My legs have turned to jelly as I cling to a rope for dear life. My hands are shaking and my brain is wondering why on earth I thought tree trekking with my husband and kids was going to be a good idea. But as I sit back in the harness and zip wire my way to the end, my heart knows we made some proper families memories in the last 45 minutes.
For my kids to see me equally as scared (OK, more scared) than them, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway, is big, heart-pumping, bonding stuff. And once I get to the bottom and free my body from all the ropes, I’m proud of myself too.
Having adventures together is one of the main reasons families come to Center Parcs. There's indoor and outdoor fun as well as total relaxation and accommodation in lovely wooden lodges that blend into the forest perfectly.
For me and my family, it's one of our absolute favourite places. So when we heard about Longford Forest – the brand new addition that’s only just opened in Ireland, we couldn’t wait to come and see it.
There are five different Center Parcs dotted across the UK but it's taken four years to launch a location in Ireland. However, since they announced the plan to expand here, the €233 million development has been delivered on time and within budget. Having created 1,000 permanent new jobs, Longford Forest is expected to inject €32 million into the Irish economy each year.
And for local visitors, the 400 acres of wondrous woodland (housing 466 self-catering lodges and 30 apartments) is home to the country's largest water park and biggest stand-alone spa.
Anyone who knows the forests in the UK will discover Longford is very recognisable as being a Center Parcs. Everything looks pretty much the same, but it does feel more open in the outdoor spaces. The trees seem a little further away, and perhaps there’s a bit less cover.
There are some nice touches with water features as well, artsy installations around the crazy golf course and beautiful wildflower growth, injecting even more colour into the outside space.
Food-wise, you can visit Cara’s Kitchen and Bar, which uses local produce and offers all the family favourites for between €12-€30, with kids main meals from €6. The space is light and airy, with lots of glass and funky wicker lampshades, the staff are really attentive, but the thing we like most is the injection of live music.
Other new and exclusive additions include The Coffee House, serving a Java Republic caffeine fix, and a host of massages and facials. Aqua Sana Longford offers treatments by VOYA – a family-run Irish brand, which produces organic and sustainable cosmetics, using seaweed handpicked off the west coast of Ireland.
The VOYA Men’s Revive and Refresh Face and Body is only available here, and focuses on relieving muscle tension, while reducing signs of tiredness. My other half, James, felt the tension disappear as his legs were pummelled during an invigorating massage, with tailored strokes across his back and shoulders.
Personally, I find the best way to arrive for a treatment is to be completely stressed. As a busy, working mum, this is easy for me, but as I stroll to the spa, Rosie (10) and Poppy (7) pedal off on their bikes to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise with James, I’m all alone and worry-free.
Simon, my therapist, uses sweeping strokes to gently detoxify my skin, before giving me a relaxing full body massage, followed by a peptide facial. After 115 minutes of being pampered, I snuggle down in the dark relaxation room, under a fluffy blanket with a mug of Earl Grey, until I feel ready to face the world again.
What else is there to do here?
The lodges follow the same spec as other Parcs. We stay in an Executive Games Lodge, which is pretty mega: Four bedrooms, an open plan living space and a games room complete with a pool table, Xbox and enormously squishy beanbags. But outside you’ve also got a BBQ and dining area, four sun loungers, a hot tub, steam room and a sauna. It’s a wonderful space to live in for the weekend, but to have enough time to really use and enjoy it, you’d want to book in for a week.
Families can decide whether to go out for food or cook in their lodge, but if you’re not able to drive here and load up the car with all your shopping, staying in can be almost as pricey as going out.
After picking up a few essentials – dinner on the first night, booze and breakfast stuff – I scuttle out feeling a bit broke as I hand over €130. But they do deliver it for free.
Anyone who’s been to Center Parcs before knows the swimming is unforgettable and the Subtropical Swimming Paradise does not disappoint. The enormous indoor water park is heated to 29.5C and home to wild water rapids, frenetic flumes and relaxing hot tubs – there’s 350m of exhilarating rides, slides, and children’s water play areas.
And there are over 100 indoor and outdoor activities to get stuck into here, open daily from 9.30am–9pm. So, whether you opt for the scary stuff and give yourself the shakes with tree trekking and indoor climbing, have some fun tenpin bowling or get creative in the arts den, it’s impossible not to find something everyone will enjoy.
All the activities do cost though (apart from the Subtropical Swimming Paradise) and they are expensive. Tree trekking will set you back €120 for a family of four, and bowling costs €34.50.
The spa, however, is really good value. You don’t have to book a treatment to lose yourself in the maze of saunas, steam rooms and hot pools. A three-hour session (from €42) is plenty of time to explore the different spa zones and experiences (there are 21 of them in total). Beware of the Deep Relax water beds – I’m told zen spa-goers often have to be woken up after falling asleep at the end of their spa journey.
Who will come to Center Parcs Longford?
Longford Forest will mainly attract families, and most of the people I encounter (though not all) are local. Packing up the car with bags, groceries and people is by far the easiest – and cheapest – way to get here.