.
But truth be told, there is a price point for everyone.
Provided customers are willing to travel mid week and off season, breaks are available for as little as 300, though the price in peak season for the top of the range accommodation could set families back 3000.
Over 100 activities - from sky high zip lines for thrill seekers, to pottery making for quieter guests - are available to book at an extra charge. But you don’t need any additional itineraries - not when they have access to the 29.5 degree Subtropical Swimming Paradise and its edge of your seat water slides. More on that later.
Self catering lodges and a competitively priced supermarket means you can cook in if you choose too.
Avoid the extras, and an off peak mini-break at Centre Parcs comes in at little more than a long weekend at an Irish hotel with a kids club.
The hype surrounding Center Parcs has been momentous - the ad campaign created a Disney-esque sense of anticipation with kids (the company spent 3m on its marketing campaign). And while parents talked about the cost, their children were focused on... the pool, of course.
And yes, it really is that amazing.
The 3500m2 indoor pool is heated to a balmy 29.5 degrees. With leafy ferns, a glass domed roof and catch-your-breath heat, guests will feel like they are abroad - rainy Irish days just won’t matter anymore.
“We will be open 365 days a year - it has weather proof appeal,” says Darby.
(And if the sun does shine, there’s also a man made beach on site.)
It’s now the country’s largest waterpark with exhilarating rides and slides free of charge to all guests. If the breakneck Typhoon and Twister don’t tick boxes for the thrill seekers wait for the Tropical Cyclone with its gravity defying drop. And then there are the Wild Water Rapids, slides that dart over and under water, weaving throughout the pool exterior.
Every half hour a Tarzan chant announces the beginning of the wave machine - the kids echo the scream and race to the pool. And for the smallies, there’s the pirate themed baby pool, with miniature slides and seats for watching parents.
Dalby says they have pulled ‘the best bits’ from the five UK Center Parcs’ pools - making Longford the very best. It’s bigger too, a significant bonus because the Irish resort can fit 2500 guests, less than any of its UK contemporaries - meaning more space to splash. The long opening hours - 9.30am-10pm, are another drawcard.
Truly, you could book a break here, ignore all the other activities and just hang out at the pool.
If you have a lotto win to blow, on the other hand, you can rent a family cabana, a beach hut complete with table service. Like we said, something for all budgets.
There are more than 100 activities to choose from. The Outdoor Activity Centre ticks the adventure box, with lazer combat, archery, aerial tree walks, ziplines, Segway rides, Off Road Explorers for the smallies and den building.
On the waterfront, by the man made beach, alongside kids with buckets and spades, there are boats to rent.
While inside the sports plaza, there's a gym, classes, tennis courts - plus a host of arts and crafts activities, from teddy bear building to pottery making.
You could spend your time - and money - moving from one activity to the next, or choose one activity during your stay and it won't break the bank.
With the pool and its slides, really, your activity box is already ticked.
Load up the bikes too before you travel to save on rental costs - on a practical level they are essential on such a sprawling site. But having them to hand works as another activity in itself. We lost an afternoon to a treasure trail - we followed the clues and explored the entire site on two wheels.
Center Parcs follows a template, across the UK and Europe. Everywhere that is, until you come to Ireland. They did some market research, and discovered we wanted an Irish bar, somewhere families could grab a drink together, or a bite to eat. In other sites, the only late option is the Sports Bar, with wall to wall big screens, match results and pool tables. It just wouldn’t work for the Irish market. So Cara’s Kitchen has opened, right beside the playground. So parents can sit back and have a drink or dinner and watch the kids play in the enclosed play zone.
While Starbucks is the go-to at UK resorts, here is the independent Coffee House, because Dalby says, the research showed that’s what we wanted.
Overall there are 10 different dining options at Center Parcs, from Italian to Indian to Hucks' American experience. And how can we forget another of the resort's big talking points - The Pancake House.
There's a delivery service too.
Or, to keep costs down, use the Parc Market and cook in the fully equipped kitchen, or outdoor BBQ.
Aqua Sana is the now the country's largest standalone spa. (And if that's not a big enough drawcard, the sister of Love Island's Maura is working there.)
You could spend a day here - and people did, lounging around in their white robes, venturing from one themed steam room to the other (there are four zones and 21 spa experiences), or breaking for coffee or a healthy lunch at the inhouse cafe.
The infinity pool has forest views, but the standout for this writer was the Nordic Sauna - take a seat on aspen wood beaches, breathe in the soothing dry heat, as you soak up the panoramic views through the floor to ceiling windows. It's an oasis of calm.
All this before you even book a treatment.
On a budget? Skip the spa and take a run in the forest. It's every bit as good for the soul - and it's free.
There are three types: woodland; executive; exclusive, plus 30 lakeside apartments.
The more you spend the more you get - think saunas, hot tubs, games rooms. But all the lodges come with fully equipped kitchens - so you can eat in. Plus, there are flat screen TVs, log burning stoves for winter stays and outside furniture and BBQ spaces for summer stays.
The resort is big, which can mean a lot of walking or cycling. But it also means you'll wake to forest views and bird song.
It cost 233m to bring Center Parcs to Ireland, catering for up to 2500 guests in 466 lodges and 30 apartments, across 400 acres in Longford forest. It will provide 1000 permanent jobs (the local community were already invited in for a tour of the site - CEO Martin Dalby says it was a firm policy to work with locals, ever since the site was acquired four years ago).
Bookings are already at 25pc, on a par with UK operations, according to Dalby. If you build it, he maintains, and the quality is good enough, they will come.
Sustainability is a focal point. The company committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 20pc by 2020 - Dalby says they have already met that figure.
Center Parcs is a unique experience, a model that began in the Netherlands in the 60s before it expanded to Europe.
Check in online before you go. Register your car and your guests. Then all you need to do is give your name at the booths on arrival, drive to your lodge, unpack and return your vehicle to the car park where it stays until departure. There is a strict no car rule on site, making it safe for families to cycle and wander through the resort.
If you are booking activities, do so in advance. They sell out. Warn kids this is the final list - or they'll be begging you for teddy bear making sessions.
Bring your bikes - you can manage on foot, but the site is big and bike rental costs will add up for large families.
We are extremely excited to announce that Center Parcs Longford Forest is now open 🌲🌲🌲July 29, 2019
Bring food essentials - but if you are tight on space the shop is well equipped.
Disabled visitors are also well catered for with full access. Center Parcs attracts large, extended families, from grandparents to small kids, so all needs are met.
If it's summer, pack the bucket and spade - the beach is a big hit with kids.
Center Parcs is open 365 days a year, and its Christmas experience is big business in the UK. So expect the same here. This will be a year round destination, especially with that heated indoor pool. Winter in Longford - in 29/5 degree heat?
“We want to revolutionise Irish short breaks,” says manager Darragh Feighery. It looks like they've succeeded.